Now this is the canon character episode I had been waiting for!
So far this season, the most interesting characters for me have been the temporary ones, the folks who get one or two episodes devoted to them but are never heard or seen again. (Case in point: Jerome. I’m still a bit furious over that exit!) So it was great to see Penguin and Ed Nygma command center stage. But, my oh my, what a tragic stage it was.
I mentally predicted Butch’s betrayal in episode six of this season, especially after Theo Galavan started questioning the mind job Penguin (via Zsasz) had put on him. Exactly what Butch hopes to attain by switching sides remains to be seen. Perhaps he’s tired of being Penguin’s gopher or figures Theo will be the new big boss in town and wants to be first in line to get on his good side. Or maybe Butch just wants to be a boss all on his own, which seems to be the most likely scenario given the fact that Butch tries to scrounge up his own gang (albeit briefly). Whatever the reason, bad blood has now formed between Butch and Penguin, so it will be interesting to see where it goes. While Galavan has become Penguin’s new target, you can bet that the King of Gotham won’t forget old unkindnesses from Butch.
As stated, the center of attention here is Penguin as he locates the warehouse where Galavan has imprisoned his mother. While I was surprised that this opened the show, it does pave the way for the rest of the story and is a moment certainly worthy of some serious feels.
As sad as that moment was, it did showcase Penguin in a quasi-heroic role. Penguin’s actions during the exchange for his mother show that he’s not 100% pure villainy. Granted, he’s no hero as his moral compass is too off kilter for that, but he’s not always selfish, at least not most of the time and certainly not here. This comes across loud and clear when Oswald pleads with the Galavans to spare his mother’s life in exchange for his own. That’s a pretty hefty statement coming from the self-proclaimed King of Gotham as his death would mean he gives up his kingdom and his power. Thus, Penguin’s willingness to lay down his life for his mother paints him in a very admirable light. If he was utterly selfish, he would be willing to sacrifice her to keep his grip of power. Instead, in a moment of emotional rawness, we see that Penguin’s heart’s treasure is not power, wealth, or control but love.
Sadly, even though Gertrude is secured a few seconds of freedom, it’s not to last. Galavan literally stabs her in the back and she dies in her son’s arms. To be fair, when I heard that her character would be making guest appearances again this season, I didn’t suspect she would remain a staple character on the show. As sad as Gertrude’s death is, it was necessary for her to die in order to push Penguin into a place where he, by all rights, has every good reason to take Galavan down. Yes, it makes sense to present Galavan as a rival to Penguin’s empire, but to cause Galavan to commit an unforgivable sin against Penguin adds fuel to the fire. (Gee, where is Bridget the Firefly when you need her?)
In his showdown with Jim and Galavan at the episode’s end, Penguin reveals yet another selfless moment as he claims that he has made his peace with dying. He’s no idiot – he knows going after a big fish like Galavan may mean he comes to his own demise (theoretically-speaking…because if Penguin dies, we riot…or at least I will). Oswald’s willingness to give up his own life once more shows that he believes justice against his sworn enemy – and for his mother’s death – means far more to him than holding on to his own life.
Luckily for him, and in the nick of time, Jim Gordon starts suspecting that Galavan isn’t the spotless white knight everyone thinks he is. Early on, Galavan twists the facts of Penguin’s attempt on his life to Gordon, Bullock, Barnes, and Harvey Dent to further cement his sway over the city. In order to hunt down his would-be killer, Galavan has Dent scrounge up a warrant for Penguin’s arrest and intends to put the city under martial law until his “nemesis” is found. It’s then that Gordon thinks Galavan is getting a bit too big for his britches, and I was happy to see Gordon was smart enough not to be bamboozled by Galavan’s smooth talk. In the end, he calls Galavan a monster and seems determined to put Galavan squarely where he belongs.
The second major canon character story arc in this episode explores the aftermath of Ed’s accidental killing of his girlfriend, Kristen Kringle, in the previous episode. I figured it was only a matter of time before Gollum Ed (please see past posts as to why I call him this) reared his head again – this time making his “good” self engage in a sick scavenger hunt for clues regarding the fate of Kristen’s body. At first, Ed accuses Gollum Ed (who is nothing more than a projection of his own corrupt nature) of hijacking him and demands to know how this form of mental torture could possibly be good for him. Gollum Ed insists that what he’s going through is a way by which Ed can discover who – and what – he truly is. In the end, Ed and Gollum Ed merge to become a single entity, no longer a split personality. Ed, fully himself, discovers that getting away with murder was actually kind of exhilarating and the fear of getting caught and killing again is “beautiful.”
Serious creep out factor here, folks. I am now scared of little ol’ Ed Nygma. Who would have thought nerds could be so dangerous?
Overall, this was my favorite episode of the season so far and, yes, I’m proudly biased in saying that. I love Penguin and was happy to see him finally become a more active participant in events (there’s only so long he can hole himself up in his fortress and watch TV). I also think Ed’s evolution has been brilliantly executed through its slow, steady build up. The Riddler is an important canon character who many fans like because he’s a criminal, a killer, and crazy but not quite as dangerous and insane as the Joker; thus, the Riddler is nuts but also fun in a dark, twisted way. So developing his character in a methodological fashion, as what “Gotham” is doing is, I think, respectful to the character people know and love.
Oddly enough, on the same day I saw this episode, I ran across this little book:
So remember, my little Penguin Clones:
If you were a penguin . . .
You could swim really fast and toboggan on ice.
Sing a happy duet, once or twice.
Or shoot guns and terrorize the town – wouldn’t that be nice?