(THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE GOTHAM EPISODE "AZRAEL")
Previously on Gotham ... a nice lady with a dinosaur hand gets killed by homicidal Jack Frost and BD Wong is to blame. Everyone hates him except the audience, who loves him best.
Now on Gotham ... the best episode all season. Maybe the best episode of Gotham ever. Almost every plot thread is coming together, and most of them fit nicely with one another. And A LOT happens, so let's not waste any time.
- Hugo Strange, realizing that his resurrected Theo Galavan seems to know less about his own identity and more about the writings within The Will and Order of St. Dumas, decides to reinvent Galavan with a whole new identity -- Azrael. In Dumas' text, Azrael is a resurrected warrior who fights against the evils of the world. By Strange's twisted measure, the evil in his world is Jim Gordon. So Strange tells Galavan that he's actually Azrael, gives him a cape and a mask and sends him off to kill the evil Jim Gordon. Wonder where Strange would every come up with a crazy idea like that ...
- Edward Nygma, that's where! Nygma's still in Arkham and he wants out. Bad. So he tries to tempt Strange by showing him how helpful he can be in defeating Gordon. Nygma shows Strange how he's already manipulated every other patient in Arkham by understanding their story. This is where Strange gets the idea of giving his inmates new stories of his own design. Not much help for Nygma, but the distraction of a new scheme leaves Strange and Peabody blind to Nygma finding a way to escape from his particular cell. That would be great news, but Nygma, rather than escaping, becomes ensared by the mystery of the disappearing patients. That ultimately leads Edward to where all Strange's experiments are being held. With no simple means of escape, that's probably not the best place in Gotham for Nygma to find himself.
- And speaking of not the best place you want to find yourself, Jim Gordon's quest at the behest of Bruce Wayne to figure out who is responsible for the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne has landed him in hot water with Hugo Strange, aka The Architect, aka at least one of the people responsible for Thomas and Martha Wayne's death. He's got Theo Galavan (who thinks he's Azrael) on his tail. Azrael is happy to kill anyone and everyone in his efforts to take down Gordon, which includes, among a number of other police officers, Commissioner Barnes! Gordon survives, holding Barnes as he dies as an unmasked Azrael is seen by the watching cameras of Gotham's journalists. Now, whoever might see that?
- Penguin, that's who! Penguin doesn't do anything in this episode beyond hang around some dead bodies and eat, but when he sees Theo Galavan on his oldey timey TV, oh but does his face ever light up!
So those are the basic plot beats, but there's a shocking amount of devil in the details for Gotham. And almost all of it is great. I know! Let's dig in:
- At long last, James Gordon admits that, not only does he regret having killed Theo Galavan, but that he did it in cold blood and that it was wrong. Finally! And the person he admits this to is Bruce Wayne, whose moral center is largely being built up by watching the actions of James Gordon.
- And speaking of Galavan, Azrael is simultaneously really cool and really funny. I'll focus on the first part here. The Azrael cotume is cool with the armor, the cape, and that bloody skull-like mask. And having us watch Bruce watch Azrael as he lurks above, hiding in the shadows, and picking off the GCPD, one-by-one, was a masterstroke. The episode even ends on Azrael high up on a bridge staring down at Gotham. Azrael is a proto-Batman for Gotham and he's exactly as #$%ed up as the rest of the show.
- Combine those two aspects together and you ge one common denominator -- Bruce Wayne. Bruce is kind of a pushy brat at first in this episode, but the further in you go, the more silent he gets and the more he just watches what Gordon and Azrael do. For Gotham, Gordon plus Azrael equals Batman. And that's really, really slick writing. This is the inventive and fresh take on the Batman mythos Gotham can be.
- Adding to that mythos is the hint that Strange may be responsible for even more future Bat villains. Having successfully (for now, at least) transformed Galavan into Azrael, he picks up another book, Through the Looing Glass, and begins to ruminate on redrafting another inmate's story from there. And with that hint of Mad Hatter on the horizon and the possible return of what may be the Joker, too, Strange as monster maker is yet another interesting, if procedural, way for Gotham to churn out all manner of bad guy.
- Barnes is probably dead and it's about time. In as much as I alone thought there was some unresolved sexual tension between Barnes and Gordon that could have been... resolved (why else would Barnes let Jim do whatever if not because they just can't quit each other), with Jim back on the straight and narrow Barnes no longer serves a narrative purpose. It was a smart move.
- That shot of Penguin smiling in rage at the resurrection of Theo Galavan gave me straight up chills. Penguin is being portrayed as Gordon's equal opposite number on Gotham right now. While Gordon is back in the game as a hero who realizes killing isn't the answer, Penguin is shaking with excitement at the opportunity to jump back into the game and kill someone he despises all over again. It's a neat little parallel and it's being told very well.
- Did you ever notice the best episodes of Gotham involve the least number of women? That is because Gotham is still terrible at writing women. Tabitha Galavan, Barbara Kean, and Ethel Peabody are all in this episode, but we really don't know what anything of them want. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Ethel Peabody, but she's mostly just a well-performed quip machine. Meanwhile, Tabitha only existed this week to be the straight man to the waaaaaacky Barbara Kean. Her brother is back from the dead for pity's sake! You'd think her response to that would be more important than side-eyeing Barbara with a cleaver. With Jim Gordon's character as corrected as is possible (I'll take it), this issue with writing women with more than one dimension is sticking out like a sore thumb as the one HUGE problem Gotham still has.
- There's an inmate at Arkham whose primary character trait seems to be that he likes to lick Nygma's face. Although... Corey Michael Smith is real cute. Gotta say, I'm with you, my dude. Oh, Gotham...
- Galavan attacks someone with a case containing a weapon. Not the weapon -- the case containing the weapon. And Strange just deadpans, like "Next time, open it, bro". Oh, Gotham.
- And the best is the actual weapon Strange gives to Azrael. The Sword of Sin. An instrument of justice. A vanquisher of evil for generation, she thirsts for blood. Of course Peabody point out that the sword was actually made yesterday. I literally laughed out loud. Oh, Gotham...
So, to sum up, Gordon is a hero, we've got a horde of exciting villains, and Gotham, on the whole, has discovered that, in the middle of all the darkness, it can be really, really funny. You know... I think I might like Gotham more than Arrow right now. By, like, A LOT. Will wonders never cease.
Next time on Gotham... Tabitha finally does something, Penguin, finally does something and... Alfred finally does something? And don't forget, I'll be doing something too -- live-tweeting every new episode of Gotham as it goes out EST!