“Penguin’s Umbrella” ties up some loose ends while Zsasz takes Gotham City to Funky Town.
Gotham has mostly told episodic stories each week and those episodes have dropped details or developed characters to build up the seasonal arc. Unfortunately, it’s become a bit of a mess to keep track of the alignments and true intentions of the show’s fairly large extended cast. A bit disorganized, “Penguin’s Umbrella” cleans up a lot of Gotham’s convoluted plotlines.
It helps that “Penguin’s Umbrella” is a pretty good episode overall. You may not remember all the details motivating the characters, but does that really matter when there’s a shootout in a police station? You may not be sure what Penguin is up to all the time, but it’s hard to not laugh when his “Honk honk” joke doesn’t quite land with mob boss Maroni. And while Victor Zsasz isn’t quite the character from the comics, he’s over-the-top enough to grab your attention.
The episode does lean too heavily on dialogue at times. Characters explain what’s happening instead of letting the audience figure things out for themselves, but that may be unavoidable when a show gets as complex as Gotham has. Hopefully after this week the it won’t get caught up in itself too much.
It is Gotham though, so there are still plenty of just bad moments in the episode. Professional killers that – for some reason – can’t search a parking lot, continuity issues in characterization, and dialogue so cheesy you may not even flinch when someone says “ancient Indian burial ground” unironically. At this point, stuff like this is standard issue with Gotham. Acknowledge it, wince, and move on.
And once you move on, you get decent action, tense moments, and great jokes that make “Penguin’s Umbrella” a fun episode. Almost every character and story has shifted course, but this is still Gotham City. The status quo has been maintained, but now most everyone has new motivations and goals to keep an eye on.
So much happened in “Penguin’s Umbrella” that was built up by the all of the previous episodes that I’m just going to summarize where everyone is by the end of this episode.
Jim Gordon: Right after the Major Crimes team of Montoya and Allen arrested Gordon for the murder of Cobblepot, the man himself walks into the police department. The charges are dropped, but now Fish Mooney, her secret lover Nikolai, and their boss Falcone all want Gordon dead. Rather than run away, Gordon decides to tackle the problem head-on and arrest the corrupt mayor and Falcone. Ben McKenzie (Gordon) delivers his best line of the series so far when his captain asks if he’s crazy, “No. Maybe a little. Feels good.”
Gordon decided the best solution was to die trying to arrest Falcone, but he backs down when Falcone states that he has Barbara, Gordon’s fiancée. And then, for no clear reason, Falcone lets Gordon, Bullock, and Barbara go. After the trauma of the events, Barbara and Gordon have an emotional reunion and now that the truth is out, Gordon won’t be under the weight of MCU’s investigation. He also has a new relationship with his partner.
Bullock: Initially furious that Gordon didn’t kill Cobblepot (Donal Logue adds just enough fear to the character to make his threats against Gordon compelling), Bullock gets drunk and eventually decides to ally himself with the good guys. He figures he’s a dead man either way, so he may as well join Gordon’s side. It’s a sudden switch for the character, and one I expect will remain permanent. While it should create some fun dynamics to see a dirty cop try to go straight while taking on the mob, I was hoping for more background on Bullock’s past, which we likely won’t get now.
Montoya and Allen: It’s brief, but important. Through this entire series, Gordon and the MCU have wanted the same thing: to fix Gotham City. Now that the truth about Cobblepot’s “murder” is out, they can finally start working together, so we’ll see Gordon, Bullock, Montoya, and Allen working to stop the crime and corruption. It also looks like Captain Sarah Essen is starting to come around.
Cobblepot Penguin: It appears Cobblepot has fully accepted the moniker of Penguin. Really, this entire episode is about him. He’s the catalyst for the change and he has some major moments in the episode. When he takes down one of Maroni’s lieutenants, he does it because he knows that guy is cheap, and Penguin simply pays his henchmen more. Robin Lord Taylor has been great this season at appearing weak and scared but then revealing his control over a situation, and he does this repeatedly this episode. By the end, it’s suddenly hard to tell just when Penguin hasn’t been in control.
Falcone: See, in a rather cumbersome flashback, we learn that Penguin has remained loyal to Falcone this entire time. That’s the reason he’s remained calm – Penguin told Falcone about Mooney’s plans to take over and her lover Nikolai, and who knows what else. On top of that, he’s moving up the ranks of Maroni’s operation, giving Falcone more power.
Penguin and Falcone’s alliance is also the reason so many things that have felt odd: for instance ordering Gordon to kill Penguin or letting Gordon go in this episode. What Penguin has planned for Gordon is still a mystery, though.
Zsasz: We need to talk about Zsasz. The comics character made murder his life, liberating “zombies” of their lives, with a preference for a knife. Gotham’s Zsasz is a gun-toting professional killer or possibly just a force of nature that Falcone hires to pull Gordon out of the police station.
Still, even as a departure from the character in the source material, this Zsasz is fun to watch. His shifting volume and tone reminded me of Andrew Scott’s Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock series. (His “Funky Town” ringtone might have contributed to that comparison.) And he still carves hash marks into his skin after killing and all, but he’s just not quite the Zsasz we know.
At one point, he orders the police department to empty out so he can take Gordon to Falcone, and this might be my favorite moment in the series so far. Not only does it add to how frightening this character can be, but it also shows how alone Gordon really is at this point. Further, we see that Captain Essen isn’t entirely terrible: she doesn’t leave until Gordon tells her to do so. The whole scene is pretty great, and the resolution to the shootout (in the parking lot) got a cheer from me. These scenes make this episode worth watching.
Bottom line: A lot of stuff happens in this episode, and it’s a little confusing but still fun to watch. Hopefully Gotham can keep things a little more straightforward now that the air has been cleared regarding the Cobblepot murder.
Recommendation: If you are into the show, this is a must watch. If you dropped the show before, this might be the episode to get back in on.[rating=3.5]