You wanna know how The Riddler got his name? Well, it’s quite simple. No, really, it is. After another break, Gotham returns for the remainder of Season Three, starting with Edward Nygma becoming the stronger, feared man he’s always felt inside of him.
The episode begins with Nygma entering a lab and holding a professor, Dyson, played by Kevin Carolan, at gunpoint. The building’s empty, so no one’s coming to his rescue. As per usual, Nygma has a riddle: I can fill a room or just one heart- I can be a member of a group, but I can never blend in. Others may have me, but I cannot be shared. What am I? The professor guesses knowledge, but of course, you can share knowledge.
After bounding Dyson’s hands, Nygma presents another riddle: I can be a member of a group, but I can never blend in. Dyson guesses shadow, but it turns out to be an individual. Duh. Nygma rages at Dyson’s ineptitude, but soon apologizes for his temper, as he hasn’t been feeling like himself as of recent. To the professor’s credit, none of Nygma’s other test subjects fared well, either.
Nygma lights a few bunsen burners and tells the professor that he’s doing this because a friend once said there was no Nygma without him, so Nygma shot him, although Oswald was meant to be Nygma’s guide. Nygma knows who he is, but how to be him is the part that eludes him. He’s seeking guidance.
Final riddle: I feel your every move, I know your every thought, I’m with you from birth, and I’ll see you when you rot. What am I? The professor doesn’t know, so Nygma turns up the gas and seals the room behind him. And like most cool guys who don’t look at explosions, Nygma walks away from the building as the lab explodes behind him.
Over with the Court, the Bruce clone walks through the events that led to the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne and how Bruce did nothing to help. Kathryn, impressed with the clone’s progress, calls Frank Gordon to tell him that everything’s ready on her end. She hopes that Jim, on his way to visit Frank, is willing to cooperate, but if he refuses, Frank knows what he has to do.
As Nygma pops pills, a hallucination of Oswald appears and wonders how long Nygma will be the public face of grief until someone learns that he killed Oswald. Nygma is frustrated over his lack of progress. Each of his victims fit the profile: high I.Q., driven, and creative, yet they all failed. Oswald suggests that Nygma ditch the riddles in his quest to find a life coach, but Nygma is convinced that a good riddle reveals the asker.
To solve the riddle is to solve the mystery of the person posing it, and whoever is capable of solving the riddle is the person who can help him. Oswald scoffs at the notion that Nygma needs someone to teach him how to be a villain. No one taught Oswald how to be the Penguin- he made himself that when he threw Fish Mooney off of a building. For Nygma, though, knowing who he is and how to be person are two different things.
Okay, so maybe Nygma doesn’t need a teacher, but an enemy, as the greatest villains have been defined by the men that try to stop them. How very meta of you, Gotham. Anyway, since Bruce Wayne hasn’t donned the cowl yet, there’s one person who Nygma knows can be his enemy: Jim Gordon.
Problem is that Jim’s on hiatus. Over at the GCPD, Lucius asks Harvey for help with this serial killer that’s targeting intellectuals, but the department has its hands full, as the police are still finding bodies from Jerome’s terror ridden night. Really wish we could’ve seen that terror outside of the theme park and the GCPD, Gotham.
Then, a man dressed in a grapes outfit delivers a message about the six masters who have passed. On the envelope is a drawing of the Knight’s Tour.
Elsewhere, Nygma continues to pop pills as he and ghost Oswald a chess tournament. He thanks Oswald for joining him in this electrifying game, but Oswald continues to mock Nygma for talking to a hallucination, especially when said projection knows everything about Nygma.
Ed spots GCPD entering, but instead of Jim, it’s Bullock and Lucius who arrive. Ed flips the switch and two players receive an electric shock.
Frank will explain where he’s been all this time, but he needs Jim to trust him. He asks Jim if he ever did something that he thought was right at the time, but would do over if given a chance. Frank has, many times, but the worst was breaking from Peter. He came back to Gotham because he wants to make things right with Jim.
At Wayne Manor, Alfred teaches Bruce a thing or two about knife throwing and precision, but Bruce misses his target. Alfred figures that Bruce’s conscience isn’t clear and he’s distracted by Selina. Bruce says that isn’t the case, but then Alfred reveals that Selina left a note for Bruce- she wants to see him tomorrow. She’s been avoiding Bruce for weeks, so Bruce figures it will take more than a note to get him running.
Lucius finds a clue in the form of numbers written on the bottom of the chess pieces. They make out a phone number, which he calls, and he gets a response from Nygma, who is disguising his voice. He explains that he killed Dyson and the others because they failed his tests, so now it’s Lucius’ turn, and since lives are at stake, he can’t ignore this.
Nygma then gives Fox his next clue: tomorrow, when the pawn’s on queen, Fox will find Nygma’s next target in the belly of the beast. If Lucius can solve this clue, he’ll be one step closer to passing Nygma’s test. And Nygma will be one step closer to introducing himself to Gotham.
Jim and Frank hunt in the woods, with Jim missing on purpose so he could make sure his gun works. Jim is still waiting for the truth and isn’t in the mood for a trust exercise, so he demands to know what happened with Frank and Peter. Frank starts telling Jim about the Court of Owls and how it once maintained balance in Gotham, but became corrupted by power.
Both Peter and Frank were members…well, Frank still is a member. The Court holds Jim in such high regard that they want him to join. Sure, why not? Jim has done just about everything else in Gotham City.
Bullock and Lucius speak with a guy named Peters, played by H. Foley, about Nygma’s clue since he works at a pawn shop outside of Queens Avenue. Bullock is wearing his nice suit, so he wants Lucius to play the bad cop. But it turns out that Peters wasn’t even meant to be working today- he’s just covering for a guy named Terry Thirio. ‘Thirio,’ as Fox realizes, is Greek for ‘beast.’
Over at Wayne Manor, Alfred prepares Shepherd’s Pie and tells Bruce how he got the recipe from a friend named Sylvia, but the fling between the two of them ended badly. It left Alfred reeling, but they found closure. Selina has apparently given Bruce an opportunity to get the same closure, so he should take it.
Bullock is set to head off academy graduation, as he’s going to impart some wisdom to the new cadets, but he’s unable to find his badge. Huh.
So the press has dubbed Nygma the Chess Killer, which amuses Oswald to no end. Nygma feels that today will change everything, but Oswald still believes this is a mistake. He calls it madness, but Ed sees it as a way forward.
Then Oswald, for some reason, breaks into a rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Wake Up Alone,” but Nygma cuts this short. He admits that killing Oswald hurt him, but he will be born anew and leave Oswald behind.
Leslie shows Ted Thirio’s body to Lucius, and the clue may indeed be inside the belly of the beast. Since Leslie worked at Arkham Asylum, Lucius asks her why a killer would engage in this kind of cat and mouse. Leslie figures that people, whether crazy or sane, just want to answer life’s big questions. Leslie soon pulls Bullock’s missing badge out of Thirio’s stomach. Well, at least it wasn’t a cell phone rigged to explode.
Just before Bullock can address the new cadets, he comes face to face with Nygma, who is now decked out in a new, green suit. He’s here to give some remarks in Oswald’s absence. Just as Nygma sees that Bullock has received a call from Lucius, he springs into action and puts Bullock to sleep.
On Gotham’s mean streets, Bruce asks Sonny and his gang if they’ve seen Selina. Their response is to rob him, but then Selina intervenes and tells Bruce that not only did she not leave a note for him, she’s not going to talk to him because she’s business with Sonny and the others. Bruce apologizes for not telling Selina about suspecting her mother, but it’s not enough to keep her here, and she tells him to leave.
When Selina leaves, the gang turns on Bruce and overpowers him…for a bit, but he gets back up, stands his ground, and manages to get in some good punches.
Back at the police academy, Nygma addresses the cadets with a riddle that none of them can answer: Light as a feather, yet no man can hold it long. What am I? Since no one knows the answer, Nygma tosses a smoke grenade before revealing the riddle’s answer: your breath.
Lucius and other officers arrive before meeting a woman in a strawberry costume, who asks if Lucius is ‘Foxy.’ Lucius knows of just one person who calls him that. He calls Nygma, who reveals that he gassed the cadets with a deadly toxin. Lucius must come upstairs to solve Nygma’s game, and he has to come alone or Bullock and the cadets will die.
He heads up and finds Bullock bound, gagged, and teetering at the edge of a railing. the edge of the stairs. Nygma will give Lucius three riddles. For every riddle he gets wrong, Nygma will cut a rope. If he gets three wrong, Bullock and the antidote will take a nasty fall. But if Lucius gets even just one right, then everyone lives. Sounds fair.
First riddle is the same as Dyson, but he also gets wrong- he guesses love, but it turns out to be loneliness. Second riddle, Lucius guesses a snowflake, but Nygma counters that it’s an individual. Lucius argues this, saying that snowflake should be a suitable answer since no two are alike. By definition, that makes them individuals. Lucius isn’t technically wrong, but he has to give the answer that Nygma wants.
Before giving the final riddle, Nygma mentions Oswald in passing, prompting Lucius to ask what happened to Penguin. Still, Nygma proceeds with the last riddle and Lucius ends up getting it right: a reflection.
However, the rope gives way and Bullock falls anyway, but Lucius manages to catch him just as Nygma escapes.
As Bruce makes his way through an alley, he looks at himself in a cracked mirror and begins to wipe the blood from his nose when he’s greeted by his clone, who Bruce guesses is the one who sent the note. The clone administers a powerful knockout drug that puts Bruce to sleep, so it’s time for the clone to achieve his destiny of becoming Bruce Wayne.
Jim can’t believe that his father was ever part of the Court, but Frank says that the court lied to him and Peter, or maybe they lied to themselves. The Court believes that Frank is a loyal member, but he hates them. Peter saw through the Court’s lies, but Frank didn’t listen him until it was too late…when the Court killed him. Jim believes it was a drunk driver, as he saw it himself, but the car wreck is simple business for the Court.
Frank apologizes for not being there for Jim, but the Court sent him overseas and he needed to prove his loyalty to the Court. And he knew the Court would kill him if he didn’t obey. He chose to live, but now that Jim has been asked to join the Court, Frank wants his help in destroying the Court from the inside. Then they could bring civility back to Gotham. Good luck with that. Jim doesn’t know what to believe at this point.
As Alfred listens to the radio, clone Bruce arrives and tells him that Selina’s just being Selina. Oh, and he’s ready for some Shepherd’s Pie. Huh. How about that? Alfred goes off to get it.
GCPD infiltrates Oswald’s manor, but no sign of Nygma. Just a painting with a green question mark sprayed on it.
Lucius, who didn’t go with the GCPD for some reason, returns to his car, where Nygma is waiting for him with his gun drawn. The antidote, turns out, was grape juice and the toxin just knockout gas, but Nygma’s point wasn’t to kill cops, but have Lucius play his game. And yet, Nygma still killed people and announced to the city that he’s a villain and murderer.
Ed asks Lucius if he always went by ‘Foxy,’ as Nygma has someone stronger and smarter inside of him that people would fear. No one saw that…except for Oswald. Lucius isn’t meant to fill that reflection because Nygma now knows who he is, thanks to Lucius’ help. For that much, Nygma thanks Lucius. Still, Fox tries to appeal to Ed, saying that if there’s any part of him that’s sane, he should turn himself in and get help.
That’s not going to happen. Ed admits that he killed his best friend and his search for a teacher or enemy was just him trying to hold onto Oswald a bit longer. But now Nygma knows who he is without him. Isn’t it obvious? He’s…The Riddler. Dun dun dun.
Later, Nygma returns to the docks and tells ghost Oswald that he misses him and that their friendship did mean something. The entire GCPD is hunting Nygma, but as far as Oswald is concerned, no one will fear the Riddler. Nygma accepts this, but the city will fear him soon. As such, he dumps his drugs into the water, bids Oswald farewell, and dons a bowler cap as he marches confidently back towards Gotham City.
Yeah, Oswald’s not dead. He’s in the care of Ivy Pepper, who pulled him out of the river and has nursed him for weeks. Oswald then remembers that he has someone to kill. You know, Gotham City must really be a small town if Penguin wound up in the care of an established character of all people.
As Jim brings some wood inside the cabin, he calls out to Frank, there’s no sign of him- just a photo of Frank, Peter, and Jim. On the back is a note reads “Help Me Honor His Memory.”
Frank tells Kathryn that Jim appears interested and could be persuaded with time, but Kathryn has no time. As for her end, the clone is in place and Bruce Wayne should be waking up as they speak.
Indeed, the real Bruce Wayne awakens inside a cell where all he can see ahead of him are icy mountains. Wow, he slept so long that he ended up in Batman Begins.
I criticize Gotham for a lot of things, even as it’s managed to find its groove between Seasons Two and Three, but there are things that it does very well, and one of them has been the slow development of Edward Nygma. Whether he was just the lab geek, Oswald’s confidant, talking in riddles, or fawning over Miss Kringle, we’ve watched Nygma turn from nerd to…well, villainous nerd.
There are a few stumbles here and there, but Nygma becoming The Riddler has been a long time coming and it’s character growth that I appreciate. Granted, I do wish that we got more of the intellectual Nygma and saw him relying on more than just riddles, but now that he’s embraced that persona, maybe he’ll develop and start utilizing tactics we would expect from The Riddler.
It’s nice that, despite shooting him, Nygma hasn’t put Oswald out of his life altogether, as the two did have a genuine bond. I like that Nygma, despite having every reason to hate Oswald for killing Isabella, admitted that his friendship with Oswald meant something.
I also like the idea that the Riddler name doesn’t just come to Nygma midway through the episode or through an offhand suggestion. We see Nygma’s thought process as he grapples with the notion that he needs someone to teach him how to be a villain. Again, what he said about villains being defined by the people who try to stop them felt applicable not just to the Batman mythos, but a lot of comic book mythology.
To Nygma, it’s about him having an adversary, but we’ve seen through people like Oswald that no one taught them to be who we know they’ll be. Oswald went from umbrella boy to the King of Gotham to embracing the Penguin mantle. There are exceptions, like Bridgit just randomly calling herself ‘Firefly,’ and Gotham was very on the nose early on with these proto-villains, but Nygma didn’t have that constant challenger.
Sure, you’ve got Gordon, but he’s the focal point of this show, and to Gotham’s credit, he’s unavailable to play Nygma’s game. Plus, he’s already done this before and had to deal with Jerome and Mad Hatter in this season, so answering more of Nygma’s riddles would be familiar territory.
As such, it’s a refreshing change of pace not having Jim take the lead, but instead allow Lucius and Harvey to take center stage and solve Nygma’s game. Lucius especially, as he’s often here just to point characters in the right direction, but rarely has an opportunity to get as involved as he was in this episode.
Instead of staying at GCPD and just providing answers for Harvey and the rest of the officers to solve, he plays a direct role and manages to save Harvey’s life. If it takes removing Jim from the equation for Lucius to get this kind of focus, I say let Jim have as much time away from the force as possible because I’m all for Lucius playing a more active role within the GCPD. And it shows that the GCPD can function without Jim.
Jim, though, is just left asking questions, and it remains to be seen whether Frank is being honest with Jim, playing double agent, or just lying to Kathryn. It’s like the Jeremiah Danvers situation we’ve seen play out on this most recent season of Supergirl. It keeps Jim and the Court’s storyline going, so there’s that. Now to see where it takes Jim, now that he knows that the Court wants to recruit him.
Then you’ve got the clone taking Bruce’s place, but I imagine it’s just a matter of time before Alfred realizes something is amiss with this new Bruce, if he doesn’t already. Coupled with the fact that Alfred has seen a clone of Bruce before, it won’t be long until he finds out that the real Bruce Wayne is missing.
And I maintain that Bruce is in the Himalayas and that he’ll be stuck here while he trains so long and hard that he turns into Christian Bale. Batman Begins jokes aside, I do wonder what will become of Bruce now that he’s out of the picture and how it will tie back into the Court of Owls’ storyline.
All in all, “How the Riddler Got His Name” was a pretty good return for Gotham. Though oddly enough, it’s a villain who rose in a season where the subtitle for the episodes is now “Heroes Rise.” Huh. While not everything on Nygma’s turn to becoming The Riddler landed, it’s an arc that’s been building up until now and was the strongest of the storylines presented.
It pushed Nygma’s character forward to embrace The Riddler, gave Lucius Fox more to do, and showed that the GCPD and Gotham as a whole can function quite well when Jim Gordon isn’t the center of attention.