Gotham: "Penguin's Umbrella" (Season 1, Episode 7)

Flabbergasted

 

Wowzers!  It took seven tries, but "Gotham" has finally produced an excellent episode. This one crackled along with serious electricity, not to mention a final twist that, like all good twists, casts everything you've seen before it in a  new light.  Heck, even Fish Mooney was almost tolerable.

The opening sequence has an energy this show simply hasn't seen before. It zips right along. We start with Penguin in his tux walking down the streets of Gotham, two protectors to either side emphasizing his new status in the Moroni mob.

Cut to Fish shrieking "He's alive?" She wants Cobblepot dead, and she wants Gordon brought to her now.

Cut to Gordon on the phone leaving a message for his girlfriend Barbara: "You need to get out of Gotham. Get out right now." He turns to be punched in the face by Bullock, who draws down on him; Gordon has to be killed for letting Cobblepot live. Gordon asks for help. Bullock's parting line is stone cold: "You better hope you never see me again."   

Cut to Barbara being held hostage by Fish's goons. And an ugly lot they are, sniffing her hair while complimenting her apartment, which has always been spectacular. Most people would kill Cobblepot simply for an apartment like that.

Cut to Gordon sneaking into Barbara's apartment to take out Fish's goons. It's a tense, nasty confrontation that ends with Gordon shooting one goon while smashing the other's face in. There's even a nice bit from Barbara of all people. When Gordon tells her she really has to go now, Barbara gives this pitiful little nod that's had all the pretension vacuum suctioned out of it. I actually liked her in that moment.

The sequence above worked like gangbusters. In no small part, that's because it doesn't matter that this is Gotham City or that we have a young Bruce Wayne hanging around who will grow up to be Batman. More real drama that's not simply teasing the future is exactly what this show needs. For once, we aren't just killing a decade or so waiting for the Bat.

Fish wants everyone in a three block radius dead, as usual. Falcone is put out with both her and the Russian tough guy from last episode, Nico. He says Fish may go to Moroni to ask politely for Cobblepot's return. She starts yammering about Gordon, prompting Falcone to tell her he'll send Victor to retrieve Gotham's one honest cop. Fish is icily cut off in mid protect--"I'll send Victor." I like seeing Fish told to shut up. It should happen more often.

Victor is great. Gordon enters a stunned precinct house where everyone expects him to be in Alaska by now. His plan? He's going to arrest the Mayor and Falcone for framing the wrong man for the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Seriously? While he's arguing about that with his boss, bald, creepy-eyed Victor Zsasz enters flamboyantly, flanked by two even more flamboyant hit chicks. He stands atop a desk and shouts "Hey, Jim! It's your lucky day. I'm supposed to take you alive." When Gordon demurs, Vic demonstrates wicked stand-up chops. "Don't be that way. Alive is a very broad category."

Gordon taunts back that this a room full of cops. Victor one ups him again by commanding  "Everybody out." As the crowd hesitates, he screws up a brilliantly disgusted expression to snarl the most awful "Please" you'll ever hear.

Everybody's out. It's a gunfight in the precinct house, followed by hide and seek in the police cruiser parking lot. Gordon is hit twice. He's done for until MCU detectives Montoya and Allen, finally acting like something other than a punch line, roar in guns blazing to rescue him. That leaves Victor to finish off a wounded cop and carve a notch in his arm. There's lots of scarred over notches on that arm. Yikes.

All of that occurs in less than twenty minutes. Nice job. I'm actually watching the show intently at this point. It's amazing what you can do with good writing, solid scene setting, and no lame Edward Nigma crap.

The next two scenes add welcome humor to the mix. Gordon wakes up in a dissection lad at the university. Allen and Montoya brought him there so a cute doctor with attitude could fix him up. Gordon insists he has to leave over her protests. "I have to go now" is wonderfully trumped by "Sure. Some clothes would be good, though." Cut to Fish asking Moroni to hand over Penguin as a gesture of respect. Moroni calls Penguin out. "Come on, Penguin, she doesn't bite." That's followed by a perfectly timed sideways look of doubt. "You won't bite him, right?" If anyone on Earth deserves that line, it's Fish. She is, however, unimpressed by the sincere apology Moroni has Penguin offer: "Bloodshed then. I'm glad. Jolly fat men are so tiresome." Whoa. Even Fish scores in this episode.

We do have to see Bruce Wayne next (I think it's a contractual obligation). Fortunately, the scene is brief. Gordon tells him Montoya and Allen will work the Wayne murder case if Gordon doesn't make it, and he gets a hug. Okay. Back to the good parts.

Penguin is all but transcendent in the next scene. Having promised to strike first for Moroni, he's headed toward Nico's warehouse with Frankie Carbone and two of his boys. They blow the joint while killing Nico. Carbone then turns on the little freak whose got Moroni all messed up, announcing that all he has to do is put a bullet in Penguin's head and say one of Nico's guys did it. Penguin says that won't solve Frankie's problem. When Carbone laughs, Penguin says the key to all things is a man's passion, that if you know his passion he has a problem. Carbone's passion is money, which makes him a skinflint. He doesn't pay his people like he should.

Frankie's two guys suddenly grab him from either side as Penguin pulls out a knife. Such are the perils of not raising the minimum wage. The Penguin is fierce, maniacal, focused and oddly compassionate. "Love conquers all" he says as the blade goes in brutally, twice, then thrice, after which he kisses the collapsing Frankie's forehead. It's a psycho, sickly swell scene. Right there you can see a future crime lord in all his awful glory.

For the finale, Gordon is joined by a chastened Bullock who figures they're both dead anyway. The two walk the streets of Gotham like "High Noon", rifles in hand. They arrest the mayor, using him to get into Falcone's estate, then arrest the big guy himself. It'll make great headlines whichever way this goes down. Falcone compliments them, says he envies them, two men with nothing to lose. He asks if that feels as good as it should.

Damn straight it does.

Time for the bombshell. "So what if I told you Victor Zsasz has a knife to Barbara King's throat." No way. She's out of town. Gordon put her on the bus himself. "She came back, to me, to plead for your life." Falcone told Gordon how life works in the pilot ("Organized crime needs law and order"), but Gordon didn't believe him. Now Gordon demands that Falcone prove he has Barbara. "No, I won't. I want you to believe me."

What do you do, tough guy?

Gordon believes. Falcone and the mayor go free, and Barbara is saved. Falcone lets Gordon and Bullock live as well. Gordon demands to know the catch. "I told you the enemy is not system. It's anarchy. You believed me today, so you'll think about that. The catch is, someday soon you'll see that I'm right."

That's not how "High Noon" is supposed to end.

One last twist awaits. Later, Falcone meets Penguin. In a flashback to the pilot, the captured snitch Cobblepot offers a secret to Falcone if he will do him one small favor. Cobblepot wants Falcone to order Jim Gordon to kill him, because Gordon is the one honest cop in Gotham, the one man with a conscience who might spare him. And why would Falcone do that? Because Penguin will return if he lives, worm his way into the Moroni gang and be Falcone's snitch forever. The secret to be told? Fish is conspiring with Nico to overthrow Falcone.

So Jim did spare Penguin's life.  Penguin then did as he promised to Falcone. And Falcone has now spared Gordon's life because Penguin asked him to.

That's some twisted, "Good, Bad and the Ugly" kind of stuff. It makes for not only a great episode, but it even somewhat redeems the six episodes before it. I don't know if they can keep this kind of personal, "Goodfellows" intrigue going with such intensity, but it would be nice if they can.

**** the Riddler. All hail the Penguin.     

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