No one can deny that the highlight of the Gotham winter mid-season finale was the game-changing confrontation between Bruce and the Joker Jerome. However, the second most important storyline was the conclusion of the “war” between Oswald Cobblepot and Edward Nygma. After that shocking ending, Nygmobblepot fans are in need of some answers. Mainly: was it queerbaiting?
SPOILERS for Gotham’s “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”
Nygmobblepot was already a popular ship in the fandom long before the show even started to hint at a possible relationship between the characters. Oswald realizing his feelings for Ed was one of the most talked about plot points of the season, and the consequences of the love triangle between Oswald, Ed, and Isabella have been on-going for quite a while.
It’s a tough case with Ed/Oswald because if we are going by the strict definition of “queerbaiting,” then Nygmobblepot ain’t really it:
“In a fannish context, queer baiting (or queerbaiting) is a term used to describe the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans and/or slash fans, but with no intention of actually showing a gay relationship being consummated on screen.” (Fanlore)
The thing is, Oswald canonically loves Edward. It’s not subtext, nor is it simply “hinted at.” There’s no misleading when it comes to Oswald’s feelings. On the other hand, this queer relationship cannot be fully consummated because Ed does not return his feelings. In fact, he might not even be able to:
Cory Michael Smith didn’t only say it’s one-sided, but he also confirmed that Nygma is straight. Of course, one could argue that it could still happen. Sometimes people realize they swing both ways later in their lives. It’s not something that has ever stopped fandom either: Supernatural‘s Destiel is based on the belief that Dean Winchester is actually bisexual, and The 100‘s Clarke also realized her sexuality after she met Lexa. Nygma seemed to have some conflicting emotions when it came to killing(?) Oswald, but then again, that could just be interpreted as him struggling to kill his best friend.
Are there any reasons to claim queerbaiting, then? Well, some fans might not be too happy about cast and crew supporting Nygmobblepot despite knowing it wasn’t going to happen. However, any critiques on the writing should go towards the writers and executive producers, and never towards the actors. Actors just play their role, and they have no saying on what ultimately happens in the story. Both Cory Michael Smith and Robin Lord Taylor have always been very appreciative of the show, the characters they play, and especially of the fandom. The fact that they’re constantly engaging with their fans, and supporting Nygmobblepot fanworks is all the more reason to treat them with respect.
“If they knew Nygmobblepot wouldn’t happen, why engage with shippers on social media?” Well, the truth is that there’s a very thin line between supporting fanworks and deliberately teasing an audience for something that’s not coming. It’s always a matter interpretation, at the end of the day, the actors are also allowed to be supportive of (and even ship!) Nygmobblepot.
So perhaps the question of whether Gotham was queerbaiting or not is not so much based on the characters’ feelings but on the purpose behind this particular storyline as a whole. What was the point of it? What did it bring to the story? We still don’t know what was the point of Isabella’s character, or why she resembled Miss Kringle so much. Was this whole storyline just fanservice to give shippers a slice of Nygmobblepot without actually having to commit to it? The only outcome it’s had is Oswald realizing what loving someone truly means, which will turn out to be pointless if he’s actually dead.
All in all, it’s a complicated question to answer because Season 3 is not over yet. The next episode is all about the Riddler, and there’s also a rumor that the one after that will be called ‘How the Penguin Lost His Power.’ Meaning, there’s a high chance that Oswald will survive (or be brought back to life) and that we haven’t even seen the last of this relationship, whatever it might be. All Nygmobblepot shippers can do at the moment is to continue to support their ship, and wait for the season to wrap up to get the full picture.