Gotham's latest episode reveals the surprising way The Riddler gets his name

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Apr 24, 2017

The short version: While Gordon's uncle tries to convince him to join the Court of Owls, Edward Nygma has to find a new adversary to use his riddles on in the form of Lucius Fox. And while Nygma takes mind-altering drugs to have vision quests with a very wet Penguin, the real Penguin discovers he's survived being shot and has been nursed back to health by Ivy. And, oh yeah, Bruce Wayne gets captured and replaced by evil Bruce during his excursion to try (and fail) to win back Selina's affections.

The good: Lucius and Nygma, Lucius and Harvey, Ed and vision Oswald, Gordon and ... any place else

This was an episode all about duos, and Gotham is often at its best when two people are either working together or working against one another. Lucius Fox, on his own, is a fine character, but his best traits, his dry wit, and his empathy don't truly shine without the right partner.

In the case of his wit, Lucius is at his droll funniest when he's paired with the goofy, overly-cocky Harvey Bullock. In fact, he's better with Harvey than Gordon is. I think in making Gordon less moral and clear-headed, there was a degree of opposites-attract lost between him and Harvey. Meanwhile, Lucius's morality could easily be the bedrock of the whole show, it's so solid.

And the proof comes in Lucius' pairing with Nygma. What makes that work so well is that, no matter how many people Ed kills, no matter how far from sane Ed becomes, Lucius remains willing to appeal to what sanity Ed may still have. Lucius doesn't try to kill Ed or force him to relent -- Lucius tries to appeal to Ed's better nature. Naive, maybe, but that belief in the goodness in even the most disturbed of self-defined villains, makes Lucius truly rare on Gotham. Rare and necessary.

But Ed isn't Ed without Oswald, even if he doesn't think so. Ed spends this entire episode trying to discover how to be who he is without Oswald, except that he takes pills so he can have visions of Oswald. Because, yes, Ed misses his friend. And I miss the possibility of their love story, so imagine how happy I was when vision Oswald sings a torch song to Ed. Maybe there's romantic love there after all? Who can say?

I will say that it was nice having Gordon out of the main plot for now. His time with Uncle Frank -- learning, and teaching us in the process -- about the Court of Owls was not only useful in pushing that story forward, but it also gave Jim a plot that's not about him and Lee still being in barf with one another. I'll take Jim trying to figure out the truth about his family any day.

The bad: How the Riddler gets his name, that's not how drugs work, that's not how sexual evolution works, and Bruce gets kidnapped again

So Ed becomes known as The Riddler because ... he says so. Literally, Ed tells Lucius that he has become The Riddler, and that's it. If your episode is called "How the Riddler Got His Name," maybe make the explanation better than, "he thought it sounded nifty keen, jelly bean!"

And while we're at it, in as much as I am here for Ed and Oswald's subtextual romance, taking a pill so you can hallucinate the exact thing you want is not how drugs work. At that point, just let Ed be someone who hears voices. It's not such a stretch, is it?

And speaking of Nygma's voice, there are two scenes, both at the swearing in of the new police cadets, where Cory Michael Smith does something with Ed I don't think I've ever seen him do before -- plays him effeminate. And if analysis from the social stigma perspective isn't your cuppa, move along, but this bothered me, and it took multiple viewings to figure out why. It's because I've wanted Ed to be at least bisexual, but I never wanted it at a sacrifice to who the character has been so far.

A personal aside: I certainly understand what it is to begin experimenting with how one performs their sexuality or their gender, especially when they begin to realize they aren't exactly, uh ... straight. And part of that can be to explore stereotypes. So if this were a real world, and Ed were a real man coming to terms with his sexuality -- in part by dressing in a flamboyant, green suit and talking like every word out of his mouth was just fabulous -- I'd get it.

But Gotham doesn't have that kind of depth. It's never been the kind of show that wants to deeply explore what it means to unleash suppressed homosexuality. And I'm not convinced they're even doing that now. It could just be that either the writer or the director or the performer thought a fun way to express Nygma's madness was to have him go full CAMP. But when you combine that with Oswald's love for Ed on a show that already struggles with how it handles minority characters, the waters get murky. What are they trying to say? Being crazy means being super gay? Or is Ed pulling the proverbial flame out because they ARE planning to put he and Oswald together after all? If it's the latter, I promise you that being a man in love with another man does not make you a fundamentally different person who behaves a fundamentally different way. But sometimes, narrative short-form can try and simplify homosexuality down to stereotype. And the possibility that we might be seeing that with Ed on Gotham after I thought Oswald's love for Ed was handled with surprising subtlety? Well, that's just disappointing.

Okay. Rant about representation of queer characters on Gotham is over for the week. If that makes you break out into hives, you may resume reading here.

Bruce is boring when he's kidnapped. And while McKenzie playing Clayface as Gordon is madcap fun, I just don't think Mazouz's performance is strengthened by Bruce's doppelganger just yet. That could change, but in the meantime, I'm over Bruce getting kidnapped every third episode.

Lines of the night

Nygma: I can fill a room, or just one heart. Others may have me, but I cannot be shared. What am I?

Chemsity professor: Knowlegde?

Nygma: Knowledge can't be shared professor? Really? You are the chair of a chemistry department. You spend a career SHARING KNOWLEDGE.

Nygma: What did I tell you about dripping on the couch.

Ivy: I'm Ivy Pepper, ya stupid.

Lingering questions

What are the Court's true motives. Why do they want to replace Bruce with a doppelganger, and when is Uncle Frank telling the truth and when is he lying?

Now that Ed is out of the closet (as a supervillain), what happens next? And will Oswald really be able to kill the man he loves?

Where's Fish Mooney and Hugo Strange! Is Barbara really in charge of Gotham's criminal underground? What she's doing with that?

So many balls in the air. Hopefully, we'll see Lucius and Harvey working together to catch them all, and Gordon can do his own thing... over... somewhere else.

Up next: The Court of Owls devises a new plan regarding the future of Gotham, as Gordon uncovers information about his father and uncle’s past, connecting him back to the organization. Meanwhile, Bruce wakes up in the temple and learns of the Shaman’s wish for him.