Puzzles in Pop Culture: Gotham

[Image courtesy of Comic Book Movie.]

Fox’s comic book crime drama Gotham returns from its winter break on Monday, January 16th, kickstarting the second half of its third season. For the uninitiated, Gotham is set before the days of Batman’s adventures; Bruce Wayne is a young man, James Gordon is a detective, the city is rife with corruption, and most of Batman’s rogue’s gallery of enemies have yet to appear in the city.

Given that the show features one of the most infamous puzzly villains in history — The Riddler, aka Edward Nygma — I thought I would look back on the episode where the show’s version of the villain truly took shape.

So, in today’s blog post, we look back on season two’s “Mad Grey Dawn,” the episode that took the character beyond occasional riddles and into true Batman-style puzzly evil. (It’s worth noting that Edward Nygma’s day job is forensic scientist working for the Gotham City Police Department.)

We open in an art gallery, where a sculpture shaped like a bomb — that, curiously enough, is labeled “this is a real bomb” — rests in the center of the room. Nygma lights the fuse, chasing everyone out, then steals a painting, leaving behind a green question mark spray-painted in its place.

Detective Jim Gordon and his partner, detective Harvey Bullock, are assigned to the case. Before they go investigate, Gordon is held back by his captain, Nathaniel Barnes, who tells him an anonymous tip implicates him in a closed murder case, and Internal Affairs will be investigating.

At the art museum, they learn about the stolen painting, Mad Grey Dawn, which details a railway explosion. They discover two other, more valuable paintings were vandalized with spray-painted question marks, one by Gerard Marché and another by Henri Larue. Gordon believes the thief is trying to send a message, not trying to strike it rich.

And we have our first question: what’s the message?

[Image courtesy of EW.]

The viewer isn’t given much time to ponder it before Gordon realizes the artists ARE the clue. Marché is French for “market” and Larue is French for “the road.” They deduce that the thief is targeting the railway station on Market Street.

We then see Nygma removing a bomb in a bag from his car.

At the train station, Nygma is waiting. But Bullock and Gordon arrive as an order goes out to evacuate the building. Gordon spots a question mark spray-painted on a locker, and as soon as he does, Nygma remotely activates the timer on the bomb.

Gordon uses a crowbar to pry open the locker and get ahold of the bomb. Bullock and the other officers clear out the station and Gordon tosses the bomb before it explodes.

[Image courtesy of TV Line.]

As they investigate the bombing, they find no clues or riddles waiting for them. But Nygma is there, and he has an officer named Pinkney sign an evidence form for him. He then talks to Gordon, feeling him out on what Gordon knows about the bomber, and Gordon makes him the lead on forensics for the case.

Gordon is at a loss as to who the thief/bomber is or what he wants. But the viewer is presented with a different puzzle. We know who the bomber is, and we know he wants to destroy Jim Gordon. But how? How do these pieces we’ve seen fit together?

If you’re an attentive viewer, you’ve already spotted two big clues to Nygma’s trap.

Later, Nygma visits Officer Pinkney at home. He then asks him what you call a tavern of blackbirds, before hitting him with a crowbar.

Gordon looks over evidence photos when Bullock calls with info. They find a payphone the bomber used to trigger the bomb. Gordon heads off to check it out, discovering Pinkney’s murdered body in the apartment next door.

As he checks on the fallen officer, Captain Barnes walks in. Barnes reveals that Pinkney sent him a message, wanting to talk about Gordon. Gordon tries to explain that he was following up on a lead in the bomber case and stumbled upon Pinkney’s body, but Barnes takes him into custody.

[Image courtesy of Villains Wiki.]

Down at the station, Gordon talks to Barnes. Barnes reveals a crowbar was found with Gordon’s fingerprints. Gordon realizes it’s the crowbar from the train station. (Clue #1 from earlier.) He mentions the forensics report and Bullock’s call, but Barnes found nothing about that in the report when he checked it.

Barnes then reveals that Pinkney was the anonymous tip that reopened the murder case mentioned earlier, and he has a signed form to prove it. Amidst all these accusations, we see flashbacks of Nygma taking the crowbar, Nygma securing Pinkney’s signature at the bank (Clue #2 from earlier), and Nygma swapping out forensic reports in Bullock’s file.

Gordon has been thoroughly trapped in The Riddler’s web, and Barnes takes him in. Gordon is charged with the murder and sent to prison.

[Image courtesy of Comic Vine.]

Now, there aren’t the usual riddles to solve like you might expect (though there are plenty of riddles in earlier episodes). For puzzle fans, this episode is more about trying to unravel Nygma’s plan to stop Gordon while it unfolds. Did you manage it?

And the clues are all there, with the camera lingering on the crowbar in the bucket at the train station, and the scene of Pinkney signing the form for Nygma. It’s both a well-orchestrated frame-up and a well-constructed how-dun-it for the viewer.

And with an episode looming entitled “How the Riddler Got His Name,” I expect we’ll see more strong moments from this puzzly villain in the future.


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