Wednesday, March 14, 2018

'Gotham' Recap: "A Beautiful Darkness" (4x13)

Welcome back to another recap of Gotham: A Dark Knight—although, at this point, Gotham: Occasional Glimpses of the Dark Knight might be more appropriate.

(I'm not bitter about the fact that it's been 8 episodes since Bruce suited up. Nope, definitely not. Deeeeefinitely not counting the episodes until he's back in the cowl for good).

Anyhow, this week's episode, "A Beautiful Darkness," centers around two plots: Ivy's quest to uncover a Wayne Enterprises conspiracy and Jerome's attempts to bring out Penguin's crazier side. Warning for spoilers, insensitive portrayals of the mentally disturbed, violence, an adult kissing a minor, and plant-based torture.

Plot A: Don't Threaten Me With a Good Hallucination

The episode opens with Ivy and Selina walking up to an apartment and ringing the doorbell. When a woman answers, Ivy sprays some perfume on her (Ivy's) wrist. The second the woman smells it, she's entranced by Ivy's beauty and lets them in. As Ivy and Selina enter, she uses her perfume to hypnotize the woman's husband and two kids, who instantly compliment Ivy. Selina notes that the perfume seems to turn people into Ivy's "superfans," and Ivy remarks that they'll do whatever she says until the effect fades. She tells the family to freeze, and they do so. Selina, impressed, grabs a necklace right off of the wife's neck and leaves to rob the rest of the apartment.

Once she's gone, Ivy tells the man that Selina thinks they're just there to rob the family, but that Ivy knows who he is (Rowland Charles, PhD), and who he works for (Wayne Enterprises, according to a briefcase Ivy opens). She tells Charles that he's tortured plants in the name of science and says he'll soon know how plants feel. With that, she uses her powers to poison him with a single touch, just as Selina re-enters the room. She can only watch in horror as leaves sprout from Charles's mouth while his family watches helplessly. Ivy, however, says it's exactly what he deserves.

Over at the GCPD, an arrested man in a holding cell calls for Gordon. When Gordon approaches him, the man explains that he works for Sofia Falcone and that it should be enough to get him out. Gordon, however, refuses to let him go.

Lucius Fox arrives and briefs Gordon with details about the recent murder, noting that Charles worked for Wayne Enterprises' biotech division and died of the same toxin previously seen in a victim from the Narrows. Lucius explains that the toxin feeds off of tissue and attaches itself to the hippocampus, producing vivid hallucinations before death.

He also notes that Charles's family encountered two women: one with red hair who hypnotized them into watching the murder and another young woman with a leather whip. Gordon realizes that the latter must be Selina but is puzzled by her involvement, as he says she's not one for murder (clearly no one told him about how she pushed Reggie out of a window in season one). According to the family's statements, the redhead was the one who murdered Charles.

When Gordon asks if Charles was working on anything important, Lucius replies that he just worked with pesticides. However, when Gordon leaves, Lucius leaves a voicemail for Bruce. He explains that Charles is dead, which could be a problem for them.

Meanwhile, Ivy goes through papers of research at her current base and tells Selina that Charles was involved with a top secret project called "Project M." Selina's reply?

Selina yells at Ivy for killing Charles in front of his family, but Ivy's still focused on her research and finds out that the project was approved by Bruce Wayne himself. Selina, frustrated, tells Ivy, "Enjoy your shrubs," and storms out. After she's gone, Ivy tells the plants that it'll be okay, because they don't need Selina or anyone else.

The next morning, a hungover Bruce is awoken from his sleep by a parakeet that keeps talking like a frat boy (asking for shots, for example). After he throws a blanket over its cage, he notices Ivy standing across from him. He recognizes her from the Sirens' Club, but still doesn't know who she is. When Bruce asks what she's doing at his house, she says she's there to speak for the plants.

He tells her to get out, but she says she wants to know about Project M. Bruce asks how she knows about it, and she says she knows lots of things, before calling him "billionaire boy." The phrase is enough to remind him of an old acquaintance:

After Bruce realizes it's Ivy, she kisses him, and he falls under her hypnotic spell. He then tells her everything about Project M—but we don't get to hear it because of a commercial break. After the break, Ivy tells him that Bruce that he's guilty because his name is on the company, and decides that his death should be slow and painful. She cuts open his skin with her nail and poison ivy begins to sprout on him slowly. She then leaves him to die.

As the toxin begins to work on Bruce's mind, he hallucinates himself tied up in the back of a workshop. A man with his back turned searches for the right tool before grabbing a familiar dagger. He turns, only to bear the face of Ra's al Ghul, though he tells Bruce his name is Dr. Greenthumb and that he's here to prune. He then cuts off Bruce's face (offscreen, thankfully), leaving only a dark hole where it used to be. "Greenthumb" tells Bruce that he's dying and begins cover his face with bandages. At the same time, Bruce's body in the real world is being slowly covered with poison ivy.

Meanwhile, Gordon enters the Sirens' Club in search of Selina, but Barbara says she's out. Sofia, however, is around, and decides to have a chat with Gordon after telling Barbara to leave. She tells him Barbara doesn't know about the arrangement, and he points out that since their deal is for him to run the police while she runs the underworld, he shouldn't have to let her lackeys go. Sofia counters by saying that their deal will be whatever she says it is, since she could ruin him by revealing the truth about their alliance and the true nature of Professor Pyg.

Gordon says that she's bluffing and that if he goes down, so will she. Before Sofia can reply, Gordon spots Selina and chases after her. He follows her onto a rooftop and grabs her before she can jump. he asks her about Charles's death, and she replies that she was only there to rob his house. When Gordon asks who the redhead is, Selina tells him it's Ivy Pepper.

He doesn't believe her (come to think of it, I don't think anyone told him about her changing faces the first time, let alone the second), but Selina insists that it's the truth. She says that Ivy changed and tells Gordon about her new powers. She then mentions that Ivy was trying to get to the bottom of some top secret project, which makes Gordon realize that Lucius lied about Charles being an ordinary employee.

At the same time, Ivy enters the medical examiner's office and asks Lucius if he's admiring her handiwork (the dead body). Lucius, uneasy, switches on the coroner's audio recording device without her knowing and asks what she wants. Ivy replies that she wants to know about Project M. After hypnotizing Lucius with a whiff of her perfume, she orders him to take her to the project.

Back in hallucination world, Bruce stumbles onto a party. He encounters Selina, as well as Gordon (who has a mustache) and Barbara (who's dressed as a flapper). Gordon and Barbara don't recognize him without his face and laugh when he says he's Bruce Wayne. They point him to another Bruce, who's entertaining Lee Tompkins and other guests.

The real Bruce grabs at him and asks where Ra's al Ghul went and who gave him Bruce's face. The fake Bruce says he must be drunk. When the real Bruce insists that he's a fake, the fake Bruce pushes him down and tells him to quit ruining his fun. Bullock (speaking in a British accent and carrying a chicken, for some reason) then asks the fake Bruce if he's alright. Fake Bruce replies that he's just "showing out the riff raff."

I like this scene because it's an interesting look at Bruce's psyche. He's been keeping his true self locked away for most of the season in order to play at being someone else, someone with no cares or regrets. This scene is the literal version of that conflict, as the fake Bruce pushes his real self out of the way in order to continue the party.

Gordon and Selina return to the GCPD, only to find that Ivy left with Lucius after hypnotizing the entire precinct (something he finds out a little too late, after calling Ivy a psycho). Selina says they'll do anything for Ivy until the effect fades, and he decides to leave before they get mad at him for what he said.

However, he doesn't go far. He instead takes Selina to the M.E.'s office, where he finds Lucius's recording and hears Ivy ask about Project M's location. Lucius replies that it's in a secret facility outside of the city. Suddenly, Harper and some other cops barge in, mad about what Gordon said about Ivy. He uses a fire extinguisher to hold them off and manages to escape, but Selina's already gone.

Back in the realm of hallucination, the party is still going strong. There's only one Bruce, though, which raises the interesting question of what happened to the other one (more on that later). This Bruce (face intact) tells a funny story to his guests, and Ivy passes him a drink. 

Bullock, however, asks, "How long do you think you can hide in here?" (Which is a great question, considering how long Bruce has been hiding behind his mask of a billionaire brat.) Bullock tells Bruce that someone is coming after him, and sure enough, Alfred crashes through the window in a cloud of smoke. He announces himself as "Special Agent Pennyworth to you, scumbag," and grabs Bruce. 

Over at the top secret facility, Lucius leads Ivy to Project M, which turns out to be a green vial of water from the Lazarus Pit. Lucius explains that it stimulates remarkable cellular regeneration and that Bruce entrusted him with figuring out how it worked. Ivy, realizing that the water isn't killing plants but instead bringing life, says she's going to use the vial to make miracles.

Meanwhile, in an alleyway of the hallucination world, Bruce begs Alfred to let him go and even offers to pay him off. Alfred refuses, saying that it was his mission deliver Bruce to someone. Bruce looks up and sees a cloaked figure in black, climbing along the buildings. He asks what the figure wants, and asks why he would bring him to the alleyway where his parents died. The figure replies (in a deep, menacing voice), "No, this is where I was born," and jumps down to lunge at Bruce, who screams.

In the real world, Gordon finds Ivy. She says she's not the same kid he remembers, the kid whose father Bullock killed. He asks her how this is possible, and Ivy replies that she bloomed. She then threatens to kill Lucius unless Gordon drops his gun. He obliges, and Ivy admits that she knows Gordon will come after her the second she leaves. However, if he does, Bruce will die. She slips an antidote to her toxin in Lucius's pocket, saying that if they let her go, they might have enough time to save Bruce. 

Ivy leaves, and Lucius tries to get Gordon to wait until she's at a safe distance to head towards Wayne Manor. This leads to a bit of hilarious dialogue.

But apparently those classes haven't been paying off, because Gordon punches out Lucius, which is enough to make him realize the gravity of the situation. 

Bruce, still in the dream world, wakes up in a dark cave. He hears scurrying and yells at the figure to show itself. 

I know this reveal is obvious, but I love it all the same. I love how Bruce's decision to push his real self away (both in the real world and in the hallucination) caused that self to lash out. My only question is whether this bat-self is the Bruce who entered the vision, lost his face, and went missing, or if that Bruce merged with the party-self and this is instead some form of his id or whatever. Either way, I love how the Bat refuses to be contained. 

As the bats swarm him in the dream, Bruce wakes up, thanks to Gordon feeding him the antidote. Gordon explains that the toxin had hallucinatory effects, and tells Bruce that whatever he saw, no matter how unpleasant, wasn't real. Bruce responds that it was, and he saw who he really is. Gordon tells Bruce that he's lucky, because most people go their entire lives without knowing who they truly are. Bruce, however, says he's not lucky at all. 

Gordon tells Bruce that he's had experience battling his own demons, and advises him not to fight the darkness alone. He tells Bruce he'll check in on him the next day. Before Gordon leaves, however, Bruce tells him something of the utmost importance:

Don't fight the 'stache, Gordon. 

After Gordon leaves, Bruce takes out his cellphone and leaves a message for Alfred, saying he needs his help. Let's hope Bruce has got an official letter of apology and some edible arrangements ready. While I can't wait to see Alfred and him reconcile, I strongly suspect it'll take more than a simple "Sorry" to fix things this time.

Back at the GCPD, Gordon runs into a recovered Harper, who tells him, "We're not hypnotized. Just embarrassed." He tells the cops to put out an APB on Ivy Pepper and says finding her is a top priority.

Gordon then receives a call from Sofia Falcone, who tells him he was right; telling Gotham the truth about Pyg will bring her down as well. But rather than concede to Gordon's terms, she tells him that there are other ways to hurt him and hangs up, before speaking with a special guest.

TBH, I feel like this is a breach of courtesy on Sofia's part. She didn't even bother to show up for Mario's funeral, and she's only just now meeting with Lee after being in town for months. But, of course, courtesy isn't really the point. Sofia's definitely going to take a page out of Barbara's book and hurt Lee to get at Gordon. 

Meanwhile, Ivy pours the Lazarus Pit water on a seed, causing it to sprout and bloom into a flower within seconds. As she does so, a couple (who live in the house that she's been squatting in) enters and tells her to leave, or else they'll call the police. She simply blows spores from the flower at them, which causes the flower to burst forth from their skin and take over the bodies in the same manner that her ivy usually does. 

Plot B: The Perils and Pummeling of an Imprisoned Penguin

In a crowded Arkham Asylum cafeteria, Penguin quietly eats his lunch. Jerome throws a joker playing card at him (real subtle, writers) and asks if the seat across from him is taken, before helping himself to it without permission. Jerome tells Penguin that he's a big fan but has been disappointed because all Penguin's done for the past six weeks is mope, and he expected more. 

(Guess that means six weeks, give or take, is the time gap between 4x11 and 4x12. Honestly, I don't know what's more surprising: the fact that it took this long for Jerome to start bugging Penguin, or the fact that Bruce has managed to live on his own for that long.)

Penguin tells Jerome that he can't escape because Sofia is holding someone he cares about (i.e., Martin). Jerome, however, finds this explanation boring and points Penguin to Dietrich, the last person who bored him. Jerome got someone to mess with his drugs, and now the poor guy can barely do anything but wet himself. He tells Penguin that he's going to cure him of his bad attitude and find the entertaining guy inside of him.

Later on, inmates grab Penguin from his cell and drag him through the halls, while the guards do nothing to stop them.

Seriously, who hires the Arkham staff? It's scary that out of everyone who's run the place, Strange had the best control over inmates, and he was an actual super-villain. 

But I digress. The inmates drag him to the cafeteria, where Jerome is surrounded by a crowd of other inmates. He tells Penguin that the best cure is the laughing cure, and orders Penguin to make him laugh by performing a clown dance. Penguin refuses, but the inmates force him into a striped clown costume with a bow and squeaky rubber shoes. When Penguin breaks down, begging to be left alone in his misery, Jerome tells him that the real prison is in his mind, and he's offering a way out. The rest of the inmates then poke Penguin with sticks until he "dances." In his attempt to get away, he falls flat on the ground.

Jerome tells Penguin they'll try again the next day, and the rest of the inmates continue beating him with their sticks.

The next day, Penguin gets a visit from Nygma, who's there to gloat. Penguin say that while he's a prisoner, Ed is a moron. Ed says that he at least has a purpose and friends, while Penguin doesn't. He says that's what he wanted Penguin to see, but Penguin says there must be something else going on, something else that brought Nygma to the asylum. Nygma denies it and continues to gloat, which leads to a wonderful threat from Penguin:

Nygma replies that he won't, because he has no friends and no way to escape. He then leaves as Penguin continues to yell at him. However, mid-rant, Penguin notices an origami penguin left on a nearby table. He unfolds it, only to find a secret message.

Penguin realizes that Nygma came because the Riddler felt trapped and needs Penguin's help to regain control. He then decides the Riddler will be the one to help him escape from Arkham.

Later that night, a group of inmates enter Penguin's cell, stuff a bag over the head of someone who's sleeping in his bed, and drag the person to the cafeteria, where Jerome's waiting. He slips a noose around the person's neck and says it's time for the "sudden death round." However, when he removes the bag, the person underneath isn't Penguin, but Dietrich. Penguin emerges from the crowd and threatens Jerome with an unlikely weapon.

(As always, Robin Lord Taylor just kills it with the delivery of his lines. No matter how ridiculous his dialogue is, he always manages to inject it with the conviction of a demented crime lord.)

Jerome says that Penguin's attempt to fight back is boring, and too little, too late. Penguin responds that maybe Jerome was right about him being in a prison, a prison where no one can get to him. He then begins to act as a mime, peering from inside an invisible box, strutting around, and waving to the crowd. Jerome grabs a shiv on a stick and is about to stab Penguin with it, but stops when it touches the edges of the "box."

Penguin mimes opening a door and lets Jerome into the box, but the second he's inside, Penguin begins to kick and punch him. Jerome, in spite of his bruises and blood, just laughs and says he knew he'd cure Penguin. Penguin's response? "Don't flatter yourself." He kicks him one more time, but Jerome continues to laugh.

Later on, Jerome waltzes into Penguin's cell. Penguin is on edge, but Jerome says he can relax because he gave him "the laugh of the century." Penguin asks Jerome why he bothers staying at the asylum; it's obvious that all of the inmates and guards are under his thumb. Jerome replies that he's planning something big (and crazy enough to turn the city itself into asylum), but he needs the craziest people that Gotham can offer, which is why he sought out Penguin. Penguin declines, but Jerome says he'll come around eventually. After he leaves, Penguin mutters, "Nope!" and hands the guard a letter addressed to Ed Nygma.

The Verdict

Plot A: Peyton List continues to absolutely nail the role of Poison Ivy, and it's nice to see Lucius having a role in the episode outside of the GCPD. Also, I'd like to hand it to Bruce for actually trying to analyze the waters of the Lazarus Pit. It feels a realistic and appropriate reaction—if I encountered magical healing waters, I'd want to know how they worked and what I could do with them. It makes sense that a future detective would want to do the same.

On a related note, I enjoyed Bruce's hallucination trip. While I wish we'd gotten to see more of that odd dream-world, I like how Bruce was forced to confront the anger and darkness within himself. He's not going to be satisfied until he's back out on the streets, fighting crime. That's who he is, and that menacing figure in the darkness is who he needs to become, even if he's afraid of where that path may take him. 

Even if you take away the audience's desire to see Bruce become Batman, the character would still be heading towards that point. He thrives off of analyzing and fighting crime, to the point where almost any other pursuit seems pointless. Denying this need by wasting his time at clubs and parties has only led Bruce to sink into deeper misery. Gotham desperately needs a hero, and Bruce desperately needs to be one, even if he's not fully Batman yet.

Does this sequence of events make up for the string of episodes where Bruce was a jerk? Not entirely, but I'm willing to overlook that painful arc if it leads him to be an even better vigilante in the second half of the season. As I said earlier, I still feel a little cheated by the fact that this season is subtitled A Dark Knight and yet continues very few episodes depicting Bruce's vigilante career. I'm hoping that'll be rectified soon. 

Plot B: Oswald Cobblepot may have been the MVP of this episode. I just love the energy that Taylor brings to the role, whether he's bickering with Nygma or beating up Jerome.

As for Jerome, I'm not sure how I felt about his presence in this episode. Don't get me wrong; Cameron Monaghan has always been perfect in this role, in my opinion (and perfect as the Joker, even if someone else turns out to be the clown prince of crime). However, I felt like Jerome was slightly upstaged by Penguin in this episode.

I think that when you've two strong, popular characters, both played by talented actors, there's often a risk that one will overshadow the other, or that the actors simply won't have chemistry. I'm not saying that Taylor and Monaghan don't have chemistry; I'm just saying that I think it's difficult to balance two dynamic, powerful characters in the same storyline, especially when they've never met before. Both Penguin and Jerome have a theatricality about them and command a certain presence. In this episode, those presences clashed (which makes sense as the characters were at odds). That might not even be the fault of the actors; it could be the result of mistakes on the part of writers or directors. 

But I digress. Let's get back to the storyline. I'm glad to see Penguin and Jerome interacting, and it was very satisfying to see Penguin pummel Jerome. I'm also intrigued by how Gotham is bringing back a partnership between Penguin and Nygma as a result of the Riddler's resurgence. I'd also like to give a shoutout to Cory Michael Smith. Even though he was only around for one scene, he did a great job, especially when he denied having ulterior motives for his visit (his body language practically screamed that he was lying at that point).

Overall, I was pretty satisfied by the episode. I'll admit that neither plot went exactly how I expected, but that's not a bad thing. It's nice to have your expectations subverted if the surprise is a pleasant one. As for next week, trailers indicate that Bruce will reach out to Alfred, who's mad at him (and rightfully so), as well as don a hood again. 

In the meantime, comment below with your thoughts, theories, and questions. Did you like the hallucination bats, or will you only be satisfied when Bruce puts ears on his suit? What was your favorite part? 

Until next time, stay safe and avoid strangers with plant-based toxins in their DNA.


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