Gotham: Pax Penguina

All in all, an exceptionally solid and professional episode that works on all levels as Gotham's best premiere to date.

While I may not have agreed with all choices made by Gotham so far, there is no denying that as it returns to the small screen this Fall, it's a show on a mission. The pacing is far improved and the central arc is very clever.

The main premise of the pilot is that Oswald has managed to cut crime in half by handing out licenses for various illegal activities, enforcing a code of behavior and killing off anyone unwilling to play game, courtesy of henchman Victor Zsasz.

Realism aside, the reason why this is so effective is how it ties the whole cast together. For three seasons nearly every Gotham episode has had an "A-plot", a "B-plot" and sometimes a "C-plot." This episode is all "A-plot" as it shows everyone reacting to the same events, which makes for a perfectly coherent installment.

Jim is predictably infuriated by leaving the policing of the city to the Penguin, but he can do little as his superiors have decided to play along and declare all licensees off-limits. Tabitha and Selina are approached by Zsasz with an offer of truce, and grudgingly consents to "kiss the ring" and join the fold. And, Bruce gets the ideal opportunity and justification for his own brand of vigilante justice and to play a more active role guarding his city, as he's not bound by any legal tape but Jim can do nothing. In one word, this basic plot is genius.


There's been a lot of arguing in the fora whether Bruce taking on the role of a crime-fighter will "work." The answer is in: Yes, it works. Visually, it works unless you think you'll see Ben Affleck's muscle-bound Batman, and it works very well if you imagine seeing Damian Wayne. It works unless you're inherently prejudiced against the concept of "teenagers kicking ass and taking names", in which case I guess you could never stomach 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'

Acting-wise, it works perfectly. David has the psychology of Bruce Wayne down to a T, and his performance as the haunted young-man-to-be-Batman has won him much praise all over the net.

Finally, story-wise, it's very well done. I don't normally laugh watching Gotham, but that scene of Bruce whispering "oh, no" and crashing through a window right into the arms of a gang of villains and police officers drew a chuckle. It's important that we aren't served the picture of "the perfect hero" here. That would feel unbelievable. Instead, what we're getting is 'Batman: Earth One' all over again, and it's the perfect choice.


One other way this episode delivered was by actually giving Victor something to do. Acting as Penguin's enforcer, he had considerably more screentime than usual, and if they can keep that up, it'll only make fans of Gotham happy. While Anthony Carrigan has always sold his role with panache, he's been very underutilized, and it would be fun if he could be given some more meaty material down the road.

Even the Scarecrow, which is what normally would have come off as the B-plot of this story, is tied into main events by him being used as a weapon by villains rebelling against Oswald. Let me just say that I am very grateful that Gotham chose to go with the original actor, Charlie Tahan, for Jonathan Crane, as this gives Bruce a villain in his own age range to act with, unless we're counting Selina. Also, the suit looks fabulous.


Speaking of Selina, her fight scenes, with Camren Bicondova haven taken to perform all her stunts herself, are pretty awesome. Apart from that, her interaction with Bruce is spectacular as ever, but I'm left with the distinct feeling that this part of their relationship is singing on the last verse. For now, there are far too many roadblocks for them to really get together.


Despite being heavily serialized, this premiere also works as a soft reboot of the show. Unlike previous seasons, you'd be perfectly fine jumping right into the show with this pilot assuming you know anything at all of Batman. The reason for this is how the show's characters - Riddler, Penguin, Bruce, Selina, Jim, Ra's Al Ghul, Alfred - have all been developed to closely match the feel of their traditional comic book counterparts. To be fair, this has been true for quite a while now, but there was no cliffhanger to last season's finale. What this season looks to tell seems like a Batman story.

This episode isn't the best of Gotham that I've ever seen, but it's damn good television. For me, it doesn't lend itself to writing any essays, but I can find very few flaws.

5 comments:

Trey Pharr said...

I am very much looking forward to Bruce and Oswald having more scenes. Jim was used pretty effectively with his scenes tied with Harvey, Bruce, and Oswald (which I hope we see more of).

I hope Selina has more scenes wearing a dress this season. She looks very elegant and classy in them.

This was a very good starting episode. It didn't introduce a million things all at once and used their characters pretty well with each one getting a chance to have decent focus.

sillyrabbit said...

You got the vibe that the show was "ending" Batcat? That's odd because I get the distinct vibe that the show is aging them up, and used their fight over Selina's mother as the "marker" between kiddie!batcat and grownupangstysexy!batcat. Instead of the cutesy, toy shipping of the first 2.5 seasons, they are moving towards an adult dynamic. The season 4 opener seemed (to me) to underline that. 🤷

millicentcordelia said...

Fully agree! There was a lot to love about this episode. They're doing the Scarecrow story right, and I finally feel they're moving Bruce into the protagonist slot. Where he rightfully belongs, of course! Having him face off with Penguin was a thrilling moment for me. It's the first time we've seen Bruce go up against a mature bat-villan. And, he held his own!

Diogo said...

Does anyone else here read Terry Pratchett's Discworld? The concept of reducing violent crime by legalizing and regulating it made me think of Vetinari and the Thieve's Guild. In fact, I can almost see a bit of a Vetinari/Vimes vibe between Penguin/Gordon...

Anyway, I liked it. It's really a clever moral dillema: ethics vs pragmatism and safety. Good of the show for going there.

Patryk said...

Looks like it will be a good season. Wonder if the increase in pacing and coherence might also mean that the writers fear this season will be the last?