This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Of all the episodes that have played with broader Batman mythology, whether important stuff (last week’s mediocre Joker effort) or more obscure (we had an encounter with Black Mask this season), I believe that “Red Hood” is the one that finally got it right. I’ve been calling for Gotham to strike a balance between it’s bat-obligations and telling a story that can stand on its own two feet, and “Red Hood” did it, and did it pretty well.
Gotham played to its strengths for most (not all, sadly) of this episode, in fact. We had another big set piece opening with the newly-hooded “Red Hood Gang” robbing a bank. As usual, Gotham City looks great in these sequences, and this had a good rhythm to it, blending a little of that tick-tock heist feel from The Dark Knight with some good old fashioned Dog Day Afternoon populism to wrap it up.
By the way, and I realize this is off-topic, but if you’re a fan of Dog Day Afternoon (if you aren’t, I got nothing for you, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s an absolute masterpiece of a crime movie, and if you dig that sort of thing don’t delay), you really MUST take the time to watch the documentary about the real-life guy who pulled off the heist, The Dog. Our review of that is here.
But I digress…
Despite a recent resurgence in New 52 Batman continuity, the Red Hood is kind of a footnote in bat-history. In short, in the comics, this was the Joker’s costumed criminal identity before he was the Joker. That’s all you really need to know for the moment, but you can read John Saavedra’s excellent article about the Red Hood’s history right here. In some versions of the story it’s just an identity passed from gang member to gang member (as it was on this episode) before the nameless Joker fella ended up wearing it while he took a bath in some chemicals.
Basically, though, the Red Hood is exactly the kind of bat-related concept that Gotham should be going after more often. It can be adapted to “pre-Batman” days fairly easily, the connections to other villains and heroes (like I said, read John’s article) are well-known enough to die-hard fans, but can still offer plenty of surprises to more casual fans who follow the show. This is the kind of stuff that gets it done without having to remind us that Selina likes cats or that GCPD’s CSI doofus is fond of riddles every other minute (disclosure: neither of those things happen in this episode, thankfully). See also: The Court of Owls.
Had this episode not aired the week after Bruno Heller and friends made a big stink about meeting young Jerome/Joker, there was even the opportunity for some quality misdirection. The first member of the gang who puts on the Red Hood for some bank job theatrics fancies himself a comedian, has a rail-thin build, and a high-pitched laugh. He gets offed by his own guys the next time we see him, but just for a minute, as I was watching his intro, and even knowing that the show has apparently chosen another Joker, I had to wonder. Michael Goldsmith, who played this particular thug, might not have made a bad proto-Joker.
For those few minutes where I didn’t know quite what was going on it was, dare I say it? Exciting! Gotham, for possibly the first time in its entire run, was offering me something that was both familiar and a mystery. “Where are they going with this?” I asked myself. Usually I’m asking myself questions like “Why am I still watching this show?” so this was a nice change of pace.
I was so invested in the possibilities offered by introducing the Red Hood gang to this show that I’m genuinely bummed that this was a one-and-done. There’s still the promise that the Red Hood will live on in some form, but I think that done right, this could have been spread out over several episodes, if not an entire season. I mean, they’d need a little more than a guy revenge robbing banks so he could open a pastry shop, but I’m sad that those few glorious moments when Gotham wasn’t telegraphing its punches are over.
Was the episode full of the usually shoddy police work? Yes. Were precious minutes spent on that thoroughly ridiculous Fish Mooney subplot that could have been spent on more time with the gang and Gordon/Bullock? Of course.
And, no, that ridiculous eyeball popping moment with Ms. Mooney does not suddenly make this an interesting story.
Meanwhile, Penguin, the driving force of the show’s entire first half, has lost all momentum. He’s also too stupid to know where the club gets its booze. I sometimes fear that this show only has a set number of good ideas they are allowed to dole out each week, which means that multiple characters simply get shorted because the allotment is spent elsewhere. It’s the only possible explanation for how what was handily fifty percent of the show’s story for more than half a season has suddenly become an exercise in wheel-spinning.
Why we had five minutes with Barbara and her pet street urchins this week is utterly beyond me. I’m not sure there’s a more poorly-written, dislikeable character on TV at the moment than Barbara Keane. It recalls my sobbing headdesk of stupidity moments during Laurel Lance’s sudden descent into mystery pill-popping and alcoholism during Arrow season two. That looks as nuanced as Breaking Bad season three compared to Barbara’s “arc.”
But y’know what’s really unforgivable? This was the best they could do for Jeffrey Combs. If anyone deserves to be a major baddie of some kind on Gotham, this is the one I want to see.
In all seriousness, “The Red Hood” was roughly as good as Gotham knows how to be. If it can find a way to tell more stories like this, it might keep viewers on their toes.
Life With the Waynes
Sterling stuff this week, actually. Watching previews, I was skeptical of what I assumed to be an “Alfred brings an army buddy home to help teach Bruce how to fight” interlude. I was wrong.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I could have done with an entire episode of Alfred’s war-buddy creeping around, getting more and more sketchy, letting Bruce beat the hell out of him, and revealing more about Alfred’s past. It would have made that final stabby moment that much more powerful. And sure, we know Alfred survives this, but I’ve grown to enjoy Sean Pertwee’s interpretation of the character so much that this still hurt.
– Was that kid who picked up the Red Hood mask supposed to be…I dunno…Jason Todd? I know, I know…it’s a stretch.
– This idea that masks are totemic in Gotham City is something that’s been explored in the comics. The first arc from the ’90s incarnation of Legends of the Dark Knight was a “year one” style story called “Shaman.” It was written by the great Denny O’Neil with some killer art by Denys Cowan. There’s much of that old “give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth” to be found in that story, as it was tonight, as well.
– One thing I do really appreciate about Gotham is its continued poking of holes in the theory of “escalation” in Gotham City. This was something floated in the comics but popularized by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Essentially, there would be no need for costumed criminals were they not reacting to Batman. I never bought that. I prefer it to be the other way around, where Batman is the reaction and/or a natural outgrowth of a city where weird shit just happens all the time.
– Seriously, show? Clyde Destro? DESTRO?!? As in the GI Joe villain? I mean, if that’s what you’re going for, then cool. But…
– Dr. Dulmacher. Get the hell out of here with that nonsense. That’s like if last week’s kid Joker was named Joe Kerr.
– I got nothing on Kleg’s Auto, but it does remind me of a stunningly bad Pink Floyd song from their “awkward” period when they were trying to figure out what to do without Syd Barrett. “Coporal Clegg…had a wooden leeeeeeeeg.” Seriously, you have to hear this crap to believe it. This counts as a comic reference because it comes from an album that has Doctor Strange hidden on the cover. And as we’ve seen, somebody behind the scenes on Gotham knows their music, so you never know.
If I missed any, you may shine your bat-signal of shame on me down below…