Killing a major Batman character for good is a very sensitive subject. And it’s a subject Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller has spoken about before:
“I wouldn’t say it’s ironclad. You’d need a damn good reason to do it and a damn good end game to justify it.”
In the same interview, Heller also reasoned out two massive drawbacks to murdering an important member of the Batman canon (although his parents are obviously fair game). One, that shock value isn’t reason enough to rob Gotham of a character who’s still of benefit to the show. And two, that he’s a big fan of the entire cast, and he’d like to keep working with all of them for the foreseeable future. Sounds like Heller’s fairly solid in the “anti” column. Plus, by the end of last night’s “Red Hood,” it’s apparent that the character on death’s door isn’t going to bite it at all, and is probably just out of commission for a few episodes.
Are we far enough into this recap to be past the header so I can say who received an unexpected stabbing? Let’s say… yes: Alfred. Alfred got stabbed. And it was outstanding (not the stabbing, obviously, but the effect it had on the rest of “Red Hood”). By far, this is the biggest, most impactful and overall best-executed punch of drama that Gotham’s ever landed.
Throughout “Red Hood,” there’s a running subplot about Reginald Payne (David O’Hara), an old war buddy of Alfred’s who’s fallen on hard times and comes to Wayne Manor, looking for a leg up. The entire time, there’s a sense that Gotham is playing Reg very close to its chest, with no apparent reason why. Reg gives Bruce a fighting lesson that’s probably too hardcore for a 12-year old to handle (although honestly, “hit people with nearby objects” is a few shades lighter than “wrap a watchband around your knuckles to give that sucker punch some extra zing”). And while he alludes to Alfred having a dark and mysterious past, he also alludes that said past is just Alfred having killed people while in the military. As far as dark and mysterious pasts go, that’s not so huge.
By keeping Reg on the DL, his jamming a knife into Alfred’s chest had a massive dramatic impact. It was a perfect one-two punch- one being the surprise of it all, and two being the possibility that Alfred might actually bite it. Especially considering Gotham played manipulative and had Alfred do one of those he’s responsive, then his hand goes limp and falls to his side things that’s a coded death signal in all film-based media, ever. Even if you would probably do that in real life, were you to slip into a coma.
For once (especially with the extra reveal that Reg is spying- and maybe stabbing- at the behest of the corrupt Wayne Enterprises board), Gotham ends with that emotional pull that’s the ideal for all TV. That feeling of I need to know what happens next and I need to know RIGHT NOW. Impressive work, Gotham. Now, let’s see if you can keep that going next week without having to knife another major character.
Now, while Alfred is almost assured to wake up from that coma at some point, it’ s not unheard of that a piece of Batman media would kill off fiction’s most notable butler. It’s just not that common.
Batman Beyond would be the instance of Alfred-death most known to the public. And also the least-known, curiously. Alfred is officially stone dead in the Batman Beyond canon (the series takes place in 2039, and Alfred was already pretty grey in the ‘90s). But Alfred- dead or otherwise- is rarely mentioned in Batman Beyond, other than extremely brief, passing references in a tiny handful of episodes.
For something more on-the-nose, you’ll have to flip back to “Detective Comics 328,” published in 1964. In the comic is a story titled “Gotham Gang Line-Up!,” where Alfred takes it upon himself to fight gang violence while Batman and Robin are out of town. Long story short- the superheroes return and the gang drops a boulder on their heads, prompting swift action from Alfred:
In the panels after, Alfred’s death by crushing is swift and immediate (also, I didn’t scan that image myself- credit to those who did).
Eventually, Alfred was brought back into the fold by the powers that be at DC Comics. In “Detective Comics “356,” the truth was revealed: Alfred was never dead at all, and just in a coma. A burst of radiation brought him to consciousness, but it had the unintended effect of transforming him into The Outsider, a Batman-hating villain with psychic powers and skin like a bunch of Superballs glued together. Another dose of radiation (the good kind, apparently) and Alfred’s back to normal- and completely unaware of his time as a horrifying killer mutant.
One other Alfred death in the annals of Bat-History: “Batman: Crimson Mist,” one of three major comic storylines involving Vampire Batman. In “Crimson Mist,” Alfred sacrifices his life and his entire body’s worth of blood to rejuvenate Batman, giving him the strength to horrifically murder Two-Face and Killer Croc. Make of that whatever you’d like.
As excited as I am by all this Alfred drama, there was more to “Red Hood” than just that. Obviously, there had to be some stuff involving a red hood. Again, let’s go to Heller to start us off:
“There’s going to be an episode that involves the Red Hood, which picks up that strand, the costume strand, and sort of gives a kind of philosophical base, if that’s not too pretentious a word. Why costumes? What’s the power of costumes? What’s the power of a mask?”
“Red Hood” makes only one statement about the power of a mask, and it’s not particularly subtle one. Apparently, a mask fills its wearer with sudden, incredible reserves of charisma- and a god complex to boot. We’ve got a Red Hood Gang, which is really just a Generic Hood Gang until one guy shows up with a vibrant red facemask instead of the usual bandana. The second he puts it on, he’s Jesse James. bank robber extraordinaire- until he’s gunned down by a jealous colleague who wants the hood’s power for himself. Then ditto for that guy. Then Gotham runs out of time and just offs the last three crooks at once.
Heller’s quote about the “power of the mask” takes on a bizarre context here, as “Red Hood” takes the idea of symbolic power waaaaaaay too far, almost implying that there’s a legit supernatural power to this handful of red fabric. Also, for an episode that was poised to delve into the psychology of superhero costumes, that was the only thing it had to say. “Masks make people cool; that’s why people where them.”
Instead, this whole Red Hood thing was closer to a topic Gotham’s reflected on before- that Gotham City’s population is so wearied/impressionable/stupid that they’re putty in the hands of any larger-than-life vigilante. The Balloonman was a guy using giant death balloons to strike terror into absolute power gone corrupt. The Red Hood Gang are just five working class guys who got screwed by the bank, and decided to screw back (and while we don’t learn the motivation behind all five gang members, I’m assuming each one is as weirdly adorable as needing startup cash for a pastry shop). There’s no difference between “Red Hood” and “The Balloonman,” other than a heavier dose of cynicism. Crowds love the Red Hood Gang, but only because they throw fistfuls of cash into the air, mid-robbery (and the crowds will nag armed robbers if they take too long to make it rain).
Also, after Heller’s quote about beginning a “long game plan” for the Joker, I was really expecting this week to link back to the Clown Prince of Crime at some point (as mentioned last week, the Red Hood Gang is a crucial part of most Joker origin stories). Instead, we got bupkiss. For a second, I thought Gotham was building a second Joker (the goofier, “squirts you with a lapel flower full of acid”type) in the original Red Hood-wearing robber. He cracked a few manic jokes mid-robbery, and his laugh had kind of a cackle to it. But he was also murdered a few minutes into the episode. So, bupkiss.
Just like last week, the subplots in “Red Hood” were limited to one or two scenes apiece- but at least this week they were a bit more substantial (well, not Barbara, who gave one piece of femme fatale advice to Selina Kyle and did nothing else). Penguin’s done nothing but bar upkeep for two weeks in a row, but now he’s got Butch Gilzean on his team. And while I’ve said this before, it seems like there’s immense talent in Drew Powell that’s been held in by the fairly limited role of Butch. Now that he’s switched sides, forcibly, via brainwashing, there’s a wealth of new material Gotham can push him into. Butch is done being a sidekick- Gotham shouldn’t to treat him like one, either.
Also: Penguin’s bartender admits the bar has no booze and everything on the top shelf is just water and food coloring. Moments later, Butch makes himself known, nursing a glass of whiskey. Was that actually whiskey? I think he was sipping colored water just to look cool.
Then, finally, there’s Fish Mooney. I think after three straight weeks in… wherever the hell this is, I’ve said all that can be said about nothing in this storyline making a lick of sense. Instead, here are a few brief updates:
- The dungeon is actually at the bottom of a Victorian looking medical facility.
- The facility is run by The Dollmaker, who terrorized Gotham in episode two without ever appearing onscreen (when he does, he’ll be played by Colm Feore).
- The career of “horrrifying nightmare butcher” was thrust upon the Dollmaker as a child, as his last name is “Dulmacher.”
- Fish, when given the options of “being murdered” or “being left alive with your eyes removed,” gouged out her own eye with a spoon. I get that the entire point of this scene was shock value, but the bad guys just told her that murder was their Plan B. She has done absolutely nothing to make that option less feasible.
- Jada Pinkett Smith will be wearing a stylish eyepatch in all future Gotham appearances.
And that should do it for “Red Hood.” Let’s end with a shoutout to whoever it is on Gotham that’s a massive Tarantino fanboy. I saw your Fruit Brute in weeks past. I saw that bank cop empty a revolver at the first Red Hood and miss with every shot. I saw Fish smoosh an eyeball under her foot. Whoever you are, keep up the good work.