Something To Believe In
The most intriguing aspect of Gotham is its rewriting of the Batman mythology. When the show is firing on all cylinders the mythos isn’t just being built up or used as a platform from which to wink at comics readers, but actually serves as a substantial part of the setting. In “Red Hood” we get to see that latter use of mythology in a way that reminds me of why I always go into Gotham hopeful: because when it’s good it’s absolutely great.
As with all of the best Gotham episodes, “Red Hood” exercises a great amount of restraint in its primary plotline, and in doing so taps into some deep thematic veins that resonate enough to distract from the few moments that still solicit eyerolls. The case of the week has Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock back on their beat, investigating a string of bank robberies committed by a charismatic gang and a single bright piece of cloth.
In its top notch cold open, “Red Hood” takes us through the well worn motions of a television bank robbery. A gang of five crooks storm in led by a plucky dude who just decided this time he would wear a red hood to add some flair to the proceedings. The usual, “we’re robbing an insured bank” speech occurs, the money is handed over, and just as the cops arrive in response to a tripped silent alarm, the Red Hood tosses his new cash into the air with the maniac laugh of a comic villain.
The significance of the hood canon-wise is exciting on its own, since The Joker began his career in crime wearing the crimson head piece [in one of the character’s origins, at least. -ed.]. Rather than just go with that premise, putting Cameron Monaghan in the hood and calling it a day, Gotham has a great deal of fun espousing on the transformative power of a mask and the transcendent identity owns by an icon.
While Jim and Bullock set about their usual crime solving method, the robber in the hood gets a little too much ego and assumes leadership over his criminal comrades. Immediately after declaring that the man in the hood should lead, he’s shot dead and succeeded by his bigger buddy Destro (who is an angry baker – Something I accidentally predicted with a joke in last week’s end notes).
As the Red Hood, Destro becomes a more charismatic villain too, but his time as leader is also short lived. Another member of the gang would rather wear the hood so that his girlfriend will see him on TV and respect him, more. Destro doesn’t die, but ends up bleeding on his apartment floor as the Red Hood Gang winnows down to three members and tries out newer leadership.
The final heist is ambushed by the GCPD, and though the Red Hood is invincible, the man its riding is not. The whole gang dies in a flurry of bullets.
While that might be then end of a few down-on-their-luck guys though, ideas aren’t so easily destroyed. As the GCPD assess and clean the scene, a young boy picks up the hood, dons it and points his fingers at the coppers like a gun.
It’s the bat symbol in mini. Just like the icon of the Dark Knight, the Red Hood is powerful because of context. Immediately after the initial robbery, word of mouth spreads about the image and what it stands for, and every one of its subsequent hosts simply bears it. Just like the identity of Batman can be passed down to Bruce Wayne’s heir or in some imaginings franchised out (a la Batman, Inc.), the Red Hood persona overtakes anyone who wears it.
What I liked most about the episode was how this movable identity was made manifest. The hood compels its wearers through the power of its own mythos to embrace very specific and interesting behaviour. Each wearer laughs maniacally, exhibits a proclivity for reckless showmanship, becomes more violent and doesn’t give a good god damn about money beyond the fact that other people are crazy for it.
Sound familiar? If Cameron Monaghan’s Jerome from last week will eventually transform into The Joker, first he will find his face under that red hood. And while last week’s teasing of the Clown Prince of Crime didn’t do a lot to inspire faith in how Gotham can handle that level of villain, “Red Hood” certainly excited me for the next time we get to see the angry boy from Gotham Circus.
For all the good faith that this week’s A-plot restored in me, it was certainly tested at multiple points throughout the episode. The Penguin plot has become a bit tedious now that his primary struggle has turned from Machiavellian power grab to small business tragi-comedy, Barbara’s return is as frustrating as expected, and Fish Mooney’s personal storyline has become the stuff of fever dreams.
The recently incarcerated Ms. Mooney gets a chance to start negotiating with her mysterious captors and in doing so manages to breathe at least a little intrigue (or at least a more pleasant colour palette) into her weird tangent of a story arc. As she’s escorted to what she believes to be the manager’s office we’re treated to some rather disturbing images of this place’s victims, all of them living organ and limb donors.
When she arrives ready to parley favour with her captor, she’s given his assistant, but we’re given a note of clarification. The man keeping Fish and her new family in a basement underworld is Dr. Dalmacher, otherwise known as The Dollmaker, a villain name dropped way back in episode two. This retroactive context does little to make the Lost-esque story seem connected to the rest of the show, and when negotiations heat up, “Red Hood” brings Gotham to new absurd places.
Fish finds out that the Dollmaker wants to harvest her eyes, so when she’s given the ultimatum of her peepers or her people she improvises and goes full on Isaac Newton. Fish Mooney picks up a spoon, digs out her own left eye, pops it on the ground and crushes it with her foot.
That scene is so ridiculous that it’s fascinating. Because Fish Mooney isn’t an established Batman character, she doesn’t have to jump through narrative hoops that we recognize as seminal character moments, so having such a forced self-mutilation scene is less necessary than it is with someone like Victor Zsasz, who needs to carve tally marks in his skin to become the character we know from the Batman mythos. Yet there it is: they say they want her eyes and she’s like “don’t you mean just one eye?” and gouges it out.
It’s a plot point that would only make sense in something like Hemlock Grove, a music video or a Sam Raimi horror comedy, and because it’s so isolated from the rest of the show right now, the eye gouge seems without consequence. As such it’s not so much a terrible part of the episode as it is hilarious. But when Fish inevitably reintegrates with the rest of Gotham her little game of knifey/spooney will suddenly become real and everything else will be cheapened.
Still, as far as memorably terrible moments go, this is way up there with the cartoon scarecrow disease they gave that orphan a couple episodes ago.
The eye gouge scene exists in stark contrast to another piece of violence in “Red Hood”. Whereas Fish’s eye popping scene is gratuitous and so bizarre as to betray any kind of emotional reaction other than confused humour, Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth’s story concludes this week with a surprisingly upsetting stabbing.
Reginald Payne, an old war buddy of Alfred’s from the SAS, shows up on Wayne Manor’s doorstep. The man’s fallen on hard times, it’s clear, and Alfred and Bruce invite him to stay.
The subsequent scenes go for the heart and succeed largely thanks to Gotham’s well handled relationship with Bruce and Alfred. Payne teaches li’l Wayne some off-book fighting techniques in a sparring session and the three boys bond over a bottle of Thomas Wayne’s favorite wine in the kitchen. Both scenes keep Bruce and Alfred’s relationship front and centre as something precious and fragile. Payne’s presence almost feels like a living metaphor in some scenes as the futility of Alfred’s efforts to shelter Bruce from the unfairness of the world. There are even enough connections drawn between him and the bad weather outside that you could argue Payne is being painted as a natural, sublime force.
The story makes good on its unsettling portrayal of Payne, who is always just a little too sharp in his scenes to feel like a safe element in the mansion. After wine and stories, Alfred catches Payne looting the room Bruce uses for detective work (in a twist, he’s actually checking the boy’s information on Wayne Enterprises for any hard evidence). It’s thunder storming outside. The butler gets stabbed.
It’s a stomach churning bit of violence, highlighted by Bruce’s discovery of his best friend lying in a puddle of his own blood. Unlike the Fish Mooney scene, we know that Bruce and Al are protected by the comic books, so mortal stakes don’t apply to them. The reason this hits home so much more than the eye gouging though is because the men of Wayne Manor share the only truly touching relationship on Gotham, and to see them fall victim to betrayal hurts.
Alfred’s trip to the hospital is so much more affecting than other moments of violence on Gotham that I realized even the more charming members of the show’s cast of characters aren’t really likable. They are funny, attractive and played by really great actors, but when all is said and done, I only really give a damn about the boy and his butler.
-Bullock’s over-interest in the dirty details of Jim Gordon’s love life has turned from pervy, to sagely, and finally to sad. This week when he asks for an update on the Jim and Leslie office relationship and hungrily eats up a bunch of tame exposition I got the impression that the poor guy must be really lonely.
– Speaking of lonely, Barbara Keane is still letting those two street kids live with her, creepily telling one how beautiful she could be while ignoring the other. I suppose this week was supposed to answer the question no one asked about who told Poison Ivy that looks could be a weapon.
-Reginald Payne is the name of the illustrator responsible for Thomas the Tank Engine. Just in case you wanted to inject a little more cuteness into the Wayne Manor scenes from this week.
-I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’d watch a Gilmore Girls-esque version of this show that’s just about Al and Bruce. It would be an hour-long dramedy called The Men of Wayne Manor. Make it happen, Fox. #MenOfWayne2016