With a name like “Kristen Kringle,” you’d think that Ed Nygma’s love interest on Gotham might have a more compelling storyline ahead of her – beyond just being Edward Nygma’s love interest, that is. So far, though, every story-line involving Kristen Kringle has made me cringe. The love story developing between Kristen and Ed has disturbing implications, and if you ask me, it’s a far cry from romance.
Thus far, Kristen has been positioned as naïve, imperceptive, and in need of Ed’s rescuing. So far on Gotham, Kristen has dated two abusive men in a row. The first guy, Arnold Flass, was a bully and a crooked cop who eventually got arrested for his misdeeds. After that, Kristen started dating another cop named Tom Dougherty; when Ed sees bruises on Kristen’s arm, he asks her about them and she admits that Tom did the deed. However, she downplays the abuse, claims it’s her fault, and tells Ed not to get involved. So, naturally, Edward Nygma hunts down Tom Dougherty, murders him right in front of Kristen’s house before the two are about to go on a date, covers up the murder, lies to Kristen’s face about it, and continues to pursue Kristen Kringle as a romantic interest with renewed vigor.
Throughout the entire run of the show thus far, Kristen Kringle has rejected all of Ed’s numerous advances. This isn’t a situation where Ed is too shy to tell Kristen his feelings. Ed already has made his intentions very clear to Kristen, several times, and each time, she has rejected him. He’s given her gifts, all of which she has refused and returned to him. Every time he’s asked her to spend time with him outside of work or have a longer conversation with him, she either refuses outright or reminds him she’s dating someone else or exits the conversations as gracefully as possible. From time to time, Kristen does appear to be humoring Ed, such as when he gives her a broken pencil and she tells him he owes her a new one. But “humoring” is not flirting. Their relationship, to me, comes across as completely one-sided. I believe Kristen would be much more comfortable if Ed treated her as a friend, or at least a coworker, rather than a romantic interest. But he has not, and has not respected her requests that he tone down his advances towards her.
So, as far as Kristen Kringle is concerned, Edward Nygma is a creepy guy at work who she can’t escape, and who regularly makes her feel uncomfrotable by continuing to inappropriately flirt with her in spite of how many times she has rejected him. Because the two must work together, and because the Gotham PD does not seem to have an HR department of any kind (let alone competent organization), all Kristen Kringle can hope to do is humor this guy and hope he doesn’t get angry at her and attack her. Given the other men in her life, it makes sense that she would want to humor him and not upset him.
Gotham almost never shows us Kristen’s point of view, though. I’ve extrapolated it as best I can, here, but we aren’t privy to her private thoughts or back-story. By contrast, the audience is continually invited to sympathize with Edward’s point of view, framing him as a misunderstood nerd who deserves love. It might be a romantic story, if Kristen seemed even remotely interested in return, but she isn’t – and it’s becoming increasingly hard to understand why Ed doesn’t get that. It’s making him a less and less sympathetic character, at least to me, but I think I’m actually supposed to sympathize with him, given how often this sort of story comes up in media.
Except for the whole “murder” bit. That’s a new twist, right? Let’s talk about that.
Because Kristen Kringle has dated abusive men, the murder of her boyfriend – throughout which, again, the audience is invited to sympathize with Edward Nygma’s point of view – gets positioned as somehow acceptable. The story here bears similarity to other nerd-makes-good stories, such as the plot-line of Little Shop of Horrors, in which the geeky main character has a crush on a woman with an abusive boyfriend … and that boyfriend does get killed. In Little Shop, though, our hero doesn’t commit the murder himself; he merely stands by while it happens, panicking throughout about whether or not he should interfere. The entire plot then revolves around whether or not killing someone could potentially be the “right” thing to do, if that person is “bad.” It’s eventually implied by that musical’s ending that ANY violent act can become intoxicating, difficult to resist, and ultimately an unwieldy toxic beast that will grow out of hand.
Gotham‘s storyline follows some similar beats, but unlike Little Shop, Ed’s emotional arc lacks nuance. In Little Shop, for example, it’s implied that the hero’s love interest has had enough of her relationship but isn’t yet sure how to get out. In Gotham, however, Kristen Kringle is in quite a different position. She’s still in love with her boyfriend, and she hasn’t yet accepted that she deserves better (Edward Nygma, by the way, is NOT a better option – but I’ll get to that later). There’s no suggestion on Gotham that Kristen is yet ready to leave her relationship, nor has she truly confided in anyone else about feeling any doubts about her boyfriend. By killing Kristen’s boyfriend, Edward makes it clear that he doesn’t actually care about ensuring Kristen’s safety – he believes he knows what is best for her and that she isn’t capable of making her own decisions about her life. He thinks the best thing to do is to remove the choice from her life entirely, to make it for her without even asking.
Because Kristen has dated more than one abuser on Gotham, I feel like I already understand a lot about her character, if only from my own anecdotal experience. Some people are attracted to abusers because it’s the only type of love they’ve ever experienced before, and so to them, it feels “normal” and even safe. There’s a lot of research on how those patterns work, and they can be incredibly difficult to overcome. It’s incredibly hard to “wake up” and realize that what has been happening is abuse, as opposed to just a one-time incident, an accident, and so on. It may take many such incidents before a pattern can be observed and understood, and recovery is slow. It’s important for friends and supporters to listen and let the person experiencing abuse work this out, rather than alienating them or blaming them for not figuring it out sooner. Friends should say statements like: “I’m always here for you,” “You can always stay with me if you ever want to,” and “If you ever want to talk to me about this, I’m listening and I’m not judging you.”
It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that Ed doesn’t do any of those things for his “friend” Kristen. Of course, he probably isn’t well-versed enough on this topic to know what he is supposed to do, and since he’s a Batman villain, I guess the writers thought it would make sense for him to leap straight to murder as a solution. But murdering Kristen’s boyfriend won’t solve the problem. It won’t “save” her. She needs a real friend, not someone who doesn’t actually care about her beyond as a sex object – and I can tell that Ed doesn’t care about Kristen, because he’s already ignored every other thing she’s said to him.
So, clearly, Ed Nygma wouldn’t be a good boyfriend choice for Kristen, right? That seems obvious. Ed mistreats her in many ways as it is, although he would likely not see it that way. His tendency to constantly refer to her as “Miss Kringle,” rather than by her first name, reminds me of the jokes people tell about “Nice Guys” online who call women “m’lady.” (It’s also why I’ve chosen not to call Kristen Kringle “Miss Kringle” at any point in this piece, although it’s difficult, since Ed is the only person on this show who says her name.) The reason why women mock that behavior is because it’s very condescending to put women on a pedestal and frame them as old-timey damsels. Remember decades ago, when women had fewer rights? I prefer to live in an age where chivalry isn’t gendered, thanks.
Ed keeps deluding himself into thinking that if he treats Kristen in a particular way, he’ll wear down her defenses (gross) and she’ll fall in love with him (that’s not how it works). We all know the “Nice Guy” mantra: “All women want abusive jerks who treat them like garbage. As for me, I’m a nice guy! But no woman will have me.”
There’s a difference between falling in love with a good friend who just doesn’t feel the same way about you — we’ve all been there — versus falling in love with someone and refusing to listen to them when they say they don’t feel the same way and they desperately want you to leave them alone.
The latter describes Edward Nygma’s story, to a tea. He doesn’t understand that maybe he isn’t as nice as he thinks he is, nor does he deserve to be in a relationship with anybody until he shapes up. He’s been pursuing a disinterested woman who can’t escape him with no sign of stopping. He doesn’t actually seem to care about her well-being, except if it eventually leads her to be with him — regardless of whether or not that would be any good for her. Ed’s idolization of Kristen Kringle is entirely about his feelings and disregards her agency entirely.
There has been one moment between these two that surprised me: the scene in which Kristen Kringle suspects that Ed murdered her boyfriend and confronts him with a clue. He denies all involvement, and for some reason, she eventually believes him. I loved seeing her confront Ed; I never expected Gotham to let Kristen be smart enough to figure out Nygma’s game, since the women on this show almost never get to do much of anything. But almost as soon as this scene began, it ended, with Kristen accepting that she must have been mistaken, and Nygma smiling to himself.
Are we supposed to think that deep down, Kristen knows that Ed killed her boyfriend – and that maybe she’s secretly okay with it? In the current season, Kristen has been kind to Ed multiple times, even though in his private moments, we see Ed increasingly losing his grip on reality. It seems, unfortunately, as though Ed is being set up to be the next in Kristen Kringle’s chain of abusive partners – but will it be clear to the audience that this is what’s happening, and that Ed is just as bad as every other partner Kristen has had? Or will the show expect us to sympathize with Ed throughout this, as though his downfall is somehow tragic — as though if only Kristen had loved him like she was “supposed” to, then he never would have turned evil?
We know that Edward Nygma is going to turn out to be the Riddler, and a villain, but we don’t know how that storyline will take form. I worry that Kristen Kringle will play the role of damsel once more on that journey – and that her journey will end in death, rather than recovery from her past.
Thus far on Gotham, Kristen has had no agency at all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have a dream ending for her. I know it won’t happen, because the women on Gotham almost never get to do anything, but I would love to see Kristen Kringle’s name turn out to be a hint – perhaps an eventual clue to a super-heroic (or villainous) persona that she could adapt. I would love to see her rise above the bullshit hand that she’s been dealt up until now, and have a real recovery arc — or perhaps a redemption arc or a revenge story. There are a lot of different ways that could pan out. But there’s been absolutely nothing to indicate that Gotham would follow any of those paths. In every scene, Kristen is presented as a foil to Ed’s feelings, an object onto which his own self-loathing and insecurity gets projected. Unless “Nice Guy” Nygma leaves her the hell alone, I have a bad feeling that Kristen Kringle is going to be stuck with a not-so-nice ending.
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