Wednesday, September 27, 2017

'Gotham' Recap: "Pax Penguina" (4x01) — I Can't Believe It's Not Batman

After almost four months of waiting, Gotham is finally back with the first episode of season four: “Pax Penguina.” Spoilers ahead!

After a “previously on” segment (as if you needed to be reminded that the city went nuts, Alfred got stabbed, and Bruce went into vigilante mode), the episode begins where the last one left off: with Bruce standing on a rooftop in the latest version of his vigilante gear. And I’ve got to say, I love it. Whether or not he gets the infamous cowl in the show, I have absolutely no problem with Bruce becoming Batman this early. I mean, he’s about fifteen or sixteen. That’s not far off from Terry McGinnis’s age in Batman Beyond.

Bruce stops another mugging, but one of the muggers protests that he has a license. Bruce takes the “license” and leaves. What he doesn’t realize that Ra’s Al Ghul has been watching every second of the fight.

Then Gotham does something you wouldn’t expect: IT RICKROLLS YOU.

I kid you not, the next scene is at some random couple’s wedding, and the band is playing “Never Gonna Give You Up.” A crew of criminals burst in, with the intent of robbing the guests blind. But guess who’s just sitting around, like he knew they’d be there?

Victor Zsasz, everyone’s favorite assassin. If this episode is any indication, he’ll be showing up a lot more often in Gotham, and I’m glad to see him. Zsasz explains that in order to rob the people, the crew needs to be licensed by Penguin, who will take part of their cut. The crew refuses, but quickly leave after he shoots the finger off of one of their men. The bride is quick to thank Zsasz—until a crew licensed by Penguin sweeps in to loot the reception.

Cut to Penguin, explaining the concept of “licensed crime” to the new powers-that-be. Basically, no one can commit a crime without an issued license from Penguin, who gets half of their profits and give a small percentage to officials in exchange for them looking the other way. Penguin repeatedly states that his control over Gotham has made city “safe again,” as per his campaign promise in season 3.

One interesting thing about this scene is that Penguin is dressed in black from head-to-toe—as is Bruce in this episode, even when he’s not in his vigilante persona. I’m curious to see if the show will draw any parallels between the two characters in the season to come. They both have their own ideas about how Gotham should be run and aren’t afraid to take what they want by going outside of the law.

Penguin tells the commissioner and mayor that the GCPD will have to comply with the licenses, and the scene immediately cuts to Jim arresting a man for holding up his favorite bar, in spite of his “license.” Jim takes the man to the GCPD, and, as per usual, no one is on his side. To be honest, I can’t entirely blame them. With the amount of trouble Jim gets into, it’s no wonder his only friends at the precinct are Lucius and Harvey.

Harvey tells Jim to fall in line until the city is back on its feet. Both characters actually make good points. Harvey wants the crime rates to continue dropping, and Jim wants the citizens of Gotham to look to the GCPD for protection instead of Penguin. Every time the city endures a disaster, a kingpin always sweeps in to take control. At the beginning of season 2, it was Theo Galavan. At the start of season 3, Penguin tried to assume that role (although the Court of Owls was manipulating events behind the scenes), and this time he’s actually pulled it off.

Next we see Alfred and Bruce debate about whether latter’s mission is to protect Gotham or to train for Ra’s al Ghul’s return. While I agree with Bruce that the two goals aren’t necessarily separate, it’s hard to believe he’ll ever be ready for Ra’s al Ghul, especially since he was unaware of his presence earlier. It seems fitting that Bruce often finds himself torn between two paths; dichotomy has always been at the heart of the Batman mythos.

In the next scene, we see the crew of robbers from the wedding visiting an unfamiliar asylum. If it’s Arkham, the layout has definitely changed since season 2. The setup is chaotic, with inmates barely restrained. The crew bribe the man in charge of the asylum to let them take Jonathan Crane, who they plan to coerce into recreating his father’s fear toxin and strike back at Penguin. Crane, still hysterical and terrified from his overdose in season one, has no choice but to follow them out.

The crew’s plan initially works as they’re able to rob a bank using the toxin. Jim argues that Harvey can’t stop him from taking the case because the crew had no license, and the two show up at the asylum to ask about Crane. The head man is tight-lipped at first, but when they point out that Penguin will probably send Zsasz after him because of his involvement, he talks.

Harvey and Jim track down the crew, but they get the upper hand and escape. One remarks that they wouldn’t kill cops because they’re outlaws, and “Outlaws have a code.” (Jason Todd, anyone?) It’s a weird bit of reasoning from characters that are probably going to die in the next episode, but the next sequence is cool enough to make me forget about those minor details.

A group of thugs corners Selina, and she takes them out with a combination of amazing fighting and whipping. Tabitha appears to take out the last man standing, and says, “Not bad.” The two go out for pizza in a scene that's oddly reminiscent of season one.

It's nice to see them having a sisterly relationship as they bicker about Selina stealing Tabitha’s pepperonis. When they return to their apartment, Zsasz is there, offering a license from Penguin if they show up at the opening of the Iceberg Lounge. Tabitha doesn’t want to be under his thumb, but Selina wants to move up and knows they can’t do it without an okay from Penguin. It’s nice to see her taking a more active role.

The next scene is really conflicting for me. Bruce sneaks up on Gordon at the GCPD to ask him about the license. He actually gives Gordon a chance to stop Penguin, pointing out that the number on the licenses must be linked to a list of crimes. Gordon replies that he can’t take on Penguin without getting in trouble, and Bruce silently resolves to get the list himself.

On the one hand, I love that Bruce is starting to appear and disappear on Gordon; it’s a very Batman thing to do. On the other hand, Bruce needs to start separating his two lives. The stoic, serious vigilante needs to be completely separate from the careless playboy.

At the Iceberg Lounge, Penguin discusses the grand opening with a herd of reporters, who ask if he’s behind the licenses. He skates around the question (citing low crime rates) and unveils the frozen Ed Nygma, claiming that Ed has a brain disease and needed to frozen in stasis until a cure was found. It’s a hilariously bald-faced lie, and you can tell that Penguin’s barely trying to hide his wrongdoing. He’s just so flamboyant about all of it.

Gordon crashes Penguin’s press conference to point out at that not everything is under his control— namely, the gang with the fear toxin. Turns out it’s actually part of a plan to get Penguin to denounce the gang on television so the gang will attack him and Gordon will end up catching them. None of the other cops want to go along with the convoluted plan, and they beat him up in the locker room.

It’s hard to watch Gordon screw up over and over, but in a way, it makes sense. Just as Bruce has a ways to go before he’s truly Batman, Gordon has a ways to go before he can be an effective leader.

However, Bruce does slip into his playboy persona as he attends the grand opening of the Iceberg Lounge. He talks briefly with Penguin, asking about the licenses as if he’s just idly curious. He even says, with a smirk: “So does someone come up to you and say ‘I want to rob a bank?’” Penguin asks if Bruce supports licensed crime, and Bruce cleverly answers that if crime had been licensed three years ago, his parents wouldn’t have been murdered.

Penguin agrees and mentions that a bespectacled man named Mr. Penn keeps track of the licenses. Although it does seem odd that Penguin would give him that much information, it’s not totally unrealistic. Bruce and Penguin have only had three scenes together, and this is only the second time they’ve spoken. Penguin has no idea what Bruce is capable of and only knows him as a public figure. It does kind of make sense that he wouldn’t be overly cautious of a teenager (especially one that he’s helped rescue twice).

Selina arrives at the party, initially thinking she’ll take up Penguin’s offer on her own, but Tabitha joins her. And like clockwork, Bruce spots Selina and ends up following her out onto a rooftop. He does make an effort to apologize but remains oddly formal, like he knows there’s no way back to where they used to be. It works somewhat, but the scene is interrupted by Alfred, who tells Bruce that there’s “a situation” in the club.

The situation? Penguin’s caught the crew with the fear gas trying to crash the party and plans to have them escorted out (and subsequently killed) as an example to the rest of Gotham. Bruce wants to sneak out and stop it, but Alfred points out that this is one situation where Bruce Wayne might be more effective than a vigilante. Bruce speaks up and tries to use his public status to get Penguin to turn the men over to the police. Penguin refuses, but before he can go through with his plan, Ivy ruins it by cutting off the power.

That’s my main problem with the episode. While people have ignored and overlooked Ivy a few times in “Pax Penguina,” we still don’t get a lot of buildup to her lashing out at Penguin. It’s mainly a plot device that allows the crew to escape and dose Penguin with the fear toxin to humiliate him. Gordon arrests most of the crew, except for one member.

The last member returns back to Crane’s old house, where the crew left Jonathan locked in a closet with the scarecrow that haunts his nightmares. But when they open the door, Jonathan turns around, decked out as the scarecrow himself, and doses them with the toxin.

While I wish we’d seen more of the transformation (and I hope we will later on), I do have a theory on what happened. I think Jonathan’s fear was so crippling that he created another personality to disassociate from it and even embrace it, hence the Scarecrow. In a way, it’s not so different than the traditional reasoning behind the mantle of Batman: bats scared Bruce Wayne, so he embraced that fear and used it to intimidate others.

Speaking of Bruce, our caped crusader takes the list from Penn, only to mess up when tracking down a group of criminals. He falls through a glass roof, hurriedly takes off the mask, and is found by the police. Like I said, he’s not quite Batman yet.

All in all, I’d say “Pax Penguina” was a great way to start the season, despite a few minor errors. I’m really glad that we’re seeing a lot more of Bruce in this season; David Mazouz’s performance is one of my favorite things about this show. With that in mind, it’s a little frustrating when Bruce gets pushed to the side so that the show can focus on Gordon. Gordon may technically be the show’s main character, but I’m not quite as invested in his storyline. Next week’s episode, “The Fear Reaper,” will probably be Scarecrow-centric, but we’ll get at least a few scenes with Bruce that tie up that cliffhanger. Until then, make sure you don't rob a bank unless you have a license!


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