Wednesday, February 27, 2019

'Gotham' Recap: "Ace Chemicals" (5x07)

Welcome back to another episode of Gotham, or, as I like to call it: "The show where the Joker is just several Cameron Monaghans stacked on top of each other wearing a trench coat" (a bit wordy to be the official title, I know).

This week's episode, "Ace Chemicals," features a few different plots: Jeremiah's re-enactment of the Wayne murders, Gordon and Lee reconnecting while also trying to solve a mystery, and Penguin and Selina's search for a way out of Gotham. However, as these plots are extremely interwoven and overlap with each other, I've decided not to split them up this week. Instead, I'll just be telling the whole story in order.

So, without further ado, here we go.

Plots A-C: Dinner and a Show

The episode opens with several men in lab coats (who have the letter "Z" carved into their chest) running from a garage. Someone in a silver hazmat suit follows them out while carrying a bunch of green and purple fireworks. This person lights the fireworks which rain down green gas and smoke. As the gas disperses, the men begin to foam at the mouth and collapse.

Over at the GCPD, Gordon talks on the radio with a man called General Wade. Gordon is frustrated to learn that Walker hasn't been captured by the military and asks if they know what her motives are yet. Walker replies that they don't.

Gordon then says that since Eduardo and Walker are out of the way (or so he thinks) and asks Wade what stands in the way of reunifying Gotham and connecting it with the mainland. Wade replies that there's nothing in the way anymore and adds that he's going to recommend that the military move forward with the process . . . unless something happens to destabilize Gotham.

Gordon tells Bullock the news but adds that he won't believe Wade until the process actually starts. He then asks Bullock if the search parties have found Alfred, who went missing five days ago. Bullock replies that they haven't. Gordon asks how Bruce is doing. Bullock replies that the kid is running himself ragged to find Alfred and barely resting at all.

Gordon walks over to Bruce, who's examining a map. Bruce shows Gordon where he wants to search next, and Gordon agrees to send out a squad but tells Bruce he needs to stay behind. Bruce initially resists, but Gordon says that he needs Bruce to be sharp. He adds that Bruce will be a liability if he doesn't get some rest.

(Side note: It's interesting to hear Gordon talk to Bruce in that way, as if he's another officer at the GCPD. It really shows how far Bruce has come and how Gordon almost thinks of him as an equal. Back in season 1 or even in season 4, this conversation would've gone very differently.)

(The above clip is from episode 4x04, "The Demon's Head.")

Bruce agrees to stay at the GCPD but says he's worried that they have no leads on Alfred and no way of knowing what happened. Gordon replies that no matter what's going on, Alfred's not someone to go down easily. He tells Bruce that he'll let him know if the search party finds anything.

Bullock then tells Gordon that Harper's squad found something weird as they were searching the city.

Gordon and Bullock meet Harper at the scene of the crime. She shows him four dead men who breathed in an airborne chemical agent and notes that the Z's on their chest were carved before the time of death. Gordon also notices a fake mustache on one of the bodies.

Harper shows them the building that the men were running from. It's a film set, oddly enough. Bullock wonders if the "Z" stands for Zsasz, but Gordon points out that chemicals aren't usually his M.O. Gordon adds that, whatever's going on here, they need to stop it before it interferes with reunification.

Gordon then bends down to examine a tattoo on one of the corpses. It's a chess piece, which is the sign of a gang called "the Chessmen" from the Narrows. He wonders what they're doing in this part of town. Bullock replies that there's one person who might know.

Elsewhere, Bruce walks through the streets alone. He comes across a newspaper on the ground and is surprised to see that the front page story is about his parents' deaths. He then finds a wall covered in the same old papers. He hears a woman's laugh and sees a couple that, from the back, looks like his parents.

He follows them down the street and into a subway but loses sight of them as it gets darker. He then finds a dimly lit tunnel at the bottom of the subway and notices a single pearl at the entrance. He decides to enter the tunnel, though it's clearly a set-up.

Back in the green zone, Barbara enters the clinic where Lee is now working as a doctor. Lee tells her to go away, but Barbara says she needs medical assistance for her child. Lee points out that Barbara tried to kill her twice and reminds her that there are other doctors. Barbara retorts that she wants the best care for her innocent child and that means getting Lee's help.

Lee asks if Gordon knows that Barbara came to the clinic. She replies that it's none of his business.

As if on cue, Gordon enters the room. Barbara says he's interrupting a doctor-patient conversation and tells him to leave. Gordon asks if Lee's actually her doctor and Lee replies that she's not sure yet. She asks why he's at the clinic, and he says the GCPD found dead men with a connection to the Narrows.

Lee says that before she addresses that, Barbara and Gordon need to talk. Barbara doesn't want to speak to him, but Lee insists that if she's going to be Barbara's doctor, then Barbara needs to talk to the child's father. She adds that Barbara's first appointment is in a week and a nurse will give her vitamins on her way out. She then leaves Gordon and Barbara so they can talk alone.

Gordon asks if Lee's really the only doctor Barbara could find. She replies that Lee is the best doctor in Gotham and says that she didn't pick her to spite Gordon. She then adds that she only told him about the baby because he had a right to know. Now that he knows, his involvement in the situation is over. When he seems skeptical, she asks if he doesn't think she's fit to be a mother.

"What do you think?" Gordon asks. Barbara leaves, furious.

Meanwhile, Bruce follows the tunnel to where it lets out: his father's study in Wayne Manor. He sees a couple that looks just like his parents. They're laughing and smiling like nothing's wrong. He stares and asks who they are. "Martha Wayne" replies that they're his parents.

Alfred arrives, also cheery and off-putting, and says that Bruce needs to get "spruced up" because they have a guest. He points to a corner, where Jeremiah raises a glass and smiles.

Bruce is shocked to see that he's still alive. Jeremiah replies that he just had to fake his death to throw Bruce off the scent while he finished his "project." Bruce lunges to attack Jeremiah, but Alfred holds him back, saying he shouldn't be rude to their guest.

Jeremiah agrees and lifts a tarp to reveal a large bomb.

He tells Bruce that he's placed about a dozen bombs all over the house. If Bruce tries to attack Jeremiah, he'll blow up the entire manor.

Bruce asks what Jeremiah did to Alfred and who his fake parents are. Jeremiah replies that they're an "innocent couple I kidnapped based on bone structure and build" and says that plastic surgery turned them into Thomas and Martha Wayne. He adds that he captured Alfred in the Green Zone.

Bruce surmises that both Alfred and the couple are hypnotized. Jeremiah confirms this suspicion, saying that he can't afford for them to improvise, since it's an important day for everyone.

"Just look at how they're dressed," he says. Bruce looks them over and realizes that the couple are wearing the same clothes his parents were when they were murdered.

Jeremiah says he's giving Bruce "the chance to experience it all over again." When Bruce asks why Jeremiah's doing this, he replies that it was the most important day of Bruce's life—and Jeremiah didn't get to be a part of it. He says they need to fix that and tells Alfred that it's time for dinner.

Elsewhere, on a Gotham pier, Penguin watches a ship get blown up on the river. Selina says it's the third one to go down, and he notes that the government was thorough about placing explosive mines in the river. Selina is frustrated that Penguin doesn't have a plan and points out that the government will also shoot down anything that tries to fly out of the city.

She then remembers the underground tunnels that Jeremiah and his followers were digging the night she (seemingly) killed him.

Penguin's skeptical but agrees to give it a try, as the tunnels are their only option. Selina tells him that the tunnels are in the Dark Zone and adds that they should wait until it gets dark to use them.

Over in the Narrows, Gordon and Lee look for the Chessmen. She sadly remarks that it looks like all of her efforts to improve the neighborhood were in vain, as it seems to be as bad as ever. Gordon tries to talk to Lee about what happened with Barbara, but the conversation is drawn short when Lee spots graffiti directions left for members of the Chessmen that lead to their secret base.

Back at Wayne Manor, Alfred serves dinner. Jeremiah notes that Alfred told him all about Bruce's childhood, right down to his favorite food. Bruce isn't interested in chatting and says that since he's playing Jeremiah's game, Alfred and the couple should be allowed to go free. Jeremiah replies that it's important that every detail, including his parents, is in place—and with that, "Thomas" puts the pearl necklace on "Martha."

Jeremiah asks what it was like when Bruce's parents died. Jeremiah says that he lost his family as well and still hurts over it. Bruce, however, tells Jeremiah that this whole scenario is fake and that even though he's trying to manipulate Bruce into reliving that night, it won't work. Jeremiah replies that while his re-enactment might not be identical to the actual night, all he needs is for Bruce to be thinking about those memories, even if he's not reliving them.

He then says that he just wants to be connected to Bruce, and adds that if Bruce isn't going to be his best friend, there are other ways that they can be connected.

He says that Bruce will understand in time. Jeremiah then says that it's time for him and Bruce's parents to leave because they "have an important date with destiny," and advises Bruce that he'd better find Alfred and get out. He starts the countdown on the bomb and exits, leaving Bruce to find the butler.

In the Narrows, Gordon and Lee follow the directions to the Chessmen's hideout and find an Ace Chemicals factory with smoke coming out of it. As they enter the factory, they see several men working with glowing green liquid stored inside vats and bottles. Gordon grabs one of the men and tries to question him, but the man simply replies that "the chemical stock will soon give Gotham an aftershock" and all of the henchmen around him echo the rhyme.

Lee and Gordon quickly realize that the rhymes and the dazed expression in the men's eyes can only mean one thing: they've been hypnotized by Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter. And, as if on cue, Hatter shows up and orders his hypnotized henchmen to attack Gordon and Lee. The couple does a decent job of fending them off until Ecco shows up on roller skates, knocks Gordon down with a crowbar, and begins to beat him.

Meanwhile, Selina goes to the Sirens' Club and fills Barbara in on Penguin's plan. She says that she's only been pretending to help Penguin; in actuality, she wants revenge on him for Tabitha's death and will be happy to either kill him or steal all of his loot. She adds that once she finds a way out of the city, she and Barbara can kill Penguin and escape.

Barbara agrees, happy to get revenge on Penguin and get away from Gordon. She then remarks, "Well, aren't we just two ladies and a baby about to kill our sworn enemy?" This causes Selina to give her a weird look.

In Wayne Manor, Bruce tricks the hypnotized Alfred into leaving by claiming that there's a gas leak in the kitchen and saying that the whole place is about to blow. The two of them run into the tunnel just in time to escape the flames as all of Wayne Manor goes up in smoke.

It's a sad moment, to see Bruce's home utterly destroyed, though I'm sure it'll be rebuilt in the long run. It reminds me of the ending of Batman Begins. In that film, after the manor is burned down, Alfred remarks, "I thought this might be a good opportunity for improving the foundations" (which is his way of implying that he and Bruce can expand the Bat-Cave while also pointing to Bruce's growth as a character).

But I digress. As they run through the tunnel, Alfred gets knocked down by a piece of debris and hits his head. When Bruce picks him up, Alfred is back to his lucid self and promises to beat the Mad Hatter the next time he sees him. Bruce notices that Alfred's leg is hurt, but the butler says it's not broken. Bruce then hugs him, saying that he was worried he'd lost Alfred for good this time.

Alfred then tells Bruce that he'd better get going, since he knows where Jeremiah is headed next, and the two go their separate ways.

Back at Ace Chemicals, Gordon and Lee are now handcuffed to a pole. Gordon surmises that since Ecco's around, Jeremiah's probably still alive. Ecco notes that Gordon must've come here because he found the corpses of test subjects. He asks her what's going on and she simply replies that it's a "real killer surprise."

Tetch asks Ecco if he should hypnotize Gordon and Lee and command them to kill each other. Ecco replies that she'd better check with Jeremiah and leaves to send him a call on the radio.

As this is happening, Gordon apologizes for getting Lee into danger again. He says there's something he needs to tell her, but she says to save it for later. Gordon then decides to see if he can find out more about Jeremiah's plan by goading Hatter. He calls him an "errand boy" and Lee adds that he's a "second-rater with a really silly hat."

(It's true, and she should say it.)

Ecco then walks up to Hatter and whispers something in his ear. Whatever it is that she's said, he seems delighted by the idea and takes out his pocket watch and begins to hypnotize Gordon and Lee.

Elsewhere in the Dark Zone, Selina leads Penguin to one of the tunnel entrances. She then stops, hearing footsteps. These belong to Alfred, who emerges from the mouth of the tunnel.

Penguin asks where the tunnel let out, and Alfred replies that the exit is where Wayne Manor used to be until Jeremiah blew it up. Selina is shocked and says that she saw him die, but Alfred replies that she was mistaken and adds that he's trying to reenact the Wayne murders and that Bruce is chasing after him.

Selina's about to leave when Penguin orders her to stay. She then draws a knife and presses it against his throat, saying that even though she didn't manage to kill Jeremiah, she's still ready and willing to kill Penguin to avenge Tabitha. Alfred, however, tells her to put the knife down and says that Bruce needs her. Selina obliges and leaves to go after him.

Penguin then thanks Alfred for his help and leaves Alfred to find his way back to the Green Zone alone.

Meanwhile, Bruce arrives at the theatre (where he went with his parents the night of their murder) and yells for Jeremiah to show himself. A movie projector turns on, illuminating his "parents" as they stare blankly at the screen.

The movie title card says "Mark of Zorro" by Douglas Fairbanks (which, in several Batman comic books including The Dark Knight Returns, is the movie Bruce saw with his parents). However, instead of showing the actual movie, the projector plays a recorded black-and-white message from Jeremiah, who's dressed up as Zorro.

Jeremiah notes that they're back where Bruce's parents took him to see "The Mark of Zorro" and adds that he heard (presumably, from a hypnotized Alfred) that Bruce was obsessed with Zorro as a child. (Another nod to Batman mythology, as the persona of Batman is inspired by Zorro in and out of universe.)

(The above comic is from Darwyn Cooke's story, Batman: Ego, where a hallucinated version of Batman reminds Bruce Wayne of how they came to be one and the same. He says that Batman and Bruce Wayne first "met" when Bruce received a Zorro action figure for Christmas.)

On-screen, Jeremiah wonders if Bruce was obsessed with Zorro because the hero struck fear into his enemies. Jeremiah then "fences" with two men who are tied down and can't fight back. He begins to slice at their chests and remarks that this is the part of the movie where Bruce asked his parents to leave because he was scared. Jeremiah taunts Bruce, saying that if he hadn't been afraid that night, maybe his parents wouldn't have died.

Suddenly, the "Waynes" get out and leave the theatre. Bruce runs after them and into the alleyway, where Jeremiah, who's dressed in a snazzy indigo suit and holding a gun, tells him not to come any closer. (At this point, Bruce is at a distance from his "parents" and can only see the dim outline of their backs, as the alley is barely lit.) 

Bruce tells Jeremiah that he doesn't have to kill them. Jeremiah replies, his voice breaking, that he does have to do it. He tells Bruce that he realized something: no matter how Jeremiah tried to bond himself with Bruce, his parents' murderer would be the man he was most tied to.

He tells Bruce that if they can't be bonded as brothers, they'll just have to be bonded as enemies by hatred. Bruce says that killing two people who merely look like his parents won't be enough to do that. Jeremiah replies that he figured that out—which is why he already shot the lookalikes. He then tells "Thomas" and "Martha" to turn around. As they do, the lights switch on, revealing none other than Jim Gordon and Lee Thompkins.

Jeremiah laughs and explains that "fate" brought Gordon and Lee to him, and when Ecco told him that they'd been captured, he thought "Why not?" 

"Why not kill the man that you think of as a second father figure?" he asks. "And your dear, dear, dear friend Lee Thompkins?" Jeremiah says that once he kills them, he'll be bonded to Bruce as planned.

Ecco then drives up in a green truck with more of the chemical fireworks in tow. Jeremiah explains that if and when the fireworks go off and spread toxic chemicals all over the city, the government will cut Gotham off for good and end all plans of reunification. 

As he's saying this, Selina creeps onto the fire escape, unseen to all. 

Jeremiah then tells Bruce about the finishing touch to his plan: Hatter has hypnotized Gordon and Lee so that they'll wake up once the pearls on Lee's neck shatter and hit the ground, right as the couple dies. As he says this, he loops the pearls around his gun. (Which is an homage to the Wayne murders in The Dark Knight Returns, a scene also referenced in Batman v. Superman.)

He tells Bruce that he's doing all of this for him and prepares to pull the trigger. Suddenly, Selina whips the gun out of his hand. Bruce tells her about the pearls and she pulls them off Lee to wake up the couple. Jeremiah then stabs Bruce and runs off. Ecco starts a timer on the fireworks and flees as well.

Bruce says that they need to stop the fireworks. Gordon replies that he'll handle it and tells Bruce to go after Jeremiah. He also says that since there's no way to defuse all the fireworks, Lee will need to tell Harvey about the danger so that everyone in the Green Zone can take cover.

Gordon then drives the truck full speed at the pier (with nineteen seconds left on the fireworks' timer) and bails at the last minute before it plunges into the water.

Bruce runs after Jeremiah and follows him into the Ace Chemicals factory. They begin to fight on the railing that overlooks the vats of green chemicals. As Bruce gets the upper hand and begins to punch Jeremiah over and over, Jeremiah gleefully replies that Bruce has to feel the connection between the two of them now. 

"You mean nothing to me," Bruce replies. (Which, in keeping with our homage tracker, is a reference to The Lego Batman Movie.)

Jeremiah responds by headbutting Bruce and getting back up. As they fight, Jeremiah grabs Bruce and presses him against the rail.

"You need me," he insists. "I'm the answer to your life's question. Without me, you're just a joke without a punchline!" 

Jeremiah then tries to punch Bruce, but Bruce ducks out of the way. As Jeremiah tumbles forward, the rail breaks and he plunges over the side and into the vat of green chemicals. (Which is an homage to The Killing Joke and several other Batman stories, TV series and movies that use the same Joker backstory.) 

As Bruce looks down at the green liquid, the scene switches to a similar shot of green chemicals filling the river as Gordon looks down from the pier. 

Elsewhere in Gotham, Penguin meets with the Riddler. The Riddler asks why he should help Penguin after he let Hugo Strange put a chip in his brain, tried to sell him out to Gordon, and named a dog after him.

Penguin points out that he had Strange save the Riddler's life and claims that he had a plan to save Riddler from Gordon after turning him over. Riddler laughs derisively, noting that Penguin always has "an answer for everything."

"We have been through all of this before," Penguin replies. "Where I've tried to kill you, you've tried to kill me. But here we are in this room together. It means fate has different plans for us."

(Which, as some fans have pointed out online, is a nice callback to when the Riddler asked Penguin in season 2 if he believed in fate after the two men ran into each other in the woods.)

Riddler asks what "plans" Penguin is talking about. Penguin replies that Gotham has become more of a prison than a city and says that it's time to escape. 

Meanwhile, Gordon returns to the GCPD. Lee says that she heard that reunification isn't happening. Gordon replies that word of the chemical spill reached the mainland and now it'll take at least a few months for the government to consider starting the process. 

Lee says that things could've gone worse, but Gordon says that every time he thinks he's turned things around, "it's back to square one." Lee then asks Gordon what he was going to say to her when they were captured by Hatter. Gordon says he's not exactly sure, but it probably would've been the same thing he said the last time they saw each other, before the bridges blew, which is that he wishes he could change what happened between the two of them.

He says that nothing's changed since they were together, but Lee replies that it has. Gordon says that what happened with Barbara was a mistake, but Lee says that he needs to think about how she (Lee feels). Lee says that the more Gordon talks about wanting to do things differently, the more she wonders what would've happened if they hadn't lost their child to a miscarriage (in season 2). 

She says that she wants to be understanding, given everything that Gordon's dealing with, but he's let her down. He says he's sorry and asks what this means for them. She says they can't change the past and have to live with it. She turns to leave, and he grabs her wrist. She responds by slapping him . . . and then they kiss.

(Yeesh, Gordon. Try to exercise a little impulse control, would ya? I don't care if you love Lee, she's also your baby's mother's doctor.)

Over at the clinic, Selina and Bruce stare down at a badly burned and bandaged body lying in a hospital bed. Selina says she can't believe that after everything that happened, Jeremiah's still alive. Bruce replies that the doctor's scans show no brain activity from his body, which means he's no longer a threat. 

Bruce then thanks Selina for coming to his rescue. She says that she should've done something the night his parents were murdered, but he sincerely replies that she's done enough. 

The last scene takes place at Penguin's fortress in city hall. He and Riddler enter, only to see Barbara sitting behind his desk and holding a gun. She says she's seen the treasures he's been storing up and explains that while Selina had planned for them to kill Penguin together, she'll just have to do it herself. 

Suddenly and hilariously, the Riddler exclaims that she's pregnant and says it's obvious because she's "glowing."

Barbara then prepares to kill Penguin, but he stops her by saying that she could come with them when they leave Gotham. He adds that while she clearly wants revenge, she wouldn't want to raise a child in a "toxic war zone." 

Barbara asks if they've really found a way out of Gotham. Penguin replies that the Riddler thought of one: if they use a submarine with sonar radar, they can track the mines and avoid them. The only problem? They have to build the actual sub. 

Frustrated at this setback, Barbara almost decides to shoot Penguin but can't bring herself to do it. She says that she won't kill him, for the sake of her child, but won't forgive him. She then tells him to call her when the sub is finished. 

As she leaves, Penguin cheerily asks who the baby's father is, and she yells at him to shut up.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed this episode. It's definitely my favorite one from season 5 and ranks in my favorite Joker-centric Gotham episodes. 

One of the things I loved is that while I knew most of Jeremiah's plot to recreate the night of the Wayne murders (thanks to the episode's extended trailer), there were still twists that I didn't expect. Like the part where he reveals that he's swapped the lookalikes with Gordon and Lee? That was fantastic, and I didn't see it coming until a split second before they turned around. 

I also like that while Gotham went for a realistic approach to someone falling in a vat of toxic chemicals (in that it would burn a person horribly and leave them with little-to-no brain function), the show also left room for Jeremiah to reappear, as he's still technically alive.

In a show where dead people are constantly resurrected, it's definitely feasible that someone (probably Ecco) could find a way to revive Jeremiah in the long run. But for now, it's nice to see that Bruce and Selina have a break from worrying about him.

That's another great thing about this episode: Selina's decision to help Bruce (and their subsequent reconciliation) didn't feel rushed or forced; it felt earned. It felt like a natural build-up of her lingering guilt over not doing anything to stop his parents' murders (as voiced in episode 5x05). Also, given how significant her role as a witness to the murders was in season 1, it wouldn't have felt right for her to be absent from the reenactment in this episode. 

Furthermore, her rescue of Bruce served as a slap in the face to Jeremiah: despite his best efforts to keep Selina out of Bruce's life, she not only recovered from being shot but also got a second chance to help Bruce when he most needed it (a second chance that Jeremiah inadvertently provided by setting up the recreation). In spite of Jeremiah's best efforts to bond himself with Bruce, Bruce's bond with Selina (a bond that was formed because she witnessed his parents' death) is stronger than ever.

As for Gordon and Lee, I don't have much to say on that front. I've never been too interested in all of the love triangles Gordon gets mixed up in, so his scenes with Lee were probably the low point of the episode for me. While I liked the couple in season 1 and season 2 back when they were both kinder and happier people, I haven't enjoyed the angst that has plagued their relationship since then.

As far as Barbara goes, it's interesting to see how she's reacted to finding out about her pregnancy. She's still as violent and sassy as ever, but she's also beginning to think a lot more about her child's needs than her own, which is nice. (I have to agree with Selina, though: it's a little weird to see a female criminal kingpin casually talk about both revenge and pregnancy over the course of a conversation.)

I also was happy to see Riddler and Penguin working together again and burying the hatchet (hopefully for good). It'll be interesting to see how they try to find the parts for that submarine, as I imagine they'll be hard to find in a city as wrecked as Gotham. I doubt they'll make it out (and doubt that Barbara will keep her promise about not trying to kill Penguin), but I'm still curious to see how their attempt goes. I think the most compelling way to end this story is if they get everything they need and are all ready to go but make the decision to stay in Gotham for some reason. 

Overall, I'd give the episode a 9 out of 10. It was a thrill to watch and, as always, I'm excited to see what happens next. I am a little apprehensive about Jeremiah's defeat, as it likely means that Eduardo and Walker will be the big villains for most of the season, but I'm trying to keep an open mind while I wait for their plan to unfold.

Come back next Wednesday for a recap of episode 5x08, "Nothing's Shocking." Until then, have a good week, and remember: Batman doesn't do ships.


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