Butch and Nygma battle it out for Penguin's trust
Credit: Jeff Neumann/Fox
S3 E5
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Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, and all that. Oswald Cobblepot can’t even enjoy his little victory party without being the target of several overlapping schemes. That said, it was awfully fun to get most of our cast in a room together, even if the floor of that room ended up showered in blood and broken glass. All’s fair in love and politics, especially where Edward Nygma and the Penguin are concerned.

Penguin’s old number-two Butch hasn’t taken his friendship demotion lying down, though he does spend a lot of time sulking in photographs. Instead, he’s been secretly orchestrating a piece of theater that will put him back in the lead with Penguin over that sniveling usurper, Nygma. While Oswald is distracted with feeding the homeless and paying homage to a statue of his beloved mother (pour one out for Carol Kane on this show), Butch hires some goons to dress up like the stamped-out bank robbers from Season 1, the Red Hood Gang. The GCPD puts this new crew into the copycat category.

Red Hood 2.0 make their debut in front of the press. Oswald stands next to the statue of his mother and tells the media about her kindness, belief in him, and immigrant drive to make a life for her son out of nothing. Then a black truck pulls up. Shots are fired into the crowd, though no one is hit. Instead, the Red Hoods target the statue itself, soundly decapitating poor Mrs. Cobblepot. If the Hoods or their boss wanted Penguin dead, he would be. They had a clear shot. And though he hasn’t been exactly private about his devotion to his mom, it’s curious that a group of random thugs would be interested in attacking his emotional state rather than his empire.

Butch still has pull in this town, but he is where he is because he’ll never get more than half a step in front of the rest of its crafty crooks. And then they’ll lap him. Barbara and Tabitha are the first to figure out that Butch is captaining the hoods. All it takes is a few hours in the freezer for one of his employees to talk. And Nygma isn’t far behind, though he does piggyback on some GCPD police work to get there.

Earlier, Nygma waltzed back into his former workplace with all the confidence of a diplomat parking in a fire lane. He’s untouchable, thanks to his status as Penguin’s confidante. And he’s also free. Free to be the remorseless, creepy, crazy-pants version of himself that he once struggled so hard to suppress. No one is happy to see him, least of all Lee, who decks him in the face “for Kristen.” (Surprised Barnes didn’t give her an official commendation for it, to be honest.) Nygma takes their distaste in stride. He finds the usually calm Lucius Fox coiled in the lab like a poisonous snake that’s ready to clamp down if Nygma threatens him or Bruce Wayne ever again. Nygma laughs him off and asks for an update on the truck the Red Hood Gang left behind in the Narrows. The carpet fibers in the interior contained potassium chloride along with the regular stuff. Nygma puts it together later when he’s using salt to lift a stain from Oswald’s party suit. (So domestic already.)

Back at the industrial laundry they call home, the Red Hood Gang are wondering why they just can’t kill Penguin already. Butch returns in a panic after Barbara and Tabitha show their hand. If they’ve figured out he’s pulling the strings already, how long will it take a mind like Nygma’s? He essentially tells the guys to scatter; they’d like to get paid first. Butch’s plan had been to mow the guys down when they raided the victory party, making a very public scene of his heroic loyalty to his own boss. But: desperate times. He blows them away with a machine gun just as Oswald, Nygma, and the rest of the inner circle are walking up to the building. Butch stands with the smoking gun in his hand, basking in the proud smile of his demented employer.

NEXT: CSI Gotham

The GCPD isn’t going to waste man hours or lab time doing a thorough forensics sweep of the place; seems like a bad-guys-kill-bad-guys kind of a thing. Nygma personally notes some curious details at the crime scene, however. The men were all facing the same direction when they fell and only one had pulled his gun. All signs point to the men expecting to see Butch. They knew him and trusted him. Their loss.

If you’ve ever indulged in a teen drama, you know: all the drama comes out in the party episode. I’ll leave Butch and Nygma there for now; they aren’t the only Gothamites with interpersonal problems. Take Jim Gordon, for example. He’s still sleeping with Valerie Vale, but they’re both reluctant to treat their arrangement like a relationship. Her, because she likes some distance. Him, because he can’t shake the feeling that Valerie is perpetually using him. Now she wants to know if it’s true that the deceased Alice Tetch’s blood is poisonous and being tested by the city. Gordon asks if she can ever separate the woman from the reporter and she’s like, Dude, this is who I AM. And it’s who Gordon is too. They are the job. She informs her not-boyfriend that her dinner that evening is with the hematologist who was charged with testing the sample. She has her own ways of getting information, but wouldn’t it save everyone a lot of trouble and martinis if Gordon just gave it to her?

Bruce shows up to Gordon’s door sans Alfred and motivated by love. Gordon sheepishly apologizes for not coming to visit as soon as he heard Bruce was back. Bruce isn’t offended; he knows when a man needs to keep a door shut for a while. He’s come to ask Gordon to join in on the search for Ivy. And while it’s sweet that Gordon immediately works out that this favor has something to do with making Selina happy, is that the only reason either one of them should be concerned with a missing kid? The guys have a man-to-man talk about matters of the heart at a greasy spoon. Bruce seriously weighs Gordon’s advice to just talk to Selina, then decides to wait for “a sign” like some kind of DC Lloyd Dobler. He also charges his older friend to have a similar chat with whoever left a lipstick mark on that gigantic coffee mug in his apartment. Touché, Bruce.

Bruce gets his sign when he and the equally uncomfortable Alfred make an appearance at Penguin’s victory party at The Sirens. The very first Gotham scene ever between Oswald Cobblepot and young Bruce Wayne is cordial and brief. After a few congratulations, Bruce excuses himself to make his move. Selina isn’t in the mood for Bruce’s ambiguity. She’s too freaked out by the tall redhead at the bar who seems to know her but won’t share her own name. Still, she follows Bruce to the roof. Selina confirms his identity to her satisfaction (“You are the real Bruce, because nobody else would be this boring.”) and then prods him to get to the damn point. “I like you,” he finally dares. “As more than a friend.” Selina moves straight to a defensive posture, citing their differences and his own inexperience. “Have you ever thought maybe you only like me because I’m literally the only girl you know?” she says. And, well, true, but what’s she’s revealing is a fear that Bruce will grow tired or embarrassed of her when he sees more of the world. Bruce has laid out too much to surrender to sarcasm. “There’s something between us. I know there is. You have to see that,” he says, stepping closer to her. Selina gets into his face: “Rule one: don’t ever tell me what I have to do.” She kisses him, leaving him more confused than ever.

NEXT: Say it ain’t so

Downstairs, the battle for Penguin’s right hand is heating up. Tabitha reminds Butch that he owes her for not ratting him out to Oswald. Then Nygma corners Butch in a hallway with a gift and a proposition. He hands Butch a pocket square matching Butch’s own. Butch was ratted out by his own tailor for buying suits for himself and the Red Hoods at the same time. Nygma has Butch at his mercy, and what he demands is a heartbreak for anyone who was cheering on Gotham’s most fervently committed pair: “We kill Penguin together.” Nygma sells Butch the story he wants to hear. He’s been faking his friendship with Oswald this whole time; what he wants is to rule Gotham on his own. Butch was right; Penguin shouldn’t have trusted him. If Butch helps to eliminate the competition, he’ll be by Nygma’s side. If he doesn’t, Nygma will turn him over to Penguin, who will surely execute him. As some insurance, he has Zsasz and some other defectors take Tabitha hostage too.

The hit is meant to take place during Penguin’s speech. Left with no other choice, Butch advances with his gun drawn and a red hood over his face. When he pulls the trigger, the gun doesn’t go off. Nygma jumps on stage to the aid of his friend; Zsasz shoots Butch, who’s unmasked to Penguin’s great fury. He rages at the betrayal. “I gave you everything!” Butch yells at his boss. Oswald tries to locate some mayoral decorum and downgrades his vendetta from “kill” to “prosecute.” (Reasonable.) Meanwhile, Tabitha has knifed her captors in the kitchen and made a dramatic re-entry. In the commotion she creates, Butch bum-rushes the stage and gets his hands around Nygma’s neck. Oswald knocks Butch out and cradles a choking Nygma in his arms.

Later, Oswald fusses over his injuries while Nygma explains the necessity of the scene at the party. Butch had to be the traitor so that Oswald could again be the hero. There are material advantages to Butch being out of Nygma’s way. And he could have destroyed Butch’s standing with Oswald just because he doesn’t like the way Butch treats him. Nygma is a vengeful guy. But there’s so much affection and truth in the way that Robin Lord Taylor and Corey Michael Smith play these scenes. Hannibal coined the term “murder husbands,” but I’d argue that it fits this pair as well. I hope Gotham legitimizes the subtext here. After all, the one thing missing from Penguin’s success is someone to share it with.

Odds & Ends:

  • “You’re insane.” “Was insane. I have a certificate.”
  • Gordon and Lee are easing into a healthy, friendly-ex relationship. Gordon doesn’t even give her a lecture about the gangster bloodline of her fiance. He’d be one to talk anyway, right?
  • It helps that Gordon is also accepting Valerie as she is. Tired of playing games, he shows up at her dinner to dismiss the sleazy hematologist and tell her what he knows about the Tetch girl. The doctor will take that pineapple juice to go, please.
  • Give Barbara Something To Do 2K16. She’s so underused that Tabitha’s considering going back to Butch.
  • Barnes is going to Hulk Smash real soon, I’m thinking.
  • “Hello? Pot? Kettle? Black?”
  • Missing Jervis? Don’t worry: the elder Tetch is still out there being the creepiest creep. The Mad Hatter is entertaining replacements for his dead sister with nightmare tea parties and then slitting their throats, swearing vengeance on Jim Gordon all the while. I wonder if he does birthdays.

Episode Grade: A-

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