Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
An early shot in “Penguin’s Umbrella” nicely captures the whole feeling of the episode. This shot consists of Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) marching down a street in broad daylight, flanked by thugs and the titular umbrella clutched in his hand. A dark and suitably quirky tune plays as we take in the ambling gait of the Penguin, before the show cuts away from this image. Like this shot, “Penguin’s Umbrella” is quirky, strange, and has a unique energy to it, but adds very little new to the series as a whole, besides the illusion of progress, and a cherry on top in the form of a twist ending.
After Cobblepot dramatically entered the GCCPD at the end of last weeks uncharacteristically strong episode to reveal he was still alive, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) all stand at a crossroads. Gordon may be the most honest man in Gotham, and that means something very different to the two most important people in his life (or three, if you count Cobblepot). This episode doesn’t quite have the guts to bring Bullock and Gordon to blows immediately at the outset, but their falling out is one of the episode’s most rapidly dispatched plot points. The writers have more on their minds than interesting character dynamics – they have action scenes!
Since the episode order of Gotham was extended to a season of 22 episodes, would it kill the writers to take more time with their character moments? The plots themselves have not typically been engaging enough to distract from performances that have potential to be great. In particular, Ben McKenzie has done his very best with the one-note character of Gordon, and seems capable of giving a memorable performance if the writers gave him material to work with. And while it is nice to finally give up on the MCU investigating Gordon for corruption (last episode, they were a hair’s breadth away from arresting him on superbly flimsy evidence), the result turns to be more by the numbers than letting Gordon simmer while everyone else believes he’s just your average scumbag cop.
And so the vast majority of this episode is taken up with various gunfights, standoffs, and dramatic proclamations of integrity. Despite the introduction of Victor Zasz (Anthony Carrigan) and his colorful bodyguards (seriously, why can’t they be the villains of the show instead of the mobsters?), none of the action is staged or shot well enough to elucidate a single moment of suspense or drama. It’s a light show with a little blood thrown in as a lazy attempt at creating suspense. Bullock’s reformation comes as an afterthought, and it all wraps up too nicely without creating any dramatic changes. The idea here is solid: Main characters embark on a cliché Hollywood style “blaze of glory” in order to take down the mobster, only to find their plan diffused anticlimactically by the same mobster. However, the execution doesn’t hold the same gravity as it should, because of how it so unceremoniously restores the status quo of the show. Ah well, they tried.
I’ve gone a whole review without mentioning the perhaps now infamous plot twist toward the end of this episode, so here we go: The Penguin has been playing both sides of the mob war since the pilot. The final scene here has Cobblepot holding his umbrella over Falcone’s head as they scheme together in the rain – an unsubtle visual metaphor for how effectively Cobblepot has been playing the game. Does this twist hold water? It seems so. Everything about it makes sense, and it certainly explains much of Cobblepot’s luck in the first few episodes, but something about it doesn’t quite feel right. Perhaps it is the show’s first use of plot-convenient flashbacks, which is a narrative choice that feels shamelessly ripped right from Sherlock.
At first it is disappointing that Penguin’s scheme robs Gordon of his own agency, but this proves a juicy idea upon further reflection: how dangerous is it to be an honest man, when you can be counted upon to be honest? Perhaps Harvey Bullock is in a more safe position, where we don’t know if he’s going to be honest or crooked at any given moment.
Overall Episode Grade: B-