Reader, if you scroll down to the star rating portion of this recap you’ll see I gave this episode of Gotham four out of five stars (“Very Good”), but I just want to say upfront that if I was grading the episode title alone the amount of stars would scroll off the page, crash through your screen and the ceiling of your home, then fly into the night sky itself where I would like to project that beautifully dumb pun for the rest of eternity, so that my children, and my children’s children, could look up and see it for generations to come. “Hog Day Afternoon.” What a wonderful thing that is. Especially when you consider it’s a play on Dog Day Afternoon, a gritty 1975 crime-drama that shares not a single solitary similarity to Gotham other than the fact they both featured Carol Kane in a supporting role. I’d like to think there was a scene with a bank-robber chanting “Arkham! Arkham!” that got cut for being super insensitive.
Sorry, right, the episode, which was in fact “Very Good.” That wondrous title refers to the arrival of Batman rogue Professor Pyg, played with terrifying enthusiasm by two-time Tony-winner Michael Cerveris. The chrome-domed actor isn’t a stranger to television—Fringe fans would recognize him as the Observer code-named September, shhh nobody tell Vulture—but you can always kind of tell when a performer spends most of their time on the stage. Twirling around with butcher knives in your hands with a pig mask on your head while taking truly grotesque bites out of a sausage doesn’t work unless you sell that shit all the way back to the cheap seats. Cerveris commits, man. It’s the difference between a grown-ass man saying “oink, oink, little piggy” being hilarious and being horrifying. In the grand Gotham tradition, this character is both at once.
Pyg’s M.O. is so grotesquely, nauseatingly Halloween-themed he might as well be throwing handfuls of candy-corn at people. Instead, he’s slicing up each member of the GCPD who acts as a “bagman” between corrupt cops and Penguin, leaving their corpses in public places with a severed pig’s head atop their shoulders.
This leads to something Gotham does all the time, and it never stops being funny to me. Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock dive into the case, driving around and following leads, interrogating witnesses, and if you’re only half paying attention it appears on the surface like their doing a good job. Meanwhile, every single person they are trying to save from being murdered gets murdered. Harvey and Jim never stop anyone from getting murdered. They just collect clues off of corpses. Like, these two will be looking at one end of a jump rope under a magnifying glass while someone gets strangled with the same jump rope behind them.
After three straight deaths and one instance of Jim taunting a homeless saxophone player, the GCPD track Pyg’s van to a warehouse, where he’s keeping yet another cop prisoner. If you think for a second that Jim Gordon is careful enough not to trigger the Saw-like death-trap embedded in that cop’s stomach, congratulations on watching your first episode of Gotham, you missed a lot of Alice in Wonderland incest stuff in Season 3. Michael Chiklis threw a guy out a window. It was a good time.
Really, these are all medium-to-large nitpicks that are basically negated when Pyg gets his first showcase scene across from a tied-up Jim. Cerveris is a natural scene-stealer; he’s an operatic, over-the-top menace with a flair for showmanship, but the whole performance is actually about the small stuff. The dude worked oinks into his laugh, for goodness sake. And when he momentarily drops the Pyg persona (but not the mask), you can see the severely damaged human being underneath the seven layer dip of crazy, as you should with every great Batman villain. “I have suffered profound loss at the hands of the greedy pigs in power,” he tells Jim. “PRO-FOUND.”
Of course, Pyg gets away in the end. Jim throws himself off a balcony to break a chair, Harvey gets his throat cut. It’s another day ending in Y for these two. But what follows is a moment between Jim and Harvey that is surprisingly moving for an episode of TV that also features a Frankenstein’s monster bludgeoning a man with a big hammer. Jim and Harvey have come a long way since the pilot, when Harvey was going to straight up shoot Jim in the head because Fish “lol remember Fish?” Mooney told him to. But unlike many plot-points—cough Ivy’s aging cough—that personality turn-around was actually earned over time with consistent writing. These guys are a solid example of the “more than partners” trope; they’re broes, an iron-clad relationship forged in the fires of shooting muggers and punching children in the face.
But, as we’ve seen time and time again, the one thing more important to Jim than his relationships is the police badge that he definitely takes out of his pockets and sniffs while he’s alone. The realization that Harvey, too, was taking money from Penguin is crushing to Jim; Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue do great work here realistically painting the pain of a bro-ship hitting an iceberg. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner. Maybe I didn’t want to,” Jim says, before stone-facing his way out of the room like a high school freshman telling himself don’t let them see you cry after a breakup. With that bond broken and Pyg still on the loose, the sun falls and the Hog Day Afternoon officially becomes a Hog Day’s Night.
You can have that one for free, Gotham.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good