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'Gotham' recap: A tough choice for Jim, a great twist for Penguin

For The Baltimore Sun
"Gotham" recap: An awesome twist re: Penguin and his love life.

“Gotham” works best when it simplifies episodes and doesn’t have a dozen, frenzied storylines. It’s even better when those fewer, strong stories are unified in a common theme.

Monday night's theme of heartache is a familiar one. In fact, I think the “pick the love interest you want to live” trope has been done before with Barbara and Lee, but it was refreshing to see it done in a not-so-cliche way. Usually both hostages get out unscathed. Not this time.

As for the other love story (seriously loved that they kept it to two stories this time), Penguin’s got a crush, but it’s not who you’d expect. Unless, of course, you’ve been paying attention.

In the aptly named “Follow the White Rabbit” episode, Jim takes cryptic messages from an albino man dressed in all white. The messages are sent from Jervis Tetch (aka the Mad Hatter), who leads Jim down the proverbial rabbit hole, where he finds a dark, topsy-turvy world where he must face his inner demons and his failed relationships.

Sounds like an ordinary day for Jim, but with a twist: The lives of several people, including the women he loves, all depend on Jim choosing who lives and who dies. And if he picks no one to save, Jervis kills them both.

“Even when you don’t choose, James, there are consequences,” Jervis taunts him. In Jervis’ twisted mind, this torment is justice for killing Alice.

Jim is not responsible for Alice’s death, nor the death of the newly married couple who plunge to their death under Jervis’ hypnosis (a haunting symbol to show Jim’s distrust of marriage), nor the deaths of the doctor and journalist (unwilling surrogates for his recent love interests) hooked up to electric chairs.

The one death he might be responsible for — if she doesn’t pull through — is Val, even though he told Jervis to shoot Lee. Oh, Jim, how far you’ve fallen.

But before he sinks that low, Jim plays the hero perfectly. Jervis is trying to get into Jim’s head, but he flips the mind tricks on him. “She was a good person. That’s why she hated you,” Jim tells him. “Dismissive, rude, I don’t like your attitude,” Jervis barks back.

But Jervis sees what he’s doing. “You’re trying to get in my head, but it won’t work,” Jervis says. He redirects his anger on making Jim suffer, and, more importantly, revealing who he really is.

Will we ever find out who the real Jim Gordon is? Sure, he has a dark side where he struggles to keep his work and personal life separate, and he sometimes gets too wrapped up in cases. But why do most “Gotham” villains make it seem as though he’s hiding a sinister alter ego like he’s one of them?

That’s because he’s not that much different from them. Usually “Gotham’s” attempt to make Jim into an multilayered anti-hero, like Walter White or Don Draper, is flimsy. But last night he revealed some depth with Jervis’ twisted tea party game.

The game was a real-life version of screw, marry, kill, featuring Val and Lee. Shame Tetch was smart enough to leave Barbara out of this lineup. Jim’s answer easily would have been: “Shoot the stabby one who tried to kill me and my other ex.”

At first, Jim resists and plays the martyr card, begging Jervis to kill him instead. “I’m the one you want. So let Lee and Val go.”

Jervis refuses. “I’m determined to let you live and suffer,” just as he says he has suffered for his sister’s death. But he’s had enough of Jim’s fake heroics, and tells him to make a decision. If he doesn’t, Jervis will shoot both, building the suspense.

Jim frantically weighs his options, then tells simply tells Jarvis, “Kill Lee.” Morena Baccarin (Lee Thompkins)’s devastation is palpable.

Jervis, being the irrational person someone named Mad Hatter would be, shoots Val instead, since she’s the one Jim actually loves.

Lee, being the responsible doctor she is, rushes to help her until an ambulance arrives. And in the most awkward double date in history, Lee’s fiancee operates on her in the emergency room.

While they’re in the hospital waiting room, Jim tries to smooth things over with Lee, but she tells him now’s not the time. Uh, you think? Not sure what he was expecting to hear from his ex-fiancee and former baby mama who he just told a madman to kill. Oof, real low, Jim.

As Jervis says, everything Jim does has consequences, and they’re still haunting him. “In the end, I did exactly what he wanted,” Jim admits to Harvey. “He won.” For now, anyway. Jim will find some way to lock up Jervis.

Until then, he needs to work on his love life, which is in worse condition than Gotham. (That’s saying a lot with Penguin as mayor.) Clearly any hopes of staying on friendly terms with Lee is over. But how will this impact his relationship with Val? Will she be flattered that he loves her, or terrified of what being with Jim Gordon entails?

And does he really love Val? I doubt it. I suspect he’s hurt and angry with Lee, and would truly rather have seen her die than Val. It’s obvious he’s still bitter. How can her engagement with Mario Falcone (Falcone!!) be “water under the bridge” if he burned the bridge with Lee?

Now onto the second story of heartbreak. Turns out my theory last week that Ed was going to betray Penguin was way off base. I’m actually glad I was wrong. Instead, “Gotham” had the courage to turn the bromance of the century into a budding romance: Penguin is in love with Ed.

It’s about time. And I’m not just talking about Penguin wanting to take their relationship to the next level.

Though “Gotham” has been progressive for including interracial and bisexual couples, the recurring bisexual female characters — and lack of gay male characters — seemed to mostly be an appeal to the younger male audience.

Now they’ve outed a major character as gay. That’s huge in the comic book world, and deserves applause.

But even if it’s a big step for “Gotham,” Penguin’s love life is going nowhere. While Penguin’s working on his big speech to confess his love to Ed, Ed is out buying wine for dinner. As fate would have it, he meets a Kris Kringle lookalike who uses riddles for pickup lines. It’s a match made in hell.

Poor Penguin. He finally finds a love interest other than his mother, and that man falls for someone the complete opposite of him, in looks, demeanor and gender. There goes his shot at bliss with Ed.

How will Penguin react? Will he get angry and push Ed out of his life? Or will he get possessive and put a hit out on Ed’s new fling?

More “Mad City: Follow the White Rabbit” highlights:

Best burn: “You and Jim were made for each other,” Lee says, scoffing at Val’s insistence to interview her about Alice Tetch’s blood while they’re held hostage together.

“Thanks,” Val replies.

“It’s not a compliment,” Lee shoots back.

Biggest unanswered question: That shoebox that Ed wants his intern/gopher to take to Lee’s doorstep and set on fire on the ends. Uh, what happened to that? I know there were more dramatic matters to attend to at casa de Thompkins/Falcone, but why introduce that if you’re not going to finish it?

Cutest moment: Penguin hitting his head with the folders in awkward frustration when he’s trying to get the guts to tell Ed his feelings. Aww, you’ll find love someday, Penguin!

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