The plot of this episode is very simple, encompassing only two storylines. Jerome kidnaps Bruce and hauls him off to a circus for execution, Bruce escapes and beats the living hell out of him. Edward lures Oswald to an abandoned building to settle the score for his murdered girlfriend, then at the end of the episode he shoots him.
That's it. There are a few minor additions to the story but they aren't important to the episode.
What elevates this episode are great acting, fantastic design, numerous clever homages to Batman lore and the most visceral fight scene the show has ever done.
If we are to discuss Oswald's storyline first - because while more dramatic in conclusion, it's comparatively weaker - there are a few things to point out.
First off, the idea that there wouldn't be hell to pay for Oswald is ridiculous. In fact, this proved to be a far better episode for fans of the Ed'n'Ozzie relationship than I suspected. This is because Ozzie did get through to him, and the show did not ridicule or demonize Oswald for his romantic feelings.
The man shooting Oswald at the end is a deeply conflicted Edward Nygma, but this is still Edward Nygma. The notion that he could simply forgive such a betrayal, that he wouldn't consummate his revenge, is completely alien to his character and would in fact utterly neuter him.
When making sense of Gotham it's important to realize that we're dealing with a symbolic visual medium populated by extreme characters. Last episode, in a signature don't-try-this-at-home move, we saw Selina "breaking up" with Bruce by physically assaulting him. Yet, we accept this in the context of the show and don't even let this sour our love for the pairing, because it rings true to the rather twisted people they'll become and because Gotham is a city steeped in violence.
And, Bruce and Selina aren't anywhere near as maladjusted as Oswald and Edward. As intricate as the Riddler's schemes may be, he always chooses the nuclear option in dealing with all his personal problems. Dougherty abused Kristen? Kill him. Kristen threatened to rat him out to the police? Kill her. Jim might be onto him? Kill another colleague and pin it on him to put him in prison for murder. Oswald? He kills people for a sandwich.
These men don't play by the same rules as normal people. Exaggerated emotional responses are the norm for the comic book medium.
Second, obviously Oswald will survive. Besides being a vital part of Batman continuity, Oswald is such a force on this show he is practically unkillable. Through the final scene, Ed gets his vengeance, and when these two next meet the show will turn a new page. Given the premise, this is the best scenario one could possibly have hoped for, and this is why I'm all but certain that no, the bond between Oswald and Edward is not broken forever.
Finally, I want to draw your particular attention to a line from when Oswald is held captive. "Remember when I put a knife in your mom’s back? That was awful, wasn’t it? Her crying, bleeding out, you just holding her as she died. You never did anything about it."
Yeah, she might be Tigress, but probably, Tabitha Galavan just signed her own death sentence.
Moving on to the main plot of the show, this is the vehicle for Batman's first confrontation with the Joker. There's no reason to mince words - Jerome is the Joker, and Bruce will be Batman. This is sold immaculately both by the show and the actors.
Most of Bruce and Jerome's exchanges - Bruce tricking Jerome by appealing to his vanity, Jerome goading him to kill him and "sink to his own level" - are so well-trodden Batman territory they don't even merit discussion. That's not a criticism, because they are all well-crafted and engaging, and because Gotham has to show this evolution.
This is the Joker's first attempt to convince "the city's white knight" of the inherent evil of all people. It's the start of Batman as the Joker's "audience of one," and that's why complaints about Batman not "creating the Joker" have no merit - in this interpretation, they both create each other. Some people have issues about Jerome plausibly knowing Bruce's secret identity in the future, but this is of no consequence - to the Joker, Batman is the real person, and he pleads exclusively to the darkness of that persona.
What David Mazouz and Cameron Monaghan emphasize in all their exchanges is the growing realization that "this is someone special". This war will shape their whole lives. It's in the look in the Joker's eyes as he punches the staple gun in Bruce's arm with Bruce defiantly staring back at him. It's in the anguished scream of Bruce looking down at his broken enemy, his own, personal avatar of evil. It's Gotham's small fortune that this is left in the hands of two of the most capable young actors on American television.
The fight scene - paying obvious tribute both to 'The Killing Joke' and 'The Dark Knight Returns' - is fantastic. Apart from serving to cement Batman's "no kill rule", something I'm sure many Jerome fans were very relieved by, it's fantastic because it's a scene a long time coming. We have been waiting for this moment for nearly three years, and it couldn't have been successfully filmed even one year ago. The Joker is no Bane, but it's time to start taking Bruce Wayne seriously. In this installment, we see him beating the man to be his arch nemesis to a bloody pulp, and as Alfred says in the closing moments of this story, "I started training you so you could defend yourself. We're well past that now, aren't we?"
The brawl at the GCPD, the stuff between Jim and Lee, and Tabitha, Barbara and Butch's point of view... all window dressing. It is unclear what role the conflict between Edward and his partners in crime will play in upcoming episodes. Jim's uncle and the revelation that Bruce's "brother" will be put back into play again is just setup for the future Court of Owls arc. Speaking of which, Jerome smashed the owl statuette. That would be rather anticlimactic if that twist would end with that.
While this may actually not be the best chapter of the series, it's by far its most spectacular installment, capping off Gotham's strongest-ever finale and leaving us on a high note for things to come.
Can I borrow one of those cryogenic tanks until April?