With the exception of last episode’s cliffhanger, Mad Hatter kept his presence to a minimum. Going into this season, I wouldn’t have expected to be clamoring for his presence each and every week. Somehow, Mad Hatter has become my favorite guest villain since the pilot introduced Penguin. A revenge-driven Mad Hatter driving Gordon down an emotional highway was exactly the kind of story I was expecting. The resulting hour, while it had a few leaps in logic, provided some surprising depth and even smarts for the main antagonist. Not only that, but the Penguin/Riddler relationship hit a new peak.
While the ultimate choice at the end between Lee and Valeria wasn’t exactly gut wrenching, it was a defining character moment for Gordon. Here is someone who has gone through the emotional ringer, especially compared to the person who’s one day going to don the cape and cowl. Unlike the majority of the episodes, Gordon was not bailed out at the last minute. Mario’s arrival threw me for a loop, but I breathed a sigh of relief when Tetch revealed he took the bullets from Mario’s gun. Bullock and Barnes didn’t arrive to mow down the opposition and save Gordon. Instead, Gordon was forced to choose between his two “lovers.” The end result was a bullet for Valerie (conveniently placed, by the way), even though Gordon insisted that Lee should die. This is something Gordon can’t take back going forward, regardless of whether or not Valerie survives. How will Lee react knowing that she was supposed to bite the not-so-proverbial bullet?
Even though the final confrontation did drag, I liked the interplay between Gordon and Tetch. Gordon even came close to freeing himself, only for Tetch to snap back and refuse to budge. Like Joker in “The Killing Joke,” Tetch sought to drive Gordon mad to illustrate a point. Here, it was a revenge motive, but one that felt warranted. Tetch even came equipped to the teeth with the Alice in Wonderland motif. It was a nice touch to have Gordon look through a lens marked “through the looking glass.” We even got to see Tweedledee and Tweedledum as his subservient henchmen. His transition into his eventual villain persona has been the smoothest and the most believable, particularly compared to characters like Mr. Freeze.
Speaking of transitions, I am honestly shocked that the show decided to go all-in on Penguin’s love for Riddler. Last week’s lengthy hug felt like a big tease in a way, a tease that would ultimately never be resolved. It turns out that Penguin does actually feel love beyond a typical friendship. I’m not sure Riddler will take to him in the same way, even though he certainly seems genuine. Given how he manipulated Butch to his near demise last week, the possibility for deception is still prevalent. The arrival of a Ms. Kringle look-alike will probably complicate this subplot going forward. Riddler’s sexuality has never really been addressed since he murdered his ex-girlfriend, but you never know. Be that as it may, Penguin stuttering over his words by himself gave some insight into a layered side of his characterization.
As great as these two subplots were, they didn’t exactly mesh well. One was serious and dire while the other was relatively lighthearted and charming. Gotham still hasn’t quite mastered the art of balancing tones, even though it’s gotten better with balancing all of the characters. Bullock and Barnes weren’t shoehorned in and Bruce was nowhere to be found for the entire runtime. Speaking of Barnes, his exposure to Alice’s blood is a storyline I am completely indifferent to. He’s been relatively expendable as a character, and this feels like an excuse to keep Michael Chiklis around. The show’s had too many characters for quite a while, and it’s time to trim the fat if it wants to make each storyline prominent.
Even though I’m not glistening with anticipation at Barnes’s predicament, it does signal that Gotham is actually planting seeds for the future. Most of this season’s plot lines have been more methodical, albeit still in the heightened world this show inhabits. Mad Hatter’s ploy is still in effect, signaling the confidence the show has in this character. It’s well-warranted and a fantastic interpretation of one of Batman’s lesser-known adversaries.