[This is a review of Gotham season 1, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) helped kick off the long awaited upswing of Gotham last week, and now it’s time for James Gordon to take on the city, as well as all of its corruption head-on. With no holds barred, the true king of Gotham rises, while Fox’s new series continues to struggle crafting a much-needed leading man.
In “Penguin’s Umbrella”, written by series creator Bruno Heller, the return of Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) forces Falcone (John Doman) to once again deal with the previously settled Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock situation, which puts Barbara’s (Erin Richards) life at risk. As unlikely alliances are formed, Gordon sidesteps the threat of Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan) and seeks refuge at Wayne Manor. Meanwhile, the Penguin breaks down the plan he devised from the beginning, and Jim Gordon unknowingly gains an extra life from a guardian angel.
Out of all the episodes of Gotham, this week’s tale more closely mirrors that of the pilot, in that the entirety of what’s being presented comes from the established universe. The moment of exploration, as far as outside influences go, is momentarily paused, and viewers are finally able to sit back and simply enjoy watching the many mechanics of this complex world in motion without the need to really introduce anything (or anyone) new. Except Victor Zsasz, who is a welcomed exception.
Zsasz’ introduction is coming off of the terrific Gotham season trailer which was released following the series’ start, and from those clips alone his appearance quickly became the most anticipated. This week we’re able to see this moment come to fruition and, surprisingly, Carrigan’s portrayal of Zsasz is as controlled and nuanced as one could hope, easily thrusting him ahead of many of the series’ current cast. As Gordon continues to walk through this world so confident and sure of what’s supposedly good, it’s refreshing to see a character who is essentially the antithesis of such ideals, only much more assured and… psychotic.
Combined, the inclusive nature of this tale and the perfectly crafted Victor Zsasz helps to reignite all of the many hopes that came from the original announcement of the series, and for good reason. Gotham, as a city, is established, and its legacy is being written. Much of this legacy we know about, but there’s so much more that don’t. This, in and of itself, makes for a compelling watch.
Unlike the similarly-themed Smallville, however, Gotham already contains all of the pieces it needs to transform the world into what we know it eventually will become, along with all of its characters. So in many ways any supplemental story that doesn’t inherently matter to any of the characters is essentially slowing this very intriguing, very calculated, and very complex dialogue about the beginnings of a story we already know the ending to. Fortunately, this week’s story builds to the evolution – not expansion – of this infamous city, and there’s shift in quality that can certainly be felt because of it.
Case in point: Cobblepot’s return, while somewhat lacking in previous episodes, finally pays off in a major way, essentially helping to bring together all of the mob tales, while also finally establishing Falcone as the brilliant mind people simply referenced in past episodes. Maroni, too, now feels more like a real character as David Zayas settles in to his role.
All things aside, one of Gotham’s major problems from the start was the lack of focus when it came to its leading man James Gordon. McKenzie has already proven that his version of Gordon fits comfortably within this world. The problem, unfortunately, is when Gordon is required to do anything on his own, unassisted by all the many supporting characters. It is these moments (where Gordon is trying to carry a scene) that feel the most disjointed, which says something about the show's star.
Even so, this week’s episode showed that Gotham is finally taking steps in order to move this series (and its characters) along by relying on what’s been established, not simply made available. As with any new TV show, the development of this tale will continue until the series completely finds itself.
Only time will tell if/when that will happen – but if this series is half as successful in its evolution as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been, there’s no doubt that some great television will come from it.
Gotham returns next Monday with “The Mask" @8pm on Fox. Watch a preview for the episode, below: