I had to chuckle at this episode’s title – it makes it sound like some kind of bizarre disease! Though perhaps that is true in a way – Penguin fever has swept the ranks of Gothamites everywhere!
Okay, to be fair what the title is really alluding to is how Commissioner Loeb has dirt on nearly every officer in the GCPD. In Jim Gordon’s case, his “dirt” (manifested in the person of Oswald Cobblepot) is still alive and, as such, has freed Jim from his secret. He no longer has to live under the umbrella (no Penguin pun intended) of “killing” a man: Oswald is alive and well, thus removing Jim from Loeb’s influence.
But not every other GCPD officer has been so lucky. Such as in the case of Harvey Bullock, who admits to falsifying evidence and tells Jim he did so because it was what he had to do to save his own skin and reputation. His “dirt,” as it were, was that he was ordered to kill a mobster and succeeded. “My Cobblepot didn’t come back,” he says, and insists nearly ever officer has a similar proverbial skeleton hanging over them. Obviously, blackmailing cops isn’t right and, as it turns out, Loeb is tied in with Falcone. So who to help Jim and Harvey with this pickle?
My biggest complaint with his storyline during the season’s back half so far is that it’s been almost non-existent. For Oswald to be such a critical character in the Batman mythos, he’s essentially been given a backseat role. Thankfully, Oswald gets his hands dirty here by getting out of the club and on a mini-road trip to Loeb’s hiding place. And who does he get to pal around with? None other than his reluctant buddy Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock (also reluctant but obviously not qualifying as a buddy). Here, Oswald does what he does best – barter information and secrets but making sure the tide turns in his favor. His character is in his element when he’s placed in these types of situations and especially when he’s victorious (as Jim promises Oswald time to peruse Loeb’s files plus a favor in the future – not a bad trade off, I think).
I sensed Jim always knew he would have to enlist Oswald’s help somewhere along the line, but he was prolonging that for as long as possible. Sort of like when you have to sneeze while driving: it’s going to happen eventually but you hate it when it does because it means you close your eyes for a split second, and that split second can be scary. In the same way, Jim has no choice but to trust Oswald, which could be scary. But it’s fun to watch the crime boss-in-training act as Jim’s only hope.
Oswald isn’t the only one acquainted with Gotham’s underbelly. Bullock’s encounters with the city’s dark side have inflicted some deep scars. “You tell yourself I’ll just do this one bad thing,” he tells Jim. “But all the good things I’ll do later will make up for it. But they don’t. There’s still that bad thing.” Thus, in his mind, one can never be truly free or redeemed from past mistakes, no matter how much good one does. Harvey’s philosophy, it seems, is that good deeds can erase bad deeds. That’s good in theory but not in practice as deeds, for good, ill, and all points in between, have consequences. It’s ultimately up to the individual to make good choices from the start or at least learn from their mistakes. I can definitely see Harvey living by this mindset as he tries to do the right thing, normally succeeds, yet there is a hint of doubt emanating from him that his good deeds are somehow insufficient. Now we know why. Yet in Jim’s case, we see this good deed-bad deed philosophy turned on its head. True to these words that “the truth will set you free,” Jim stands with a clean conscious and doesn’t view his good deeds as trying to cancel out his bad ones. Accepting this truth, that we’re defined by the choices we make in the present, not the past, is a choice, a choice Harvey certainly is capable of making but perhaps isn’t ready to at the moment.
As it turns out, Loeb has skeletons of his own, namely, a mentally unstable daughter named Miranda who is cooped up in a house with an elderly couple in charge of her care. This whole set up reminded me of some events in the classic novel Jane Eyre where Rochester kept his mad wife locked away from the rest of society, all out of the fear of public shame. I sense that is what Loeb has been doing, especially since Miranda inadvertently killed her mother, which is a one-way ticket to Arkham. Now, she spends her days locked away, making jewelry out of bird bones. Truth be told, I found her story to be very sad as she’s essentially a prisoner in her own home and her mind.
But this was one of the best moments of the night – Miranda calls Oswald out for looking like a bird only to pronounce that she loves birds. Like, she really loves birds.
Sounds like a keeper to me, Oswald. Go ahead – ask her out. Just mind your neck though.
In the end, Jim achieves a massive victory as he gains leverage on Loeb and gets nominated as El Presidente of the police officer’s union. Granted, Loeb’s decision is driven out of fear that Jim will drag his own skeletons out of the closet, so it’s not a gesture of good will. But Jim’s proclamation of it being a new day for the GCPD was a hint of things to come. In a way, Jim is being rewarded for being a man of integrity – he’s not perfect but he tries to do the right thing for the right reason. Plus he doesn’t have to fear about any dirty little secrets coming back to haunt him. Returning again to Jane Eyre, as Jane herself observed, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” The same can be said for Jim, Harvey, and the other officers he’s set free from any unpleasant skeletons in the closet. Gordon is going to try to redeem the police department and, by proxy, Gotham itself, so it is no longer ensnared by the nets of evildoers.
Though I thought this was a rather interesting parallel to open the show: while a recovering Alfred is surrounded by those who care about him (Bruce and Jim Gordon) in his hospital room, Fish wakes up in a hospital setting to no friends or family. It was a good contrast to show what real friends and family look like: they care for and look after each other rather than beguile or use threats to remain top dog. Instead, all Fish gets to converse with is a highly disturbed doctor who is a cross between Dr. Victor Frankenstein and a Bio-repo man from Repo Men. Trust me, what this doc does makes Eric Garcia’s artificial organ repossessing Bio-repo men look nearly harmless.
But you know who isn’t harmless, nearly or otherwise? Penguin, who apparently can tout a shotgun with the best of them. Country singer Miranda Lambert might have claimed that “little girls” were made of “gunpowder and lead,” but I beg to differ. Penguin is made of the same grit. (And you kind of have to be to take out an old lady.)
Go ahead – I know you’re thinking it, so cue music…
I’m goin’ home/gonna load my shotgun/Wait by the door and light a cigarette. And you can bet we ain’t seen Oswald crazy yet! (My second-place caption would have been, of course, “Say hello to my little friend.”)
Until later, fellow Gothamites!