This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Gotham Season 5 Episode 3
Last week was a rough one for Gotham Season 5. The second installment of the final season was more of an ADHD descent into befuddlement than it was a proper installment of “No Man’s Land” — what with gangs going in and out, a sorta introduction to Bane, cat’s eyes, Poison Ivy as a druid ghost thing with magic healing seeds, and other bits and bobs of incoherence. But this week, things might be looking up because this, as made obvious by the title, is a Penguin-focused episode. And if we have learned anything for Gotham, it’s that more Penguin is always a good thing.
And sure enough, when the episode opens and Penguin is sung downstairs by a gleeful chorus of loyalists singing the Penguin national anthem, it becomes clear that this one moment is more entertaining than last week’s constant explosions and fighting. By the way, the Penguin anthem is totally going to be my new ringtone.
Penguin is instantly attacked by the Street Demons who blame him for an attack on their territory. The poor Penguin’s chorus is gunned down in the middle of their very patriotic song. We can’t have nice things. Penguin fights back and makes it clear that someone framed him for the attack on his rival gangs, but we have another “Who Did It?” scenario. Is it Nygma? Bane? Jeremiah? Another new player? Who knows! But as long as Penguin (and his adorbs bulldoggie Edward) is involved, I’m on board.
The madness is interspersed with a surprisingly moving moment of quiet, as Bruce befriends the young survivor of the soothsayer’s attack. The boy lost his parents, and Bruce clearly sees his own pain in the boy’s eyes. If Bruce knows anything, it’s that James Gordon is the go-to guy for empathy, particularly for young people who just lost their parents. Gordon shares some words of strength with the poor young orphan with Bruce listening. It’s a great full circle moment that calls back to the first episode of Gotham and Gordon helping Bruce through his darkest hour of loss. Good stuff, Gotham! I knew you had it in ya!
Selina has a new mission now that Ivy’s seed has cured her: find Jeremiah. Bruce volunteers to help Selina as long as she agrees not to murder the maybe-Joker. The future Bat and Cat learn that Jeremiah and his followers have taken up in the Dark Zone, and turned that part of No Man’s Land into a zone of murder and anarchy. See, things really do pick up one the Joker and Penguin are involved! Selina and Bruce’s quest to find Jeremiah lead to an unexpected encounter with the mutant gang from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns! Hell yeah, the dude with the VR looking headgear, the sharks teeth, and the big honking gauntlets comes to life in a great tribute to Miller’s classic.
Of course, Gotham Season 5 thankfully and obviously forgoes the Nazi iconography Miller was so fond of (Swastika pasties just wouldn’t work in today’s political climate for so many reasons). Since being cured, Selina seems to have quite the edge to her as after she fights her battle with the lead mutant, she goes all Ginsu on his mutant ass. Even after he tells Selina Jeremiah’s location, she continues to use her cat claws to make mincemeat out of his shark face. Bruce busts out the bat rope gun for the first time and remedies the situation, but it looks like Bruce is going to have a hard time containing the future Catwoman’s fury. Really, call it fan service if you like, but the fight with the Miller mutants made up for last week’s mess of an episode.
Gotham is just so much more focused this season as all the sides are very clearly presented and all characters are doing stuff for clear reasons rather than just to bang plots together like a hyperactive kid playing with a bucket full of action figures. For instance, Penguin goes after Gordon’s safe zone because all Penguin’s people have abandoned him. Even his bookkeeper Penn and the Penguin chorus (the Gertrude Cobblepot Memorial Choir — awesome) have gone over to Gordon’s side. So Pengie gathers some of the other generic gangs and attacks Gordon Mad Max-style .
With his new gangs and his firepower, Penguin easily takes down the Safe Zone, until Penguin’s new men turn on him, kill Penn and lock Penguin up with Gordon. Oooops. See how much fun Gotham can be when it takes itself just kinda seriously? There’s focus this week and fun character beats, and Penguin — so much scenery chewing, overwrought, awesome Penguin.
But things take a turn for the serious after Penguin is locked up. The orphan lad befriended by Bruce and Gordon helps Penguin and Gordon escape. They quickly take down the gangs that betrayed Penguin and things look peaceful again. Gordon and Penguin make an uneasy peace, Gordon deputizes the young orphan, and Penguin and his pup are reunited — and then Barbara shows up.
Of course, Barbara still blames Penguin for the death of Tabitha, and swears to shoot the fowl criminal. The standoff does not reach a climax, as just at the moment of highest tension, Gordon’s sanctuary explodes — all of it. Everything that Gordon, Lucius, Harvey, and Bruce worked so hard to build is up in flames. And we have another whodunit: who destroyed the only safe haven in Gotham?
Perhaps we need look as far as the Dark Zone where things have seriously turned weird. There’s some kind of recruitment drive going on with a bunch of Catholic school looking kids trying to join Jeremiah’s gang. Running the show is Ecco. You remember her, Jeremiah’s bodyguard and all around badass, resplendent in Harley Quinn garb! That’s right, after what seems like five seasons of teases, the show has finally sprung a Harley Quinn on Gotham fandom.
Like with Jerome and Jeremiah before her, it is unclear if this is the future Doctor Harleen Quinzel or a figure that will serve as an inspiration for the future motley fatale. The use of the word “puddin’” by the maybe Harley would seem to indicate that Ecco’s Harley could be the genuine article. But let me tell you, this Harl isn’t the playful moll of the Dini/Timm era animated series. She pushes her young charges to play a deadly game of group Russian roulette, a game that Selina gets involved in.
Selina doesn’t pull the trigger but she has a knockdown drag-out with Harley in which Selina gets the upper hand. Of course, Bruce doesn’t allow Selina to kill Ecco which causes a rift to form between the would-be young lovers. Selina leaves Bruce handcuffed and alone to go after Ecco Harley and Jeremiah Joker. Bruce and Selina survived their first meeting with the Harley-like Ecco, but to bring down Jeremiah, Selina and Bruce must be on the same page. And they aren’t; they really, really aren’t.
So let’s talk about Francesca Root-Dodson’s kinda, maybe, sorta Harley. Ecco really brings a sort of murderous spirit to her maybe Harley. This is a Harley by way of the Arkham Asylum videogame series. This Harley is even edgier than Margot Robbie’s Suicide Squad Harley. Robbie’s Harley had a sense of loyalty, while Gotham’s Harley is a suicidal, homicidal horror show. It will be fascinating to see what her dynamic with Jeremiah is like once he makes his season five debut. Until then, with so many characters popping up in Gotham almost as an afterthought, Ecco’s Harley is a fascinating addition that should make the uneven series better for her presence.
Even with the arrival of a Harley, let us not forgot whose episode this really was — the Penguin’s. By episode’s end, Penguin had rebuilt an alliance with Jim Gordon (sorta) and due to the fact that it was Penguin who took down the leader of the Street Demons, Penguin became the hero of Gordon’s Sanctuary! The people were chanting Penguin, Oswald was basking in the glory of it all, when Sanctuary was destroyed. So even the vile Penguin suffered a loss when Sanctuary went up in flames, as this week’s Gotham takes a huge step in the right direction.
The Mutants and Mutant Leader were the antagonists of Frank Miller’s immortal The Dark Knight Returns (1986). The Mutant Leader that appears on Gotham is pretty much an exact adaptation of Miller’s monstrous thug. Miller seemed to have a bit of a (ahem) Nazi fetish when designing his mutants, something Gotham obviously stayed away from, but Mutant Leader was pretty damn near perfect.
The Mutants and Mutant Leader have appeared in regular DC continuity as well, battling Batman, Damien Wayne Robin, and Jonah Hex of all heroes (it was a time travel thing). Strangely, this was the first live action appearance for Mutant Leader even though he did pop up in a number of animated projects including The Lego Batman Movie.
Let’s do it. Harley Quinn. Along with Deadpool, Harley is probably the most important mainstream comic creation of the late 20th century. However, Harley Quinn first appeared on a Batman: The Animated Series episode entitled “Joker’s Favor” (1992). Voiced by Arleen Sorkin and created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, when Harley first appeared on kids’ afternoon TV, fandom didn’t know what hit it. From there, Harley became a beloved part of the Dini/Timm animated universe. Harley made her first print comic book appearance in The Batman Adventures #12 (1993) and her first DC Universe comic book appearance in Batman: Harley Quinn #1 (1999). That’s right; it took Harley eight years to become part of the DC Universe, but once she was there, Harley became a beloved player.
Harley’s fame grew thanks to the Arkham series of games and her first film appearance in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Gotham isn’t Harley’s first live action TV appearance, however. She was portrayed by Mia Sara (replacing Sherilyn Fenn who played the character in an un-aired pilot) in 2002’s short lived Birds of Prey series and also sort of appeared in the second series of Arrow. Voiced by Tara Strong, that Harley did not appear on camera. Instead she sasses Amanda Waller from a locked cell. But it was clearly “our” Harley. Whether Ecco is actually the one and only Harley Quinn remains to be seen, but Gotham’s Harley now takes her place in the long and storied media history of Harley Quinn!