“How many graves did you dig?” “Two, but they’re roomy.”
Victor Zsasz has a monopoly on all the best lines with Harvey missing in action – someone better call Chuck Norris to bring him back. Despite Harvey’s Houdini act, this week gives us a solid episode led by Ra’s al Ghul and his quest to retrieve the dagger from Bruce Wayne. Gotham has given me an ulcer for most of the past three seasons; I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion it often doesn’t know what kind of show it wants to be, either gritty crime drama or over the top campy villainy carried on the backs of exceptional actors when allowed to cut loose and do their thing. It seems that the show works best when there is more of the latter, but this week’s offering is an entertaining balance and fires on all cylinders with a tightness that is often missing on the TV show in general.
Gotham has never suffered from low production value, in fact it always looks great and A Dark Knight: The Demon’s Head is no exception. What takes it over the top this week is the tight script, written by Ben Mackenzie and Alexander Siddig’s killer performance as Ra’s al Ghul in an episode that ranks as the best this season so far and arguably one of the show’s all time best.
The episode introduces us to Gotham Natural History Museum historian Niles Winthrop and his grandson, Alex. Immediately you know things won’t end well for these two. Actually, I’m surprised the wardrobe department didn’t outfit them in red shirts. This isn’t their story, it’s Bruce’s and clearly he has to learn another lesson the hard way about the steep costs that are part and parcel of playing the Gotham game.
Alex is a parallel character to Bruce, presented as the kind of easygoing, carefree kid Bruce might have been in an alternate universe if his parents weren’t murdered. Alex sees his grandfather killed at the hands of Ra’s al Ghul and goes on the run; Bruce immediately identifies and relates to the clever, traumatized young man who is trying to process how his life is turned upside down.
Bruce then cares for Alex, much like Gordon and Alfred have watched over him when his parents were killed. As George Harrison wrote, all good things must pass, and Bruce’s guardian role comes into direct conflict with his primary role as protector of Gotham. When Ra’s holds Alex at knifepoint and asks Bruce to hand over the knife, the conflict is ratcheted up to eleven. Bruce has to decide between Alex and Gotham, and when his duty to the city trumps everything else, Ra’s kills Alex. To no one’s surprise, this drops Bruce harder than Aaron Rodgers against the Vikings on Sunday.
The other no brainer is that Alex’s death will affect Bruce deeply. And despite some words of wisdom from Gordon that Alex’s death is solely Ra’s al Ghul’s fault, El Predicto states right now that Bruce will take this personally and won’t let it go, much like El Predicto states that the Browns are the only dependable team in the NFL in a season of mishmash mediocrity. Both are sure things, like sunrise, death and taxes.
But wait, there’s more!
Ra’s al Ghul certainly is a super evil villain who kills children solely to manipulate other children, but he is thoroughly entertaining to watch as portrayed by Alexander Siddig. And Siddig is at his best not when playing Ra’s as the mysterious man in the shadows, rather, when Ra’s is the Respectable Member of Society and butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Ra’s visits Gordon at GCPD, and his efforts at hiding his true villainous self are about as effective as referees and the NFL replay committee deciding what is a catch – just ask Austin Seferian-Jenkins of the New York Jets.
But I digress. Ra’s knows that Gordon knows he’s a bad dude, and the best part is that Ra’s doesn’t care, much like the Patriots know EVERYONE knows the NFL gave them a big binder of every other team’s playbook and they don’t care.
But I digress. Ra’s doesn’t keep up the charade because he has to, it’s because it’s a source or amusement to him. That, dear readers, is true power. And I hope we get to see more of it.
The secondary story checks in on Penguin and Riddler, whose fighting is always a delightful source of entertainment for any episode. Riddler continues to suffer from diminished intelligence after being thawed from Freeze’s freeze. In a nod to George Costanza, Riddler suffers from shrinkage and he sends Penguin terrible, nonsensical riddles. The episode’s funniest moment, and possibly all time in the series, was watching Penguin and Zsasz’s increased annoyance with the rappers Riddler sent to deliver said riddles. I’ve always said a spinoff Riddler and Penguin Odd Couple show would be great.
Riddler shows up at the club to confront Penguin, who easily traps our puzzled puzzler. And to add insult to injury, Penguin mocks the loss of Riddler’s intelligence with taunts of “Your riddles suck”. Then Penguin realizes the best revenge is having Ed, who concedes he is no longer The Riddler, live knowing he is no longer, in the words of Homer Simpson, smrt. Sure, Ed is down, and sure, Penguin is kicking him because it’s easier than hitting, but make no mistake, this will come back to bite Penguin in the tuchus.
And in the other shoe that will most certainly drop department, Penguin uses Sofia Falcone to draw out Carmine’s former capos to have Zsasz kill them. But that seemed too easy, and I saw for a split second, a look on Sofia’s face that suggested she allowed this to happen to further instil Penguin with a false sense of superiority. She clearly has more intelligence, strategy and skill than Penguin gives her credit for. Similar to a leopard in the African grassland, she has the patience to play the long game, chalking up the humiliation and lack of power as a short term pain for long term gain as she moves her pieces in to place. Having Gordon has her fancy piece doesn’t hurt either.
Half a star deduction for no Harvey, but Zsasz is sarcastically great in long relief. Another half star off the board when Bruce and Alex hide in the museum and the knife dropping cliché alerts the baddies. I honestly thought Bruce would say, “Zoinks, Scoob. Like, we’re in trouble now!” But an overall solid and enjoyable episode with an equally enjoyable performance from Siddig and a tight and entertaining story.
Tune in next week – same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.