We know that Fox’s Gotham is committed to the long game of doing as much of a Batman show as humanly possible without actually introducing Batman, populating its crime-infested city with as many fledgling Muppet Baby supervillains, generically ethnic mobsters, and overwhelmed, morally compromised cops as they can get away with while the Caped Crusader slowly comes of vigilante age. We’ve already frittered away weeks raptly witnessing the Penguin’s meteoric ascent through Gotham’s corrupt food service industry and Catgirl’s continuing adventures in truancy. Gotham’s stalling game is strong. Respect.
Though we’re amused enough by the barrage of road blocks that indefinitely slow the ultimately unstoppable Bat-train to a narrative crawl, the most fascinating part of each episode is the show within the show called The Young Bruce Wayne Chronicles, in which everyone’s favorite billionaire schoolkid takes the occasional meeting with Detective Gordon to talk murder-turkey about his parents’ homicide case, assembles a Wire-style string-and-corkboard matrix of suspects, and simmers in front of a flickering fireplace with the barely controlled rage of the violently orphaned, begging to finally be turned loose upon the infectious filth overrunning his city. Most Monday nights, we just get some nice chitchat with the eventual Commish about the suspicious funding of Arkham Asylum, or a halfhearted plea from butler Alfred to put away his Playskool My First Investigator kit and take a nap, but this week The Chronicles got real in a hurry. And we all need to work through it together.
Let’s speed through the setup so we can get to the good part: Alfred finally sends Master Bruce back to school like a “normal kid,” 1 where he’s immediately confronted by a prepster bully who’s very interested in having the vulnerable fish narrate what it was like to watch his family slaughtered in front of him. 2 Master Bruce’s trigger words of “weirdo” and “mother” are uttered, causing him to ineffectually slap the bully, who laughs off the blow. Does this guy look intimidated? He does not look intimidated. He is calculating the precise wedgie-force necessary to make the new kid poop his pants.
Master Bruce is not a normal kid.
Sample questions: “So your mom and dad got killed, huh?” “Was there guts?”
When Master Bruce is late for his after-school pickup, Alfred intuits trouble. Bruce confesses. Alfred hatches a plan. They drive to the bully’s townhouse.
Let’s slow it down. Here’s where we go dark.
Alfred gives Bruce a gift. A meaningful gift.
“Here, take your dead father’s watch. I’m not going to tell you why I’m giving it to you in front of this bully’s house, but I’d guess that if you wrapped it around your hand, something magical could happen. [Clears throat.] No, not your wrist. Your hand.”
Bruce approaches the bully’s door. The bully answers himself because he doesn’t have a butler. He is a Poor compared to the heir of Wayne Industries. Bruce doesn’t point this out because he doesn’t believe in abusing income inequality, but he could. Soon it won’t matter anyway.
“What are you doing here?”
“Wanna see my new watch?”
“So you can see what time it is.”
“It’s Don’t EVER Talk About My Mother O’Clock!”
“That really hurt!”
“Life is pain. Here, let me show you.”
“Nothing but pain.”
He punches him a third time, for good measure.
“Are you crazy? HEY, BUTLER GUY, HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME!”
“That’s right. He’s trying to kill you. Just remember that the next time you see him. Say to yourself, ‘That crazy kid is coming to kill me, and his butler will just stand there and watch him do it. Maybe I shouldn’t tease him about his parents having been killed in front of him.’ Then check your watch, because you’ll notice once again that it’s Don’t Ever Talk About His Mother O’Clock. He’s got the alarm set. And he will always hear it ringing, ringing. At school. In dark alleys late at night. In the waking nightmare that is his wretched life.”
The bully collects his teeth and scrambles inside. Lesson learned: Don’t mess with the deranged product of a vicious double murder.
Young Master Bruce and Alfred retreat to Wayne Mansion. Bruce reflects upon the lesson he’s learned:
“You know what? I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, but I really enjoyed nearly killing that kid.”
“Of course you did, Master Bruce. Barely controlled violence is almost always the answer.”
“Alfred, can you teach me how to fight?”
“Yes. Yes I can. And how would you like a fancy belt full of toys to better help you mete out that borderline-righteous violence?”
Bruce thinks for a moment, staring into the roaring fire that brings him comfort.
“I would like that very much.”
And thus Baby Batman is born. No, he doesn’t have all the toys yet, nor the costume. But make no mistake: It’s always Don’t Ever Talk About His Mother O’Clock somewhere. His tiny bat ears can always hear the ringing.
Next week on The Young Bruce Wayne Chronicles: Fighting lessons begin. Master Bruce nearly eviscerates a cafeteria lady for making a “Can I ’ave some more, please?” joke at our orphan’s expense when he asks for some extra mashed potatoes. The darkness creeps ever closer.