TV REVIEW: Gotham 1.7 “Penguin’s Umbrella”

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Gotham is at its best when it thinks locally, instead of mythically.

After last week’s lurid one-man redemption arc for Harvey Bullock, episode seven, “Penguin’s Umbrella”, runs with the ball of the previous episode’s cliffhanger to great effect. Gotham seems to finally have realized that it works best outside of the heavy shadows of continuity. While the pilot and subsequent episodes used this continuity as a heavy crutch and gave us a few compelling moments (and a whole block of cheese), but the current weird upswing that started with the pulpy episode five, “Venom”, has shown that Gotham is starting to realize that that kind of plotting won’t sustain it over its now expanded episode order. Gotham is finally becoming its own show outside the shadow of the Bat and that show isn’t as terrible as we all think.

Episode seven’s cold open presents everyone turned up to eleven as the ripples made by Cobblepot’s hilarious proof of life is felt throughout the cast. Fish is tossing vases, Gordon and Bullock are arguing the GCPD locker room, and Barbara is getting shaken down by Falcone’s men. Though it was a pretty glaring plot point to ignore at the end of the previous episode, I still admire Danny Cannon’s expediency when it comes to upping the stakes for the majority of the characters. While last week’s episode benefits from the laser focus on Bullock, episode seven excels with its overall use of the ensemble, with a few outstanding new characters, particularly Anthony Carrigan’s Victor Zsasz. The sudden shock of last week’s cliffhanger finally jolted the showrunner into finally realizing that he has a great cast of characters that he should be using together, instead of just playing favorites like before. “Penguin’s Umbrella” is the first time I felt like I was watching a show about everyone, and not just the villains, though I would be lying if I said they still don’t shine here.

While last week aimed for a Se7en vibe, this week aims for an L.A. Confidential-like crusade for Jim Gordon as he struggles to make a difference amid the craziness stirred up by his refusal to kill Cobblepot. Ben McKenzie’s Gordon has never been more interesting than he is here, wounded and embarrassed in his own bullpen as he flees from Zsasz and scrambles for allies anywhere he can find them. The scene in the GCPD between Gordon and Zsasz is definitely one of the stand-outs of the episode, mainly because it is a rebuke of most every portentous thing that the show has given us before. Gordon sees firsthand the cost of his choice and sees his moral high ground dismissed with a single word from Zsasz. Director Rob Bailey stages each man on a sort of pedestal and shoots the bullpen from a mid-angle so the audience sees and feels each man and woman flooding from the room after Victor dismisses them. Gordon gets a literal example how Gotham and the GCPD isn’t a place for good men like him, but he stays anyway. The show finally SHOWS us how and why Gordon is a good man, aside from just constantly telling us about it.

The show also casts aside the chains of everyone thinking Gordon is a bum and finally gives us the hour of the Allen and Montoya Show that we’ve been clamoring for from the start. As I said before, Gordon is set on the run and forced to make amends with the MCU after they save his life from Zsasz. Now that the murky plot that was the MCU’s case against Gordon has served its never defined purpose, Montoya and Allen are welcome additions to the plot, as is the quick cameo by Dr. Leslie Tompkins, who is apparently getting recast and played by Morena Baccarin later on in the show, which is probably why they never say her name. But I digress. Episode seven benefits heavily from including every character under its roof in on the narrative, instead of treating them like footnotes in the larger history of the Batman like the first group of episodes. Gotham is finally using its characters like characters instead of caption blurbs next to a person on a panel.

Speaking of characters, “Penguin’s Umbrella” also gives us plenty to chew on when it comes to the evil alignment character set, with everyone in full supervillain mode. Robin Lord Taylor’s Cobblepot continues to grow on me, which only adds to the interesting conversation circulating the show on social media in regards to the character’s queer-as-comic-relief overtones. Taylor just owns the frame as he struts and murders and slinks his way up the criminal ladder through this episode; managing even to breathe a manic life into the tired plot of cross/double cross that the episode reveals toward the end. I apparently like my character actors twitchy and weird, and Taylor fits that bill to a tee. The plot also ups the stakes for the coming Maroni/Falcone gang war in the goofiest way possible, with Gilzean (played to sleazy perfection by Drew Powell) knocking off one of Maroni’s gun trucks by chaining a bunch of nuns in the street and debating excessive force with the drivers. It’s like a Batman ’66 episode played straight and I don’t think I have the strength to resist that. Victor Zsasz is also tons of fun to watch, even though I’ve never really dug that character on the page. Anthony Carrigan keeps Victor a boiling pot instead of the jabbering lunatic people seem to love so much. Now that Gotham is expanding its cast, it is nice to see that even some of the larger than life personalities have been toned down a bit to socket better into the somewhat grounded reality of the show.

This has all just been a long winded way to tell you that this show isn’t the garbage show that it has been right now. Episodes five through seven have shown a definite upswing in the overall quality and execution of the show. With slick pilots and other strong offerings in the market all over our TVs right along side it, Gotham is finally finding its unique voice amid the din. Gotham has always been touted as just the show without Batman, and now that “Penguin’s Umbrella” has shown that it can play with the toys and plots that are expressly theirs, I think we may just have something strange and weird and often entertaining every week. That is until they give us a Grey Ghost arc and then it will just be no contest at that point.

NEXT WEEK: Gotham fight clubs and Bruce goes back to school!

Random Thoughts:

-You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Jada Pinkett Smith much this week and that’s probably because she’s been reduced to a purr and a weird outfit. I hate her plot with the Russian and I hate her weird fur vest bra. She deserves better.

-Alfred’s Badass Corner: Not much this week, but he does put Allen in a pretty great looking sleeper hold. This episode was pretty Wayne light this week, but the scene of Gordon introducing him to Allen and Montoya was pretty sweet. David Mazouz continues to be a great little trump card for the show.

-”Honk, honk.”

-I would watch an entire show about Zsasz’s two bondage gear hitwoman associates. They look like they could sustain 18 episodes EASY.

-Bullock starts out this episode as a force of nature and ends it kind of like a buffon, but Logue is still playing the hell out of him. If you think about it, that is kind of Harvey all over though, isn’t it? His “I’m doomed anyway.” brought a wry, sad smile to my face.

-We get a quick mention of the famous toxic waste dump Indian Hill that makes up a small patch of the Arkham land. Please dear Lord give us a Solomon Grundy episode.

-”We might even make the papers.”

-”Jumping catfish!”

– Of course Zsasz’s ringtone is Funkytown. Of course.

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