Gotham: How the Riddler Got His Name

Parts silly, parts nonsensical but ultimately really fun.

At some point I have to wonder where my obsessive overanalyzing of Gotham starts to hurt my enjoyment of the show. To me, practically everything in this installment was eminently predictable, yet if I hadn't watched every promo and every teaser, read every interview and spent the entire three-month hiatus discussing and theorizing about the show, that might not have been the case.

So, what I'd foreseen or gathered was:

  • Edward Nygma feeling tormented about murdering his best friend; killing a whole lot of people; and challenging Lucius Fox to a game of wits
  • Lucius stepping up to the challenge yet Edward eluding capture
  • Oswald getting saved from death by Ivy
  • Bruce seeking out Selina but getting rejected and then beating up Sonny and his thugs
  • Thomas kidnapping and replacing Bruce, and:
  • Bruce ending up in the custody of the League of Shadows at Nanda Parbat by the end of the episode.

The only part I didn't predict was Jim's story, because... well, frankly, I didn't care too much about it. Anyway, all those pieces put together made up more or less the whole episode.

That's why I'll refrain from posting any advanced predictions in this review. For better or worse, I don't want to screw you over with my poison.

If there is one major letdown in this episode, it lies in how it's called 'How the Riddler Got His Name'. Personally I'd expected a little more intriguing answer to that question than, "Yeah, so he just started calling himself that."


Still, you can't say it's not in character. The Riddler makes himself, and that's what the show sets about exploring — nothing would offend the massive-yet-fragile ego of his invented persona more than suggesting this is all an accident, that he's just a victim of unfortunate circumstances or a creation of another.

In a way, it's similar to Hannibal's famous line, “Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened”, even if this is clearly partially a lie serving to mask a horrible past. I suspect that this is also part of what's troubling to Eddie about Oswald's final words to him, "There is no Edward Nygma without the Penguin."

The other negative has to do with suspension of disbelief. A show like Gotham — part science fiction, part detective drama, part fantasy, part romance and part dark comedy — depends a lot on that, and in order to maintain it, it's vitally important that the show makes sense and is consistent within its own framework.


That's why it's more-or-less unforgivable when Lucius, who already once recognized Edward Nygma by his voice through a loudspeaker in ten seconds, fails to do so again as he spends an entire conversation with him on the phone talking about riddles. Then you add Harvey — who worked with Eddie for years — overhearing it all to the equation, and it just gets really silly.

That's not to say this is a bust, far from it. Once you ignore these few errors, the rest of the episode shines. It's well-acted, well-paced and well-directed.

While Jim Gordon's story is rarely very thrilling, this installment delegates him to a rather minor role discussing the Court of Owls with his uncle — and it has to be said, you can't quite be certain who Frank is really betraying — while Lucius Fox has to step up to the plate as the foil to Eddie's Riddler, which is only one of the best ideas the show has ever had. I genuinely loved his interactions with Edward in places where the dynamic between Ed and Jim would have fallen flat, and I'm very happy that Chris Chalk got his time in the sun as he totally runs away with it, proving how deep the talent on the show really is.

In Riddler World, Jim is the jock to Eddie's nerd, and that really does not make for a very enduring or palatable hero versus villain format. Where Eddie will always be "one in the crowd" to Jim, this episode convincingly goes about setting him up as the true nemesis to the criminally underutilized Lucius. Albeit not the worst offender, Jim has always leaned towards treating Eddie like a joke, and so any concern he'd voice over Ed's wellbeing would come across as self-serving and hypocritical.


While we're on the subject of Jim versus Eddie, it's notable how they handle another conflict in this episode. The show is clearly aware of the twisted bully/victim narrative they have spinned with Edward, and no other character has been more guilty of belittling him on the show than Harvey Bullock.

That's what makes Eddie choose him as the sacrificial lamb, and that's what prompts Harvey's comical plea for mercy at the top of the stairs — "I'm sorry, Ed!" At some level, he does know that he's at least a small part of the reason Edward snapped, and as that behavior was one of his most unsympathetic traits in the first season this realization serves to further humanize him.

As a sharp contrast to Jim, Lucius is someone who might have even liked and respected "good Eddie", with all of his quirks and his wit. Lucius speaks Edward's language — as evidenced by him immediately solving his riddle in their first scene together one year ago — which makes their scenes much more lively and compelling than Ed's bitter feud with blue-collar cop Jim. This is a person who might have been a friend and a light in Eddie's darkness but never got to know him, and that's what makes his plea to Edward's better nature ring true and add a touch of real tragedy to the storyline.


This is also part of the reason why Edward selects him as his arch-enemy, why he's so happy that he's found him and why he's such a trade-up from Gordon. Lucius represents all that old Edward wanted to be but never became. He basically has Ed's old job but he's well-liked by Bullock and his colleagues, he's confident, calm and collected without being arrogant, he doesn't have the constant need to prove himself, and as long as Fox is around, Edward has to worry that he might not be the smartest guy in the room.


Still, the main purpose of the Riddler plot is for Edward to say farewell to Oswald... and even if this would've packed a bigger punch if Oswald was actually dead, it's still very important in showing us Edward's own perspective. This is a man talking to a figment of his own imagination and for all of his obvious denial, he has no reason to lie. There have been many people angry at Edward for manipulating Oswald ever since they started spending time together, but this is besides the point.

"I want you to know that our friendship meant something to me. I cared about you, and I miss you."

Before Isabella's murder, Edward "manipulated" Oswald in order to endear himself with him and not to destroy him, and this is shown demonstratively to be the only way Edward knows how to relate to people. Oswald was a hero to Ed, a role model, so his approval was of supreme importance to him, and there is no evidence of Eddie ever meaning him any harm before Ozzie killed his girlfriend.

"I just killed the best friend that I have ever had. My search for a teacher or an enemy... that was just me trying to hold onto him for a little bit longer."

If that's not enough, you need only look at how the man is nearly falling apart with grief talking about it with Lucius. The show intentionally avoids addressing Ed's reaction to Oswald's romantic overtures, but in a sense, Oswald is really Edward's first and only love, the only real person whose affection he's treasured, whereas Kristen and Isabella were only trophies or symbols.


Finally addressing Bruce's and Thomas's storyline which is quite simple, I'd like to spend some time on my naming "the clone" or 514A. As you've seen through my reviews I have consistently refused calling him "Five", because "Five" is not a name. He has no name, and if I'm going to call him anything before he's actually given a name it'll be Thomas, as his function on the show is virtually identical to the function of Thomas Wayne Jr. in the Court of Owls storyline of the New-52 comic canon.

Still, this is a regrettable and noteworthy mistake of the show as in this episode, Kathryn ostensibly refers to him as "the clone." This completely removes the intriguing ambiguity that was maintained throughout the comic book storyline regarding this character, as it is now evident to the viewer that he cannot be Bruce's actual twin except at a genetic level.

It's a bit hard to see how the show is truly going to make heads or tails of this storyline. Yes, the "evil twin" twist is terribly cliché, and that's why if you do it, it has to make sense. Kidnapping Bruce but refraining from killing him and sending him off to training: Why? What was the chief reason they made a clone in the first place, seeing as it really looks like overkill just for a time-limited replacement? These are questions the show must conclusively answer or the proceedings will fall flat.

"Wanted or not, no one's going to be afraid of the Riddler."
-
"Maybe not yet. But they will be."

To round off my thoughts on this episode, the general aesthetics are absolutely perfect. The Riddler's costume is a thing of flawless beauty and there has never been an actor half as good or looking one tenth as sharp portraying the role. While not always the strongest in scripts, the overall quality, workmanship and "touch of feel" of each episode has substantially improved for each season.

Basically, the show has doubled down on all its high cards and is currently going from strength to strength.

Thanks to themasterplanner for valuable post-episode discussion.

7 comments:

millicentcordelia said...

Enjoyed your review as always!

“If that's not enough, you need only look at how the man is nearly falling apart with grief talking about it with Lucius. The show intentionally avoids addressing Ed's reaction to Oswald's romantic overtures, but in a sense, Oswald is really Edward's first and only love, the only real person whose affection he's treasured, whereas Kristen and Isabella were only trophies or symbols.”

Totally agree!
Even if the makers of Gotham aren't brave enough to go there (it's 2017! What's the problem!) Ed and Oswald are each other's one true love.

“The Riddler's costume is a thing of flawless beauty and there has never been an actor half as good or looking one tenth as sharp portraying the role.”

And, Cory Michael Smith gave an award worthy performance, as did Chris Chalk.

The revelation that Five/Thomas is a clone didn’t bother me so much as it did you, but I do hope he doesn’t end up being just another disposable character.

This episode proves how good Gotham can be when they clear away the clutter-limit themselves to a few story lines, and give the actors time and space to do what they do best!

mazephoenix said...

Hear, hear..it's 2017 why can't two villains be in love? Well they so are. If Hannibal the series could kinda go there in 2015 why not Gotham now?
Brilliant episode and review. I loved Ed hallucinating Ozzie all over, and Lucius being clever and foxy.
The clone/evil twin stuff was kinda dull.
Ah, Ivy finally had her use by saving Ozzie. Good girl.

Patryk said...

It's hard to watch when you know that some characters can't ever die. Of course the Penguin is alive.

Wonder if Bruce is really in Nanda Parbat or does Arrow have dibs on that part of the DC universe for the time being.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Arrow doesn't have dibs on any of the Batman mythology. Gotham has licensed all of it, with the possible exception of actually showing Batman.

Patryk said...

Ra's al Ghul and his 2 daughters are or were characters on Arrow. It would be strange to see him again here so soon.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I don't particularly like the idea of casting Ra's on Gotham since he is only involved in "forming" Batman in Nolanverse, and I am not a big fan of that take. That said, Alexander Siddig will be fifty times the Ra's that Arrow had - for one, he's actually the right ethnicity, and he's a vastly superior actor - and Gotham really can't go around keeping tabs on everything Arrow's stealing from the Batverse.

Marianna said...

"Gotham really can't go around keeping tabs on everything Arrow's stealing from the Batverse."

So true! Haha!

"That's why it's more-or-less unforgivable when Lucius, who already once recognized Edward Nygma by his voice through a loudspeaker in ten seconds, fails to do so again as he spends an entire conversation with him on the phone talking about riddles. Then you add Harvey - who worked with Eddie for years - overhearing it all to the equation, and it just gets really silly."

I thought that Ed's voice was disguised, but you are right. The riddles alone should have been a giveaway.

I find it a little lame that Ed was originally hoping for Jim as his nemesis. When the Riddler challenged Batman with his Riddles it made sense because Batman is a knowledgeable fellow. That's not the case with Jim. I think the show should stop having its villains confusing Jim Gordon the not-yet-existant Batman.