Wednesday, October 18, 2017

'Gotham' Recap: "The Demon's Head" (4x04)

Welcome back to Gotham: a Dark Knight (because The Lying Game was taken). This episode, written by Ben McKenzie (who plays Jim Gordon) is dubbed "The Demon's Head." Warning for sexual content, language, and violence to a minor. Spoilers ahead.

The episode begins with Bruce and Alfred visiting Dr. Winthrop, an antiquities expert at the Gotham Museum. Bruce wants Winthrop to study the knife he bought at Penguin's auction (which is shaping up to be the MacGuffin of season 4A). Alfred, however, isn't so sure they should be involving innocent people—especially when Winthrop's grandson (and fellow history geek), Alex, drops in. Bruce, however, just can't let the matter go and insists on getting to the bottom of it. He tells Winthrop and Alex to keep the matter between themselves and then leaves.

Cut to Ed, who's just figured out the perfect riddle to send to Penguin before killing him. He gathers his information by creating a crazy string diagram reminiscent of Scott Snyder's Batman, Volume 4: Zero Year - Secret City. 

It's an appropriate reference, as the book details Bruce's transformation from an unnamed vigilante into Batman. Will Gotham go that far? Maybe not, but it's still exciting to speculate.

Back at the museum, Winthrop and Alex examine the blade and discuss the myths regarding Ra's al Ghul, who was a powerful warlord, according to history. Winthrop reads the engraving on the knife, which turns out to be a wordy yet vague prophecy. The message basically boils down to the idea that Ra's heir has to use the knife in order to become the next Ra's al Ghul, but how the heir (in this case, Bruce) is supposed to use the knife is unclear. 

Winthrop tells Alex to keep the knife and Alex leaves him. But who should appear next but Ra's al Ghul. He shows off his extended lifespan by pointing out a Greek vase that's actually a forgery and telling an anecdote about a brothel owner in Shanghai. (I bet he and Alexandra from Defenders would really get along.)

Since Winthrop won't tell him where the knife is, Ra's sets off the alarm before killing the old man. Alex hears it happen from his hiding place and runs away before Ra's can find him. 

Some time later, Gordon and Detective Harper inspect the murder scene. (Bullock is on sabbatical, apparently, and I honestly can't blame him.) Gordon realizes that Bruce was the last person to meet with Winthrop, but he doesn't have to look far to find him, as Bruce shows up at the museum looking for Winthrop to ask him about the knife. 

Gordon questions Bruce, but Bruce claims to have no idea why the knife is important. He only tells Gordon that Barbara bid on it as well, and that the GCPD should also be looking for Alex, who's nowhere to be found. Gordon tells Bruce to go home until he needs his help again. 

Meanwhile, Ra's al Ghul introduces Barbara to his henchmen du jour: a weird dog-man hybrid called Anubis (who kinda looks like Gollum) and an unnamed thug. He tells the two to track down the knife and kill the boy (presumably Alex). I'm not really sure why he couldn't have just sent some of his regular assassins after the knife, but to each his own. 

Over at the Iceberg Lounge, Penguin meets with Sofia Falcone. She acts very subservient, claiming that her father taught her "When the King of Gotham summons you, you come." Penguin wants to know if she's here to rebuild her father's empire, but Sofia claims she's here to attend to the Falcone family charities. He's slow to believe her and even points out that her father taught him "to nurture a healthy paranoia." Sofia pretends to be afraid of him and is even on the verge of tears, before claiming that she wanted to come to Gotham because she sees it as her true home. This seems to pacify him and their meeting adjourns.

Gordon, still on the case, visits Barbara. He doesn't even seem nonplussed to see her alive, but this is a Gotham character we're talking about.

Gordon catches on to the fact that the person on whose behalf Barbara attended the auction must be the one funding her, but she refuses to tell him who that is. Bruce walks right in and straight-up asks if it's Ra's al Ghul. Barbara denies any knowledge of Ra's and Gordon takes Bruce outside to talk. 

Gordon yells at Bruce for following him. He's also understandably ticked that Bruce didn't tell him about Ra's earlier and presses Bruce for more information. Bruce tells him Ra's was the true leader of the Court. Harper calls Gordon to tell him that Alex is still missing and Gordon asks her to research Ra's al Ghul.

Gordon, still upset at Bruce for lying and endangering the Winthrops, asks if he has any idea where Alex could be. Bruce recalls Winthrop and Alex's conversation earlier in the episode about a private room at Gotham Central Library and the two decide to check it out, since Gordon figures that Alex might feel safer around someone his own age.

While the scene is short, I love it because we're starting to see Gordon realize that Bruce isn't the same scared kid he met three years ago. He's obsessive, secretive, and reckless. Gordon might think of himself as Bruce's friend, maybe even his secondary guardian, but there's a lot that Bruce hasn't told him—not just about Ra's or his vigilante hobbies, but about everything he's done to get what he wants.

Gordon doesn't know that Bruce faked a kidnapping to get information out of Silver St. Cloud. He doesn't know that Bruce can fight (or that he enjoys fighting). He doesn't know that the Court trained Bruce. He doesn't know how many times Bruce has almost killed somebody out of anger. Gordon only sees Bruce as a naïve kid who's playing detective.

Gotham's done a good job of keeping Gordon from seeing the darker side of Bruce's personality, but in this episode, the mask begins to slip. I'm glad for that. I'm not saying I want Gordon to find out that Bruce is a vigilante, but I like that he's beginning to see him in a different light. Gordon and Bruce have an interesting relationship in this show, and I think McKenzie played to the show's strengths by emphasizing that in this episode (especially since this father-son/friend relationship didn't get a lot of screen time in season 3).

But not every moment in Gotham is a serious one, as Penguin and Zsasz have to sit through a riddle rap performed by two homeless men Ed sent to them. The riddle details a location to meet at, which Penguin thinks is the pier. He decides to meet Ed there and ambush him. This leads to the moment I'm sure we've all been waiting for:

(After appearances in four episodes in a row, is it too soon to assume Zsasz is now a main cast member? I don't know, but a girl can hope.)

Over at Gotham Central Library, Bruce convinces Alex to let him and Gordon in. Alex is scared stiff and asks if Bruce knew the knife was dangerous. Bruce replies that he didn't.

Alex is worried that Ra's will kill him to get the knife, which he hid somewhere. Turns out he's not wrong, as Anubis and Ra's other thug (who apparently only speaks in gibberish) attack the library. Gordon tells Bruce and Alex to leave and meet him at the station, but Anubis attacks Alex. Thankfully, Bruce is able to knock out the dog-man with a heavy book.

The two boys run off, leaving Gordon and Ra's mooks to make a mess of the library. Once Gordon returns to the GCPD, however, Alex and Bruce are nowhere to be found. But guess who is? The Demon's Head himself.

Ra's meets with Gordon and claims to be a member of the consulate of Nanda Parbat: a Himalayan country so small he's surprised Gordon's actually heard of it. (Come to think of it, I am too. Is this something Gordon picked up during the unnamed war he fought in?) Gordon decides to see what he can get out of him by playing along with his act of innocence.

The next scene shows Bruce and Alex (in some undisclosed location). Bruce helps clean up the spot where Anubis bit Alex. Alex, who noticed Bruce's fighting skills briefly in the library, tells Bruce he's ashamed of how scared he was and how he froze when he heard Ra's killing his grandfather. Bruce tells him that he was the same way when his parents died and adds that "fear is normal." The sooner Alex accepts that, the sooner he can learn to deal with it. (I have a theory that Alex represents Bruce's old self, but I'll come back to that later).

Alex admits that after the Wayne murders, Bruce was the subject of gossip at school. Bruce asks what people say about him. Alex replies that, according to his classmates, Bruce lives in a mansion, never goes to school, and "flies around in jets." He admits that while most people think Bruce is weird, he finds him "weirdly cool." But just when you think the two boys might lay low and have more bonding time, Alex tells Bruce he'll take him to the knife.

Back at the GCPD, Ra's tells Gordon that the knife is an item of historical significance to his country. He explains that the knife is tied to myths of an immortal warrior who used the knife to establish a kingdom before vanishing. Ra's tells Gordon that many people believe the warrior will return to establish yet another kingdom. 

Gordon tries to act as if he has the knife but can't release it until he knows Alex is safe. However, his bluff is interrupted by Alfred, who bursts into the precinct looking for Gordon and Bruce. When he sees Ra's, he does what we've all been longing to do since last season: he punches him in the face. Gordon pulls Alfred aside and tells him to calm down, and Ra's takes the opportunity to vanish while Gordon's back is turned. Gordon assumes this means Ra's called his bluff about having the knife.

The next scene shows Sofia Falcone at an unknown house, dogged by some of her father's old capos. They insist that she tell them when her father will return, but she insists that the Falcone family has stepped down for good. Penguin and Zsasz crash the party. Cut to Sofia and Penguin listening to the sound of gunshots.

Sofia feigns anger at Penguin for using her to draw the capos out so he could get rid of them, but he points out that he let her live. She replies that her father would've been more pragmatic and used her to gain the men's allegiance. Penguin replies that the rules have changed. After he and Zsasz leave Sofia, Crystal Reed gives us five seconds of the best facial acting we've seen on this show so far.

In the span of a few seconds, Sofia turns from a scared young woman into a budding, manipulative crime boss. In comic books, her approach was somewhat different: thanks to her towering size, Sofia had a more threatening physical presence that overshadowed her brilliant mind (and possibly made people see her more as a brute). In Gotham, her traditional good looks and wide-eyed innocence are used to hide a conniving mind. While I'm not entirely happy with how they've changed the character's physique, I like that the writers have preserved her manipulative nature.

But I digress. Alex takes Bruce to the museum and takes out the knife. Alex wonders if the knife a harbinger of a bad luck, and his theory is almost instantly confirmed by the appearance of Anubis.

Back at the GCPD, Gordon and Alfred get into an argument. Alfred is mad at Gordon for letting Bruce get involved with the investigation, and Gordon is still upset about being kept out of the loop. Their argument raises an interesting question: should Alfred trust Bruce to make his own decisions, or should he tell Gordon when Bruce puts himself in danger? It's easy for me, as someone who knows Bruce will become Batman, to insist that Alfred let Bruce have his way. But from Gordon's perspective, Bruce is out of control and it makes sense to stop him. 

After their shouting match is over, Alfred gives Gordon a case that the knife came in, which somehow clues him in to where the boys will be (don't ask me how). Gordon leaves and tells Detective Harper to detain Alfred. 

Meanwhile, Penguin is upset that Ed didn't meet him at the pier and has to sit through another riddle rap (from an equally baffled Ed) telling him the new meeting place. Penguin's reaction?

The next scene cuts over to the museum, where Anubis and the other thug are still on the prowl. Gordon arrives and manages to take out both of them and Bruce gets the knife, but guess who shows up? Ra's al freakin' Ghul, who puts a dagger to Alex's throat and tells Bruce to give him the knife if he wants to save Alex. 

Gordon tells Bruce to hand it over, but Bruce insists that Ra's is too dangerous to trust with the knife. He even admits to Gordon that Ra's killed Alfred and raised him back to life (even though, technically, it was Bruce who killed Alfred). No matter what Gordon says, Bruce just won't hand over the knife. Ra's applauds his persistence before slitting Alex's throat. But instead of disappearing this time, he allows himself to be arrested.

Later, as Ra's is on the way to Blackgate Penitentiary, Gordon tells Alfred and Bruce that he needs them to be honest with him, but Alfred points out that his skepticism about the Lazarus Pit is one of the reasons why they weren't. 

Bruce feels responsible for Alex's death and . . . yeah. He's right. That's pretty much all on him. I mentioned earlier that I think Alex symbolizes Bruce's old self: all of his childhood innocence, fear, and shame. The moment Ra's killed Alex, I think a part of Bruce died. That's not to say I'm happy about Alex's death; it sucks that Bruce almost made a normal friend his own age only for the friend to die not long after. However, from a narrative standpoint, Alex's death serves a clear purpose.

Now that that's wrapped up, let's go back to the Iceberg Lounge. Ed bursts in, upset that Penguin didn't meet him. Penguin shows up and mocks Ed for losing not only his ability to create good riddles, but also to make clever plans. Ed wants to kill Penguin, but Penguin tells him he can't: only the old Ed Nygma can truly have his revenge. From where he stands, Ed is a shadow of his former self. He calls Mr. Freeze in to trap Ed again, but Ed begs for his life, confessing "I'm not the Riddler."

Penguin calls off Freeze and decides to let Ed go, saying that it'll be worse for Ed to live on knowing that he'll never be the same man he once was. Ed leaves and wonders aloud "Who am I?"

But just in case you were worried about the relationships on this show getting too complex, Gordon goes to Sofia's house and decides to hook up with her even though he's mad at her for letting the Penguin lure out and kill those capos. Look, I'm okay with him having a thing for her. But seriously? Starting a make-out session just after you've learned your partner is a manipulative femme fatale? Really, Jim?

And in the final scene, we see Ra's transported to Blackgate and he gives a smile worthy of Light Yagami.

Overall, the episode was . . . all right. While I enjoyed all of the storylines, I think there may have been too many subplots in this episode at once. Yes, I know, this is Gotham and there are never fewer than 17 gambits going at once, but if any of the episode's subplots had been taken out and saved for later, McKenzie could've spent more time building up the others. 

But all in all, this episode introduced (and continued) a lot of great driving questions that will presumably carry across season 4A, if not the entire season. Why is the knife important? How far will Bruce go to stop Ra's al Ghul? Who is Ed without his intellect? Is Sofia Falcone ever telling the truth?

Comment below with your thoughts on the episode, and tune in next week to watch Bruce Wayne make more bad decisions. Why?


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