When you cross Gotham’s biggest crime bosses, you pay the price. Gordon (Ben McKenzie) learns this lesson in Gotham‘s best episode to date. After the momentum from last week’s episode, “Spirit of the Goat,” Gotham is finally getting somewhere.
“Penguin’s Umbrella” gets off to an explosive start. Pulse-pounding music overlays a scene where a desperate Gordon tries in vain to reach Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). He gets there too late; Mooney’s men already have her. This sequence is juxtaposed with Mooney’s (Jada Pinkett-Smith) rage over the news that Cobblepot is alive and well.
Gordon’s frantic phone calls to Barbara are abruptly interrupted by a punch from Bullock. While Bullock chews him for failing to kill Cobblepot, Falcone (John Doman) and Mooney decide how to deal with his disobedience. The opening is fast-paced and well-written.
This week’s episode also features what is easily the coolest villain-of-the-week for the series thus far. Victor Zsasz marks the appearance of yet another classic Batman villain in Gotham. Anthony Carrigan is perfectly creepy as he embraces the character’s eerily polite mannerisms.
In the comics, Zsasz is famous for marking himself after every kill. So when Don Falcone orders him to deliver Gordon alive, we know there’s going to be a twist. And as Zsasz points out, “Alive is a very broad term; a man with no hands can still be alive.” Carrigan’s delivery of that line sent chills down my spine. Victor’s upbeat ringtone perfectly cements his overall creep factor.
While Mooney’s men try to track down Gordon, they also decide to send a message to Sal Maroni (David Zayas) by robbing one of Maroni’s gun trucks. The exchange between the drivers and Mooney’s men is hilarious. The goons offer them the choice of a bullet or a beating, but the drivers ask why they need to choose either option.
Mooney’s men respond, “So they know it’s serious.” “We’ll tell them it’s serious,” the drivers shoot back. There is a kind of innocent lightheartedness to the scene, a tone writer/creator Bruno Heller has previously (and ineffectively) relegated to Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith).
Robin Lord Taylor’s direct performance and cool empathy as Oswald Cobblepot continue to make for some great TV. This is especially evident in scenes between him and Mooney. Every glance they share is filled with delicious sarcasm and contempt. Heller has realized that the counterbalance moments to the darker elements of Gotham don’t have to skew over-the-top and goofy. Subtlety is always more appreciated.
At the start of “Penguin’s Umbrella,” it appears as though Gordon and Bullock’s partnership is over. Gordon’s betrayal infuriated Bullock; the trust between them is broken, and now Bulock has to face the repercussions of Gordon’s moral compass. Nevertheless, Gordon eventually convinces his partner to stand with him against Mooney and Falcone. I wonder if Gordon’s strong sense of justice is changing Bullock back into the old, more idealistic guy we saw last episode.
As Bullock and Gordon try to come up with a plan, their warm banter previously seen in “Viper” makes a welcome reappearance. Bullock’s best moment is when he drunkenly stumbles in to Gordon’s apartment with a lady named “Duchess.” As Gordon tries to figure out how to handle Mooney and Falcone, Bullock chases after “Duchess” in a game of “Marco Polo.” Bullock may have some good in him, but his careless side remains a constant factor. This unpredictability makes him both a pleasure to watch for the audience and a bit of of a wild card for Gordon.
The detectives decide to arrest the Mayor (Richard Kind) for conspiracy and attempt to do the same to Falcone. This whole sequence is one of the strongest in the episode. The move is ballsy, slightly humorous and displays Gordon’s drive to do the right thing no matter who’s involved.
The biggest “out of left field” moment is the revelation that Cobblepot has been informing for Falcone since the first episode and playing Maroni from the beginning. An alliance between Falcone and Cobblepot seems dangerous, but Cobblepot clearly knows how to use his questionable talent of snitching to his advantage.
Although this episode mostly works, it does falter during the showdown with Zsasz. There is simply no tension in the moment where he manages to kidnap Barbara. Not enough had been done with Barbara for me to care about her fate. Heller might have meant for the scene to foreshadow Barbara Gordon’s fate at the hands of The Joker, but for the moment, the standoff didn’t quite grab me.
The strength of “Penguin’s Umbrella” is how it handles only a few storylines in a calm, deftly-written manner. This episode is a far cry from Gotham‘s first few episodes where the writers struggled to include every character each week. Now that Heller has slowed the series down, we can easily focus on one or two plots at a time.
It would see Gotham has found its footing. It is possible that Heller’s collaboration with Bed Edlund last week helped him solidify the show’s newfound pace, but it’s too early to tell. We’ll just have to wait to see how next week’s “The Mask” fares.