NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Gotham” are present in this review
Gotham has taken quite a bit of time off, after wrapping up its previous ‘Mad City’ arc at the end of January. Only now, at the end of April, is the show resuming for the back half of Season Three, which will comprise a separate volume of events dubbed ‘Heroes Rise’. Even with the long hiatus though, Gotham came back stronger and more exciting than ever, with an especially standout midseason premiere this week, and one that finally brings Nygma’s eccentric villain transformation to its predictably violent and unsettling end.
As the title of the midseason premiere directly spells out, “How the Riddler Got His Name” is all about Nygma’s transformation into the titular iconic Batman nemesis from DC Comics lore. After seemingly killing Penguin at the end of the midseason finale back in January, Nygma is now trying to figure out how to unleash his hidden potential, starting with a crime wave that has him cornering some of the best and brightest artistic and scientific minds in Gotham City, and murdering them when they fail to answer his riddles correctly.
Cory Michael Smith has always been a particularly strong performer on Gotham, but I can say without a doubt that his latest performance as Nygma is arguably his finest turn yet in the role! Now fully menacing and having nothing to lose, and even newly sporting the showy green suit and bowler hat from DC Comics lore at this point, Nygma’s continued targeting of the intelligent and the clever eventually gets the attention of the GCPD. This couldn’t come at a worse time either, since Gordon is away, having been summoned by his uncle, Frank, who, as we already know, also happens to be affiliated with the Court of Owls!
Fortunately, the temporary removal of Gordon from the GCPD made for a really effective way to pit Bullock and Lucius Fox against Nygma instead, with Lucius in particular serving as the main force battling against Nygma’s insane whims. This is one of the most memorable and effective uses of Lucius yet on Gotham, which is great, since, barring some turns like his role in the Season Two finale, Lucius has largely served as a benchwarmer character for much of the show’s run so far. Seeing Lucius finally properly come out and flex his intellect was very rewarding, giving him a cool new use for the show’s dynamic, beyond being a quiet problem solver for either Bruce Wayne or the GCPD.
Pretty much every moment with Smith in his new, fully unleashed Riddler persona was awesome, though there was one questionable element, namely some literal crazy pills that he takes to summon hallucinations of Penguin. Obviously, this was a transparent way to give Robin Lord Taylor something to do for an episode where Penguin is supposed to be dead, but there’s no reason why Nygma needed to take pills to summon Penguin to act as some sort of spiritual guide. Isn’t Nygma already insane? This device to include Penguin just felt a bit forced and ridiculous, even if it did have the decent conclusion of Nygma dumping his pills at the end of the episode to fully sever ties with his former friend, a mere scene after finally declaring himself, “The Riddler” for the first time, in the back seat of Lucius’ car. Oh, and in case you’re somehow new to Batman canon (literally any Batman canon), yes, obviously, Penguin didn’t truly die after being shot by Nygma and falling in the river. Instead, he was revived and nursed back to health by unknown means via the adult Ivy Pepper, who is revealed to be looking after him at the end of the episode. Hopefully, this finally gives the new incarnation of Ivy something worthwhile to do on the show!
Beyond the standout Riddler material that comprised most of the episode, the midseason premiere boasted two subplots, with one dealing with Gordon’s trip to meet his uncle, while the other involved Bruce continuing to train with Alfred. The Gordon storyline was pretty short and sweet compared to the others, largely serving as an excuse to have Gordon learn about his family connection to the Court of Owls, and be offered a position within it. I will say though that the show is doing a surprisingly good job of playing with audience expectations regarding Frank though, since he’s seemingly serving as a double agent, being simultaneously loyal to both his nephew and Kathryn at the same time. Whose side is Frank really on? Whatever the case, it will be exciting to find out.
The subplot with Bruce also generally went over pretty well, even if it also mainly served as an obvious excuse to move its subject character to a different place, so that the season can chart new story territory. After Bruce seemingly receives a note from Selina, Alfred encourages Bruce to go and see her, which gives Bruce a chance to show off his new fighting skills against Selina’s buddies. Bruce is still quite a ways away from the outstanding fighting abilities of his future Batman persona for now, but the show may be accelerating that timeline a bit soon! Turns out, the note was actually written by Bruce’s clone, who drugs the real Bruce and swaps places with him at Wayne Manor, while the true Bruce is shipped off to some unknown location by the Court of Owls at the end of the episode. The mountainous region does pretty evidently call back to the Himalayan landscape of Batman’s training in 2005 movie, Batman Begins though, so it’s probable that Batman/DC fans can fill in the blanks about what’s going to happen next with Bruce’s character!
“How the Riddler Got His Name” was a great way to begin the ‘Heroes Rise’ arc of Gotham, since it’s arguably one of Season Three’s best episodes yet! Nygma’s final transformation into The Riddler was well worth the buildup, as he creates lots of chaos in Gotham City that didn’t even need the presence of Gordon to thrive, thanks to a smart turn for Lucius as the episode’s big hero. Gordon and Bruce meanwhile are also continuing to move into place as Gotham City’s future protectors, as Gordon learns about his big connection to the Court of Owls, while Bruce seems poised to begin his actual training that will one day shape him into Batman. Clearly, the best of Season Three is yet to come, and with Nygma looking like he’s going to be the city’s main menace in lieu of Penguin for the time being, at least before the Court of Owls properly makes their move, I can’t wait to see the next batch of reasons why Gotham City will eventually come to fear the man known as The Riddler!
- Nygma's intellectual murder spree, and Lucius becoming his foil
- Gordon getting the chance to infiltrate the Court of Owls
- Bruce's Batman training appearing to start sooner rather than later
- Nygma's literal crazy pills are a bit much