‘Gotham’ has done a terrific job so far of taking one of Batman’s goofiest foes and building him into a credible, dangerous threat. This week really blows the lid off the Penguin storyline with a game-changer episode that’s easily the show’s best yet. Honestly, future episodes may have a hard time living up to this.
We left off last week with Major Crimes detectives Montoya and Allen arresting Jim Gordon for the murder of Oswald Cobblepot, upon which Cobblepot made a big public spectacle of revealing himself as alive and well. Episode ‘Penguin’s Umbrella’ deals with the blowback from that.
Fish Mooney is furious to learn that the Penguin is still alive. She insists to Falcone that they need to murder him, murder Gordon, murder Harvey Bullock, and murder anyone else involved in this betrayal. Falcone thinks she’s overreacting and doesn’t see what the big fuss is about her former lackey still being alive, even if he’s working for rival mobster Maroni now. Of course, Fish can’t tell him that Penguin knows she’s been conspiring with her Russian boyfriend Nikolai to bump off their boss. Throughout their conversation, Falcone remains unnaturally calm and undisturbed. Fish suspects that he knows something he’s not letting on.
Falcone sends a couple of thugs to fetch Jim Gordon to him. They hold his girlfriend Barbara captive in her apartment until Jim comes home. Jim refuses to go anywhere with them. The scene escalates quickly and Jim shoots and injures the mobsters. He ferries Barbara away and puts her on a bus out of town, asking her to stay out of sight until things blow over.
Gordon then decides to take a stand. He returns to work at the police station as if nothing had happened and makes plans to arrest both Falcone and Mayor James. It’s a ballsy move that he knows is destined to fail, but he’s determined to go out in a blaze of glory if it will bring some of the city’s corruption to light.
Falcone next sends a more dangerous henchman, a Billy Corgan-looking psycho named Victor Zsasz, to bring Gordon in. Zsasz struts right into the police station demanding Gordon come with him. He’s so intimidating that the other 50-odd cops in the room, including the Captain, all flee, leaving Jim on his own. Jim pulls his gun and they have a big shootout in the station. Jim gets hit in the side but stumbles out the back door. The two of them play hide-and-seek in the motor pool until Montoya and Allen speed in with their car, grab Jim, and get him the hell out of there.
The detectives bring Jim to a university science lab, where a student there patches him up. They now understand that he’s innocent and an honest man, and offer to help. Gordon takes them to Wayne Manor and introduces them to Bruce. He tells Bruce that these detectives will take over the investigation of his parents’ deaths if he can’t do it.
At Falcone’s instruction, Fish meets with Maroni to politely ask him to turn Cobblepot over, gritting her teeth in doing so. Maroni, realizing now more than ever how valuable Cobblepot must be, refuses. The Penguin slyly nudges him towards a war with Falcone, which is just fine with Fish.
In a hilarious scene involving a roadblock made of terrified nuns, Fish has Falcone’s men waylay one of Maroni’s gun-running delivery trucks. Maroni responds by sending Penguin to lead a raid on the Russian mobsters, killing Fish’s boyfriend Nikolai. That completed, Maroni’s second-in-command Carbone tells Penguin how much he hates and distrusts him. Penguin, however, has deduced that Carbone’s weakness is his greed, which means that he has underpaid his henchmen, leaving an opening for Penguin to turn the tables and kill him.
Still strangely unperturbed by anything that has happened, Falcone makes a peace offering to Maroni. He allows Maroni to keep Cobblepot in exchange for a seemingly worthless piece of territory in the Arkham district. Fish is perplexed at what Falcone could be up to.
Bullock, who’d previously been pretty pissed off when he learned that Jim didn’t kill Cobblepot, shows up at his apartment to back him after all. “I’m doomed anyhow,” he shrugs. The next morning, they arrest Mayor James (Richard Kind) and use him to get into Falcone’s residence. Jim tries to arrest Falcone, until the mobster tells him that Zsasz is currently holding Barbara prisoner. He claims that she returned to town to beg Falcone for mercy. Bullock thinks this is a bluff and urges Jim not to fold, but Gordon can’t take the risk and gives himself up. Zsasz then brings Barbara into the room, revealing that it wasn’t a bluff. Falcone beneficently let them all go. When Gordon asks what the catch is, Falcone simply tells him, “Someday soon you’ll see I’m right.”
In a final revelation, we learn that Falcone has secretly been in cahoots with the Penguin the whole time. Cobblepot has been working as a mole in Maroni’s organization and snitching back to Falcone. However, although Falcone thinks he’s still in charge, it’s pretty clear that Cobblepot is manipulating him. He’s been pulling everyone’s strings and has engineered the entire gang war to play both sides against each other ‘Yojimbo’-style. The Penguin is a true criminal genius, operating three steps ahead of everyone else from the very beginning.
Nevertheless, one thing he doesn’t know is that Fish Mooney still has a very important piece in play in this little game – Falcon’s new girlfriend, who was hand-picked and trained by Fish to seduce and get into his good graces. That girl has the potential to do some serious damage.
Hot damn! This is a great episode that expands the pre-Batman narrative to an epic scope. I’d kind of hate to see the show return to being a weirdo-of-the-week procedural now, and really hope that doesn’t happen.