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Gotham - The Primal Riddle - Review

Like the game of chess two characters play at one point, “The Primal Riddle” is mostly concerned with moving pieces around the board towards the season’s endgame. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good episode of “Gotham,” though.

As the title suggests, the Riddler is a big part of the A-plot. Barbara – not happy with the idea that she clawed her way to the top only to find someone above her head – goes to Nygma for help figuring out who this mysterious group is. Ed connects the events at the dock last week with the interrogation questions Dr. Strange had him ask Bruce and Lucius at Indian Hill last season and, intrigued by the puzzle, agrees to get Barbara an answer. “You’re going to make a big production of this, aren’t you,” Barbara amusingly sneers, and she’s right on the money. Ed is really feeling himself and goes about his inquiry in the most public, theatrical way possible – crashing an opening being attended by the city’s elite, leaving question mark-ed clues for Gordon and Bullock (weirdly, though he’s mentioned, Lucius is off-screen the whole episode), and eventually staging an elaborate kidnapping of the recently reinstated Mayor James, who Nygma rightly notes has been a cog in Gotham’s crooked machine for years and therefore is likely to know something. Cory Michael Smith really sells the metamorphosis Ed has undergone into the Riddler, though it’s a little big, lots of hat flips and hand flourishes.

What Nygma couldn’t know is that Gordon is also approaching the Court of Owls from a different direction. The “murder” of his uncle indeed gets him an audience with Kathryn, but she is quick to announce that she considers that a family matter and that he’ll still have to prove his loyalty. That opportunity presents itself when Ed starts making a show of himself and Kathryn orders Gordon to bring him to the Court. Now, I thought this was, narratively, a little too easy – the Court’s loyalty test doesn’t really tax Gordon’s morals (and Kathryn is quick to assure him that Nygma won’t be killed), and it’s hard to buy that this super-secret organization would so easily let him into their inner sanctum. That said, the final shot of Gordon donning an owl mask is legit chilling and I’m curious to see what happens now that he’s on the inside. There was also a great sequence in this storyline where Gordon and Nygma (and this, unbelievably, is the first time they’ve interacted since Ed’s release from Arkham) reflect on their long-ago double date with Leslie and Ms. Kringle and how much things have changed for both of them since then. Ben McKenzie in particular does some nice, understated work in this scene.

The situation with the Court of Owls also seems like it’s going to have a ripple effect on both of Jim’s former loves. The Court covers up the circumstances of Frank’s death, but Leslie cottons onto it when she does the autopsy. And when she tells Gordon, she’s able to see through his (admittedly terrible) poker face and announces that she won’t let him get away with whatever he’s hiding. Now, it’d be wise for Leslie to just stay out of it, but I must admit to still enjoying her over-it attitude when it comes to Gordon. As for Barbara, her power trip is causing problems with her and Tabitha. Tabs is annoyed that Babs reneged on her promise to let her kill Nygma, and actually ends up selling Ed out to Gordon. Having been on the sidelines of both Fish and Penguin’s rises and falls, Butch warns Tabitha that Barbara is heading down the same path. I do wonder – and this is mostly speculation – if the show’s about to pivot Barbara away from the mob villains and towards the “freaks.”

Speaking of whom, we get a few vignettes of Penguin and Ivy recruiting soldiers for their army. First is Mr. Freeze, to whom Oswald returns his suit and promises the resources to reverse his condition. Then there’s Firefly (recast with “The Path” guest star Camila Perez), who is won over by Ivy’s appeal of family. There’s not much to it this week, but I enjoyed seeing these characters again, and Freeze and Firefly’s little moment of hot-and-cold bickering stemming from their fight in last season’s finale was fun.

Finally, there’s “Five.” He’s been able to keep up the charade that he’s really Bruce (who, along with the shaman, we don’t see at all this week) with Alfred, blaming any weirdness on falling out with Selina. But he freaks out when he gets a nosebleed and we soon learn why – he’s dying, a fact Kathryn icily confirms. It makes sense then that “Five” is grateful to the Court for the purpose they have given his existence, but he’s also clearly come to care about the people in Bruce’s life. So he reveals himself to Selina and tries to get her to leave the city before the Court deploys their weapon. But Selina, no matter how angry she is at Bruce, is even more furious at “Five,” insisting that Bruce would try to save everyone and that “Five” is “nothing...not even a real person.” Naturally, this doesn’t go over well with “Five,” and when Selina tries to go tell Alfred the truth, he shoves her out a window. When last we see her, in a tableau very familiar to anyone who’s seen “Batman Returns,” a seemingly dead Selina is laying in an alleyway, surrounded by cats. I doubt the show is writing the character out so I wonder what will happen next. Will Ivy and/or Firefly (who both referred to their friendship with her) somehow come to her aid? Will she be Indian Hill-ed? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

That’s my answer to “The Primal Riddle.” Share your take on this week’s “Gotham” in the comments section.