The major problem, amongst many, many problems, with Gotham’s first few episodes was that the show mistook the inclusion of numerous characters and storylines as narrative momentum. It thought it could wink at its audience, skate by on the power of the cultural canon, and whiz some horrendous exposition by us, hoping that we didn’t notice the ridiculous and shaky foundation it was building for a 22-episode season. Last week’s episode included a bit of character backstory, and mostly stuck to a straightforward storyline, and the result, as Oliver Sava pointed out, was the season’s strongest episode to date. While tonight’s episode may not live up to its potentially explosive title, “Penguin’s Umbrella,” it once again shows that Gotham can craft an intriguing and compelling hour of television when it slows down its pace and focuses on juggling just a few characters and storylines at a time.
“Penguin’s Umbrella” largely revolves around the elaborate plans undertaken by Oswald Cobblepot to bring war to the city of Gotham. The show continues to halfheartedly engage with a noir aesthetic, and this episode especially dabbles in the genre. There’s a ton of backstabbing, some tense gun-pointing moments, and even a late-episode flashback that fills in part of the story that we don’t know. It’s not perfectly-paced, but it is a revelation (in relative terms) when considering the mess of plot and exposition Gotham has been delivering on a weekly basis since its pilot.
As the flashback affirms, Cobblepot has been working for Falcone ever since he was caught snitching on Mooney. Now, he’s infiltrating the Maroni family with the purpose of snitching for Falcone. And he’s keeping Gordon alive for his own purposes. “He’ll see the light, one way or another,” he says to Falcone, who can’t help but wonder if keeping Gordon alive is the one mistake they’re making.
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The delight of this episode, like every one before it, is Robin Lord Taylor’s performance. There’s a definite problematic aspect to it that Sava outlined last week–we’re getting even closer to the “demonized homosexual,” especially when those two henchman get that homophobic look in their eyes as Cobblepot kisses his latest victim on the head–but there’s something wonderful about the way Taylor weasels and slinks his way through each scene. He’s selfish, relentless, and his gait is on-point, a perfect combination for any aspiring criminal overlord.
Gordon and Bullock continue to get some welcome banter in as well. Their buddy-cop chemistry is growing with each episode. In “Penguin’s Umbrella,” there’s a looseness and familiarity to their dialogue, and considering that their backs are up against the wall with Gordon’s plan to arrest Falcone and Mayor James, the funny, natural interplay feels like a warranted defense mechanism in regards to the situation they’re in; the buddy-cop formula works best when the two partners are neck-deep in trouble. The raid on Falcone’s house does wonders for seeing Gordon and Bullock as real human beings, as vulnerable, stubborn cops who each have their own reasons for acting the way they do. This is what progress, however small, looks like, and the scene plays tense, even if that tension is undercut almost immediately by a “Funky Town” ringtone.
Despite the smattering of positives, there’s very little stakes in the episode, once again due to a mix of the show’s overbearing mythos and its clunky writing. Barbara getting captured by Victor Zsasz didn’t carry any emotional weight because, for one, Barbara has been an unbearable minor character that’s only there to fuel the plight of Jim Gordon, and two, because the foreshadowing is so on-the-nose. “Are you sure she’s safe?” utters Montoya in another insufferable scene between her and Gordon, all misguided attempts at romantic complexity. “I’m sure,” he says.
Still, despite all the on-the-nose foreshadowing and horrible music cues coupled with stilted dialogue–seriously, when Montoya and Allen show up to save Gordon from Zsasz, they ride in to a triumphant score and ask, “do you need a ride?”–this is an episode that gave the show’s power players (Falcone, Mooney, Cobblepot, Maroni) room to outwit, outmaneuver, and outgun each other. It serves to set the table for more power plays as the show moves forward, and shifts the dynamic of the show as we know it. It also gives us Pinkett-Smith enunciating “bitch” like her life depends on it, Bullock and Gordon acting like real cops, and not a single sight of Selina Kyle or Edward Nygma. It’s enough, for now.
- Barbara completely foils Gordon’s plan, and the one well-meaning cop on the GCPD gets brutally killed by Zsasz. Don’t be a woman on this show. It doesn’t end well.
- Line delivery of the night from Anthony Carrigan’s Zsasz: “Alive is a very broad category.”
- Jada Pinkett Smith and John Doman should be in more scenes together. There’s a lot of scenery chewing, but also a welcome dose of commanding presence. This show could use more of that.
- So Alfred’s a bad ass? So much so that he can lock an arm-bar on an agent?
- One of Moroni’s truck drivers accidentally lets slip this show’s view of storytelling: “Just tell ‘em it’s serious. No problem.”
- “Honk honk.”
- More on-the-nose moments: “There’s nothing more dangerous than an honest man.” Cut to Gordon loading up a bunch of weapons.