When the title of this piece was revealed, it sounded like a truly great episode... and it really is a truly great episode - easily on par with the best of the series, and amazingly only likely to be superseded by the next one.
What is remarkable about this installment is how Gotham's writers manage to tell such an electric and unpredictable tale, despite most of us already really knowing what's going to happen. Yes, the Joker will return. Yes, Selina's mom is up to no good. Yes, Edward and Barbara will keep torturing Oswald until he's a puddle of goo on the floor. The reason for this lies in minor, well-conceived plot twists, stellar acting and some immensely satisfying payoff moments for the stories of our characters.
"No...! Who beat me to it?!"
Not even Jim or Lee bothered me in this episode - in fact, I'd say both characters were used very effectively. Lee's newly-jaded persona provides the perfect bouncing wall for Jerome's madness, and Jim's harsh, disillusioned attitude talking to Lee and his cynical snark in dealing with Dwight proves that any misgivings about their characters are not to blame on the actors. Also, the unbridled venom between the two was both refreshing and kept to rather small doses.
Neither of the plotlines in this episode have much to do with each other - whether Jerome's, Oswald's or Selina's. Normally that would give me reason to pause but this episode is expertly paced, all of them work, there's a sense of urgency to all the proceedings, and... did I say Selina's plotline? Why, yes, I did. The mere factor that an important and loaded episode such as this takes care to focus so heavily on this character, who has been begging for more of a perspective for years, merits another gold star on its own.
While the plot between Maria, Bruce and Selina is eminently predictable, it serves to illustrate something extremely important about Selina.
A central point of the character of Catwoman is her belief that "nobody truly cares about her" and that "she can trust no one". As much as she's kicking and screaming going into it, she wants to trust her mother. She forgives her, they spend a lovely dinner together at the Wayne Manor with her boyfriend, and then the convenient "blackmail" story comes along and her alarm bells ring, and she wants to ignore them... but not enough not to want the truth.
"I just wanna make sure I got it right... You find out Bruce Wayne and your abandoned daughter are a thing, you figure there's an easy mark, you come back, make nice, do the whole mother-daughter bonding thing... and then, pull the scam. That about it?!"
And then... she realizes it is "all about Bruce". Bruce, the boy that she loves, her best friend, who tried to go behind her back and play her for a fool. Bruce, who was the only reason her mother came back to her after eleven years so she could extort him for money.
She's so angry she needs to punch him. She needs to punch him not just because she's angry, but because of a massive inferiority complex that's been brewing through the whole series. Bruce is smarter than her or at least he thinks he's smarter than her - when she confronts him and demands the truth, "- Did you know?! - Yes. It was obvious." Bruce is richer than her. Bruce is more important than her. The only thing Selina has on him is her street toughness and physical superiority, so at least she can prove that by beating the crap out of him.
Only, she no longer can. She gets one solid lick in, his face contorting in hurt and surprise - and then she can't lay a hand on him. She wants the brawl - "Fight me! Hit me!" - and Bruce just says, "No", and she can do nothing... and that's where her last comforting illusion of supremacy falls.
Bruce Wayne is no longer just Bruce Wayne. He's "something else," "someone else." All the training, all the soul searching and all that's happened has lead him up to this point. Remember the boy cowering before her when he told her he needed to go back to the manor, desperate to hold on to her but unable to make his voice heard or even give an explanation? That boy is gone. He stands up and faces her wrath, calmly answering for his actions in that oh-so-infuriating logical manner, never wavering for an instant.
"But for very different reasons."
This is the conflict. This is what will follow them through the decades. Bruce is no flawless person. He will lie to protect those he loves. He will lie to their faces if needed, he'll do anything. He'll die to protect them. Two hundred thousand dollars is nothing to him for even the remotest chance of making Selina happy. Getting beaten half to death by Sonny Gilzean was nothing for any chance to save her from harm.
He's never wanted to hurt her, he's never tried to hurt her for an instant, but he will always believe that he knows best and that he can make decisions for others - and that's what hurts and angers Selina most of all. He wants to protect her, but she doesn't want his protection, she doesn't want his help, and she does not want his silent condescension.
With Bruce going behind her back, what Selina perceives is that he doesn't trust in her ability or respect her right to make her own decision. Rubbing salt in the wound, by assuming she wouldn't find out the truth Bruce tells her that compared to him, he simply thinks she's stupid. If he doesn't trust, understand or respect her, how can he truly love her?
Still, their spark has perhaps never burned brighter. Her hate and their mutual passion simply ooze off the screen. It's one of the best scenes ever played out between them out of a long chain of gems. It's certainly the most emotional for Selina, who hasn't looked remotely as devastated since 'Strike Force' - Camren's capacity for channeling emotion has evolved to the point where it's simply breathtaking.
When they first met, only Bruce really needed Selina. Then they both needed each other. Now, for all Selina can see, only she needs Bruce. This is where their love was built - and again, it's a love that will last through the ages - but now Selina has to break free of him.
This is no shallow, cartoonish appeal to "girl power" for its own sake and its own gratification. It's about independence, about self respect and about being able to meet your loved one on equal footing. It's about Bruce learning and Selina showing who she truly is - something neither has been very good at - instead of him relying on an imagined ability to outsmart her. It's about overcoming the inequality caused by the simple fact that Selina knows Bruce much better than Bruce knows Selina.
The side story between Oswald, Tabitha, Edward and Barbara is the most pedestrian of tonight's fare, and that's saying something, because in several other episodes it would've ranked as the best. Edward has broken Oswald's true hold on political power, and now he's out to destroy his criminal empire. Edward isn't even shown tonight, only appearing as a voice in a short phone call to point him to the place for the presumed showdown in the next episode, but there's no doubt that's he's the one moving all the pieces.
Meanwhile, Barbara and Tabitha conspire to take him out once they're done with the Penguin. It's safe to say it won't be that easy.
Barbara has truly grown into her own as a character over the last seasons. Her current persona combines the high-class girl of season one with the unhinged psychotic of season two, an appetite and aptitude for schemes and a lust for power. In a way, she combines elements of both Penguin and Riddler, though I don't believe she can hope to match either at their own specific strengths. Still, that's what makes this particular conspiracy so effective - Edward is turning the wheels in the background, and Barbara executes the plan perfectly.
Tabitha is mostly along as the muscle, and Butch is nowhere to be seen. While we all know where this is headed, small twists such as Ozzie's calling Babs on her duplicity, parried and riposted by the phone call, lends the proceedings an air of unpredictability.
This plot harks back to lines both from the pilot and the always-important 'Penguin's Umbrella'. First of all, not even Oswald is immune to having his love exploited, and second, as Carmine used to say, "you can't have organized crime without law and order."
It's clear, no matter who you root for, that neither Barbara and Tabitha nor Eddie would be anywhere near as effective lords of the underworld as Oswald had the potential of being. Oswald learned from the master, and while his... shall we say, "eccentric"?... personality traits often get in the way, impulsively gunning down a slew of mob bosses because you can't be bothered is no Oswald move. It's no Carmine move. It isn't even a Fish move. At heart, Edward, Barbara and Tabitha are all people who revel in anarchy, and that spells trouble for Gotham's criminal enterprises.
The main story of the evening is the return of Jerome.
The cult of Jerome's people steal his body, attempt to revive him and are lead to believe they have failed. Dwight, not to be denied, cuts off his face and decides to wear it as a mask to assume his mantle, attacking a news station to spread their message of pandemonium.
Meanwhile, Jerome awakens at the police station after his body has been brought in. He kills a police officer, takes Lee hostage to catch up on recent events, then leaves the GCPD to kidnap Dwight, staple his face back on and blow him up in a massive explosion on state television, taking out the entire electricity grid and plunging the city into darkness. The End.
Narratively speaking, I think that this is actually the weakest of the story lines, but given the mythology of the show and its characters and the extreme effectiveness of Cameron Monaghan as the Joker that hardly even matters.
In my view, there has never been a better actor for the role of the Joker. While many swear by Ledger, Nicholson or whomever, Cameron is most definitely up there with any of them. As you watch him, he seems tailor-made for the role. The tics, the inflection of his voice and his entire demeanor shapes him as an avatar of chaos, elevating him far beyond any other one-off villains on the show. The reason I am not devoting a larger part of the review specifically to him is that everyone is talking about it. Everyone.
Another part of the reason the plot works is the twist with the face-off routine, leading us as viewers to vaguely doubt if we'd see the real Jerome at all.
The third part lies in his contrast with Dwight. The confused disbelief of the crowd as the impostor shows up, his lack of credibility in the eyes of the police force and his facedown with the real thing at the end all cement why the madmen of the city would choose Jerome as their prophet.
Finally, this is the plot setting up the showdown between Jerome and Bruce Wayne, as the nascent Joker hasn't forgotten about his failed attempt to kill him. I won't lie - when I watched the promo for the next episode, I practically screamed. Considering David's ability to elevate anyone with whom he shares a scene, and Cameron's ability to do the same, this has the potential to be absolutely incredible.
Next week: Batman vs. the Joker.
"You ain't seen nothing yet..."