Jervis Tetch continues to be a problem child for the people of Gotham in “Mad City: Follow the White Rabbit.” Personally, I find him annoying and keep hoping he’s about to go away, but I guess the writers like him. This week’s episode features him going to new lengths to avoid personal responsibility. While he hasn’t used the name yet, he’s living up the old “Mad as a hatter,” phrase. Although to use modern slang, he’s a hater, too.
The episode opens with a wedding. Since it’s people we don’t know, there’s no doubt something is going to go horribly wrong. True enough, when they get in their limo, the driver is Jervis Tetch. If the supervillain thing doesn’t work out for him, I guess he can go drive for Uber. I’m pretty sure the newlyweds would give him a low rating, though.
While this goes on, Penguin is at his mansion, babbling and nervously excited. He’s arrived at a decision which is very, very different from his comic book persona. I’m sure it will get a lot of great reaction from fans, but it’s the kind of random change I’ve never really cared for. There is some amusing interaction between Penguin and Olga, his maid who seems to not speak English. Or possibly doesn’t choose to speak to him.
Jim Gordon and Valerie Vale are having breakfast together with some amusing banter. Vale is very focused and persistent, and is trying to get Gordon to call his ex, Lee Thompkins, to arrange an interview for Vale. Her refusal to share her breakfast is a bit undercut by her suddenly getting up and leaving a moment later. Jim’s morning takes a downward turn when he gets an unexpected visitor: an albino in pale clothes who is apparently our titular White Rabbit. After a weird rhyming clue, the Rabbit leads Gordon to a pay phone. The phone rings, and Tetch is taunting Gordon. He’s set up a horrible situation where Gordon has to make a life or death choice that has no good answer. It’s a really nasty, sadistic, well-thought-out scheme. After that ugliness ensues, Gordon gets another phone call directing him to a new location, with a warning to not call the cops or more people will die.
Lee and Mario, her fiancé, get a short scene of domestic bliss and discussions of their engagement party. Apparently Carmine Falcone, Mario’s father, wants to throw them a big bash, which Lee talks Mario into. As this goes on, Penguin goes to have an important talk with Nygma, and then chickens out. If nothing else, Nygma is proving to be a really skilled Chief of Staff. Maybe Thea Queen over on Arrow could come get some lessons.
Barnes and Bullock arrive at the aftermath of Tetch’s first scene for Gordon. Between a witness description and finding the White Rabbit, who is mumbling the same phrase over and over, they figure out that Tetch is planning something nasty for Jim Gordon. They have no idea how right they are. Barnes orders an all points bulletin (a term cops haven’t used in years) to tell everyone to keep an eye out for Gordon.
Gordon arrives at his destination and sees the classic modern indication that someone is unhealthily obsessed- the crazy wall. In this case, it’s a blackboard covered with pictures and news clippings about Gordon, his career, his family, and his childhood. Tetch calls him and has some barbed taunts and mind games for Gordon, but Gordon has a few of his own, which enrages Tetch. Tetch shows Gordon that he has Valerie Vale, and scurries off.
Speaking of head games, Tabitha and Barbara are at Sirens, talking over what to do about Butch. Barbara manages to warn Tabitha that Penguin’s going to figure out what happened eventually but doesn’t sound too concerned about it. That’s when Gordon storms in, demanding answers about Tetch, using a very emphatic way of showing how serious he is. He leaves worried that Tetch now has Lee as well, and finds out that’s true.
Barnes tries to interrogate the White Rabbit, but he’s stuck on, “I have a message for James Gordon,” over and over. Barnes gets infuriated by this, and we see some of the side effects from his exposure to Alice’s blood. As Barnes shakes himself free of that, Bullock bursts in with word of the latest Gordon sighting.
Foreshadowing Tetch’s big finale, Gordon finds a reporter and a doctor rigged into one of his elaborate booby traps. Once again, Gordon gets told choose who will die. If he refuses, both will. Bullock and Gordon arrive just as that whole mess goes spectacularly wrong. Gordon, now having more allies, gives them a brief rundown on what’s going on. Gordon also gets another obscure clue on how to figure out what to do next.
Penguin is on his tour of the school that Nygma arranged, and clearly not enjoying it at all. Then he finds a lonely kid off by himself and offers him some… advice. The only thing more disturbing than what he says is the kid’s reaction to it. Penguin gets enough confidence from that to ask Nygma to dinner for his special announcement.
Barnes shows some rare sympathy for Gordon’s predicament with Tetch, which was a bit surprising. Then we see Lee trying to reason with one of Tetch’s goons. This goes about as well as expected, leaving Lee and Vale alone. Vale keeps trying to get interview questions answered, but also helps Lee pick the lock on the chains holding her. Vale can multitask, apparently. What was really odd was that, according to Vale, Lee is doing some work at the GCPD bio-facility. Are there so many weird things in Gotham already they have one of those? I guess Strange caused a lot of problems.
At the GCPD, Barnes gives a rousing speech. He’s good at motivating his officers, and he has a personal stake in finding Tetch at this point. Gordon sort of wanders around, then finally gets the last clue he needed, which was a brilliant example of hidden in plain sight. I give them points for that.
Vale and Lee try and escape, with Vale continuing to push a lot of questions on Lee during the attempt. Naturally, they don’t make it so Tetch can set up his big final scene for Gordon. It’s a decently executed psychological thriller segment of the show. Tetch tries to get in Gordon’s head, Gordon tries to game Tetch, and Lee and Vale are stuck in the middle. After a lot of build up, there’s the final choice and some severe ramifications.
Aside from the after effects of this mess, the only other wrap up is one that actually makes you feel bad for Penguin. He’s nervous and keyed up and twitchy, which is understandable in the circumstances. Nygma, meanwhile, meets with a new distraction which is either an enormous coincidence or he’s being set up for something. That will be interesting to see how it plays out.
What I liked: One thing I give the Gotham writers a lot of credit for is rotating their cast. There wasn’t room to squeeze everyone on this week, so Bruce, Alfred, Selena, Ivy, and Butch just didn’t show up. That’s good storytelling and nice to see them being smart enough to do it that way. While I’m sick of Tetch, he did set up some grueling scenes for Gordon. Bullock’s loyalty to Gordon is touching, and Barnes is going through a lot right now. I’m not sure how I feel about this new development with Penguin, but it was well written and acted. Plus, his scene with the school kid was creepily in character.
What I didn’t: Tetch was a little too perfect until his final sort of defeat, and even then he managed to get away. Again. In the aftermath, one of the characters really seems to be taking things way too calmly.
I’ll give this one a 3.5 out of 5 for some of the interesting choices they made. I hope we’re done with Tetch soon, although the subtitle for the season makes me worry he’s sticking around.