Remember how excited I was about Pirate Jail last week? Well, this week builds on that and also includes a full scale circus fight, the titular blind fortune teller, a loyal snake, bizarre musical acts, and Zsasz getting into the nightclub business. Plus, there’s a guy who says “Sure as eggs” as if that were a phrase we’ve all heard. Oh, and a dude gets kicked to death. Basically, they should have promoted this episode with the tagline “Gotham: A Million Things Happen”.
Little Bruce goes over his notes for a board meeting and falls asleep. Gertrude Kabelput performs “When You’re Smiling” for a disinterested but sizable audience at Oswald’s. Fish Mooney calls a meeting in Pirate Jail. Barbara Keane comes back to her apartment looking for Gordon. Instead she finds squatters Selina Kyle and Ivy Pepper. She’s confused but basically cool with it. Selina reports that Gordon dropped off his keys last week, and Barbara accepts this information from the strange urchin. Takes a lot to throw her off at this point. By the way, Barbara looks amazing in this scene. I don’t want to be that guy, but holy cats.
Gordon and Leslie are on their circus date. It’s Haley’s Circus, the Flying Graysons are performing and they’re having a great time. After the trapeze performance, a clown car drives in. The clowns pile out and start beating on the Graysons and it’s a full-on clown vs. acrobat fight. Gordon heads down to break up the circus brawl, which is awesome. Back at Oswald’s a dude boos Gertrude’s performance. Penguin walks over to the guy and a spray of blood hits an onlooker in the face.
And that was our cold open.
When we come back, Gordon is talking to various circus folk about the fight, and nobody’s willing to talk. Code of the Circus! John Grayson argues with Mary Lloyd (the daughter of a clown family) and we learn that those families have been feuding for generations. Gordon and Thompkins figure out that this fight was over a snake dancer named Lila, so they go to investigate. They meet Lila’s son, an unsettling young man named Jerome who seems eager to leave.
This is amazing. The ringmaster says of Lila, “She’s what you call a party girl. Back in the morning with her knickers in her handbag, sure as eggs.” I feel like that’s how people talked in the thirties, and I’m going to use “sure as eggs” as often as I can. Gordon realizes that the snake is agitated and tells Jerome to let it out. This is a big snake, and it leads them to Lila’s mutilated body. I have no idea if a snake could or would do that, but I totally buy that a snake in Batman’s world can. The ringmaster admits they found her like that earlier but went on with the show.
Pirate Jail! Fish gives a speech to the prisoners. They’re being used as transplant donors, which is a connection I did not make at all last week. Apparently I assumed they took a woman’s eyes for fun. But if people will follow here “I’ll get some of us out alive”. She emphasizes “some” but says those who die will die with dignity. Who runs Pirate Jail? Fish Mooney runs Pirate Jail!
Back at the circus, the Ringmaster says that the heads of the Grayson and Lloyd families knew about the murder. And there’s this bit I love – “If an outsider killed her, what can we do? An act of God.” Yep, there’s nothing circus folk can do about it and they have to write it off, unless the killer is one of their own. Then? Circus justice.. It feels like an old-timey take on circus people, but it’s really consistent with Batman lore. Gordon arrests the entire circus. Bullock shows up at work just as they’re all being processed and he has no idea what’s going on. Donal Logue, you’re a hero.
Gordon goes in to talk to Jerome. Jerome idolizes his mother but acknowledges that she got around. “She had lovers… sex partners, really.” Turns out, she was sleeping with Graysons and Lloyds alike. Jerome is a weird combination of earnest and disinterested.
More interviews uncover that the Grayson/Lloyd war is all about a horse that somebody stole before World War I. I love that these feuding families keep traveling with the same circus. Where else are they gonna go?
The guards enter Pirate Jail looking for a particular inmate, 57A. They’ve got all the guns and Fish is all “We need to talk”. These scenes have kind of a Snowpiercer vibe, which I did not expect. She starts making demands and she’s maybe half the size of the lead guard. She won’t let them have their inmate unless they deliver food, water, and some magazines. Otherwise, she’s just going to kill the inmate they want. The guard won’t play along, so on Fish’s signal, some of the other inmates kick 57A to death. That happened! The guard says the manager won’t be happy, and Fish says she’s willing to go talk to him. The deal is she sees the manager, the guard has to stay behind. There’s absolutely nothing in it for the guards, so they leave.
Back at GCPD, Essen reacts to the bit about the snake exactly the way you’d expect. That’s a big reason this show can get away with that kind of stuff – there’s always Essen or somebody around to be genuinely surprised that they arrested a whole circus. Somebody’s always grounding it.
Nygma and Thompkins present their findings – Lila was killed by a hatchet, seemingly when both main suspects were in rehearsal. Gordon releases everybody except the heads of the families on the condition that the traveling circus not leave town. Hee! Leslie asks Gordon who he thinks killed Lila, and then a blind sideshow psychic shows up and offers to help. Cicero claims that he has a message from Lila on the other side and Leslie is a lot more interested than Gordon. He reports that “the servant of the devil lies in the garden of the iron sisters”, but he doesn’t know what it means. Gordon and Leslie have a tiff about whether to put any stock in what he says.
Over at stately Wayne Manor, Alfred confirms that Bruce’s meeting with the Board of Directors is set for tomorrow. Alfred thinks it’s a bad idea, and it’s pretty clear that he thinks Wayne Enterprises is behind the Wayne murders.
Penguin plays “Heart and Soul” on the piano at the club, which is sad and weird. Barbara tries on outfits for the homeless children she just met and they give her advice on what she should wear when she goes to see Gordon. I am really liking Barbara this week – her interactions with Selina and Ivy give her more personality than she’s exhibited in the entire season up to this point. Cut to Gordon and Leslie eating dinner in her apartment. They’re having a nice time, and then she works out the blind man’s message – the iron sisters are a couple of Arkham towers, and the garden is probably the park near them. She and Gordon fight about whether or not the guy is a huckster, and I like that Jim is the skeptic. He’s going to see some stuff that’ll change his mind in the next few years! She wants to go to the park now. Gordon’s not happy, but he gives in.
Sure enough, they find a hatchet bearing the mark of the Hellfire Club. The historical version, not the X-Men villains. Gordon calls in some mobile units to make a couple of arrests. Back at the precinct, his suspects have been brought in and neither knows the other one’s there. Gordon and Leslie argue a little – she thinks he’s bring dismissive. And, you know, Gordon’s not great at separating his personal and work lives, so the last thing he needs is this. But they work it out and she goes in for the interrogations.
First suspect – Cicero. Gordon thinks he’s protecting somebody since magic isn’t real and the hatchet is a plant, meant to cast the blame on 18th Century Satanists. Cicero doesn’t break. But then Gordon brings in Jerome and presents his theory – Jerome killed his mother and cleaned up in Cicero’s trailer. Then Cicero came up with the Hellfire Club story. Per Gordon, Cicero protected Jerome because… he’s his father! Jerome denies it, says his father died at sea on a boat that he can’t identify. Gordon says he can prove it with a blood test, and Cicero comes clean. This is news to Jerome, who starts to cry before breaking out in a creepy laugh and admitting that he killed his mother for nagging him and sleeping around.
Gordon and Leslie talk afterwards – she calls it “thrilling and scary” and seems happy to have been in on it. They kiss, just as Barbara walks in. Neither of them see her, but she leaves and I’m actually sad for her.
Back to Oswald’s. There’s a woman playing violin on stage and the customers have all left. Victor Zsasz shows up. He says that Falcone sent him to help turn this club around, and in this moment there is nothing funnier to me than Mr. Zsasz: Club Promoter. As it turns out, he’s got an expert in running the place – Butch! Oswald is understandably terrified to see this guy who keeps trying to kill him.
But then Zsasz tells Butch to dance, and he breaks out into a jig. Oh, this guy’s broken. Good news! Zsasz just got creepier!
Bruce addresses the Board of Directors, and this is amazing. They’re clearing just humoring the sad child, right up until he asks them about underworld involvement in Arkham and the goings-on at Wellzyn.
Over at GCPD, the circus problems are solved and John Grayson and Mary Lloyd can finally declare their love. Then we go back to the boardroom where the executives are clearly panicked. One says that there’s no proof, and Bruce says he’ll save his proof for the shareholders. These people could not hate him more and they’re clearly going to try to have him murdered.
Finally, back to Pirate Jail. The manager agreed to meet with Fish while the guard waits. They make a point of establishing that the guard’s name is “Thomas Schmidt”, and I’m not sure why. Fish heads out to meet the manager, and that’s our episode.
–Showrunner Bruno Heller wrote this week’s episode, and I’ll admit I have my differences with the man. He’s the one who said a lot of dumb things leading up to the release of the show, and he wrote some of those shaky early episodes. That said, I really liked this one. There were bits that were goofy as hell, like everybody following the snake to the body of her owner, but they were goofy in the right way. That’s the biggest thing they’ve done right over the course of the season is working out the tone. Gotham is bonkers in a way that’s very specific – it doesn’t feel like a different show from week to week anymore.
As I mentioned, I liked Barbara in this episode. The circus stuff was fantastic – I like the way it felt very old-timey and mysterious. Like, in this day and age there probably aren’t multi-generation circus feuds and I don’t think that Ringling Bros. have their own legal system, but it fits nicely with the non-specific era in which Gotham happens.
The usual cast of future villains were a joy. I like where they’re going with Zsasz, who’s kind of a blank slate in terms of his established personality. Being a crazy guy who kills people is not the way to stand out as a Batman villain, you know? This Butch thing could be great, too. Basically, I’m enthusiastic.
I’m glad that they’re developing the idea of Wayne Industries as the Big Bad. I’ve never really seen that done before, so it’s exciting whenever they invoke it. It’s a Batman angle that I haven’t seen before, and bless their hearts
And hey, bringing in Mark Margolis from Breaking Bad and Oz as a guest actor is always going to get high marks from me.
The one beef I had, and it may not even be a real beef, is the way they’re pushing the idea that Jerome is the Joker. I mean, until they actually have him fall into a vat of chemicals, then there’s plausible deniability. I don’t want to see the Joker before he’s the Joker. That’s the one guy who shouldn’t have a backstory. I don’t mind introducing people who might be the Joker, but this was a bit heavy handed. Of course, there’s always the chance that Jerome doesn’t survive the season, which would be interesting. Just don’t do Joker, Gotham. He’s great, but you don’t even need him. You’ve got the best version of Penguin ever, for cry pete.
To quote that Key & Peele sketch that I always invoke, you’re not on thin ice, but you’re on ice.
–Putting aside the possible Joker, we do have a couple of important figures showing up here. John Grayson and Mary Lloyd are, unsurprisingly, the parents of one Dick Grayson. Eventually. They’re even working for the same circus – Haley’s.
Part of the reason I like the weird circus stuff so much is that it matches how Dick’s background is always presented. The thing about long-running superheroes is that so many of them have these really dated elements that you can’t remove. It’s why so many of them are newspaper reporters. They’ve always presented Dick’s time in the circus as something right out of the thirties, which seems weirder with each decade, but it’s also something I like. He comes from a time when circuses were weird and magical, not from the time when we realized that was terrible for the animals and it’s not OK to have a sideshow.
I’m fascinated with circuses in Batman mythology. If some clerical error forced me to go back to college, that would be in the running for my senior thesis topic.
For the record, Cicero and Thomas Schmidt, despite their prominently declared names, are not established Batman characters.
–And I’m mixing things up for this week’s Recommended Reading. I usually try to stick to one or two issues, and I certainly wouldn’t pick something that’s not finished yet but this weekend I got caught up on Arkham Manor, and it’s fantastic. Written by Nerd Poker‘s Gerry Duggan with art by Shawn Crystal, it’s six-issue miniseries that’s four issues in at the time of this writing. Because of events you don’t need to know to read this series, the city seizes Wayne Manor and turns it into the new Arkham. Batman not only wants to keep an eye on his house but also solve a murder, so he goes undercover as an inmate. It’s so much fun. It’s got some incredibly creepy stuff, but it’s also got Mr. Freeze forced to live in Wayne Manor’s walk-in freezer and a Joker-infected Clayface fragment. Plus, Gotham favorites Zsasz and Jonathan Crane appear, so it’s relevant. Relevant!
Next week: The Red Hood. This is a very big deal.