'Gotham' Star Breaks Down the "Birth of The Riddler" and Setbacks Ahead

"Someone has to go to jail, and it's not going to be Ed," Cory Michael Smith tells THR of the elaborate scheme behind Monday's episode.
 Nicole Rivelli/FOX

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's episode of Gotham, "Mad Grey Dawn."]

Never mess with a forensic scientist. The latest episode of Gotham showed just how far Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) would go to keep himself from being revealed as the man who killed GCPD records keeper Kristen Kringle earlier this season. Edward went to all the trouble of creating an elaborate series of crimes and threats designed to frame Jim Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie) for a murder he didn't commit.

As Gordon goes to jail, THR talked to Smith about what it's like to go from mild-mannered scientist to criminal mastermind — and whether Ed could ever find his way back.

Congratulations. After two seasons, you turned out to be the guy who finally manages to get Gordon out, and on your first major outing as a bad guy.

Yeah, I go directly for the jugular. I had to take him out.

I was surprised by how playful Ed's plan was. After all, his "evil" side has previously seemed … well, more evil.

We started off his criminal behavior by being a bit violent and grotesque, which certainly is in the comic books, but I think the Riddler most people love is the one that makes games and puzzles and traps. I was very happy when I first read the script, because he's creating quite a complex setup to trap James Gordon and frame him. But I like this color of the Riddler. I think it's what sets him apart from other villains.

Despite all the games, he's still very focused in what he does, though. For all the elaborate scheming, his aim is clear: frame Gordon for the murder and make sure that he can't expose Ed for the death of Kristen.

Well, someone has to go to jail, and it's not going to be Ed. It can't be Ed. Even with Kristen's death being an accident, it's still homicide, and he knows he's going to go to jail [if he was caught]. He just doesn't want to. He's certainly sorry, but this has ignited something in him, and he's not quite figured out what he's going to do.

And, frankly, Jim has never been genuinely nice to him, the friend that Ed has wanted him to be, or the friend that Ed has tried to be for him. Ed's now in this place where he knows that he doesn't want to go to jail, so, basically, he has to take Jim down.

That sounds so clear-cut. It reminds me of the scene in this episode where the reformed Oswald shows up, and Ed essentially brushes him off, because he doesn't have any use for him anymore. Is that fair? Is Ed that much of a sociopath?

That scene with Oswald is difficult because he's a person that [Ed] has admired and looked up to so much, and now he's unidentifiable. He's completely changed, and it's really quite depressing. He was a model for me — I was striving to be like him — but something bad has happened to him.

I do qualify him as a sociopath. As he said to Oswald to break him out of his reverie about his mother, we're all alone in this. Everyone is meant to take care of themselves. That's kind of his outlook, you know?

Now that he seems to have gotten away with Kristen's death, do you think Ed is going to go back to being the lab tech for the Gotham PD? Can he stop what he's started? Outwitting the entire Gotham City Police Department and putting the man he was most afraid of in jail is a pretty great note to go out on.

I think that the fact that this goes off as planned is so cool. (Laughs.) It's really interesting, and the fact that it comes off is really a vote of confidence in himself, you know? I think he wants to stick around and enjoy how people respond to Jim Gordon being in jail, to make sure that he's covered all of his tracks — I think he wants to see everyone try and figure it out, and fail. He wants to relish that.

He has to figure out what he wants to do. He's embraced the idea of being a criminal — and also, this episode shows that he doesn't understand that he's exploring his trademark yet. It's not like he's decided, 'Oh, I am the Riddler, I'm going to be famous for puzzles and I'm going to use a question mark as my calling card.' It just kind of happens. It's the birth of the Riddler, and he doesn't know it yet. This is an exciting moment where he's like, 'I'm really good at this!'

For almost all of Gotham's first year, Ed was this amazingly meek character who was, let's be honest, treated kind of terribly by his co-workers. Going from that version of the character to the one we saw this week had to have been fun.

Oh, certainly. I think there's a lot more confidence in him, which we'll be exploring more going into next season. He was very lost before, and then he got the confidence of, 'Oh, someone's attracted to me.' That was huge for him, and now that he has this faith in himself and his abilities even beyond that. There's a version of the Riddler where he's a showman, he's a villain who really enjoys the intricacies of his games, and of his presentation. I think we're starting to explore that flavor of him: the trickster.

Is that where you want to take him? In the comics, the Riddler has been a trickster, a psychopath, a light-hearted criminal who seems to care more about the puzzles than the crimes, there are so many ways he could develop.

I love this character so much. As I read the comic books, as I was researching the role, I saw that he's been all those things and more, and I think that, depending on what his job may be — as the season goes on he suffers some setbacks — but when he gets back on his feet, he has to make some choices about how to make money and whatnot.

I really like the guy who's creating puzzles and kind of mocking people. The more fun, spirited Riddler rather than the homicidal, murderous one. That's a color that's in our show a lot. As he embraces his talents, I think it adds an extra layer of fun to the show.

Is this some latent puzzler instinct in you coming out, when you say that?

I'm not really into puzzles. I don't have, like, a giant puzzle I pull out at home or anything. I said to Bruno [Heller, Gotham showrunner], "I love this episode so much. It's so smart and so interesting. And you guys did the hard work of working it all out. I just showed up and performed."

Will the Riddler bring more fun into the show as he continues to explore his particularly playful flavor of villainy? Leave your comments below. Gotham airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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