'Penguin's Umbrella' Review: Gotham Gets an MVP and LVP
Many are proclaiming themselves Gotham converts after this episode, and it was probably the best one yet. The episode focused on its most fascinating character, Penguin, and kept the action and twists coming throughout the hour. There were far fewer diversions from the central plot, and most significantly, there was no case-of-the-week, which might have been the key to the episode's success. I might be biased, as I'm personally partial to overarching plots over case-of-the-week plotlines as a rule (I might have been the only person on the planet who liked the X-Files mythology episodes), but as I've been saying since the pilot, the show is at its best when it's portraying the sickness of the city as a whole, rather than devolving into an unusually pretty police procedural.
This episode also showed that the writers have a fairly sophisticated take on Gordon's stalwart hero/straight man. Just as good writers prove that marriages don't have to be dysfunctional or dying to be interesting, they prove that the "good guys" don't have to be boring or two-dimensional. Although Gordon is still nowhere near as interesting as Cobblepot, he finally showed some real personality last night. Once Barbara was out of the picture (alas, not for long), he had nothing to lose, and he simply got sick of being pushed around, sick of being a pawn. In that police station firefight (where his fellow police officers completely left him in the lurch, but I suppose it was worth it to make this point), he was quite literally taking on the entire underworld by himself, and had a dry, devil-may-care attitude about his own survival that rendered him far more compelling than he's been thus far.
Whether it's a reaction to Robin Lord Taylor's widespread acclaim or whether this was their plan all along, Penguin is becoming the most important character on the show aside from Gordon. He is ruthlessly self-interested, plays all sides, and he very cannily manipulates everyone around him. He's nothing if not a force to be reckoned with. But the most interesting aspect of his character (besides the fact that he's generally unhinged) is his relationship with Gordon. He admires Gordon, respects him, not in spite of his nobility but because of it. He requested Gordon to kill him, partially because he wanted to save his own life, but also because he wanted to forge a connection with Gotham's white knight. I've said before that part of Penguin's success is his similarity to the Joker from the Dark Knight series, and between calling his murder victim a "cheapskate" in a hilarious soliloquy, his views on "honor among thieves," and his affection for his adversary, this was never more apparent than in this episode. Just as the Joker never wanted to kill Batman, but rather wanted to convince him of the Joker's worldview in order to kill the symbol of Batman, Penguin doesn't want to kill Gordon.Penguin wants to believe that there is good and justice in the world, if only so he can be there to destroy it.
My main quibble with the show is the same as last week, same as the week before: Barbara. Once again, scenes between her and Jim bring the pacing to a grinding halt, once again we haven't seen them be happy enough for them to earn their annoying angst, once again we just don't care about her. The only difference is that this week, she wasn't completely irrelevant, because she actively made everything worse. She knew that Jim had people after him, and that they could use her as leverage against him, which would put him in even more danger, but she came back to Gotham anyway and pretty much ruined everything.
DAMMIT BARBARA #Gotham— Outer Places (@outerplaces) November 4, 2014
This time, at least, she managed to have some kind of function the plot, but only because she made dumb decisions and got taken hostage (as women do) and served as a bargaining chip between the people the show actually cares about. Of course we knew she would come back and ruin everything the second he said, "Don't come back to Gotham," but that didn't make it any less idiotic. We're supposed to think that she just loves him too much to stay away, but it wasn't a selfless decision if she knew she would be putting him in more danger by coming back, which she did. The actress, Erin Richards, seems likable and capable enough, but the writing of her character just keeps getting worse. Her entire purpose in this episode was to be threatened with rape and taken hostage (twice). They haven't even killed her yet, but they're still managing to fridge her. Do better, Gotham.
MVP: Penguin/Robin Lord Taylor
LVP: Barbara, by a mile
-Bruce and Alfred didn't feel entirely necessary to the episode; the writers are doing a slightly better job of whittling down their plotlines and characters per episode but still aren't quite there yet. That being said, David Mazouz is an extremely talented and likable child actor, and the moment in which he told Gordon to stop treating him like a child, but then five minutes later eschewed his manly handshake for a hug, was fairly perfect. Definitely an "I'm not crying, YOU ARE" kind of moment.
-Victor Zsasz made his first appearance, and he did not disappoint. He's a fascinating villain, and if done right he'll be perfect for the "gritty" tone Gotham's going for.
-I love Gordon and Bullock's relationship more every week. Of course Bullock threatens to kill him, but then all is forgiven because why not, and also you let me have sex with a random in your apartment.
-The show is not doing a great job writing women in general. Its male characters get more three-dimensional and compelling every week, but Barbara is Barbara, Montoya is basically a non-entity and all of her motivations thus far have been machinations to keep her in a pointless love triangle. Fish is the only woman on this show who gets a personality, and Lord knows she'll probably be killed off by the end of the season. Forget about the Bechdel test, if we can just have one female character who acts like a human being, is relevant to the plot, can boast a brain cell or two, and isn't a villain, it will be a major improvement.