Critics are falling over themselves to praise ‘Penguin’s Umbrella’ as the best episode of Gotham yet. Is the retcon worthy of the accolades?
Let’s bitch it out…
There’s no denying that Gotham has improved over the last few episodes. Last week’s ‘Spirit Of The Goat’ helped to offer some nuance and depth to Bullock (Donal Logue) and highlighted how strong the series could be when it elects to leave behind some of its large cast of characters.
‘Penguin’s Umbrella’ follows in the same vein, streamlining the narrative around the revelation that Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is alive and the reverberations that follow. Keeping the cacophony of future villains primarily off-screen in favour of foregrounding the mob war is another step in the right direction, even if the battle of wills between Falcone (John Doman) and Maroni (David Zayas) hasn’t exactly proven to be the height of narrative excitement. What better way to ramp up the excitement than introduce an Observer-like assassin, Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan)? Early in the episode Victor walks into the precinct like a Wild West gunslinger, orders out the officers and proceeds to shoot up the place like a John Carpener flick. It’s an insanely ridiculous scene, complete with black leather clad sidekick babes who don’t hesitate to kneecap an unfortunate policewoman who wanders by.
Most of Gotham operates in this uneasy space – somewhere between camp, film noir and mediocre procedural. The early scenes of ‘Penguin’s Umbrella’ don’t do much to change this, up to and including pulling two slugs out of a half-naked Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) so that he can spend the remainder of the episode running around with barely a limp or a grimace. It offers Fish (Jada Pinkett-Smith) an opportunity to play out further histrionics and slap Penguin in the face after calling him a “bitch”*. It offers Jim and Bullock the chance to, as Alan Sepinwall suggests, gear up like members of The Untouchables. Gotham is improving, but it’s still relying on lazy plotting and pastiche rather than telling its own story.
*The derogatory female expletive is obviously a reflection of Fish’s disdain for her former underling, but it also problematically reinforces the negative queer reading that is far from subtle in Taylor’s depiction of the effeminate Penguin.
I spent the majority of the episode in a haze of mild-hate mentality. And then we get to that end scene, which completely ret-cons the details of Penguin’s “death” and return to Gotham. By revealing Penguin as Falcone’s mole, series creator Bruno Heller and his team excuse Penguin’s decision to flaunt his return from the grave and his fascination with Gordon, thereby explaining a certain amount of the dumb stuff that weighed the show down between the pilot and now. In a sense the show has hit a kind of reset without abandoning everything that has come before. At this point the question is “where does the series go from here”? Hopefully Heller and his team have worked out some of the kinks that have been holding the show back and can fully embrace the aspects that are working. I’m not head over heels in love with the show like the other critics, but it is finding its way. ‘Penguin’s Umbrella’ is a step in the right direction.
- Now that Falcone has proof that Fish is trying to usurp him, her days certainly seem numbered. It’s clear that Penguin needs to bump off Fish to move up, but things are progressing more quickly than expected. At this point I wonder if Pinkett-Smith will even last the season?
- Anyone else overwhelmed by all of the animals? Fish, Penguin and now we find out that Falcone breeds chickens? Enough!
- Captain Essen (Zabryna Guevara) remains a…complicated character. She tries to warn Jim when the shit hits the fan, but also bows out the moment things get tense. She’s hard to root for.
- I understand the presence of Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) – his interest in getting to the root of Gotham’s evil and his parents’ murder leads to his becoming Batman, etc, etc – but honestly Bruce’s presence remains extraneous. He either needs to be incorporated into the series in a more meaningful way or shelved until there’s a real reason to bring him into play.
- Ditto Barbara (Erin Richards), who exists to complain about her relationship with Jim or re-enact scenes from the Vicky Vale-used-as-bait playbook. Give this chick something to do already!
Your turn: What are your thoughts on the most recent episodes of Gotham? Does the ret-con excuse some of the series’ more ludicrous moments? Is Fish doomed? How can Barbara and Bruce be used better? And does the news of yet more villains coming down the pike fill you with dread or excitement? Sound off below.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8pm EST on FOX