Gotham: The Penguin’s Umbrella review

Victor Zsasz comes to Gotham, Gordon has to face the music, and The Penguin keeps rising in this week's Gotham.

This Gotham review contains spoilers.

I’ve finally figured out Gotham‘s problem. It has nothing to do with the subjectivity of “good” or “bad” or what I, personally, like or dislike. The problem I have with Gotham is that the things it does well, it does really well, and then there are…those other things. That’s not even the real issue, though. That issue comes from this: what it does well one week isn’t necessarily what is done well the following week. 

“The Penguin’s Umbrella” is as good a case study as any. I have occasionally (okay, often) complained that Gotham should pick a direction. If it’s going to be a gritty procedural, it should do it. If it’s going to be a skewed, over-the-top cartoon, it should embrace that. If it’s going to blend, then that better be smooth as can be, because as it stands, I continue to get whiplash as the tone shifts from scene to scene. 

“The Penguin’s Umbrella” does quite a bit right this week, though. There’s no case of the week to be solved. It’s all about Gordon trying to work his way out of the noose around his neck, and watching the Penguin continuing to weave his rather impressive web of deception. The mob war story is moved along really nicely, and for at least a little while, it felt like there were going to be actual consequences to Jim’s actions from earlier in the season.

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The gang war remains the strongest story point, mostly because criminals behave exactly like we expect them to. Sal Maroni has grown on me considerably, and he gets a number of terrific lines this week (“I like this fella, but we’re talking about a warehouse on the river”), while Fish Mooney does her best work the more embroiled in this conflict she gets. It’s only when she steps too far outside this budding war that I occasionally feel like she’s wandered in from another show. I praise John Doman’s Carmine Falcone every week, but I promise, just one more time…he really carried the last third of this episode. Even Butch Gilzean, who we haven’t spent much time with, gets to give us the creeps with his rapey advances on Barbara and deliver some quality gangster dialogue (I’m referring to the “beating or a bullet” bit). 

But still rising above them all is The Penguin. There is really no questioning that this is Robin Lord Taylor’s show. Oswald’s skeevy blend of obsequious and psychotic is a wonder, and more than anything else, it’s what keeps me tuning in. While with nearly everyone on Gotham, we know where they end up, it’s Penguin’s journey that so far is the most interesting to actually watch. I’d like to see them figure out how to do this for at least two other characters this season, and then we’ll be in business.

You see, once we get over to the right side of the law, once again, Gotham falls apart.

The moment that ultimately taints this episode, which really just sums up a problem that seems unfixable, is the confrontation with Victor Zsasz in the middle of GCPD HQ. I don’t care how corrupt this department is, you don’t let a hitman walk into the joint, announce his presence and his intent (and who he works for!), and then do exactly as he says. Right before, y’know, a gun battle breaks out. Let me put this in perspective:

Just as the cops on the 1960s Batman TV series (which finally arrives on Blu-ray next week) were hilariously, cartoonishly, impossibly incompetent, so are the cops on Gotham hilariously, cartoonishly, and impossibly corrupt. I have an easier time believing that a twelve year old boy will become a cross between Bruce Lee, James Bond, and Dracula than I do the idea that fifty armed police officers would simply stroll out of the station because this guy told them to. There has to be some nuance in this department, otherwise it all becomes meaningless, and that’s exactly what happened here.

What’s worse, the fact that things have come to this very public head, and with Gordon as this show’s amalgam of Elliot Ness and Frank Serpico, barring a complete and total turnover of the police force (not to mention the politicians, etc) how on earth is this guy ever going to get anywhere? Gotham, we get it. The GCPD is more corrupt than your average pigpen. The politicians in Gotham City are even less trustworthy than the clowns we turn out to vote for every few months here in the real world. We’ve understood this from week one…maybe week two if some of us are a little slow on the uptake. You can stop with the caricatures now.

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Gotham still has a pulse. This episode proved that. It never dragged. There was some great dialogue (I’m willing to forgive and forget the fact that Jada Pinkett Smith uttered the line “snitches get stitches” with a straight face), and for most of the night, the show played to its strengths. I sometimes feel like we’re just one little push away from this show finding its stride. 

Gotham Central

– Victor Zsasz isn’t quite the serial killer (yet) that we’ve come to know from the comics, but his propensity for self-harm is already in place. He was, ummm…a very ’90s comic book villain, and first appeared in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1 in 1992, created by the great Batman team of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. 

He popped up in Batman Begins (played by Tim Booth). Tonight he was played by Anthony Carrigan, who also played The Mist on The Flash episode, “Things You Can’t Outrun.”

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2.5 out of 5