In theory, justice is about absolutes. But rarely in reality is it uncomplicated. The good of Gotham City have killed and done other unsavory things, yet they’re still holding it down for Team Righteous. And in the best cases, our villains are three dimensional enough to inspire a great deal of empathy. Alice Tetch’s blood virus has turned Chief Barnes into a soul that can’t stomach the shades of gray that color the city and so refuses to acknowledge that they exist.
Barnes is a person of interest in Jim Gordon’s own investigation into the death of Dr. Symon at Lee and Mario’s engagement party. And why shouldn’t he be, when the man identified his killer with his dying breath? Jim can’t ignore it, even though “the last thing” he wants is for this to be the truth. He knows he can’t share this clue with the rest of the force yet, so he ropes Harvey into helping him look for evidence implicating Barnes. Harvey will do it, but only to clear his boss’ name. That’s good enough for Jim.
While Harvey goes back to the scene to dust for fingerprints, Jim takes a clandestine tour of Barnes’ office. He finds Alice Tetch’s file on the man’s desk and eyes it suspiciously. Barnes catches him snooping, fresh off of another unauthorized trial. Emboldened by his acts in the last episode, Barnes is on a role, taking out criminals who he hasn’t been able to punish with police work. As an added bonus, the virus also made him kickass at speeches. He delivers one about the whispers in his brain that “become roars,” calling him to his true purpose. Then he kicks out the chairs under a dangling sex trafficker, drug dealer, and murderer. Is the world a safer place with them out of it? Maybe, but Barnes’ carriage of justice is a whole new brand of recklessness. Playing god is its own crime.
Barnes heard from the witnesses to Symon’s death that Jim spoke to the man right before. He asks his detective point blank if Symon identified his killer. Jim lies and says he tried to and failed. Then Barnes spins a story about a trusty C.I. and a mob connection. His words invite Jim to tag along with him to pay the visit to a “mid-level enforcer” by the name of Sugar. (Killing it on the gangster names this year, show.) But his tone demands it. He prevents Jim from checking in with Harvey before they leave, but Jim calls him from the car to tell him to show up to the address, just in case.
I’ve had uncomfortable car rides with bosses before, but wow. Barnes is operating under the assumption that Jim already knows what he did, but that he doesn’t know why. (Though Jim did pretty much call his motive in his earlier conversation with Harvey.) He taunts him by ordering that the detective take his statement. And then the formerly by-the-book Barnes explains to an increasingly horrified Jim that their “cesspool” of a city is in the market for “good men” who aren’t bound by any badge. Jim tried that, thank you very much, but he’s back to coloring inside the lines. There’s so much more they can do, Barnes says. It’s up to Jim to decide if he’s willing to flout the law to protect and serve.
They arrive at the warehouse — at a different address than the one Jim repeated to Harvey — and approach Sugar with guns drawn. The man has an alibi for the night of Symon’s death, albeit a sleazy one. But one death is just specifics to Barnes. Sugar is guilty of a great many other crimes, so he gets a bullet to the chest. Barnes turns the gun on Jim.
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