Jim Gordon is forced to make a terrible choice, and Penguin puts his heart on the line
Last week, Benedict Samuels’ deranged Mad Hatter only showed up in one bloody tableau. In “Follow the White Rabbit,” every other story save one takes the episode off so that Jervis Tetch can get his revenge on James Gordon. Shocker: Playing dress-up with a doomed young women hasn’t turned out to be the healthiest method of grieving his sister. Plan B involves constructing an elaborate scavenger hunt for his nemesis so that Gordon will feel the same pain that Jervis does. It gets him out of the house, I suppose.
The plan commences outside of a big church wedding, where a nattily dressed chauffeur informs the happy couple that their guests will be celebrating their nuptials without them. The small, unidentified boy in the passenger seat has nothing to add. Jervis’s envoy — the titular White Rabbit — shows up after Valerie and Gordon finish their diner breakfast banter to relay his message. The operative part of it being that people will die if Gordon doesn’t follow him. People will also die if he does, but that bit of information didn’t fit into the rhyme scheme.
Gordon jumps down the figurative rabbit hole because he doesn’t have a choice. Outside, he picks up the receiver of a ringing pay phone. It’s Jervis, explaining the rules of his game. The hypnotized newlywed couple stand on the edge of the overpass, ready to step off. And the similarly entranced little boy loiters in the middle of the street, waiting to be struck by a semi-truck driven by one of the Tweeds. Jervis tells Gordon that he’s been studying him, digging into the “tragic” events of his past to add to what he already knows of the ex-cop from being inside his head. The Mad Hatter wants Gordon to confront something essential and dark about himself. He forces it by setting a 30-second timer. Gordon will only have time to save the boy or the couple. He races across the street to push the boy into safety. The newlyweds crunch onto the pavement below. If Jervis was trying to prove that action isn’t without regret or that no human can be an unimpeachable hero, well, Jim Gordon already knew that.
Happy with his work, Jervis gives his playmate an address and another time limit. When the GCPD arrive at the crime scene, Gordon is long gone. But the child credits the bounty hunter for saving his life. Barnes gets the feeling they’d better find him, and fast. The only clue left is the White Rabbit, muttering the dispatch that the Hatter placed in his brain. He’s not in possession of himself, so an interrogation is useless. In his frustration, Barnes puts two hand-prints into a steel chair frame. The poison from Alice’s blood puts him permanently on the cusp of roid-rage, but at least he doesn’t need his cane anymore.
Gordon arrives at the address Jervis sent him to; inside, he finds a corkboard covered with press clippings from his police career and articles covering the death of his father. Given that Gordon is already riddled with guilt and constantly questioning his own self-worth, this touch puts a bit too much gild on the lily. But Jervis has shown a penchant for elaborate arts and crafts, so this is more about him than his target. The phone in the room rings. Jervis directs Gordon to look through the telescope in the window and proceeds to taunt him about the decision he just made. Saving an innocent child would be the obvious move for a lot of people, ex-police officers in particular. Jervis tries to twist and mold the outcome into some proof of Gordon’s subconscious vendetta against happy couples. It’s a stretch. This is all a stretch.
Hilariously, Gordon tires of the games and hangs up on Jervis. Twice. When he picks up again it’s to force Jervis to face his own role not only in his sister’s death but in the constant fear in which she lived. “If you want revenge,” Gordon sneers, “kill yourself.” But the Hatter has his attention again when he points out a key figure in the next phase of this stupidly elaborate scheme: a restrained Valerie Vale being loaded into a van. “Poor girl,” he sing-songs. “She had no idea who she was getting into bed with.”
NEXT: Ladies in waiting
Perpetuating a pattern, Gordon heads to Sirens to solicit some help. He figures that Jervis must have gotten some personal intel on him somewhere, and it just so happens Jervis’ sometime employer used to know Gordon very well. Tabitha and Barbara’s roles started out so promisingly this season. But instead of ruling Gotham on their own terms as well-heeled purveyors of quality booze and a venue for shady dealings, both women are back in the service of men. Tabitha is babysitting a fugitive Butch, and Barbara has had nought to do lately but throw sassy insults and helpful scraps of information Gordon’s way. These two are forever two steps ahead of every gangster and cop in this town; someone free them from sidekick status.
At least Barbara still has it out for Lee. She tells Gordon that she may have spilled the details of their love affair to Jervis. Gordon’s instincts are right. When he calls Lee, Jervis answers. Lee has joined Valerie in the back of the van, and Jervis’ dramatic treasure hunt is coming to a head. The Mad Hatter chooses Lee’s new home with Mario as a home base, a setting no doubt selected to test Gordon’s actual feelings about his ex moving on.
But that stage isn’t set yet. First, Jervis sends Gordon to Gotham Water and Power. One more choice remains before the big one. And this one is a little on the nose for a villain inspired by a famously satirical piece of literature. Gordon is meant to choose between the life of a news anchor and a pediatrician: a journalist or a doctor. This time, he refuses to make the call. He holds, hoping that the GCPD backup that’s arrived can shut down the power in time to save the rigged-up men from electrocution. They don’t make it, and Barnes takes Gordon aside to tell him that their deaths are not his fault. He didn’t fail an ethics test; it was completely within the realm of the “good man” not to play along. Jervis Tetch is the sole murderer of these people, even if he wants to make James Gordon feel complicit.
The solution to saving both Lee and Valerie may lie in getting ahead of Jervis. But everything is still on track for the Mad Hatter. The White Rabbit wasn’t sputtering the remnants of his last message for Gordon, he was rehearsing a new one: an invitation to a tea party at Lee’s place. Gordon keeps that tip to himself, but runs into Mario on his way out of the precinct. Gordon decides that the man of the house could be an asset to his rescue mission, so he brings him along.
Meanwhile, the women are locked in Lee’s bathroom. Ever resourceful, Lee digs around for some personal grooming implement that can release their ankle bracelets. Ever on the hunt for a story, Valerie leverages her lock-picking knowledge for some intel on the chemical makeup of Alice Tetch’s blood. (“You and Jim are made for each other.” “Thanks.” “It’s not a compliment.”) Lee won’t give up the goods on that front, but Valerie is an inquisitive person hell-bent on using any opportunity for info gathering. She asks Lee why she moved back to Gotham after all the pain she endured there instead of starting a whole new life. “I didn’t come here for James Gordon, if that’s what you’re worried about.” This episode is tanking in the Bechdel Test department.
In this situation, lock-picking is as futile as defining yourself by your relationship to the main dude character. The Mad Hatter comes to collect his guests before they can get very far. They’re seated at the dining room table when the guest of honor arrives. Jervis takes great delight in welcoming Gordon and pouring everyone a cup of tea. He goes over his funhouse mirror version of his sexually abusive relationship with his dead sister yet again, and he promises Gordon that he’ll be mourning the woman he loves by the time the finger sandwiches are served. “I just have to figure out which one it is.”
NEXT: Romance interrupted
Mario sneaks through the basement, collecting the hidden handgun that comes standard issue to any son of a crime boss. He would have been the hero, too, if Jervis hadn’t already emptied the thing of bullets. The sudden death round is still on. Gordon tries again to make Jervis turn that anger inward by recounting what actually went down between him and Alice. It doesn’t work, because what Gordon describes is love to the Mad Hatter. If everyone (i.e. Jim) had left them alone, they would have been fine. They would have lived happily ever after.
But that didn’t happen and the moment of truth is here. If Gordon doesn’t tell Jervis who to kill at the count of three, he’ll put a bullet in them both. Three… Gordon looks at both women. Two… the women brace themselves. One… “Kill Lee,” Gordon grates out. “Finally,” Jervis says, “the truth is revealed.” He turns the gun to Valerie and shoots her in the torso. Jervis and the Tweeds flee.
It’s a smart move, on Gordon’s part. He couldn’t know whether Jervis would execute Valerie or not. But he had to go with the chance that she wouldn’t be immediately killed. And in that scenario, it’s helpful to have a doctor on hand. Lee springs into action immediately, calling an ambulance and trying to minimize the blood loss. Valerie is eventually wheeled into surgery performed by Dr. Falcone — I’m sorry, Dr. Calvi. Lee assures Gordon that she couldn’t be in better hands. “Lee,” he starts. “About what I said…” She stops him. “Jim. Not now.”
Jervis’ lesson plan was flawed from the get-go. Not only is Gordon already quite sure that he’s not anybody’s knight in shining armor, but also life doesn’t work in absolutes. If he loved Lee in the past, he’ll always have love for her. If he hasn’t opened up completely to Valerie yet, that doesn’t mean that he won’t. There was no “truth” in that decision, only strategy.
Scratch that. The only truth is that love is a mess. Even so, Oswald Cobblepot is doing his darndest to follow his mother’s advice and to “run to it.” Gotham didn’t leave us in suspense for long regarding the nature of Oswald and Edward’s relationship, at least from Oswald’s point of view. The Penguin is in love, and it’s really very sweet.
The B-story plays out like a rom-com: the hope, the bashfulness, the cold feet. This is what crushing looks like. While going about his business as both Mayor of Gotham and Kingpin of the Underworld (with separate schedules, natch), Oswald tries to work up the courage to confess his feelings to Mr. Nygma. It’s terrifically in-character. Oswald saw himself as that kid sitting alone at school, too weird and morbid to recommend himself to any of his peers. And along comes this person who seems perfectly designed to validate all those eccentricities and save him from that loneliness.
Unable to hold it in anymore, Oswald arranges for a romantic dinner for two at his father’s mansion. Does Edward know what’s up? His choosiness about the wine he’s offered to bring indicates that he has an idea. But Oswald’s date is held up by a pretty distraction: a platinum blond with the face of his psychological downfall, Kristen Kringle. She introduces herself as Isabella and tells Edward a riddle about time. Oswald waits, the table bowing under the weight of all the food Olga has probably prepared. And he rehearses. It’s all a bit heartbreaking — this lovesick, needy weirdo and his aspiration to something intimate and human. Then again, his advice to little Luke, the third grade outcast, foreshadows what Oswald will likely do if he’s rejected: “And if they don’t like you, wait for them to turn their backs and push them down the stairs.” If Edward is in the process of turning his back, a jilted Oswald won’t be able to let it go.
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