Edward Nygma isn't a hard person to understand.
Now, I realize that statement might seem a bit weird, seeing as most would say that Edward is certifiably insane, but Gotham has never been very subtle about him or made it very hard for us. (This isn't meant to take anything away from Cory Michael Smith's portrayal of the character, which is more than adequate.) It's all there, spelled out in nice, big letters for all to see if you bother reading it. Thus I have never quite felt the need to break him down on paper, but since this is an episode with a large dish of Edward I figured it best to do so anyway.
Edward Nygma is a kind, gentle and very quirky man desperate for affection and validation. He's the archetype for the bullied kid at school, and Jim and Harvey represent the bullies. Edward is quite brilliant, but like most people on his "side of the spectrum" he has trouble understanding and conforming to the unwritten rules of human discourse. Thus he rarely gets any acknowledgment for his work. People make fun of him, none of his colleagues respect him and he feels neglected.
Like many intelligent, bullied kids, Edward seeks refuge in self-confirmation. He tries to console himself with thoughts like, "it doesn't matter if they hate me, because they're stupid. I'm much smarter than they are, so only my opinion matters." Unfortunately, this also means that his sense of self-worth becomes defined by his intelligence, and his belief in his own superiority something which must constantly be reaffirmed through the many riddles. Anyone solving any of his riddles - perhaps save Oswald Cobblepot, whom Edward identifies with as another bullied child who's thrown off his shackles - makes him feel humiliated. These are the makings of a narcissistic personality disorder coupled with an inferiority complex.
The development of Nygma as a character, just like many others on this show and just as most things in life, is best understood through a simplistic dialectical model.
Edward longs for human contact, but his own belief system and defense mechanisms constantly gets in his way. This framework gradually takes on a life of its own - his "evil self" - as the circumstances of his existence become increasingly unbearable. Some people view this as a case of a split personality but it is best understood as the on-screen manifestation of the antithesis of his ego. Where his "original" self craves affection, his antithesis is withdrawn from real human contact, contemptuous of other people, only seeking coexistence through manipulation. Wording it differently, the thesis of Nygma wants to play with people. The antithesis wants to play against people. After the events following Kristen Kringle's murder, Edward's original persona capitulates to his demon, and he's whole again - the synthesis of the conflict. It's hard to say how much of the "old" Edward Nygma is left.
It is important to understand this to make sense of Edward's actions in this episode. For all intents and purposes, the man who hugged Jim way back in episode ten is dead and he's incapable of affection. As he always has an ulterior motive behind his actions, he expects everyone else to have one as well, which fuels his paranoia, ironically convincing himself that Jim is out to get him when in fact, Jim does not suspect Edward whatsoever.
Turns out, that's bad news for Jim Gordon.
It was important for the show to give Edward one in the win column to drive home the fact that no, Edward Nygma is no joke. Edward Nygma is dangerous. And what a win it was, as he manages to completely dismantle the star detective of the GCPD in one single episode and send him to Blackgate Prison. Some people might complain about the "hurried" pacing, skipping the trial altogether, but this was clearly meant as a "Hammer of God" moment. Also, the day of reckoning for Jim Gordon has been a long time coming and felt well-earned.
The riddle game of this piece was excellent and actually made sense. Here, the riddles aren't left as clues to how to catch him - except for the anagram of the painting's title - but rather as an elaborate trap for his adversary. Jim, being completely unaware that he is the intended target - which would hold true even if he did suspect Nygma for his girlfriend's murder - never stands a chance.
The second story featuring Bruce and Selina is by far the weakest as well as completely removed from the others. In the review for the previous episode I made a wish for more of Selina's perspective and having Bruce help her out for a change. Now, the show does actually take me up on that challenge and it has Bruce standing up for Selina - only it isn't for anything that really matters. It's just Selina wanting money and Bruce saying he has no problem stealing from thieves, and we get no more insight into her mind, as it's really all about his exposition.
At the end of that plot, we have Selina patching him up after he's taken a real beating in defense of her. This is a really cute scene, and it's not like Camren and David can't sell it, only then he finishes it off with yet another self-realizing speech, touching on some of the "violence junkie" aspects of his future alter ego. The problem is, what's needed here is them actually talking to each other, not Bruce giving a monologue and Selina making a redundant five-second point afterwards - one that says absolutely nothing about her as a person. For all of the excellent gif-making potential of those scenes, I couldn't help feeling cheated of actual content.
This should have been Selina's time to speak. What does she want out of life? Why does she let him stay at her place? What's in it for her? Is it only motivated by a hidden crush, or is there something more? Hopefully that's answered soon.
The third and final subplot of the episode is Penguin's, which is quite pedestrian yet very well-acted. He's a lost man, aimlessly wandering around trying to reconnect with his own life as a huge part of his own personality has simply been cut out of him. First, he seeks out Butch and Tabitha, which predictably turns out to be a very bad idea. However, just as we've really always known, Butch isn't such a bad man at heart, and he allows Oswald to escape with his life over the objections of his girlfriend. This is a strong character-building moment for him, where he finally stands up to at least one of the women who've had him under their thumb and makes the kind, if not the right decision. I will pretend that "tarred-and-feathered" twist, making Tabitha look like a petulant child, never happened. That was hands down the silliest and most hamfisted moment of the second season and the scene would have been stronger without it.
So, Oswald visits Edward, which sort of ties plot A and plot C together. Now, Edward idolizes Oswald as his mirror image and ideal self. He is genuinely happy to see him again, but it isn't primarily for Oswald's own sake - it's because he's got his "mirror me" back. As Edward finds out that the mirror is broken, Oswald is discarded. This is one of the saddest moments in the episode, and Oswald's back on the streets again visiting his mother's grave, at the end of his rope, where he finally meets his father. Some great acting aside, that's really the conclusion of his story for this episode. (Though, as everyone else already has, I must say that Reubens is phenomenal. The Gotham casting department never fails to impress.)
All in all, one great, one passable and one mediocre plotline. I'll take that as a win.
Two notes for upcoming episodes:
- Barbara conveniently and unsurprisingly awoke right at the end of Jim's trial. It's clear the show is steering them back together. James and Lee are done. Expect Lee to take a liking to a certain butler, as per comic book canon.
- Bruce overhearing the result of Jim's trial was hardly a coincidence. This is his next great detective mission. Expect Bruce and Edward to cross parts in the near future over that.