Oh, Gotham, you little minx. You have something on your mind this week, don’t you? Now don’t be coy, we both know it. After a long string of villain/procedural-of-the-week episodes, you’re finally interested in something other than teasing me with the seeds of Batman enemies to be. Go on, admit it — you’re actually interested in saying something…
“Red Hood” tells two principal stories. One focused on a gang of bank robbers, whose leader wears a crimson ski mask during heist jobs; the other is the tale of Alfred’s old Royal Air Force buddy, Reggie Payne (David O’Hara), who pays Wayne Manor a visit when he’s down on his luck. Both tales are fueled by the disparity in wealth between Gotham’s haves and have-nots. In the former case, the gang’s leader (Jonny Coyne) — well, one of them anyway, since they keep killing each other, reducing their number in an attempt to possess the titular mask from which they believe they draw power — targets banks that have denied him a loan he wanted to use to open a pastry shop, a dream with which he hoped to escape his station in life. The Bruce-Alfred storyline mirrors this, with Payne wearing a mask of friendship as he takes advantage of Bruce and Alfred’s goodwill in the wake of his own loss, that of his wife and home, which led him to drink.
Gotham hasn’t delved this deeply into social commentary before, nor has it offered subtext this substantial, and it’s heartening as all hell. The show’s always had the potential to explore post-Occupy Movement America in a way that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises flirted with but could never really commit to (if only because, as the final film in a trilogy, it had three movies’ worth of story to resolve while finding room for Batman and his foes). Gotham doesn’t have that obligation, and for perhaps the first time that works to its benefit. We’re not given unnecessary exposition or back-story on the gang members or their pasts, and we’re told only as much about them as is necessary to see why each wants to wear the red hood. The hood itself acts as a nifty metaphor, starting out as a novelty that one member thought would be cool to wear. Then it passes into the hands of another when it earns a following amongst the people of Gotham, winning their goodwill when the initial wearer throws his stolen loot into the air to start a riot so he can escape the police. The hood thus becomes synonymous with a kind of Robin Hood figure that the city craves. It’s easy to see how a Batman could be embraced by these citizens, or how less noble costumed vigilantes could also flourish.
As for Bruce and Alfred… After Payne wears out his welcome by trying to instill a bloodlust in young Master Wayne and sharing one too many stories of Alfred’s violent past, he’s caught stealing and pulls a knife on his old friend, landing him in critical condition in the hospital. Then to our horror, he’s revealed to be employed by the board of Wayne Enterprises, intent on finding any evidence that Bruce might have of their mob ties. Payne advises them, “Now’s the time to make a move on the kid.” But after he’s paid off, he adds, “He’s just a kid. A good kid.” I wouldn’t be surprised if ol’ Reg tries to redeem himself in a future episode.
Speaking of horrors, there isn’t much to Fish Mooney’s ongoing arc in this episode, but she gets one particular scene that’s so out of left field it would be hilarious if it wasn’t so freakish. Brought to the Office Manager (played by Re-Animator star Jeffrey Combs) of the organ harvesting farm in which she’s been imprisoned (by, we learn, the Dollmaker), the former club owner is informed that if she doesn’t surrender her eyes she’ll be killed. So she scoops one eyeball out with a spoon, plops it on the ground, and crushed it under her heel. It’s by far the most gruesome moment Gotham‘s given us yet, but it begs the question why the Manager’s men don’t then shoot her dead.
— Barbara’s ongoing desire to play big sister to Selina and Ivy rings false. What exactly do the three of them do all day? In this episode, however, we at least get the chance to see Selina bare her claws in a new way, when Barbara tells her she can use her appearance as a weapon. “What good has it done you?” she says to the newly single drug addict, still nursing a broken heart. Ouch.
— Butch is a lot more talkative than he was last week, isn’t he? After helping the Penguin secure liquor for his club with the aid of several crooked cops, he suggests a truce, explaining that Falcone won’t trust either of them if their business closes. And here I thought Zsasz had rendered the former flunky a vegetable. Go figure.
— After the climactic shootout with Gordon and Bullock, the hood is just left in the street for someone else to pick up. Yes, the legacy (and metaphor continues), but are the police so sloppy as to leave a major piece of evidence behind at a crime scene? Or do they just not give a shit anymore in Gotham?
— “Perhaps it’s not our friends but our enemies who define us.” If that’s true, then no wonder the Penguin is the best defined character on the show.
Next Week: “The city’s sick,” says Gordon (oh how I wish he’d follow that up with “And I am the cure”), Bruce gets help from Selina, green question marks appear (because we needed more Riddler foreshadowing), and we’re told once more that a war is coming. See you on the front lines.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).