If you say a show is "firing on all cylinders," you conjure an image of a vehicle moving at maximum speed, all its component parts working together for optimum effect. Gotham, on the other hand, may be more like the Wonkamobile. But its tonally disconnected bangs and clangs and explosions are, at this point, no less formidable than the proverbial well-oiled machine. The past few weeks have shown that if the show jerry-rigs enough weird, wild, occasionally emotional parts together, the whole can be a real whiz-bang contraption. And tonight's episode — "Red Hood" — had plenty of pop to go around.
For starters, Jada Pinkett Smith carved her own eyeball out with a spoon.
Fish Mooney's impromptu eye surgery was without question the episode's highlight, a genuine, jaw-dropping, shout-at-the-screen moment. It escalated beautifully, feinting in the direction of an escape attempt before allowing a few seconds for the horror — and the spoon — to sink in; it all culminated in a final disgusting sploosh of the crime boss' foot on her own excised ocular organ. The setting was fabulous, too, a sort of antiseptic urban-legends hospital, with amputees and organ thieves and Jeffrey "Re-Animator" Combs presiding over it all.
But the build-up is what made it work, not just in this episode but over the past few weeks as well. It had always seemed like Fish was overestimating her bargaining power: If she's gonna cause trouble for her captors until they give in to her demands, what's to stop them from simply killing her and moving on? Nothing, of course, and realizing this is what spurred Mooney to take such drastic action. Only by letting her crawl so far out on a limb could the show sell her decision to saw it off.
If it weren't for the Filet-o-Fish routine, no doubt the extended Joker tease of the Red Hood storyline would have taken top billing. Readers of the Batman comics know that before he became the white-skinned, green-haired ghoul with the permanent smile, Mr. J was just some anonymous thug in a stick-up crew sporting a red mask. Fans of the movies, meanwhile, no doubt recalled Heath Ledger's grandstanding bank robbery during the opening scene of The Dark Knight, or Jack Nicholson's anarchic cash handouts in Tim Burton's 1989 effort.
With its superstitious, cackling crook and his delusions of grandeur, Gotham gave us the hat trick — at least until Floyd, the man who would be the Clown Prince of Crime, got blown away by his own crew in the episode's other big shock. Yes, several other featured mopes may potentially don the smeared pancake make-up, including a creepy kid off the street in the final shot. But it doesn't matter whether or not the Red Hood leads to the Purple Suit down the line. The point is the show's playfulness in how it handled the prospect so hot on the heels of Jerome, the giggling circus freak who showed up last week. It treated the sprawling Bat-mythos in all its many multimedia incarnations like a remix DJ instead of an archaeology professor — a far healthier approach.
But flashy fake-outs weren’t all the episode had in store. The arrival of Alfred's gravel-voiced war buddy Reggie Payne at Wayne Manor gave young Master Bruce one of his most intense and mythic moments yet. Spurred on by the old soldier during a quick-and-dirty fighting lesson, the kid takes swing after swing at the guy's face. Fists fly, blood flows, and for a second you can see through the sheltered, damaged young nerd into the grim, violent vigilante he'll become. Training himself to the pinnacle of human ability will require him to sacrifice some of his humanity. Given Reggie's real purpose at the Manor — spying on the kid for the corrupt board of Wayne Enterprises — perhaps he was trying to jumpstart the process.
Across town, Bruce's former running buddy Selina Kyle picks up a wannabe tutor of her own. Jim Gordon's estranged ex-fiancée Barbara Kean appears to be presiding over an extended slumber party in her penthouse with Selina and her poisonous pal Ivy Pepper, who’ve been squatting there since the spurned detective vacated the premises. But things take a turn for the creepy when Barbara starts lecturing the future Catwoman about her looks. Proclaiming her a true beauty, she stands the youngster in front of the mirror and purrs, "Your appearance can be a weapon as powerful as any knife or gun." Just the kind of message young women need to hear, right? Ms. Kyle, to her credit, isn't buying it. "Yeah?" she replies. "What good's it done you?" It's an electric little exchange, cutting and uncomfortable. And it speaks directly to how superhero stories portray women: They can be as dangerous as they want, so long as they look good doing it.
Who knows if that level of metacommentary was intentional — or if any of these pieces were meant to fit together the way they did. The picture that resulted was a gonzo pleasure to view, though. As long as it maintains its current level of audacious mayhem, Gotham is worth keeping an eye out for.
Previously: The Killing Joke