Gotham – Season 2 Episode 17
“Wrath of the Villains: Into the Woods”
‘Into the Woods’ is a standout episode of Gotham’s second series but I really didn’t think it would be as it started. My advice for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet is to keep the episode title in your head as you watch to keep you ready to see some charming – and some very disturbing – links to a completely different genre than you may be expecting.
There’s a chaos to this episode but certainly one that is controlled, and very much so in the vein of this other genre. The plot arcs we’re seeing at the moment still feel like a strange little miniseries playing out in some plot break of the main arc but whereas the last two episodes of this series felt to me like an unwanted departure, ‘Into the Woods’ gives all three together a sudden purpose.
If you have seen the episode already, did you feel that connection to another genre? I’ve tried to get “Into the Woods” into the above paragraphs a few times in what I hoped was a leading fashion. Fairy Tales?
Clearly I’ve been misreading Gotham’s intent with the Van Dahl family. I’d thought they were supposed to be acting in the vein of a dinner-party murder-mystery film, when all along Grace Van Dahl was the evil stepmother and her two children the wicked stepsisters. This of course would put Oswald into the role of Cinderella – but that’s actually the role he takes this episode, cleaning the floors and cooking the meals.
I’ve been waiting for the cruel Van Dahl stepfamily to push Oswald so far that he snaps and breaks his conditioning – it was always going to go that way; it was just a matter of how. He resisted the barbs directed at his “slut mother”, he even took the bullying of his stepsiblings throwing food at him and true to the previous episode’s plot it took the realisation that Grace Van Dahl had murdered his father to push him over the edge. When it happens though, his initial reaction, though telling, is not as explosive as I was somehow expecting. Possibly I even felt a little disappointment in the moment. Little did I realise the reason for the underplay though: his actual revenge is so incredibly huge when it comes that you’re left reeling – did that just happen? In Gotham?
It hits just about as hard as it does in the story I’ve seen the plot in before; anyone been disturbed by Titus Andronicus? Now don’t think I throw out the name of that Shakespeare play because I’m claiming I know a lot of The Bard’s work and want to prove I can name one of his obscure plays. It’s just that someone made me watch that one once and I have never recovered; it just sticks in the memory as a crazy family murder-fest. Maybe it was the black comedy of the day. Either way, welcome to the trauma; and I’ll never claim that Gotham isn’t prepared to push the limits of grim anymore.
Oh, and if like me you were wondering if Penguin was going to be the only villain that wasn’t really as insane as the rest of them, well, he is now! Gone, lost it, totally over the edge, no way back.
The question that should be asked still though, is whether fairy tale plots and rules worked in an episode of Gotham. Oswald does find the very large vial of poison still sloshing around in a random kitchen cupboard; and would the wicked stepmother really take Oswald back into her house if she thought he was a threat? Ultimately I think it did fit. Grace Van Dahl was shown to be so miserly that she’d do anything to save a buck – having come from a dead-end job and hating not having money – so perhaps using Oswald as free labour and, as he calls it himself, not wanting to waste good poison, she would keep both around. Further, she does say that they need to keep him close so they can more easily bump him off when the time comes. So as crazy fairy tale plots go, it fitted the villain they’d set up.
Potentially suitable as a Grimm’s Fairy Tale as the Penguin plot is, I admit that alone it doesn’t really parallel to ‘Into the Woods’. It’s rather the other character’s plots that made me draw the connection. Everyone but Barbara and Strange that is.
When the episode opened I was really worried that we were going back to multiple separate plots again, which was one of the downfalls of series one. However, you’re not too far in when you discover that it becomes an ensemble piece, that it just begins with a gather-the-party / build-the-team phase. For the most part, though most of the character or character pairs start out by themselves, Jim Gordon’s plot brings them all together to face the big bad at the end in a co-ordinated team effort. Only Barbara and Strange sit aside from this.
Once Professor Strange is back in the plot properly again I’ll need to add to my Strange Q&A list that one of his motivations seems to be just an interest in what happens when he pushes people’s buttons, which seems a little childish for someone I thought was going to be the season’s evil genius mastermind. Still, I guess everyone needs to kick back and have a little fun now and again. I do just wish though, that it didn’t feel so much like the reason Lee isn’t in the story at the moment is just so Barbara can have a little Jim time. I’ve not been overly fond of what the show has done with Barbara so far but perhaps there’s something good to come. Are they going to try and get her and Jim together again? Is Barbara really insane or was it all The Ogre?
But back in the woods: So there’s this evil bad guy called Nygma and he’s had the hero framed for a murder that evil Nygma really committed. To bring down the monster Nygma, Jim must gather together a splendid band of adventurers: the wily Cat, the valiant, not-quite-yet-Batman Bruce, the faithfully Harvey Bullock and the wise Alfred.
However we got into the current situation it’s certainly been good to see Bullock stay faithful to Gordon. It’s a bit of a shame that he couldn’t have worked out that it was Nygma behind the frame up with the information he already had but Jim and Bullock working together to get to it is always nice to see – they are foundation for the merry band coming together.
Cat and Bruce join the group as a pair, with some pleasant married-couple, newly-living-together jokes. They provide the comedy in the team up, mostly through Selina: her ‘why is Alfred being so nice to me’ face and the ‘hero is talking about me in a funny way whilst I’m distracted’ moments are both good. They’re old classics perhaps but they’re well delivered ones.
This fine comedy then carries us through to the important, more-serious scenes. Alfred gets one of the best with his unexpected turnabout to protect Selina. He is the wise Alfred and he can see what the life of Batman would be like already and it’s sweet when he makes Bruce choose between that and Selina, knowing full well that though she’s a tough character already, she’s still young and life could still hurt her a lot more if Bruce wasn’t careful.
The best of the more serious scenes do belong to Nygma though, not least because they link back into Jim Gordon’s season plot – what sort of police officer and man is he becoming? I’d spent so long thinking that Jim’s ideology should be or would be better questioned by Barnes that I was quite taken aback when suddenly the challenges were coming from Nygma, and he gets two great lines.
The first comes when he throws a bit of sarcasm at Jim in their early confrontation: of course you couldn’t kill Galavan, that would make you just like the people you’re hunting. Nygma and Jim have a bit of a battle of wits in that moment as Jim works out that it was Nygma all along but Nygma in turn is prepared for the deduction. I’d really like to see more of these characters using their intelligence, so I look forward to Nygma getting back out on the streets and Jim having to go against The Riddler in a proper high-stakes match.
The second line comes after their second battle of wits, as this time Jim outsmarts Nygma to set up the final confrontation. Near perfect, the final scene was marred slightly for me by Nygma, after shown great deduction skills, still manages to miss an entire police unit sneaking up on him in the snow. Nonetheless, I easily let slide as the final confrontation over Kristen Kringle’s burial site completes the fairy tale whilst hailing back to Jim’s ideological struggle, as Nygma challenges Jim with: there’s a monster in all of us Jim, perhaps putting a question in Jim’s mind that will be important in the upcoming season finish.
The final confrontation between Nygma and Jim was not only sheer pleasure to watch but it also sets up for a potentially greater collision between Barnes and Gordon later on. It was a strange path that took us to this final episode in this little three-arc detour but it really did pay off: Nygma is a great villain and I can’t wait to see more of him.
I still do want to see more of Strange and Freeze too and now they’ve got Nygma amongst them, so I’m guessing there’s more Nygma to come, even if under their odd influence. I like Nygma how he is though, so I hope he becomes more of a partner than another person blasted by Strange’s dream machine but we’ll see.
- Jim and Nygma going head to head in a game of wits, each working out how the one has tricked the other
- Camren Bicondova’s delivery of some classic but still good jokes
- Nygma and Penguin’s new suits, showing us the villains we’ve been waiting for
- a taste of a fairy tale genre that worked really nicely
- Cat and Bruce’s impossible Matrix style jump between two buildings
- a throwaway development of Bullock’s home life plot – what did happen to his fiance?
- Nygma not managing to notice an entire police force sneaking up on him