A review of tonight's “Gotham” coming up just as soon as I'm a douchebag with the moral high ground…
“Gotham” is a show that has too many moving parts at this point: crimes of the week, the mob war, origin story moments for the supervillains and Lil Wayne, etc. All of these parts have worked well in isolation at different times, but Bruno Heller and company have struggled to make them all work together.
“Penguin's Umbrella” was a busy episode, just in terms of all the moves and counter-moves being made by Gordon, Oswald, Fish and Falcone. But on the whole it was the series' most streamlined – and, not coincidentally, effective – episode to date. No attempt to shoehorn in a proto-supervillain, no Selina, no Nygma, only a little bit of Bruce and Alfred (and an effective scene at that, as Bruce got a fine example of what it looks like when one man stands alone against the darkness). Everything was about the aftermath of Oswald revealing himself to be non-murdered(*), and there was so much tension and surprise to be found in those events that any other stories would have been a distraction.
(*) The pre-credits sequence was very strong, but it still felt odd that we skipped right past whatever it was Oswald said to Montoya, Allen and Captain Essen before he left and Jim and Harvey were set free. On the one hand, it'd just be some variation of “Hey, I'm not dead, so please let my best friend go.” On the other, I imagine it would've been an entertaining scene, especially since the MCU cops have an eyewitness who saw Gordon “shoot” Oswald.
The episode clarified a lot of seemingly self-destructive behavior by Oswald – in particular, revealing his true identity to Sal Maroni – as part of an elaborate plan he had pitched to Falcone during the events of the pilot. And that, in turn, leads to a reasonably plausible way to cut through the Gordian knot the show set up in the pilot when Jim spared Oswald's life. Under most circumstances, there's no way the mob – particularly a mob with such absolute control of local law-enforcement that an entire room full of cops would clear out of their own headquarters to let a hitman(**) abduct and/or murder one of their own – lets Jim and Harvey off the hook for what happened there. But if Oswald is such a valuable asset to Falcone, and if Oswald in turn views Jim as valuable (whether as an asset or a “friend”), I can go with it.
(**) Two notes on this. First, Victor Zsasz is yet another Batman villain, and the show went right into his gimmick of carving a notch on his body for each person he kills. Second, the other cops' willingness to abandon Gordon in such a public fashion – and to let their own precinct get shot up like that – doesn't so much stretch credibility, since Gotham City has to get bad enough that it's going to need a Batman, as it makes things too bad much too soon. If the GCPD is systemically corrupt to this degree, how much worse is it going to get by the time Bruce gets fitted for his cape and cowl?
“Penguin's Umbrella” was, unsurprisingly, another strong showcase for Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald, but it also worked wonders for Ben McKenzie as Gordon. McKenzie's a fine dramatic actor, but too many episodes so far have simply asked him to shout and growl, making both his performance and the character feel one-note. In this one, Jim is angry and desperate, but McKenzie gets to modulate what he's doing, particularly as his circumstances grow more dire, and I think he comes out of the episode as a more compelling main character than he entered it.
I don't expect, or even necessarily want, “Gotham” to turn into a show that's just about the Falcone/Maroni war and the impact it has on our heroes. This isn't the kind of episode the series can, or should, give us every week. But when they do put all the other action on hold, it needs to feel special. For the most part, “Penguin's Umbrella” did.
Some other thoughts:
* I was a little surprised that Bullock wasn't working an angle on Jim when he showed up at the apartment. Last week's episode established that he was a lot like his partner once upon a time, but it still feels like we needed a scene in between Harvey pulling a gun on his partner and Harvey showing up drunk (with the Duchess of Devonshire in tow) ready to back Jim's play.
* The shot of Jim and Harvey carrying their guns under the elevated train tracks looked very much like the famous shot from “The Untouchables” of Ness and his men walking to raid one of Capone's liquor distribution hubs.
* I now want an episode in which one of the nuns who got chained across the road by Butch turns into a vigilante in her own right.
* Some versions of Alfred's origin story in the comics (and the Nolan films) have him as an ex-soldier, which seems to be the approach the show is going with, given how easily he gets the drop on Allen.
* I hope at some point Barbara stops being on the show just to make stupid decisions and further endanger Jim.
What did everybody else think?