For better or worse, a successful episode of Gotham is contingent on its crime-of-the-week. In “Red Hood,” Gotham handles this task with grace, putting forward an uncommonly exceptional episode of television.
Gotham has a serious problem with corruption. We’ve seen bits and pieces of how this affects its citizens—corrupt police, mob influences and rampant unchecked crime. This time we get the big picture. Gotham has bred a disparaging wealth gap and created a system of desperation, and these differences have led people to believe their only hope is theft and bribery.
The city and its people finally take center stage and it pays off. This focus allows for a powerful episode with a strong central message about how systemic corruption damages the community. Severe class divisions force citizens to engage in desperate acts like bank robbing.
Thus the Red Hood is born.
What is intriguing about the episode is that showrunner Bruno Heller succeeds where he did not last week. The Red Hood is a canon villain but Gotham manages to break away from the issues it had with its two-part Scarecrow episode. “The Hood” is used as a tool. The character becomes a way to explore the corruption in Gotham and its effects on its citizens. This creates a compelling episode with a clear story and even some character development for Alfred.
The “Red Hood” features two main stories. On one hand, Red Hood and his bank robber comrades organize a heist; on the other, Alfred’s (Sean Pertwee) old war friend, Reginald Payne, pays a visit. These plots are distinct but focus on similar themes: how wealth inequality, greed and corruption impact classism.
In a fast-paced opening that feels like it was ripped from Ocean’s Eleven, the robbers approach a bank. One of them puts on a red hood to protect his anonymity and is met with ridicule. He lets those jeers roll off his back. In the bank, the Red Hood takes over the robbery from the group’s established leader. He is charismatic, humorous and in control, and it’s all due to to his ostensibly silly outfit. He and his cohorts assure the terrified patrons that they are there for the bank’s money and not their own. He explains that these banks are insured out the nose, and therefore “it’s time to return the favor.”
The robbers quickly leave the bank, only to discover that they’re surrounded. In a moment of inspiration, the Red Hood throws the money to people on the street saying it belongs to them anyway. A witness later notes to Bullock (Donal Logue) and Gordon (Ben McKenzie) that he seemed “nice and only wanted the bank’s money and he gave some to the people on the street.” Gordon is quick to correct the witness that Hood only threw the money to cover his escape.
Bullock and Gordon’s detective work is finally getting better. Gordon is able to figure out who the Red Hood is by using Bullock’s glasses to grab the name of the garage he works at. Though of course, as with every Gotham episode, their one lead is conveniently killed before they can have any major impact on the case.
While the Red Hood thread progresses, Alfred and Reginald reconnect at Wayne Manor. There is an insinuated backstory between the two that generates interesting tension. We learn that Reginald is in a lot of trouble and needs money. Alfred catches him stealing from Bruce and is outraged; if he needed money, why didn’t he ask? Reginald replies simply, suggesting that the system is broken and he feels the only way to gain money is through theft. Evil begets evil.
The idea of the Red Hood is what makes the episode great. The outfit is a symbol. It doesn’t matter who’s wearing it because as long as it exists, that means there is a problem in Gotham. If citizens feel they need to steal to get by, there’s a problem in Gotham. This central message is what makes the “Red Hood” a refreshingly strong episode. And this outfit idea is also something that plays into the Batman mythos, too, as Batman himself becomes an avatar for justice in Gotham.
Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) doesn’t have a lot of screen time this episode, but her impact is strong. She comes up from her basement dwelling to what appears to be some type of asylum. A long shot of her stalking down the hall highlights her power through her domineering march. She appears before the spokesperson for “The Doctor,” the owner of the establishment.
The Doctor’s second-in-command tells Mooney that her basement-dwelling subjects will be killed and that she’ll have nothing to rule over. Alternatively, she can give up her eyes for the sake of experimentation. Mooney responds, “You forgot the third option.” She promptly takes a spoon, carves out her own eye and proceeds to step on it so they cannot use it. It’s a shocking moment to say the least, but Mooney gets her message across. The only way to break her control over the other prisoners is to kill her, something not likely to happen any time soon.
Since Maroni (David Zayas) isn’t in this week’s episode, I have had to find a new favorite character to talk about. So far Butch (Drew Powell) has been “a sidekick” and is sick of the role. Since Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) has been consistently losing power, Butch decides to step up and save Mooney’s establishment. He has worked too hard to see it fail and is sick of watching from the sidelines.
These emotions read loud and clear on Powell. The attitude he brought this week transformed Butch into a more three-dimensional character. And he wasn’t the only one; almost every person this week was treated to some form of character development, reinforcing Gotham is successful when it focuses on its people. In that way, “Red Hood” reminded me of “The Spirit of the Goat,” another wonderful episode that thrived because it focused on character development.
Ultimately, Gordon and Bullock bring down the last member of Red Hood’s gang in a police shootout. The outfit lives on. A kid finds the hood, puts it on and pretends to shoot the police. The message is obvious: as long as the city of Gotham revels in immorality, there will always be someone to wear the hood.