07 “Penguin’s Umbrella” (Gotham season 1) [SPOILERS]


Cliffhangers were not something I was expecting Gotham to pull out of its hat, to be honest with you. Not midway through a series. Certainly not like last week’s.

No spoilers above the line, but to say that it took my by surprise doesn’t really reveal anything. A while back Jeremy Tolbert, a writer friend of mine, suggested that if Gotham wanted to be really bold, it might close out its first season with the death of young Bruce Wayne, splitting itself off into an alternate reality in which Batman could never have existed.

That is, obviously, the one-stop train to cancel-town. But it does raise an interesting question: how much can Gotham tread on Batman-lore in its efforts to beat its own path? It has already done so around the edges — not so that anyone would really notice, but some of the fans are unhappy.

But if one of the major criticisms of the idea of Gotham has been that its destination is predetermined, then the antidote to that particular poison is surely to embrace (as the comics regularly do) the rewriting of scripture

Just a thought.

After the cliffhanger last week, with Gordon in handcuffs for Cobblepot’s murder and the Penguin himself presenting himself as alive, Harvey is unhappy with his partner. As is Fish Mooney. And the mob generally. After rescuing Barabara from Mooney’s thugs, Gordon sends her out of town and gets to work on a plan. Basically, he plans to arrest Falcone and the Mayor for conspiracy to frame Mario Pepper in the first episode. Hunted by mob agents, helped by the few good cops in the city, Gordon tries to stay alive long enough to die in the attempt, as Cobblepot manipulates the whole mess to his advantage.

Okay, so I loved this episode. It managed to cram in comic book levels of action, along with a very tense storyline, and what feels like a welcomely early pay-off. The tension between Gordon and the corruption in Gotham could have simmered all season long, but it would start to feel like a damp squib. Blowing it up in episode seven is risky, sure, but that conflict hasn’t gone away for the explosion of violence.

The episode itself is pared down at its narrowest to the two journeys: Gordon’s and Cobblepot’s. Whereas Gordon is a mess, Cobblepot actually feels in control. He antagonises the two mob families to the point of war, before brokering a peace. Robin Lord Taylor’s face is perfectly coniving, and having acquired his signature umbrella, he looks every bit the kingpin in waiting.

And despite the fact that this episode was full to the brim with action, they still found time to nod at the canon. Who does Falcone send after Gordon? None other than Victor Zsasz, the serial killer who is one of Batman’s adversaries. He shows up, scares the entire police force out of the police station, shoots Gordon twice, and executes a cop when his target escapes — before taking out a stanley knife and adding another mark to the tallies on his arm. A small hint, but cool and scary nonetheless.

As for Gordon, his plan is insanity, but the death and glory aspect of it appeals to Bullock. His goodbye to Bruce, convinced he will die, is touching (Bat hug! -Ed). But he throws it all away when Falcone says he has Barbara hostage. No proof. Just his word. And, of course, he does.

The episode is called “Penguin’s Umbrella” though, and there’s a damn good reason for that. Although it is clear throughout that Cobblepot has a plan, the grand scale doesn’t become truly clear until the end. He antagonises Mooney, he manipulates Maroni into attacking and killing Falcone’s Russian lieutennant (and Mooney’s secret lover) Nikolai, before killing Maroni’s number two Frankie himself.

The reveal in the closing scenes, though clumsy in terms of the flashback mechanism, was a beautiful twist. That he gave all his secrets up to Falcone in the first episode in exchange for the mob boss ordering Gordon to kill him, in the hope that Gordon would show mercy, is bananas. But no more than him, having been proved right about Gordon, working his way into Maroni’s organisation as a snitch for Falcone.

Of course, Penguin is working for himself. How isn’t clear yet, but he asked Don Falcone to spare Gordon for a reason. And almost certainly not the one he gave.

A stonking episode of Gotham. It can’t do this every week, granted, but it pulled it out early enough that it shows what Gotham is willing to do. It also speaks to the corruption that this show is really about — what, you thought it was about kiddie supervillains? — that after everything that happens here nothing much has changed. If Gotham can keep up the sort of tension, and the freedom of its storyline, that it showed in this episode then I will be watching for a long time come.

Closing thoughts:

  • Victor Zsasz’s ringtone is “Funky Town”. Because of course it is.
  • I’m impressed that Jim Gordon actually got shot. Usually in these things hails of gunfire are non-deadly to heroes, due to some┬ákind of Stormtrooper syndrome.
  • “Hello, I’m Barbara Kean, I will be your damsel in distress for my entire time on this show.”
  • Thinking along the alternate timeline lines I mused on at the top, I suppose Gordon’s plan could have worked. He could have taken out political corruption, organised crime, and changed Gotham’s destiny at a stroke. He could have been immediately made Commissioner, grown a fetching moustache, and every episode of Gotham could henceforth have been about him deciding what to have for lunch. Could.

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