It's baaaaaaack! After ditching us to go on hiatus for about 500 months (possibly an exaggeration), Gotham has returned to continue that fine tradition of everybody — EVERYBODY — being way more interesting than either of our destined-for-greatness-heroes Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz).
I want to love the Court of Owls stuff. It has its moments. Jim's late father's involvement with the group was a nice reveal before the longest break ever. Jim's newly introduced uncle is appropriately shady-but-possibly-sincere about his intentions to recruit Jim to destroy the Gotham Illuminati once and for all. Momma Owl didn't wait to make a play with Brucie's Evil Clone. I can get behind all of these things and I'm not saying that they're bad moves by any means. They just aren't nearly as interesting as anything going on literally everywhere else in the city.
"How the Riddler Got His Name" was an occasionally zany, occasionally touching, and completely satisfying baptism of crazy that saw the final transition from tortured killer-nerd Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) to The Riddler — one of Gotham's most notorious villains and one of Batman's most enduring rogues. Reluctantly guilty over killing (but not really killing, of course) his BFF Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and aimless without political strings to pull, a vengeful murder to plot, or anything resembling a job, or a social life, Ed Nygma embarked on Gotham's latest wave of terror by kidnapping the city's most brilliant minds, asking them his trademark riddles, and then disposing of them when their answers were disappointingly pedestrian and, most importantly, incorrect.
And it was sad! In a disturbing way. Nygma is one of the characters we've been allowed to watch grow from his humble origins and one that Gotham has actually invested a lot of time and effort into cultivating as organically as possible. There was no magical growth spurt or ball-tripping dose of meta-blood required to get Ed to where he is today. His was a slow burn and Gotham's care and restraint in allowing that burn to gradually build itself into the inferno that is The Riddler is one of the show's strongest developments. I wish everyone — or even almost everyone — else could be given the same treatment because this is the kind of character evolution that makes or breaks any series, but especially a series prone to losing track of itself like our dear Gotham.
Gotham is riddled with the barely functional husks of characters who, if we're at all familiar with Gotham's source material, are instantly recognizable as key figures in Batman's mythology. Jim Gordon is the troubled, but honorable standard bearer of the GCPD. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is the gruff and jaded, but no less honorable partner. Poison Ivy (Maggie Geha) is a brainy babe who has a thing for plants. We all know that Bruce Wayne grows up to become Batman and despite early efforts to sell itself as a Batman-without-Batman, Gotham just couldn't resist tossing Bruce right into the thick of a vast conspiracy that may have gotten his parents killed and getting right along with those Baby Batman training montages.
Slow is good, Gotham. Taking the time to explore these characters in the deepest, darkest depths of their demented psyches gives us a much more satisfying payoff than magicking Ivy into the sexpot everyone knew she was going to eventually become anyway. You know, enjoy the journey and the destination and all that zen crap.
The Riddler's journey is far from over, given what we know about the rest of this season, and of course the not-at-all-surprising "revelation" that Penguin survived Nygma's assassination attempt on him. Their relationship is fractured, but maybe not completely. Nygma's mad search for a new bestie maybe have ended with his realization that what he really needed was a proper nemesis and a really chic suit, but that's what's so great about with what Gotham managed to do here: This is relatively unexplored territory and two very distinctly different versions of the characters we've seen in the comics, films, and video games that fall under the Bat-umbrella. Gotham is enjoying its journey and hasn't given us any indication that it's settled on a final destination for these two best frenemies forever.
Also, was Nygma's ringtone supposed to sound like the interlude tunage from groovy 1960s Batman? Because that's AWESOME.
I'm also pro-more-buddy-cop-episodes starring Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) and Bullock. Hint, hint, Gotham. HINT. HINT.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.