On the D/L – Gotham
Season 1 Episode 17 – “Red Hood”
Gotham continues to try to shoehorn every piece of Batman lore into the first season as humanly possible. This episode sees the beginning of the Red Hood gang to set up the inevitable presence they will one day have.
I actually didn’t mind this introduction as much as it felt more natural than the previous hints have been. On the surface the physical red hood seemed like something of a cursed object that brings everyone associated with it really bad fortune. That certainly rang true throughout the episode.
Beneath that the hood represented so much more. I have often criticised this show for failing to deliver a sense of scope when it comes to Gotham City as a whole with the stories seeming very surface layer and ridiculous but I’m happy to say that this is far from the case here.
The hood -and by extension the one wearing it- represents Gotham City as a whole. It has been implied that Gotham is a broken city with a class system that favours the rich while the poor fight for scraps. It’s an intriguing thing to explore so I’m glad they’re finally doing it. The opening bank robbery sequence says a lot about how this city works -or doesn’t- and how desperate and violent that makes people act.
I really liked the speech about stealing from the bank as the banks only exploit people so the gang are only stealing from a corrupt entity rather than the people it claims to represent. Instead of having a cheesy villain with shaky motivations we have a product of a corrupt system that breeds this sort of thing.
The identity of the Red Hood changes throughout the episode and this works really well as it’s never meant to be a singular character. It remains a symbol of the corruption in Gotham City and the inequality of wealth that exists everywhere you turn. Their method of throwing money at residents of Gotham to distract the police and aid their escape was a nice touch as well. Now it’s part of the Red Hood image and that’s what society will come to expect whenever they hit a bank.
Another thing I found interesting is the propensity of Gotham City residents to rally behind symbols. We saw this earlier in the season with the Balloon Man who was seen as a hero by many in his appearance and now the Red Hood gang who are perceived as standing up against social injustice. It’s often the case in Batman lore that Batman starts his vigilante ways and his theatricality creates equally theatrical criminals. If this continues then there’s the potential for Bruce Wayne to be inspired into theatricality by the plethora of these sorts of villains in Gotham City. This would be a fresh and interesting take on the origin so I’m pretty OK with that.
It also manages to be really topical as in the real world people are mistrustful of banks in general so seeing a direct opposition to that will be something that strikes a chord with many people watching. I really enjoyed this rare bout of subtlety in the storytelling here. Whatever the writers were smoking they really should keep it up.
Alfred’s visit from one of his old SAS friends Reggie Payne (David O’Hara) was another plot that I really liked. It was great to get more insight into Alfred’s past without long exposition scenes telling us exactly what the writers think we need to know in order to advance the plot. Most of the dialogue was devoted to character development and I found this to be a welcome change. It really worked to let the narrative slow down and just have Alfred fleshed out in really interesting ways.
Much of the backstory is covered in half told stories as well as awkward looks shared between the two. I especially liked how uncomfortable Sean Pertwee had Alfred look when stories were told that Alfred would rather forget. There’s also some really clever hints at differences between these two characters such as Reggie’s sparring session with Bruce that seems to teach a fighting style that Alfred doesn’t approve of.
It’s interesting to note that Reggie reinforces the idea of a broken society. At first it appears that Reggie is a war hero that has lost everything which meshes with the societal lack of engagement with those that need help. Arguably those that fought for the country deserve a minimum level of gratitude that doesn’t have them lose everything they own and crippling them financially. Naturally Reggie’s story turned out to be suspect but there are hints at a sort of reluctance on Reggie’s part.
This plot ended really well with Alfred stabbed by Reggie who appears to have the intention of stealing enough from Wayne Manor to set him up financially. The truth is that he’s a mole for Wayne Enterprises tasked with finding out just how much Bruce knows about their dealings. With Alfred incapacitated it’s time for Wayne Enterprises to go after Bruce and the power that he has after his parents were murdered. It seems that everything is set up for what will occupy the rest of the season.
It wouldn’t be Gotham without wasting time on the plots that manage to be vastly less than interesting. First of all there’s Fish and her incarceration. Turns out her eyes are something that the Dollmaker wants -his name is actually Dullmacher, think about that for a second- but Fish would rather lose depth perception. Her decision to scoop her eye out with a spoon and stand on it to render it useless was truly baffling to watch. What exactly is her plan here? At no point did she seem to be at any level of disadvantage here. In a battle of wits against the middle management type she seemed to be holding her own quite ably so I think her decision to partially blind herself to prove a point was a little rash. As a Star Trek fan I got a kick out of seeing Jeffrey Combs play opposite Jada Pinkett Smith here. Combs did a great job of giving a vaguely written character some personality but giving characters personality has never been something that Jeffrey Combs has ever struggled with.
Barbara was given screen time again and that always qualifies as a waste of time. Her bright idea this week is to have something of a slumber party with her squatters and teach Catwoman that looking pretty can be a great asset in manipulating people or something. It’s very thinly written and doesn’t manage to make Barbara any more compelling to watch. There’s no place for her here at all.
Penguin seems to be killing time here with his failing nightclub. I like that the alcohol suppliers are all loyal to Maroni so won’t sell to him. It gives us a clear idea of how deeply the mob corruption extends in this city but it feels like no time at all before Penguin has solved the problem. Also establishing that Butch wasn’t brainwashed after all feels like a bit of a waste. Penguin has gone from being shrewd to stupid in the space of a few short episodes.
An unusually high rating for an episode of Gotham and I’m glad to give it one. It’s good to see the show begin to live up to the undoubted potential that it has always had.
The Red Hood gang plot was surprisingly well handled by making the story partly a cursed object story that brings misfortune to those who wear it and partly a symbol for the broken city that is Gotham. There’s a speech about the banks exploiting their customers and therefore robbing them not really being a crime as such. It works because it’s topical and represents the class divide in the city in a really sophisticated way.
Alfred’s SAS friend Reggie represents another example of a victim of this broken system -at least at first- and the episode manages to establish their relationship through half told stories and implied back story. The line between revealing too much and not revealing anything was towed nicely and worked at fleshing out Alfred in a really meaningful way.
I really appreciated how subtly the episode handled the two main stories that seemed disconnected at first but weave into the tapestry of a broken system that is collapsing in on itself. I never thought I’d see subtlety in Gotham to such a sophisticated degree but looks like there is hope after all. Long may this continue.
Sadly we still have the nonsense with Fish and Barbara who continue to be given stories that prove to be almost totally uninteresting. Similarly Penguin is not very smartly played at the moment. Still a few kinks to iron out but this episode definitely marks progress.