After more than 75 years, thousands of comics, and a good handful of films, I think we all know by now that Batman is motivated by the night his parents were murdered in an alleyway. (And if you’ve never seen that origin story before, welcome to the world, newborn baby, who let you on to the computer?) Tragic as that might be, though, it was never technically Bruce Wayne’s fault; the dude was twelve years old, burdened with the fragile baby bird bones of a prepubescent billionaire. “The Demon’s Head”—a Gotham episode penned by ol’ Jimbo Gordon himself, Ben McKenzie—offered up a new twist on the idea: What if Bruce Wayne witnessed a murder not only of someone his own age, but one that was totally, completely his fault?
Okay, the death of Bruce’s newfound, short-term Neville Longbottom-ass friend Alex isn’t totally on the boy billionaire’s shoulders. R’as al Ghul was the one holding the knife—and I suppose Jim could have done something, though “failing to do something” is the GCPD slogan—but Bruce Wayne is a person haunted by moral choices, big picture and small. By the time he’s an adult, he’s the kind of person that does one thousand pushups if he lets his toast get too burned. His archnemesis is a mass-murderer in a clown suit that he refuses to kill. The homie fights henchman holding guns with karate chops and aggressive cape swooshing. In that light, Alex dying because Bruce couldn’t find a better plan is easy to see as a seed for the future. “It doesn’t matter what you say, Detective,” Bruce tells Jim, clearly genuine. “This is all my fault.”
And, again, it is, but it isn’t. But that middle-of-the-road morality issue is where Bruce lives. As does Ra’s, apparently, who gives a sort of Emperor Palpatine-esque good good I can feel your anger type approval to Bruce’s decision. By episode’s end, Ra’s is captured but grinning. Maybe it’s because he’s finally found an heir, maybe it’s because he’s being led to Blackgate Penitentiary, which, on a scale of escapability, is right above most bouncy castles and those finger-trap toys you can win at arcades.
All in all, “The Demon’s Head” was a middle-of-the-road hour of Gotham, fine but not quite “James Frain getting blown up by a bazooka” great, silly but not quite Balloonman ridiculous. The feral, fanged dog-man Anubis and his mute brute of an owner made for intimidating enough villains-of-the-week; throwing a bone out a window isn’t the most inventive way of dispatching with an antagonist, but given Gotham’s history I’m just glad it didn’t involve a water bowl.
What’s downright fascinating, however, is watching how Ben McKenzie handles Jim Gordon as a writer. The actor has lived in the character’s two-and-a-half-sizes-too-small pants for four years now, so you have to assume he knows him better than most. So it’s interesting to note how the Jim Gordon of “The Demon’s Head” was a highlight reel for all Jim Gordon’s biggest faults. He’s stubborn, hard-headed; he refuses to believe Alfred and Bruce’s more outlandish claims despite a career that has included monster attacks, several resurrections, and that time he literally punched a kid’s face off.
But more than that, he’s just…not a very good detective, despite his ever-present best intentions. Case in point: Ra’s al Ghul walking into the GCPD station dressed as Tom Hanks in The Davinci Code and straight up introducing himself as Ra’s al Ghul and Jim responding with a let’s wait and see attitude. Come on, my man. You’ve lived in Gotham City, a mecca of psychopaths and madmen, for years now, and Bruce just told you this guy runs the Court of Owls, a mystical society you know is real. You joined it for like two weeks! What’s Jim’s endgame here? If Alfred hadn’t burst in and given R’as the old what for, I’m pretty sure Jim would have asked for the Nanda Parbat tourist brochure.
Off-duty, Jim isn’t exactly ticking off boxes in the common sense column, either. Seeing him jump so immediately into bed with Sofia Falcone is strange because, A) He shot her brother on his honeymoon, and B) it was established just two episodes ago that Jim’s literal worst nightmare is Lee Thompkins committing suicide over his unique brand of grim romancing.
Sofia herself is a tough case to crack, which is bad news for a detective who usually cracks cases through pure luck and/or the help of a 15-year-old and his butler. But I can’t tell if this is actual character work or inconsistent writing. Last week, Sofia seemed all cold calculations with a hint of her father’s ruthlessness; a woman pretending not to be ready for Gotham, when in reality she was made for Gotham. But here, she’s clearly over her head. Penguin uses her quite effectively to knock off the remainder of Carmine Falcone’s capos, and he didn’t even have to try, really. An easy day at the office for Gotham’s flightless crime lord. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Sofia just kind of…cried a little, then kissed Jim. “New times, new methods,” Penguin tells her. But, if I’m not mistaken, killing people and burying them in the ground is Gotham City’s baseball, a time-honored tradition that Sofia Falcone should definitely have learned at least at a little league level by now.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Even though Edward Nygma’s current storyline is still just two or three layers away from being an elaborate erectile dysfunction joke, I love the progression here. Riddler’s number one fan was silly fun, but the dynamic here between Oswald and Ed is refreshingly personal, and the decision to keep Ed alive, unfrozen and riddle-less, is deliciously cruel.
With that said, I will straight up never not laugh out loud at Gotham’s Mr. Freeze. He looks like Buzz Lightyear fucked a humidifier. Dude has a deathly aversion to warm air but doesn’t have visor on his helmet. I love it.
A truckload of awards to Robin Lord Taylor for the sheer exasperation you can feel as Oswald solves Ed’s new riddles. “You’re just describing a range of human behavior!”
It says volumes that Ivy disappeared two weeks ago and nobody seems to have noticed.