Synopsis of 2×15: Desperate to get Gordon off his tail, Nygma sets a series of clues guiding Barnes and the GCPD to reopen the Galavan investigation. Bruce and Selina run across a group of gangsters. Oswald meets his father and the rest of the Cobblepot clan.
In Batman Animated, his book on Batman: The Animated Series, Paul Dini remarked that the show’s writers always wanted to craft more stories with Edward Nygma but, more than any other character, the writers had difficulties coming up with riddles that both worked as a story hook as well as a challenge for the so-called world’s greatest detective.
The writers of Gotham clearly faced the same problems when creating their first story of Nygma’s transition into the Riddler because instead of writing, y’know, riddles, they’ve come up with a checklist, a scavenger hunt, a series of boxes that need to be ticked on our way to a finale.
And honestly, that wouldn’t have been a problem had the villain not been The Riddler. The series of clues, crosses, and deceptions would make sense for manipulative villains like Talia or Ra’s al Ghul, the Joker or Cluemaster but it doesn’t really work for a character like Riddler, who’s primarily about the challenge, proving himself smarter or more capable than his opponents. His attack on Gordon feels more suited to a villain that has more of a motive than just inflating his ego.
Because otherwise, his plot here is beyond devious and dumb as hell. Nygma lays out a clear series of clues, moving Gordon to one location after another, with a series of items and pieces of evidence he manipulates and moves around to set up his endgame that reopens the Galavan investigation, It’s a canny enough way to damn Gordon but it’s also utterly failed by the show’s tone and characterization of the protagonist.
Gotham misses an easy opportunity to examine the moral compass of its hero and utterly ignores it to continue to push a narrative of Gordon being a flawed but righteous defender of Gotham City. Gordon is guilty of the murder of Theo Galavan. That is well established. He killed a surrendered suspect in cold blood. We can’t get around that fact. He should have served time for his crime.
As such and in a year filled with police officers escaping justice for their crimes, it’s hard to associate, much less empathize with Gordon here. The show doesn’t acknowledge that Gordon is guilty, doesn’t acknowledge that his lies are costing more and more innocent lives, and doesn’t engage with the lengths and depths he and Cobblepot have hurt the people around them by lying and killing. Honestly, it’s unforgivable, a surreal example of a show trying to break its own rules, tone, and history to exonerate a guilty character in the minds of its audience.
It’s not helped by an utter disaster of a denouement. The episode leaps from Gordon’s interrogation to his conviction a month later, seeming to imply that all of the rest of the characters simply sat on their hands, accomplishing nothing while Gordon was brought down. It’s bizarre to see such a massive time jump not saved for the next episode and it gives an already slapdash, poorly paced episode a lurching, start-stop feel.
There’s other plots going on in this episode but they’re barely worth mentioning. Both Cobblepot and Bruce are stuck in plots that are all table-setting for future stories, none of which look even a little bit compelling. Much like the main story here, they exist solely to be moved into new positions for the next episode, with little care for how those stories impact the characters and play for the audience.
“Mad Grey Dawn” is an episode that’s cracks show most because of how transparent it is in its desire to put Gordon in prison. It breaks characters, its own history and any believable sense of realism or motivation to get to that goal. Its untrue to some of Batman’s most iconic characters and turns its hero into an almost unforgivably awful character in a mystifying attempt to curry sympathy for a murderer.
Gotham has engaged in similarly awful attempts to change the status quo in the past but its never damaged and broken its characters so much in an attempt to do that, serving up an episode that’s all but absolutely unwatchable.