Gotham – Season 2 Episode 6
“Rise of the Villains – By Fire”
Gotham season 2’s 6th episode – ‘By Fire’ – puts several characters through a trial to see how far they are prepared to push or be pushed. Penguin has been visibly on the edge the last couple of episodes with his mother imprisoned, freely taking out his frustrated rage on brainwashed Butch. Bridgit Pike didn’t start out in a good place and now fully becomes Firefly. And then there’s Gordon, who thankfully hasn’t quite crossed to the dark side.
Penguin has been pushing Butch’s conditioning pretty far lately, giving it pretty much the ultimate test in episode 5 by cutting off Butch’s hand. Generally Penguin has shown intelligence in his plans and operations but the loss of his mother has really broken him and we’re left wondering if he can come back from this. To some degree he’s only following the natural flow of villains in Gotham – going insane – so perhaps it will somehow lead him back round to greater success in the end. Watch that space, I guess.
The idea to cut off Butch’s hand was a good one. Galavan has been shown to be ridiculously clever, acknowledged even by Penguin, and getting Butch into the leather-clad minion crew was always going to be difficult. Seemingly, Penguin played to Galavan’s need for theatre by using a parallel to the Dumas family history, perhaps trying to push a button that would lead to Galavan making an emotionally-driven bad move. It might have worked but Galavan is just too clever and sees through Butch straight away.
Butch’s way out of his predicament was nice too. He does want to break out of Penguin’s hold but the conditioning is too strong. However, though he has to follow Penguin’s word to the letter he hasn’t been forbidden from saying why – honesty sometimes works even in corrupt Gotham then. Ultimately this ends up with Butch presumably leading Penguin into a trap. I hope this isn’t the end of the Penguin vs. Galavan standoff though. It’d be nice to see more of two kingpins trying to outwit each other. Penguin is definitely still out of his depth at the moment but maybe a beating would teach him what he needs to claw his way back up again and this time to a stronger position – maybe by breaking his connection to his mother…?
Bridgit Pike’s mental state teeters on the edge as much as Penguin’s this episode. Selina gives her a taste of freedom and power and it clearly flicks a switch in Bridgit’s head as she finally gains freedom from her ‘brothers’. I had wondered if she was going to be the third character to commit murder without it seeming to cause her too much distress – I mean, I know Gotham’s a bad city to live in but is murder just so normal for all its inhabitants?
Certainly we get a starkly clear picture of just how bad Gotham is in ‘By Fire’ when we see a slave auction operating so freely in the city. Before now I’d understood that Gotham was pretty bad, certainly corrupt, but seeing slave auctions and then the human experimentation in Wayne Enterprises’s Indian Hill hammered that home better than it just being talked about.
Who was the woman in black in the Indian Hill facility, by the way? ‘The internet’ has just told me that there’s a theory it’s Selina’s mother. This might be interesting but it might be a little too neat if Bruce’s father was a proto-Batman and Selina’s mother was a proto-Catwoman?
Either way, despite Bridgit’s first kill seeming a little easy for her, the second (and third) was clearly believable. Though we see she does still have a conscience when she sees the imprisoned women the Pike brothers push her that one step too far and this time her confidence with the flame thrower takes over.
I really liked this final fall into villainy. Barnes gives the character her name and then does she twitch her head a little side to side when she’s killing the Pike brothers? They were nice touches. Also, she really seems to snap during the episode as her conscience and despair clash. It’s a proper mental breakdown that could later lead to a real insanity after she’s so badly burned. When she says that she’s finally free and revenge on cruel people is something she’s ‘meant to do’ it’s a proper reason to become a villain.
Now, I’m not against the quirky insanity of Galavan, and there’s no reason why his minions shouldn’t copy his style. Plus, James Frain plays it so well. However, there’s definitely something more powerful in Bridgit’s descent into mental hell that I don’t think any amount of Dumas family tragedy can contend with. Maybe we’ll see it through Bruce’s plot, as we do seem to be getting Theo stepping into a fatherly role for Bruce and Silver into the lover’s role. Betrayal on that level could be quite horrifying. Just so long as there’s not too much of that overly dramatic music that the episode closed on.
With so many people falling to madness, it was really nice to see Gordon hasn’t totally lost it. I had wondered how Barnes and Gordon might come to blows. I’d thought it would be the Strike Force that did it, with Barnes giving an order Gordon couldn’t follow because it would put the Strike Force in too much danger but in fact it was the opposite: Barnes demanded the young officers follow protocols in order to stay safe and it was Bridgit that split them. In a nice parallel to season 1, Gordon argues the line that Bullock used to – about Gotham’s corruption forcing the police to compromise – but Barnes walks the better path, following the rules to the letter to set the right example. And then we see the old Gordon is not lost: he works by the spirit of the law and asks for leniency on behalf of the tortured Bridgit.
I think I needed to see this. I found myself unsure if I could trust Gordon when he asked Selina to reveal Bridgit’s location. The show has set up a darker Gordon, now prepared to cross the line, that I would have believed could have lied to Selina in order to bring down the cop killer. I was relieved when Selina’s trust turned out to be well placed and, despite the outcome, Gordon did everything he could to save Bridgit. This season is committed to Gordon finding his way and toying with the dark side but I’m not ready to see him become one with the criminals completely.
And this leaves me only Nygma’s trial to talk about. I really can’t make up my mind about this plotline. I like Cory Michael Smith’s Nygma, with his awkward riddling and his confident alter ego – he brings a real difference to the two characters. I especially like the alter ego with the echo added over the voice that they added recently. Despite how well the character is being played though, the plotline he’s caught up in is just… odd. It might just be Kristen Kringle that throws me off. Seriously, could you make head or tail of her? Her final reaction to learning Ed killed Tom Dougherty was realistic but based on her previous reactions to everything Nygma’s done before I could have more easily believed she was trying to get him to show a little more madness. She was almost turned on by his claim to be hearing voices a couple of episodes back and then here she calls for more danger. I was convinced she was being set up to be a villain herself, or at least a sidekick. Still, she’s gone now, so things could get a little clearer again.
Gotham subjects everyone to a trial to see how far they will go in season 2, episode 6 – ‘By Fire’.
Penguin has been teetering on the edge since his mother was captured by Galavan and, no matter how hard he tries, Penguin can’t outplay the superior mastermind. It even looks from the final scene that his plan to get Butch into Galavan’s rank of minions may have failed and Penguin’s walking into a trap. I’m really hoping that this isn’t the end of the Penguin vs. Galavan standoff. Penguin has been outclassed so far; it’d be nice to see him take a beating and then come back stronger, so we get to see two kingpins trying to outwit one another. Madness seems to be Gotham’s route to criminal power though, so perhaps Penguin needs to really lose it before this can happen.
Bridgit Pike didn’t start out in a good place and now fully becomes Firefly. I really liked her fall into villainy. She really seems to snap in this episode as her conscience and despair clash. It’s a proper mental breakdown that could later lead to a real insanity if she manages to survive her burns and whatever sinister activity Wayne Enterprises subjects her to. Not that I’m against the comic evil that Theo Galavan gives us, as James Frain plays it so well, and it is the comic-book style. Nonetheless, it’s just that much more powerful when you see someone beaten down get back up swinging but with a broken – understandably broken – ideology.
With so many people falling to madness, it was really nice to see Gordon hasn’t gone over to the dark side yet. There was a lovely parallel to season 1 where Jim argues the lines that Bullock used to – that the police have to compromise themselves to face down Gotham’s corruption – and whereas this season is committed Gordon toying with the dark side I was glad to see him hold on to the spirit of the law when he argues for leniency for the tortured Bridgit. I honestly didn’t know if I would have trusted him in Selina’s shoes, as Gordon is now compromised, and was relieved when her trust turned out to be well founded.
Only Nygma’s trial seemed a little.. well, odd. Cory Michael Smith’s double identity is great – there’s a real difference between the awkward riddler and his confident alter ego. I think it’s just been the interaction with Kristen Kringle that’s been throwing me off. She’s been such a confusing character that I was convinced she was insane too, perhaps being set up to be a villain or evil sidekick herself, if only because a couple of episodes ago she seemed to be turned on by Nygma’s claims of hearing voices. I know that was supposed to be a misunderstanding but surely it was pushing it a bit considering she always thought he was ‘so weird’?