The final season of Gotham is paying homage to a lot of important Batman stories. The entire season is loosely based off the major event “No Man’s Land,” which ran for over a year in many titles. “Ace Chemicals” has hints of Joker’s origin, Batman’s origin, and arguably “The Killing Joke” a graphic novel that changed one Bat-family member for years.
The episode opens with the very strange deaths of four men we’ve never seen before, in a truly bizarre and Gotham-cinematic fashion. As this goes on, Gordon checks in via radio with the mainland authorities, asking if now that Secretary Walker’s perfidy has been exposed, they can expect some help. The general gives some vaguely reassuring answers. Bullock and Gordon debate the man’s trustworthiness as they move on to the next problem: Alfred has been missing for five days and Bruce is exhausting himself looking for his faithful guardian. Gordon finally convinces Bruce to get some rest, and Bullock comes back with a report that Harper has found something “weird.” Considering the general context in this city, that’s impressive.
The dead men from the opening have been found, and closer examination of the bodies and surroundings lead to even more questions involving fake moustaches and a movie set. Gordon identifies them as Chessmen, one of the gangs from the Narrows, far out of their territory. Bruce, to no surprise, isn’t resting, and has slipped out to look for Alfred. He finds a newspaper from a very fateful day, and more clue lead him to a long tunnel.
Lee is once again throwing herself into her role as doctor (I hope that means the chip in her head is truly deactivated) when she gets an unwelcome visit from Barbara. Barbara is being snarky and likely twisting the knife, but does make some good points about why she wants Lee’s help. Things get more complicated when Gordon shows up, leading to a lot of barbed comments and Lee forcing something like a ceasefire. It doesn’t last long.
The tunnel leads Bruce to a familiar set we’ve not seen in a while: the study in Wayne Manor. Here, he finds doppelgangers of his late parents, the missing Alfred, Jeremiah, and a lot of bombs. Alfred and the “Waynes” have been hypnotized and are acting out their parts in Jeremiah’s drama. Jeremiah goes on about the strange bond he feels with Bruce, and the insane lengths the criminal is going to in order to strengthen it.
Penguin and Selina sacrifice several boats and their pilots testing the defenses in the river. As if the situation of isolating Gotham wasn’t stretching credulity enough, we’re supposed to believe the military mined the river. In American territory. Selina recalls something she saw a few days ago, and while Penguin scoffs, he doesn’t have a better idea. Gordon and Lee investigate the Narrows and talk about the baby mama drama they’re in.
After more insane exposition from Jeremiah, he moves his play ahead, distracting Bruce to ensure his getaway. There’s also talk of younger Bruce’s favorite sandwich. I have an open mind about many foods, but I wouldn’t touch this one. Lee and Gordon find that Ace Chemicals is up and running again. Instead of calling for backup, they go in on their own and run across two familiar faces and get themselves captured. Selina goes to Barbara and tells her what’s up with Penguin, and they each affirm they still want to kill him.
Bruce manages a last-minute rescue of Alfred, using some of Jeremiah’s mind games against him. While the faithful butler is saved, a major piece of Bat-mythos is destroyed in a surprise I didn’t see coming. Alfred, slightly wounded, urges Bruce to go after Jeremiah, and makes his slower, limping way out of the tunnel. Gordon and Lee try without much success to get some answers from their captors. Apparently, these bad guys haven’t read the rule book about villain monologuing.
Selina and Penguin go to where Selina remembers Jeremiah’s tunnel project. They get there as Alfred comes limping out, and they all exchange various surprising information. Selina is not at all pleased that the man she “killed” is back. Alfred talks her out of killing Penguin on the spot, and the mob boss repays the butler with a snarky line and running away. Bruce catches up with the madman and his victims, and the worst night of Bruce’s life is being reenacted with a truly impressive attention to detail. Jeremiah, within the story, and the writers, doing their research, were all very thorough. Jeremiah asks Bruce some haunting questions before moving the party out to the infamous alley behind the theater.
Once there, Jeremiah reveals some new twists that shift this a bit from reliving Bruce’s tragedy to the elements of Killing Joke I mentioned before, where Gordon is tortured to prove a point and make Batman suffer. Things are looking bad until Bruce gets some unexpected help, allowing someone else to ease some of their guilt about the night of the Wayne murders.
After more meetings and partings, things go up a notch. Gordon makes a desperate bid to save thousands of lives and not screw up the long-delayed help from the mainland. Bruce follows Jeremiah to the infamous Ace Chemicals, where another familiar origin is reenacted. Penguin asks for help from someone that is initially surprising, but makes some degree of sense when you think about it.
Back at the GCPD, Lee and Gordon talk. The mainland is using the events of the night as yet another excuse that really doesn’t make much sense to delay helping the isolated Gotham. The relationship talk covers their long and tragic past, and recent choices. Lee goes from one extreme to the other within moments for reasons I did not follow. Bruce and Selina have a tender moment over the bed of a fallen foe, which isn’t quite as creepy as it sounds. The show ends with three of Gotham’s criminal masterminds meeting up, exchanging threats, one deducing a secret, and then the trio agreeing to work together on a plan to get out of the city.
What I liked: I was impressed with piecing together three major stories against the backdrop of a fourth. I probably would have bet against that working, but it came together beautifully. I was very surprised at the destruction of such an important part of Batman’s story. I feel bad for Lee and Gordon, and, to my surprise, a bit for Barbara, even though her condition is a step towards another Bat-character coming along. The amount of detail they pulled for the retelling of Bruce’s tragic night was impressive. I’m glad Bruce and Selina are on friendlier terms than last we saw them. The end with the three villains was a good scene.
What I didn’t: The entire isolation of Gotham doesn’t make much sense in any of the tellings of it, and mines in the river are even harder to swallow. Why the mainland authorities are essentially waiting until Gotham doesn’t need help to offer assistance is also a bit hard to follow. Must be the same logic banks use to make you show you don’t really need a loan before they offer one. I really didn’t follow Lee’s wild swing (on two levels) near the end of the show.
It’s been an impressive ride, and the final season continues to tell a good story. I’ll give this one a high 3.5 out of 5.