One thing I’ll give the writers of Gotham: they’ve taken one of Batman’s most obscure foes (I’d lay money no one that doesn’t read the comics had heard of Hugo Strange before this season, and even some that do might not have) and made him not only a menacing threat, but possibly the source of many of Batman’s later foes. The series has definitely had its problems, but I think this was one of their better episodes, and they even tried to address some of those flaws. If the rest of the series can hold at this level of quality, I’d be a lot more of a fan of the show.
The episode opens at Arkham, which has become more and more of a focal point for the series of late. The resurrected Galavan is capering around madly in the lab, babbling and writing on the walls in blood. Strange looks amused and intrigued, while his assistant Peabody looks a lot less sure about all this. There’s a growing distance between those two as the madness goes on, and I suspect she will turn on him before the season is done. Their study of Galavan is interrupted when Strange gets a call telling him he has a visitor.
James Gordon has come calling, with a lot of questions, accusations, and insinuations. Strange does a masterful job of both deflecting blame for Project Chimera on to the late Thomas Wayne, and playing head games with Gordon. Strange also points out that, since Gordon isn’t presently a cop, Strange doesn’t need to answer his questions at all. Gordon does get in a few points of his own just before leaving Strange’s office. I think that’s when Strange realizes he’s been underestimating Gordon, which is never a good idea.
Elsewhere in the asylum, Nygma is adapting to his new home. He’s gaining a really impressive, and frightening, amount of influence over his fellow inmates. Nygma also sees Gordon on his way out, and they have an exchange that I’d say Gordon won. Nygma is not a graceful loser. Nygma then tries to bargain his way out by talking to Strange and Peabody when they discuss their Gordon problem where Nygma can hear. Strange turns him down, but gets an idea and scurries off. Strange taps into the madness that Galavan has been spouting and creates a new identity for him- the avenger of the Order of St. Dumas, “Azreal” which also gives us the episode title. Strange is very good at manipulating those under his care, and that’s showcased nicely here.
Gordon’s next stop is Wayne Manor, where he and Bullock have a meeting with young Bruce. They all agree that Strange is behind the Waynes’ murder, as well as some of the other recent weirdness in the city. Bruce is ready to take matters into his own hands, but Gordon talks him down. Gordon admits he was wrong to kill Galavan, and asks Bruce to let him try and work inside the system. That’s a bit ironic since Gordon still hasn’t rejoined the police.
Nygma has had enough of being an inmate at Arkham, and is ready to start taking steps to change his status. While Strange is programming Galavan down in the secret labs, Nygma manages to get out of the locked dayroom and follows the guards who take Hellzinger down to the labs. He loses them when they go through the secret door, but this just makes Nygma smile. After all, it’s just another puzzle for him. Hellzinger has a much less good day down in the lab as a test of Galavan’s new programming.
Captain Barnes is handling a gruesome mass murder that, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with any of the current plots. He gets interrupted when the Gordon/Bullock/Wayne team shows up. An annoyed and increasingly incredulous Barnes listens to Gordon’s claims about what Strange is up to and isn’t buying it. This is when Azreal shows up, and it’s a great scene on several levels. Azreal stalks the cops, hunting Gordon, and does some incredible moves. Not only is a great action scene, but you can see Bruce staring and making mental notes. I suspect this scene will have a huge influence on Bruce’s later career.
The news footage of Azreal on the loose hits the air, and Penguin watches. He’s definitely going around the bend, but he seems to enjoy the story. Azreal himself sees a poster from Galavan’s mayoral campaign, and starts getting flashbacks before running away.
Barnes briefs the cops on what he expects of them, and then has yet another confrontation with Gordon. They’re really not getting along at this point, and Gordon makes the mistake of pointing out that he’s not a cop anymore so he doesn’t need to listen. Barnes agrees Gordon’s not a cop, and arrests him in connection with Karen Jennings’ escape.
While Strange plots further mayhem, and possibly sows the seeds of future Gotham villains, Azreal attacks the GCPD. It’s a nasty scene with a lot more police fatalities. Azreal and Barnes exchange a few lines, and Barnes gets Gordon out of the cell he’s been stuck in. The fight is ugly and is going to have a lot of effects on future episodes. There’s one character whose more than likely dead, and Azreal’s “secret identity” proves to be very short-lived when he gets caught by news cameras without his mask. Among the ones that are shown reacting to this are his sister Tabitha, Penguin, and Bruce and Alfred.
The end scenes are set ups for future story. Nygma turns his formidable intellect and CSI skills to learning Strange’s secrets, and looks shocked at what he finds. It takes a lot to weird out Nygma these days. Azreal is still on the loose and striking Batman-like poses on one of Gotham’s bridges. I suspect that he and Gordon will clash again soon.
This was a really interesting episode with some points worth thinking about. Gordon’s biggest sin has been the murder of Galavan. Well, Galavan’s back, and while that doesn’t negate what Gordon did, it certainly clears the way for Gordon’s eventual rise to becoming Commissioner. Bruce being so impressed by what Azreal does has obvious implications for the future. And Strange may well be the one behind the flood of crazy villains that are such a big part of Batman’s career down the road. This was not only one of their best episodes, it may well be the one with the most influence over Gotham City’s future.
The episode does derail a future Batman story, but they’ve diverged enough from Bat-mythos that I think this is a separate world. In the comics, when Batman’s back is famously broken by Bane, his replacement for a time was Jean Paul Valley, who was Azreal. At this point, there’s no way the future Batman will trust someone with that name, identity, costume, and St. Dumas background, but I’ll accept that for the good this episode does.
What I liked: Azreal looked cool, and had some great moves. Nygma is fun to watch, and I’m really curious to see what happens after he’s made his discovery. Strange is also fun to watch, and the slowly widening rift between him and Peabody is no doubt a future plot point. Barnes is a pain in the ass, but he’s true to himself. Penguin’s reaction to the Galavan/Azreal reveal will also no doubt affect the next few episodes.
What I didn’t: This was actually one of their better episodes. Nothing really stands out as a glaring bad point.
I’ll give this episode a 4 out of 5, and say it may be a turning point for the series.