Season One, Episode Seven – “Penguin’s Umbrella”

By Matt Fleming. Okay, Gotham. You asked a lot of me, the viewer. You asked me to let a young Bruce Wayne grow into a Dark Knight. You asked me to sit through quite a bit of Jim Gordon’s relationship with an underwhelming Barbara Kean. You even asked me to care about the complicated mafia underpinnings of Gotham City. I said, “Okay, Gotham. Just please don’t be stupid.” And yet, just when I was becoming your champion, you decide to ruin all goodwill with a bloated seventh episode. When I say bloated, I mean convoluted, complicated, constipated.

“Penguin’s Umbrella” takes off after the doozy of a cliffhanger from last week, with detectives Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) at loggerheads over the revelation that Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor) is walking and breathing. The episode starts strong with the ever-present tension between the two partners, but it quickly takes a turn: with Fish Mooney’s thugs trying to reel Gordon in to face Carmine Falcone, our hero detective makes an evasive measure by murdering some thugs as they hold his terrible girlfriend hostage. Falcone sends psychopath-turned-hitman Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan) to the GCPD to weed the detective out, but Gordon escapes with help from MCU’s Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones). Meanwhile, Sal Maroni (David Zayas) retaliates with the help of his “golden goose,” The Penguin, and brings the competing mafiosos closer to all out war. Ultimately, Bullock joins Gordon in his attempt to arrest both Falcone (John Doman) and Mayor Richard Kind (that is the mayor’s name, right?), only to have their plan foiled by Gordon’s dimwitted girl, Barbara (Erin Richards). The episode ends with a revelation of double-dealing, and we see just how deep Penguin’s infernal deception runs.

While I am never a stickler for subtlety, this week’s Gotham really tries my patience.

This episode has a lot of chances to be really good, but fails at many turns. The writing staff does its worst job in this young series, leaving their characters to utter such lines as, “it’s in Arkham, it’s a toxic waste dump on top of an Indian burial ground.” (I am willing to forgive quite a bit when it comes to a hyper-serious comic book adaptation, but that line is a bridge too far.) Also, in lieu of a villain-of-the-week, this episode crams in the arrival of Victor Zsasz, who I have been assured was not actually a mafia hitman in the source material. (I only remember him from watching someone play the Arkham video game series.) Zsasz is supposed to be a bit verbose, but here he uses flips and furrows in order to attempt intimidation. Also, he isn’t present enough in the episode to feel like a threat instead of a run-of-the-mill goon. This is Gotham’s first true waste of a canonical member of Batman’s Gallery of Rogues.

In continuing the tradition of being absolutely terrible, Barbara Kean, mouth constantly agape, ruins everything for her beloved Jim. Erin Richards continues to underwhelm in the role of Barbara, but the writers don’t do her any favors. She directly places her beau in harms way, over and over again, and all Jim can do is kiss her. Ben McKenzie, on the other hand, kicks a bit of ass in this week’s entry, although not enough to save the show’s skin. Donal Logue, coming off a career performance last week, is remarkably aloof this time around. He still keeps Bullock in the category of conniving scumbag, but ultimately he relents because the episode’s plot demands it.

Always a bright spot in Gotham, Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin takes center stage in “Penguin’s Umbrella.” Unfortunately, he is overshadowed by the tangled mess the writers have made for him. Amid all this confusing double-crossing, the viewer can almost miss his superb psychosis and violence. I will continue sitting through this complex anarchy if only because I so desire to see his Penguin come out on top. His high-powered counterparts, Maroni and Falcone,  are shockingly docile in an episode centered around their respective families’ impending implosion, but the actors provide some effort nonetheless. Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Fish Mooney is struggling to stay relevant, and her ham performance belies that fact.

In all, “Penguin’s Umbrella” is a disappointment of errors. Last week’s thriller showed the promise that Gotham has come close to striking a few times, but if it keeps making such a mess of things, it can’t possibly sustain itself. The keyword with Gotham is balance. When it tries too hard, it breaks under the weight of too much business and clunky writing, and when it doesn’t try hard enough, it becomes bad campy. The show has a handful of exceptional actors who can transform a flimsy, too-serious premise, but they need some assistance. At its best, Gotham is still silly, but not distractingly so. Once the show becomes weighed down with its problems, it flies off the rails. I hope it all isn’t downhill from here.

Passing thoughts:

-Of course, Jim outsmarts Harvey in their fist fight, and Bullock ends up taking a nap.

-GCPD is filled with cowards, except the woman who gave her life for Jim’s.

-Victor Zsasz could have been a little less Billy Corgan and a little more, um, muscular.

-Bullock is totally into plus-sized ladies, and I ain’t mad at’cha. But bringing girls to Gordon’s place is a little weird.

-Apparently, Carmine Falcone is muffin-sexual.

-I honestly applaud Robin Lord Taylor for sustaining the awful Penguin-walk as long as he did tonight. It looks uncomfortable.

-Barbara Kean is straight-up allergic to pants, and to listening.

-I already miss Dan Hedaya. This episode could have used a special guest, cause Zsasz was not great.

-Alfred is kind of racist, and Bruce Wayne is not about being patronized.

-Finally, I’m happily surprised at David Zayas. I like the guy (but he’s no Italian). Still, he gives Maroni the edge that Falcone lacks.