Gotham is the first of the hero shows to return from summer vacation. Continuing the tradition of naming their half-seasons, they open “A Dark Knight” with the episode “Pax Penguina.” It’s a bit of a clunky title, but they actually make it work through the course of the episode. We’ll just say things have not really improved for anyone since we last saw our cast of characters, with the exception of Alfred no longer being in the hospital.
Bruce is in full proto-Bat mode, dressing in black and breaking up street crimes. His fighting skills have definitely improved, and this is starting to be a believable version of someone that might eventually become Batman. Bruce handles the crime and the combat just fine, but then falls victim to one of the more annoying trends in hero movies and tv shows. After he wins, for no reason whatsoever, he pulls his mask off. In public. On the street. Why is he bothering to wear it? As Bruce walks away, Ra’s observes from a shadowed doorway. It’s a great brooding, ominous kind of scene, but really, how did he know this particular place was where Bruce was going to go hunting? Looks good, but doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
The next scene sets up the new status quo in Gotham. Crime is now being conducted under a license system run by Penguin. Those that don’t get with the program have to worry about something far worse than the police. Penguin is sending out his enforcer, Victor Zsasz. I’m glad Zsasz is apparently going to be a bigger part of this season. Anthony Carrigan does a great job playing him, making a sociopathic killer an entertaining process. The scene not only shows us that the system works, but that at least one group is resisting it.
Just to drive home how things are going, Penguin meets with the Mayor and the Police Commissioner (still not Gordon). They discuss the licensing program, and, in true Gotham style, the two public officials are being paid to go along with it. Penguin does make the decent point that, under the licenses, violent crime is down 57%. Penguin then rushes off to open his new club, the Iceberg Lounge, formerly the Sirens bar that Barbara and Tabitha were running. His taking it over makes sense as a symbolic gesture, and lets the set designer and carpenters not have to make a new set.
To absolutely no surprise, there’s a notable holdout against the licenses: Detective Jim Gordon. Gordon walks in on a robbery at his local bar, isn’t impressed with the crook showing him the permit, and proceeds to arrest him. Predictably, this doesn’t make him popular with his fellow officers. He even hears it from Harvey, who is both getting pressure from above and glad that the cops aren’t getting shot every other day anymore. I get Harvey being pragmatic, especially now that he’s Captain Bullock, but I’m still a bit disappointed in him, as is Gordon.
Out at Wayne Manor, Bruce shows Alfred the license he picked up in his crime-fighting foray. Bruce wants to find a way to use the licenses against Penguin. Alfred, as ever, is a bit more cautious, reminding Bruce that his nightly adventures are to prepare him for Ra’s’ return (too late!), not to play vigilante.
Meanwhile, at Arkham Asylum, the crooks who aren’t getting with Penguin’s program are getting clever. They visit Warden Reed and pay him for a particular inmate: Jonathan Crane, son of the famed scientist Gerald Crane, destined to be Batman’s foe Scarecrow, and totally terrified all the time after over-exposure to his father’s fear toxin. His lot in life isn’t getting any better as the crooks force him to continue his father’s work and psychologically torture him with an actual scarecrow, something Reed has apparently conditioned him to be terrified of.
Armed with fear sprayers, the gang hits a bank and flips out everyone they run into. Bullock is on the scene later, shaking his head and saying Zsasz will be going after them. Gordon declares he will be, too. When Bullock objects, Gordon points out the gang isn’t licensed, so they aren’t covered by Penguin’s deal.
After a quick visit to Arkham, Bullock and Gordon find the gang, and manage to get themselves ambushed. For reasons that I don’t understand, the gang has these two cops under their guns, and decides to just take off, somehow locking their apartment door from the outside so Gordon can’t chase them. It’s a weird scene that makes Bullock and Gordon look like idiots.
Elsewhere, we see Bruce isn’t the only one training. Selena goes down an alley looking very skittish, lures out some thugs, and then beats the crap out of them with fists, feet, and bullwhip. Tabby is keeping an eye on her protégé. The two of them have a run-in with Zsasz, who tells them they need to come see Penguin at his club opening.
In a scene that sets up their future relationship, or a big part of it, Bruce sneaks up on Gordon and talks to him about the license issue. After they share information and theories, Bruce then slips away when Jim isn’t looking, like so many scenes with Batman to come.
Penguin hosts the press at his club opening, showing off his new conversation piece, the frozen Ed Nygma, courtesy of Mr. Freeze last season. Penguin has a decent cover story that no one cares enough to question, and he gives some non-answers when asked about the licenses. Gordon drops by to taunt him about the hold outs. Ivy is prancing around the club like a demented Vanna White, a far cry from her brilliant scientist persona in the comics. I like that version better. The gang also sees the news of the opening, and pushes Crane harder to brew up more fear gas.
While Penguin abuses Ivy at the club, Gordon finds out that he’s even more an outsider than ever at work. I don’t know if the other cops are being paid off, too, or they just like not having to do any work, but I’ll just say Gordon isn’t getting any support except from Bullock, and that grudgingly.
After the pre-event with the press, Penguin’s gala opening finally starts. Among those in attendance are Penguin, Ivy, Selena, Tabitha, Bruce, and Alfred. The gang tries to be clever, and Penguin and Zsasz get the drop on them.
Bruce and Selena have an awkward scene on the roof, full of teen angst, feigned indifference, and apologies. Alfred eventually finds them, rolls his eyes, and urges Bruce to come back down because of a situation in the club. What exactly Alfred thinks Bruce is going to do about it, I’m not sure. Bruce pleads with Penguin to turn the captured crooks over to the cops, Penguin refuses, there’s a big fight in which one of them gets away and most of the gang falls to Zsasz, Alfred, and Tabitha. Penguin gets dosed with the fear toxin, which doesn’t go well for him.
The wrap-up scenes are all a bit odd. The newspaper gleefully covers Penguin’s fear-gas-based breakdown. Gordon is sure there are other good cops who will come to his side. Based on what, I’m not sure. Bruce does something dumb, sort of invents one of Batman’s classic entrances, then does a few dumber things and gets caught by the cops. The fleeing gangster finds out he really shouldn’t have left Crane unattended for so long, and gets a nasty surprise.
What I liked: It was good seeing both Bruce and Selena progress towards their future selves. Alfred going along with Bruce’s activities makes some degree of sense with what they tell us. Gordon is, well, Gordon, so at least he’s in character. As I mentioned before, I really enjoy Zsasz, and the first scene with him at the wedding reception does a good job showing how things work. Bruce sneaking in and out of Gordon’s work area was great.
What I didn’t: The whole “I’m in public so I’ll pull off my mask” thing is really getting dumb. They need to quit that. I don’t care what story he’s spinning, Penguin shouldn’t have custody of a confessed spree killer, let alone be using him for decoration. I don’t buy Ra’s knowing where Bruce was going to fight. The all knowing villain, even when there’s no good way for him to know things, is getting old (see last season’s Arrow and Zoo that just finished up among others). I get it, to an extent, but I’m disappointed in Bullock.
I’ll give this a 3 out of 5. There’s a lot of potential here, but some of it hasn’t been realized. Maybe it will be before the season ends or the winter hiatus at least.