Last week, we were officially introduced to the Riddler, a.k.a. the new Ed Nygma, endless font of wacky wordplay. But this week, Gotham‘s newest supervillain is completely MIA while the rest of the puzzle pieces come into play. Jim Gordon’s confusing relationship with his Uncle Frank becomes a source of grief for the good commissioner once a dark part of their family history comes to light; the recovering Penguin must comes to grips with the fact that he is, indeed, a freak, and maybe that’s not such a terrible thing; and, perhaps most importantly, Bruce Wayne’s future is being carved out so cleanly that the shape of it might just mimic the Bat-Signal.
Here’s how this week’s installment of Gotham — the directorial debut of series star Ben McKenzie — went down.
The episode begins by taking us to an excessively theatrical meeting of the Court of Owls — a special session reserved only for the most elite of the elites, including Frank Gordon. Kathryn calls upon her friends in ridiculous masks to concur with her official determination that the city’s crime level is too severe for Gotham to be salvageable as is. A total leveling of the city is in order, she insists, and the Powers That Be have just the weapon to deal mass destruction and start anew.
Frank begrudgingly gives the final “yes” vote, and in theory it makes sense. Even if he were to choose “no” and put a temporary halt to this plan, he could easily be killed off for insubordination, leaving the rest of the Court free to do whatever they wish. Of course, at this point, we still don’t know for sure which team Frank is really batting for, and once Jim Gordon ventures into the rabbit hole to find out what really happened to his dear old dad, Frank becomes even more of a nebulous presence.
With his interest piqued by Frank’s prior suggestion that the Court of Owls had his dad killed all those years before, Jim starts digging into the old case files and discovers something he didn’t know about his father’s killer. A medical document that was conveniently omitted from the initial filing reveals that the “drunk driver” who beamed his dad’s car and killed him actually suffered from chronic persistent hepatitis — or “the Irish Curse,” as Harvey Bullock dubs it, for the fact that anyone who suffers from this illness is denied a single drop of the sauce. This means that the toxicology report on file was obviously fudged, and Uncle Frank might just be on to something after all.
Jim meets with Frank at his dad’s grave to find out what else he needs to know about this Court of Owls, and his timing couldn’t be better. Frank informs him of the Court’s plans to decimate the city with the unnamed weapon. He’ll try to find out what he can, he promises, so Jim’s on high alert for further instructions while his uncle works to dredge up more details about the arrangement.
Jim takes a moment — to give Leslie Thompkins at least one line this episode — to commiserate with the mortician over the loss of Mario Calvi. That gives him just enough time to await Harvey’s news that the driver who killed his father was none other than a lawyer paid for by Carmine Falcone. Ruh-roh.
Gordon pays the suit a visit and tells him that he knows all about the Court and the attorney’s connection to it, and that’s when he gets the stunning news that his father’s death was ordered by none other than… Frank Gordon.
So the next stop Jim makes on his journey of discovery is Frank’s house, where he greets his uncle with a pistol to the head and gets his confirmation that, yes, Frank did do the Court’s bidding by having his own brother executed. But why?! After an unsuccessful attempt at handcuffing Frank for the murder of his father, Jim learns that Frank was still trying to maintain his cover and finish his father’s business — and now it’s Jim’s turn to do some heavy lifting. Frank wants his nephew to find out when the Court’s weapon will arrive — without bringing the GCPD into the mix, since this is very need-to-know intel and could jeopardize them both — with the sole instruction that it’ll be arriving at Dock 9C at some point in the not-too-distant future. He offers his nephew a no-win proposition by saying that despite the day’s dark revelation, he still has to trust Frank because “otherwise we’re both dead.” And the rest of Gotham, for that matter.
With that, Jim has no choice but to turn to the only off-the-grid muscle he’s got on speed dial: Barbara Queen.
Barbara plays her usual games about the request but ultimately comes through with a torture team. They lean on a dockhand at 9C, who reveals that the weapon shipment has already come in and been picked up. That’s when an Owl guard arrives to literally cut off the conversation — with a sword that slices through everyone on site except Barbara and her No. 2. They manage to gather that the shipment came from Indian Hill, based on the insignia on an abandoned box, before they take leave of the slash-happy enforcer.
Around the same time, Kathryn is filled in on Jim’s conversation with Carmine, and she asks Frank why his nephew is suddenly nosing around about his father’s dusty case files. Frank insists Jim is completely unaware of the Court, which is a lie, and she orders him to execute Jim as another sign of loyalty to the Owls.
For a split second, it seems like he might. When Frank calls Jim to come to his house to talk, alone, with a pistol pointed directly at the door, it seems like Frank’s about to be two for two on his history of familial death-dealing. Instead, he tells Jim that he’s been ordered to kill him and that he has a different plan in mind — Jim will answer the call from Kathryn and pretend he offed his uncle to capitalize on her interest in him joining the Court so he can finish what his father started and protect Gotham from within the den. Before Jim can stop him, Frank turns the gun on himself and fires — and Jim is left to do as his uncle instructed and hop in the limo that awaits him after Kathryn’s summoning call.
Meanwhile, we might’ve guessed that Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, had a warped sense of self, but who knew he was so out of touch with his own identity as to think he couldn’t be categorized as a weirdo?
Ivy has gone above and beyond to make his recovery a comfortable and joyous one — her energy is as infectious as the poisonous plants she’s no doubt growing in the solarium of the abandoned house she’s squatting in. But Penguin can’t resist the call to insult her mercilessly, dubbing her a “crazy plant lady,” among other things, and instructing her to call on his old dimwit pal Gabe to raise an army on his behalf so he can exact justice against Ed Nygma.
“He’s a moron, but he’s a loyal moron, and every army starts with one single loyal soldier,” Penguin reasons. Ivy agrees to his request, but only after he says “please” because, unlike her ungrateful ward here, she’s actually got manners.
Gabe, of course, is delighted to see his old thought-for-dead pal and greets him with a squishy bear hug that Oswald immediately rebukes. Gabe agrees to call all of their old friends — basically a group who could fit into any given scene of The Sopranos — but Ivy doesn’t get a good read on Gabe and advises the Penguin to let her use a special perfume that makes the smeller putty in her hands. To this, Penguin issues a final insult by calling her a “bit of a freak” and sending her away. Little does he know that Ivy’s intuition was correct; as soon as he turns around, Gabe seizes on the opportunity to whack him on the head.
With the help of his friends, Gabe is able to tie down both Oswald and Ivy, and he reveals that there’s a price on Penguin’s head right now. Besides, with the way Oswald treats people, should he really have expected undying loyalty from those who followed him in the past? Gabe is happy to sell his old boss, alive and well, to the highest bidder.
But Ivy has another idea, if Penguin would just drop his “I’m better than you” act and pay attention to her for one second. She lures one of Gabe’s henchmen to her and treats him to a whiff of her magic perfume, at which point he’s easily willing to slaughter the rest of the squad of captors — save for Gabe, because Penguin’s not quite done with him yet.
See, Penguin’s still not convinced that his former follower has completely flipped the script on him. He wants so badly for Gabe to still be the dumb goon who did anything he wanted, and while Gabe literally gets on his knees to pledge allegiance to the boss, Ivy decides to test his true loyalty with a sample of her trusty scent.
As it turns out, her hunch about Gabe was right again: Once he’s forced to tell the deepest truth, Gabe explains he’s still not on Oswald’s side. “I only followed you out of fear. We all did,” he says. But fear is not respect, he’s quick to clarify. “No one ever respected you. We always saw you for what you really are, a tiny freak who used to hold an umbrella. Nothing more.”
And with that, Penguin’s off to the races with his own vengeance, stabbing Gabe to death while Ivy giggles at his side. Penguin might not like the idea of aligning with the crazy plant lady, but she’s about as loyal as he’s gonna get, and besides, they’re not all that different from one another when you think about it.
Ivy reveals that there’s yet another benefit to being her friend — apart from the fact that she just used her plant potions to save his life again after already nursing him back to health from a gunshot wound. She and Selina Kyle are tight, so she knows enough people at Indian Hill to help formulate an “Army of Freaks” with him at the head.
And with that, being a fringe citizen doesn’t sound so terrible, does it?
As for Bruce, his stint in the mountain prison isn’t going to be brief, much to his dismay. He gets a visit from a temple shaman sent by the Court of Owls who says he’s not working on the Court’s behalf; they are “a tool and nothing more.” He’s got much bigger plans for Bruce, and even if Alfred does figure out that 514A is the clone, he’s hoping Bruce will be ready for what’s to come in the meantime.
After a torturous series of silence and entrapment, Bruce’s cell door opens, giving him a chance to try to make a break for it. But it’s all for naught because the place he’s in is more of a puzzle than a prison — and he’s the only charge in sight.
“Everything is a maze, Bruce. The only difference is whether we realize our place within it,” the man tells him. Despite a frustrating sprint through twists and turns that lead him to the exact same hallway every time, Bruce remains convinced he can escape, but the gentleman isn’t so convinced of that. “How much time? How long have you been blindly running down the corridors of your life only to end up in the same place? It’s time to pick a direction.”
The shaman offers to show Bruce something of his plans by way of a creepy hypnotic needle, which, when inserted into Bruce’s forehead, takes him back to the alleyway where his family was killed so many years before.
Bruce feels like he just went to a real place, but his teacher insists that it was just a memory. “The mind can do far more than recall memories. If one knows how, you can experience them, relive them as if it was happening again,” he says. The reason for revisiting that terrible moment in time is that Bruce needs to get over it before he can be fully prepared to learn what this man has to teach him.
A second excursion to the same alley is later brought on by force, since Bruce has no interest in reliving the experience again — only this time, the man is with him on the spot and handily takes down Bruce with a series of fight moves that could easily fit into the slowest montages of The Matrix.
He wants to teach Bruce what he needs to know, the shaman insists, but that can only happen once Bruce lets go of that pain that’s informed his life since that day. It’s so overwhelming, in fact, that the punch Bruce is delivered in memory land leaves his mouth bleeding in the real world, which speaks to how fully his life has been affected by the trauma of his past.
Even so, the shaman reveals to Bruce that once he’s ready to release that bind, there’s a big future ahead of him. “Gotham needs something I believe only you can provide,” he says. “A protector, Bruce. If you were to become a symbol, a symbol against fear, then Gotham can be reborn.”
This is all very interesting, of course, because we know that Kathryn was fully behind sending 514A in to play as Bruce Wayne during his abduction, but it seems as though the Court of Owls’ idea of a Gotham City renovation project is very different from this shaman’s. Unless, of course, he’s the weapon they’ve been waiting on all this time…