This week’s episode of Gotham is a thematic continuation of “The Blind Fortune Teller” in the way that it continually trolled the true identity of the Clown Prince of Crime. What makes “The Red Hood” stand out is that it had stakes, drama, subtlety, emotion, genuine character interactions, and plenty of surprises.
“The Red Hood” was so good that I didn’t even hate the Barbara scene (that much).
I rarely give the Gotham writers credit for their cleverness, for the opening sequence of “The Red Hood” was a nice little homage to the opening scene of The Dark Knight that I’m assuming was intentional. En route to rob a Gotham bank, one particularly talkative member of the gang named Gus decides to don a silly red mask, much to the chagrin of his partners in the crime. The heist goes off as planned even though Gus goes off-script. The Red Hood seems to bestow its wearer with mystical powers, in the form of boosted confidence and sheer dumb luck, like when a security guard tries to shoot Gus six times, but misses every shot. The gang is nearly thwarted by the police during their escape, but Gus has a distraction plan along with his newfound confidence: throw a bunch of the cash in the air for the citizens on the street to fend over, and the resulting chaos will cover their escape.
The gang reconvenes at an autoshop, where Gus is firing on six cylinders of delusions of grandeur. He thinks the mask is a symbol; it has meaning, and that gives it power, which is why the security guard’s shots didn’t hit him. The best part about it is that anyone can be underneath the mask…
Destro, the leader of the gang, agrees, which is why he shoots Gus and takes the mask for himself. Also he was kind of annoyed that Gus threw away so much of the cash they stole, which is a fair point.
By the time Gordon and Bullock get involved, the so-called Red Hood has already established a bit of a reputation as a modern-day Robin Hood. The money that the gang stole from the bank was all from the register—it was the bank’s insured money, not the people’s money, and by makin’ it rain on the streets of Gotham, the Hood was essentially robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. And since, the money was insured, no one really loses (except for the inflation rate, I guess, but I don’t claim to know much about economics). Our hero cops do some good ol’ investigative work, but by the time they track the Red Hood to the autoshop where he worked, Gus has of course already been shot and stuffed into the refrigerator, with no sign of the rest of the gang.
They do, however, find a bottle of Coca-Cola in the fridge. Bullock promptly pops it open and takes a swig: “If I don’t drink it, forensics will.” Oh, Bullock.
The Red Hood gang goes on another heist with Destro in the mask. But now they have a reputation, and in the middle of it, the bank customers ask him to share the wealth. Destroy begrudgingly obliges, thus further cementing the Hood’s reputation as a Robin Hood.
However, it’s during this second heist that the gang is seen heading back to their van by Mr. Chiang, a restaurant owner / total baller. Mr. Chiang is pretty much the coolest guy in Gotham, and comes forward to the cops as a witness to the crime—as long as they agree to write-off all the parking tickets left him by his “bitch ex-wife.” This is when Gordon realizes that the Red Hood itself has become a symbol that can be passed around the leadership—or anyone else, for that matter. It has in effect become a meme (in the pre-Internet sense).
Chiang identifies Destro in a lineup (and then asks for a ride home, something about his girlfriend seeing him in a cruiser that I was too busy laughing at to actually write down), but Bullock and Gordon don’t arrest him right away—after all, he might not be the Red Hood, just a Red Hood. They stake out at Destro’s home, while inside, Destro is approached by another member of the gang who wants the Hood for himself to impress his girlfriend. He, too, is taken by the power of its symbolism, so he pulls a gun and shoots Destro.
Bullock and Gordon hear the gunshot, but the Nu Red Hood has already escaped by the time that they arrive to find Destro bleeding out on the floor, barely hanging on to life. They investigate his apartment and interrogate him as he pleads for an ambulance, which is kind of messed up but also kind of awesome in its badassery. It turns out that Destro was once a bank employee himself, but he was still repeatedly denied for loans. Sorting through his paperwork, Gordon identifies the gang’s next target…
…and sure enough, the Nu Red Hood runs a heist at that very same bank. But this time, GCPD is there to stop him. Bullock and Gordon riddle the Nu Red Hood with bullet holes, and the menace of the Hood is ended. Bullock goes for a Danish.
That is, except for that kid who picked up the mask that was lying around at the crime scene, who puts it on when no one is looking…
THE SECRET ORIGIN OF ALFRED PENNYWORTH
The doorbell rings at Wayne Manor, and Alfred is surprised to see his old SAS pal, Reggie, standing at the door. It’s been twenty years since they’ve seen each other, and Reggie is down his luck, homeless and alcoholic after his wife passed away. Alfred is tenuously glad to see his old friend, especially in his new charge as billionaire caretaker, but Bruce believes that any friend of Alfred’s is a friend of his, and invites Reggie to stay at the mansion.
The next morning, Reggie comes upon Bruce practicing his fighting skills and steps in to help him spar, stopping just short of telling young Master Bruce, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.” Reggie’s fighting style is down-and-dirty, and even after Bruce busts Reggie’s lip, Reggie encourages him to keep going. When Alfred sees this, he is less than pleased, and reminds Bruce of the value of discipline and hard work. Later that evening, Bruce digs up an old bottle of wine from the cellar, and encourages Alfred and Reggie to crack it open and share some old stories (reminder: Reggie an alcoholic). It’s all fun and games, two old war buddies reminiscing about the old times, until Reggie sparks something in Alfred’s emotional scars, after the time he was captured during the war. It seems their unit was responsible for covert missions, for the dirty work that needed doing, and that they’re both still haunted by their actions, in their own ways. Alfred waits for Bruce to “go to bed” (eavesdrop around the corner), then tells Reggie in no uncertain terms that he’s to leave tomorrow.
But tomorrow’s just too late, because Alfred catches Reggie in the act of stealing from the study in the middle of the night. Alfred tries to appeal to his friend’s sense of honor, and it almost works…until Reggie stabs Alfred in the chest and escapes, leaving Bruce to discover the body in horror and call 9-11.
And is if that weren’t shocking enough, we then learn that Reggie was actually hired to infiltrate the manor by the board members at Wayne Enterprise. He didn’t steal anything of monetary value, just Bruce’s research and notebooks into the company’s dealings—after Bruce’s bold accusations in last week’s episode, the board wanted to know what dirt, if any, he actually had on them. It turns out, not much; everything he did have was conjecture. Reggie tries to urge the board members to be merciful—Bruce is a good kid, he tells them repeatedly. A really good kid. But the board just gives Reggie his mercenary fee and sends him on his way.
Does Reggie have remorse for his actions? Is this the last we’ve seen of him?
FISHEYE FOR AN EYE
After her strange bargaining tactics in last week’s episode, Fish is brought upstairs from The Basement to meet The Manager, a kindly bespectacled accountant who is, quite literally, just the Manager of the facilities, which unfortunately does no good for Fish. The facility is actually run by Dr. Dulmacher (whom we know as the Dollmaker), whose illicit organ farming practice supplies client all around the world—along with Dulmacher’s, erm, personal experiments. Fish demands to the Manager that the Basement belongs to her until Dulmacher will meet with her to negotiate terms. She’s not really in a position to bargain, but the Manager decides to play along. He offers a shower and a fresh set of clothes, after which he gets down to the business of forcing Fish into submission. He gives Fish two choices: he kills everyone in the Basement, or he takes Fish’s eyes right now.
But Fish opts for a third option: she makes as if to escape, then GOUGES OUT HER OWN EYEBALL WITH A SPOON AND SQUISHES IT ON THE GROUND AHHHHH.
BUTCH GILZEAN & THE COBBLEPOT KID
Oswald’s nightclub is bombing—literally, in the case of the lousy comedian onstage. But it also turns out that they’re out of alcohol, because Maroni owns all of the distributors in that part of Gotham and, well, none of them are willing to ship to Penguin if it means crossing Maroni. This is all revealed by Butch, who also appears to retain all his memories of his time working with Fish and doesn’t seem to brainwashed at all. Instead, Butch claims to have a personal stake in the success of Oswald’s nightclub, because he knows that it’s his last chance.
Penguin tries to run a heist on an alcohol distribution warehouse, but the cops are already there. Crooked cops, that is, and they’re working for Butch, who claims the booze for Penguin. Back at the club, the two share a drink and cheers over not being sidekicks anymore. Penguin admits that there’s a part of him that kind of misses Fish, and he asks if Butch does, too, but Butch says no; she got what she deserved.
MAKEOVER, MAKEOVER…MAKEOVER! *clap*clap*clap*
Barbara’s Totally Teen Slumber Party continues at her sweet palatial penthouse. She’s drinking a lot (like Reggie, also an addict, NBD), and gets really creepy on Selina as she repeatedly tells the young Catwoman just how beautiful she is, which is even more uncomfortable for Selina than it is for me to watch. Barbara decides to have a princess makeover party, and starts giving away her pretty clothes to Selina and Ivy even though I’m pretty sure that none of them are the same size. Ivy takes a nice green jacket while Barbara lures Selina into the bathroom for makeup. Barbara tells Selina that her beauty is a weapon that she can use to get she wants, to which Selina replies: “Oh yeah? What good’s it done for you?” and then walks out.
As weird and creepy and unhealthy as that whole thing was, it was totally worth it for Selina’s mic-drop burn at the end.
“The Red Hood” is hardly the first Gotham episode to riff on the Robin Hood thing, or the mask-as-symbol thing. It is, however, the first episode to do so in a compelling and interesting way that actually demonstrates this ideas, rather than forcefully tacking it on through a throwaway line of dialogue. This episode also demonstrated thematic unity, pretty much every storyline explored ideas of identity in some way, shape, or form:
- The Red Hood is obvious;
- Alfred was confronted with the person that he was and forced to reconcile that with who he was become and who he’d like to be, particular in seeing himself in Reggie’s sparring session with Bruce;
- Barbara is grappling for identity and control all over the place, and is trying to project that onto Ivy and Selina;
- Ivy, of course, claimed a green jacket;
- Fish has always relied on her wiles and bargaining skills and has never really been challenged, until now, where she was forced to make a pretty major sacrifice;
- Brainwashed or not, Butch is at a particular crossroads in his life and has to decide who he is without Fish;
- Penguin thought he had it made, but it turns out that he’s kind of aimless now that he’s not a triple-agent snitch. He learns to accept the idea of working with Butch, instead of constantly trying to hold something over everyone to manipulate for personal gain.
The only people not struggling with a sense of identity this week were Gordon and Bullock, and that’s because they were too busy doing actual interesting detective work—which, on this show, is actually kind of an identity crisis.
The other aspect of “The Red Hood” that was missing in most other episodes was a sense of stakes. Even before Fish gouged her eyeball out, and even before Alfred got stabbed, there was an elevated sense of drama and tension this week that very clearly stated this matters. this is important. this might not go the way you think. For the majority of the season, Gotham has struggled with a sense of stagnancy. In terms of the characters, very little actually changes from episode to episode, which means there’s no reason to be invested or concerned for their physical or emotional well-being. Granted, in a serialized TV show like this, you can’t have people changing too much (at least not every week), but 18 episodes into the season, I’ve pretty much given up expecting something of actual consequence to happen in anyone’s life. For the most part, everyone is already who they are and who they’re going to be, and they’re just spinning their wheels until Batman shows up.
But the stakes and tension in “The Red Hood” made it feel like something was actually happening—even if I didn’t expect that “something” to be as dire and grotesque as it was. “Lovecraft,” had a similar feeling of excitement, but that was to be expected with a climactic mid-season finale, or the second half of a two-parter (which is where “Scarecrow” failed). “The Red Hood” was neither one of those episodes, and it still felt like compelling TV, where important things happen to characters we care about and we need to know what happens next.
That was the Gotham I’ve been waiting to see (and that’s also how you tease and explore the idea of the Joker).
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net