Gotham recap: 'Heroes Rise: How the Riddler Got His Name'
Just who is the Riddler? Well, that’s exactly what Ed Nygma aims to find out. He may have shot his pal Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. the Penguin, and left him for dead in the river, but now he’s suffering something of an identity crisis since he can no longer see his reflection (more on this key concept later) in his old pal’s eyes. And the irony of it all is that just as he begins to ascertain that he doesn’t need some grand archnemesis or best friend to become a true villain, he may have just gained an amalgamation of the two anyway.
Here’s what went down on tonight’s Gotham.
The episode begins with Ed trapping a chemistry professor and pinging him with some of his — you guessed it — riddles, and Ed likes to do these things in threes:
Riddle No. 1: “I can fill a room or just one heart. Others can have me, but I cannot be shared. What am I?”
Professor Dyson attempts an answer with “knowledge,” but it’s not even close to right, and if anyone should know that knowledge can be shared, it’s the man who’s built an entire career out of imparting wisdom unto students, Nygma yells. The answer to this one is reserved ’til a key moment later in the episode.
Riddle No. 2: “I can be a member of a group, but I can never blend in. What am I?”
The professor guesses it’s a shadow, which isn’t a terrible posit and, frankly, fits the theme of this whole episodic shebang, but it’s still not what Nygma was looking for, which was individual.
Riddle No. 3: “I feel your every move. I know your every thought. I’m with you from birth, and I’ll see you rot. What am I?”
Professor Dyson doesn’t even venture a guess at this one and is made to go kaboom as a result of his perceived incompetence, while we’re left without an answer until the same question is posed to another potential intellectual match.
See, that’s what Nygma’s after right now: someone who can inform who he is by having cleverness equal to his own. It’s an odd existentialist crisis he’s got going on. He knows that he’s just murdered his best friend (er, he thinks he did), and while that clears up some room for him to step into supreme villainy and a whole self, he has no idea how to do so or who he really is. So, by quizzing Gotham’s most creative brainiacs to ferret out someone who matches his own enigmatic mind, he hopes to find someone who can help mold him into the person he believes he’s been all this time.
“A good riddle reveals the asker. To solve it is to solve the mystery of the person posing it. If I can find someone who solves my riddles, I can find someone who can help me,” Nygma reasons. Trouble is, he’s six for six in his quizzical killing spree — the professor adds to his victim list, which already included a writer, a museum curator, an artist, a philosopher, and one other unmentioned intellectual who has failed his little three-part test.
Meanwhile, Nygma’s been voluntarily torturing himself by taking hallucinogens that bring a mental manifestation of Penguin to fill that blank space. If Oswald helped to cast light on his true nature in real life, this imagined version of his former best friend is that much more in tune with the gravity of his mental depravity, and he accidentally alerts him (himself?) that Oswald became the Penguin because he killed Fish Mooney. In other words, Nygma needs to stop frying small potatoes with these Gothamites and set his sights on a bigger foe: Jim Gordon.
Trouble is, Jim Gordon’s on hiatus and dealing with some family business right now, so that just leaves Lucius Fox and Harvey Bullock in charge of following his breadcrumbs. “Foxy,” as Nygma likes to call him, is quick to piece together that Professor Dyson’s murder fits the pattern of the others. And while Bullock is reluctant to devote the GCPD’s already-exhausted resources to a serial killer pursuit, he caves once a fruit-suit telegram shows up at the station with a drawing of the knight’s tour and the poetic memo that more deaths are coming soon — specifically, “a king, queen, and their court.”
Fox soon surmises that this has something to do with a chess wizard’s tournament — the clue here wasn’t that vexing, it seems — and Nygma’s just delighted that someone’s following his lead. He electrocutes a couple of people at their tables while shaking off Mind-Penguin’s assertion that he won’t find the answer to his egomaniacal issues by hunting down Gordon.
The chess tourney turns over a new clue — a phone number hidden under the pieces of one of the victims’ tables — and when Fox calls Nygma, he’s told he’ll find the next target “in the belly of the beast, pawn on queens.” Whatever that means. Kudos to Fox and Bullock, though, because they snag a pawn shop worker on Queens Boulevard right away and find out that he was subbing for a dude name Teddy Therion, whose last name just so happens to be the Greek word for “beast.” (Okay, okay, so Fox’s knowledge of Greek lingo is a little too convenient here, but for time’s sake, we’ll just have to allow it.)
Bullock is due to deliver a speech to the incoming class of cadets, so it’s up to Fox to hunt down Therion, and whaddya know. He turns up dead with a stitched-up lesion on his belly, and right inside is Bullock’s missing badge.
Fox knows exactly what this means and, sure enough, Nygma has kidnapped Harvey Bullock and flooded the room full of department newbs with what he says is deadly gas — the only antidote to which can be found by playing his little game. Fox agrees and is quizzed on those same three riddles Nygma posed to Professor Dyson before. The first answer, which he gets wrong, is loneliness. This is something Nygma is experiencing quite a bit of right now without Penguin’s in-person personality guidance.
And when Fox offers a solid guess for the second query — snowflake — along with sound reasoning for why it fits, Nygma insists it’s still wrong because it has to be his answer. He’s the one establishing an identity right now, after all. Like the rest of Nygma’s victims, though, all Fox has to do is get one right to save his friend, the whole cop class, and himself, so when he says that the third refers to a “reflection,” he’s right and saves the day. (How a reflection can see a person rot still confounds me, but that’s what he was looking for, apparently.)
It’s not over for Fox just yet, though. Now that he’s figured out that Nygma killed Therion, Professor Dyson and the other five intellectuals, and the Penguin, he’s giving Nygma top billing on the city’s Most Wanted list. So, when Nygma pops up in Fox’s car trying to scare him just for kicks, “Foxy” keeps his cool and tries to appeal to whatever shred of sanity is left inside Ed Nygma. Unfortunately, that ship has sailed, right along with Oswald’s body, downriver, so there’s no chance of redemption anymore. He’s the Riddler now, and his fun has just begun.
After the game is done and Nygma has seemingly found his mental match in Fox, he goes to the river and dumps his stash of drugs that make him see the Penguin. He doesn’t need that reflection anymore because he’s finally ready to exist on his own with his newfound sense of villainy.
Trouble is, he’s not yet done with the real-life Penguin. Ivy found him washed up and bleeding and has been nursing him back to health all this time, and now Penguin’s on a new mission to kill someone — presumably E. Nygma. To be continued…
Meanwhile, Gordon’s been gone but not forgotten in this episode. He and Bruce Wayne are both being targeted by the Court of Owls in very distinct but related ways. Gordon is approached by his Uncle Frank, who’s secretly in cahoots with Kathryn, and convinced that he and Gordon’s father were both part of the Court and that they want Jim to become a part of it, too. The group is evil, Frank warns, but he’s ready to infiltrate it from the inside with Jim’s help. He says that’s what his father’s legacy deserves; his dad was killed for running subterfuge before — that drunk driver accident was a cover. Jim’s skeptical of Frank’s intentions, but he’s listening. Kathryn wants Frank to speed up the process, but it’s just a matter of time, Frank promises.
What’s obvious is that Frank’s a double agent — but for whom? Is he telling Jim the truth that he sees through the Court’s wicked ways and wants to take them down from the inside? Or is he telling Kathryn the truth that he’s willing to lay his nephew’s life on the line for the sake of his allegiance to them? It’s hard to tell, but he’s a shifty sun of a gun either way, and Jim is right to distrust him for now.
And the duplicity — and continued metaphorical relevance of “reflection” — continues with Bruce. 514A has been training to emulate Bruce’s every move and manages to coax him out of Alfred’s sight with a feigned letter from Selina Kyle. Not only does he get ganged up on by a bunch of street kids for his trip to see Selina, who wants nothing to do with him right now, by the way, but he also manages to get drugged and kidnapped by 514A, who solidifies his doppelganger status by wearing the exact same outfit Bruce does and going back to Alfred to accept some of his warmed-up shepherd’s pie. There’s a possible flicker of recognition in Alfred’s eye, though, which might mean he can see through the ruse that’s just waltzed in, but we’ll have to wait and find out whether this clone disguise will hold up or not around Wayne Manor. In the meantime, Bruce has been tucked away at a wintry prison with no obvious means of escape.
And here we are. Bruce has been duped into being replaced by his doppelganger, Nygma has become the Riddler and has no idea that he’s just created a rivalry to end them all with a still-alive and vengeful Penguin, and Gordon’s on the brink of getting into something very dark and dangerous with the Court of Owls.
The content of Nygma’s riddles was paralleled not just by his own experience coming into his big badness, but also in the episode’s other two story lines. 514A is, obviously, a literal reflection of Bruce Wayne, and the loneliness referred to in the first riddle applies to both Nygma and Gordon. Gordon’s quest for truth and family, compounded by his current isolation, makes him vulnerable to Frank’s ploy right now — if that’s what it actually is. For a segment devoted to such a cunning wordsmith, this episode quite nicely sticks to its metaphors throughout. Well played.