This week’s episode of Gotham, “Follow the White Rabbit,” has to be one of the series’ most spectacularly written episodes yet. Balancing the gentle comedy of Penguin, the menace of Jervis Tetch and the overwhelming emotion of love that played into each of this week’s storylines, viewers were rewarded with quite a bounty this week.
And not just in the writing. Performances were at the peak of excellence this week across the board. In Penguin’s story, we find him struggling not with his new position as mayor of Gotham, but with his own emotions. Penguin, or Oswald, has feelings for Ed and struggled with how to reveal those feelings to him. Chickening out before having to tour a school, Oswald asked Ed to join him for dinner to discuss some personal matters. But we’re left wondering if Ed ever showed up for that dinner as he encountered a doppleganger for Miss Kringle (yes, played by Chelsea Spack) while selecting a bottle of wine.
But Penguin did have a very funny moment this week while at the school. Not thrilled to have to see every class, Pre-K through 12, he spotted a lone boy sitting away from the other kids. Told he was new to the school, Oswald engaged the boy who worried the others may not like him. Oswald gave him some wise words — how will you know if you don’t get to know them — and then followed those words with “if they don’t like you, wait until they’re not looking and push them down the stairs,” which made the boy’s eyes light up as he ran to join the others. Nygma was surprised at Oswald’s deft touch with the child, to which he replied, “He just needed a little push.”
The main story this week focused back on Jervis Tetch, still looking to exact revenge on James for the death of his sister. Sending a hypnotized young man dressed all in white (the White Rabbit of the episode title) with a message, Gordon found himself forced to decide on saving the lives of a newly married couple about to jump from the rooh of a building, or a little boy standing in the path of an oncoming truck driven by Tetch’s associate. James chose the boy and watched the newlyweds plunge to their deaths with Tetch’s words “you can’t save everyone” ringing in his ears.
Lured to another location, Gordon then was forced to choose between to men, both physicians, attached to makeshift electric chairs. Refusing to play Tetch’s game, he watched both men fry. But James knows Tetch’s game at this point — he’s preparing him to choose between the women he loves, Lee and Valerie. But James doesn’t know where he’s holding the women, with the only clue being that an old friend would lead him to them.
Turns out the “old friend” was actually the White Rabbit who kept repeating that he had a message for James Gordon (which, during an interrogation, made Captain Barnes practically hulk out due to Alice’s blood in his system, leaving the imprint of his grip on the metal chair back). James got the message that Tetch, Lee and Valerie were at Lee’s house and when he got there, Tetch had another mad tea party prepared. What Tetch didn’t know was that James also brought Mario with him to sneak into the basement and take Tetch by surprise. But Tetch is always one step ahead, and had already replaced the gun magazine in the basement with an empty one. Surprise. The scene also had a nice touch which may have been a nod to the classic Batman series’ penchant for labeling everything when James had to hand over his gun, placing it on a serving tray with a card reading “Gordon’s Gun.”
The tea party scene was a tour de force of acting for Ben McKenzie and Benedict Samuel. McKenzie had to keep Gordon’s feelings for Lee and Valerie concealed as best as he could while trying to manipulate a master manipulator, telling him how his sister actually committed suicide, and was happy at the end, just so she could be done with her brother. Samuel had, of course, the showier role with lines of dialog to taunt James, play with his emotions, nearly fall apart himself when hearing of his sister, and then forcing James to make the ultimate decision of who would live and who would die.
When James refused to say which woman he loved, Tetch gave him one more chance to just tell him which one should die. (And a big shout out for the sound design in this moment with the tension-filled music punctuated by a deep bass heartbeat, really putting the viewer in the moment.) Shockingly, James told Tetch to kill Lee … but Tetch saw right through that, knowing James actually loves Lee so he shot Valerie instead! It was a gasp-worthy moment to be sure, and as Tetch and his henchmen fled the scene, Lee called 911 and they got Valerie to the hospital with Mario attending. But the episode ended with Valerie’s life hanging in the balance and one of the most powerful moments of the series as Lee told James that it was not the time to talk, and the camera slowly pulled away down the hallway as the two sat silent, silhouetted by the setting sun streaming through the window.
Kudos to everyone involved for a powerful, well-balanced, well-acted, well-crafted episode. This could be one of the best episodes of television you’ll see this week.