Gotham Season 1, Episodes 7 and 8: Writers embraces camp, Cobblepot embraces the power of the Penguin

As the first season nears its ending point and as the Peguin's master plan is finally revealed, the writers amp up the comic-bookishness and pray it pays off.

It's official. Gotham has finally embraced its neo-noir silliness, just as Penguin has finally embraced his avian nickname. It's a new day in Gotham.

Well, not really.

The last two episodes of Gotham have picked up their pace and tightened some loose ends - but the city of Gotham has not yet changed. It's still a terrible place full of terrible people, both downright evil and willfully hamstrung.

In episode seven, titled "Penguin's Umbrella," Jim Gordon (a much more emotive Ben McKenzie) finally takes his place as a worthy hero in this dark world. After it is revealed that he did not, in fact, kill Cobblepot when the crime Don Carmine Falcone ordered him to, Gordon is convinced that Falcone will be out to kill him. With nothing to lose, he faces Falcone's hitman, Victor Szasz (Anthony Carrigan) head on. Szasz comes to the GCPD precinct and dramatically perches on a desk, calling out for Gordon across a sea of stunned faces on paralyzed bodies.

Now, are we truly supposed to believe that all those cops would quietly stand and stare, then disperse at Szasz's command, leaving him alone with Gordon? Are all of these women and men truly that cowardly? Yes, that's exactly what we are to believe. Gotham is, after all, the worst city ever. And are we supposed to believe that Butch, Fish Mooney's thug (played by Drew Powell in a deliciously wicked performance), would really run a heist using a road block made of nuns? Yes, yes we are.

It might be the fact that the series seems to be taking itself less seriously and camping it up with abandon. Or maybe it's the lack of truly bad dialogue in these last two episodes. (Though Fish Mooney still has some of the worst, like that "scaly-faced bitch" line. Huh? He's a Penguin, not a snake!) But somehow, I did believe it. For the first time since Gotham's premiere, I felt myself rooting for Jim Gordon as he stood, feet firmly planted, and took on the three thugs sent to bring him in. Due to the hitmen's ability to shatter a lot of glass, but somehow not hit Gordon, he gets away. He continues his quest for the arrest of Gotham's most corrupt and ends up at Falcone's doorstep. As he is about to slap the cuffs on the Don of all Dons, he learns that his beloved Barbara has been captured by Szasz and will be killed if he moves forward.

The quest is over. Another day, another loss for the good guys. Love gets in the way of justice. Gotham City, have you no compassion?

In episode eight, "The Mask," the GCPD is back to investigating weird criminals with weird methods. A corporate finance head makes his prospective employees fight to the death for a position at his firm, with an abandoned cubicle farm as a ring and staplers, printer cartridges and desk phones as weapons. "Let the games begin," the ringmaster says over the intercom. How very Jigsaw of him.

Despite losing some of its self-serious gravity and embracing its campy side, several moments in episodes seven and eight had me asking: "Is this really network television?" Graphic stabbings, flying bullets, severed fingers and self-mutiliation, plus quite a few sexually suggestive moments, put Gotham in running for boldest new network series. It is perhaps out-scandalized only by ABC's steamy Thursday night double-whammy of Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. It's no Game of Thrones, but it's pretty audacious next to its more tonally even network sisters Gracepoint and Red Band Society.

Meanwhile, through the previous two episodes, Penguin has begun to step into his role Gotham's cleverest puppetmaster. Episode seven opens with him strolling down the street to a jaunty honky tonk piano theme, finally the master of his own fate - with his own musical theme and everything! When his new boss Maroni calls him a golden goose, he cheerfully and deferentially quips, "honk, honk!"

Falcone and Maroni broker a deal whereas Maroni gets to keep his golden goose in exchange for some real estate. And so, the tangled web of Arkham special interests grows more convoluted. Little does Maroni know, he's drawn a much shorter stick.

Robin Lord Taylor as the scheming, maniacal Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Peguin).

In a flashback, we learn that, after Penguin snitched on Fish Mooney and Falcone, he bargained with Falcone to save his own life using both a promise and a valuable secret. He asked Falcone to give the task of killing him to Jim Gordon, who he knew would spare him. Then, he promised, he would come back to Gotham under a different name and be Falcone's undercover agent in the Maroni operation. He would help him defeat Nikolai and Fish, who were planning to take him down and assume power. Falcone agreed, and the events of the first season so far unfolded just as the Penguin had predicted. Penguin is alive with both of Gotham's most powerful crime lords and the most earnest of the city's crime-fighting force under his thumb, and no one is the wiser. They always say don't piss off a goose. Honk honk, indeed.

Coming up in the final two episodes before good network dramas give way to weeks of holiday specials and reruns, Alfred will begin to teach the the caped crusader about honor, pride, loyalty and fighting. The relationship between Alfred and Bruce has felt stalled so far; for an alliance that plays such a huge part in the Batman legacy, it has been back-burnered for too long in this series. Finally, Alfred's world view and personality are coming through, and Bruce is growing.

We'll also meet Gotham's sharp young assistant district attorney, Batman ally and future plastic surgery candidate, Harvey Dent.


Gotham airs Monday nights at 8 on Fox.

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