Friday, January 25, 2019

'Gotham' Recap: "Penguin, Our Hero" (5x03)

Welcome back to another recap of Gotham: Legend of the Dark Knight—or, as I like to call it, Villains 'R' Us. 

This week's episode, "Penguin, Our Hero" focuses on two plots: Penguin's efforts to invade Gordon's territory in the Green Zone, and Selina and Bruce's efforts to track down Jeremiah Valeska.

As usual, this recap contains a whole heap of SPOILERS. So if you haven't seen the episode yet and want it to be a surprise, quit reading while you're ahead.

Plot A: Every Dog Penguin Has His Day

Penguin begins his day the way any crime boss should: by opening the doors to hear a choir singing a song of praise to him.

No, I'm not joking.

A choir full of people stand at his staircase singing "Penguin, Our Hero." They follow him down the stairs and continue to sing. As they do so, Penguin feeds Edward the Bulldog and Penn briefs him on the factory's steady production and how much bread, water and bullets he has in store.

The music and moment are abruptly cut off by the countertenor collapsing out of exhaustion. Penn explains that everyone had to work overnight at the factory because they've been shorthanded since workers began defecting to the up-and-running stretch of apartments (nicknamed "Haven") in Gordon's territory. Penguin is outraged that his people would flee into the arms of his enemy and asks about the bounty he set on Gordon's head. Penn replies that the gangs are too disorganized to take Gordon down and most ordinary people love the cop too much to kill him.

Penguin protests, saying that the people should love him, since he keeps his territory civilized and everything would fall apart without him. Penn points out that it's not just Penguin's workers who are on Gordon's side—people all over Gotham are fleeing to Haven.

Their conversation is broken off by Street Demonz gang members forcibly entering the room. They attempt to shoot down Penguin, but he and his men gun them down first. They claim that he hit their gang as well as the Undead and the Low Boys, citing the grafitti tag that read "Penguin Was Here."

Penguin replies that if he wanted to start a gang war, he wouldn't have left any survivors or a note implicating himself. He then sends them away to be tortured and tells Penn to tighten borders, saying that if anyone gets in or out, it's on Penn's head.

Over in Haven, Bullock notes the influx of refugees and worries that the gangs who enslaved some of said refugees will attack Haven—and both bullets and food are running low. Gordon says he's got a point but they can't turn people away from the only safe place in Gotham.

Bullock asks if Gordon's been sleeping and says that he needs to share the load with the other officers; it won't be good for anyone if he runs himself ragged. Gordon says he's doing fine.

The two of them walk up to Bruce Wayne, who says he's got a working water purification system repurposed from WayneTech.

Suddenly, a fight breaks out between two refugees over a can of beans. Gordon breaks it up, saying that while everyone is welcome in Haven, there are rules. The government already thinks the city doesn't deserve help and it's up to the people of Haven to prove otherwise.

Bruce tells Gordon that his speech was effective, but Gordon is worried that people will lose hope once they realize the government's abandoned them. Bruce insists that Gordon's holding the community together and giving them hope, but Gordon says hope isn't enough.

Bruce then tells Gordon that Will, the kid who ran away from the Soothsayers, had a nightmare, fell off the bunk bed, and broke his arm. He suggests that Gordon talk to Will and the two of them approach the boy.

Gordon asks why Will doesn't want to join the other kids, but he remains silent. Bruce tells Will that while he can't imagine what he's been through, Bruce is sure that he's safe now. Gordon agrees and gives him some pineapple rations in an attempt to cheer him up.

Outside of the Green Zone, Penguin wakes up to his housekeeper, Olga (who hasn't appeared since season 3) cleaning and singing loudly. Penguin (who's wearing nothing but an old-fashioned set of mens' underwear) demands to know where the rest of his staff are. She says they defected to Haven and took Edward the Bulldog with him. Penguin, furious, goes down to his prison and releases the gang members. He says that their interests have now aligned and tells them to round up what's left of the other gangs so that they can combine forces and attack Haven.

Not long after this, Bullock tells Gordon that Penguin and the gangs were spotted moving towards Haven. Since the GCPD only have a dozen bullets left, Gordon sends Bullock to get help from Barbara and stays behind to stall Penguin.

Once Penguin and the gangs arrive, Gordon tells the citizens of Haven to go inside and tells his men to hold their fire. Penguin then notices and greets the recently-defected Penn and his singers (who are apparently named the Gertrude Kabelput Memorial Choir in a nod to Penguin's deceased mother).

Gordon says Penguin shouldn't have come to Haven, but Penguin retorts that Gordon shouldn't have stolen his people or his dog. Gordon says they all came out of their own free will and are under the GCPD's protection. Penguin then calls for Edward the Bulldog to come to him, but Edward simply stares at him and doesn't move.

Penguin tells Gordon to turn his people over and says he doesn't have the firepower to stop him. The GCPD then open fire, and Gordon says Penguin shouldn't test them.

Penguin, however, calls his bluff by sending three gang members in. The GCPD shoot down two, but run out of bullets before they can get the third. Penguin taunts them and tells them to put down their weapons. Gordon and his men reluctantly comply.

Penguin then locks Gordon up in a cell, saying that after he destroys Haven, he'll shoot Gordon and leave him for dead, just like Gordon did to him.

Gordon says that if the government liberates Gotham and finds out that Penguin destroyed Haven, they'll hunt him down. Penguin replies that the government has clearly abandoned the city, and the only law left is power, and power belongs to him.

Gordon asks what will happen to the families in Haven. Penguin replies that they'll go back to being slaves, and his workers will go back to eating gruel and worshiping the ground he walks on. Gordon tells him to leave innocent people out of his revenge, but Penguin refuses.

Penguin then wanders into another area of Haven where gang members have Mr. Penn chained up. He tells them to hand Penn over, since he belongs to Penguin. The gang members refuse, pointing out that he sacrificed their men to call Gordon's bluff. They then shoot Penn and say they'll also take Penguin's territory and bullet factory.

Penguin calls Penn a fool and says this wouldn't have happened if he had stayed in Penguin's territory. He asks why he left, and Penn replies, with his dying breath, "Everyone hated you."

Penguin says that the gang members will pay for this, but they knock him out and lock him up with Gordon, who surmises that Penguin's plan is in shambles.

Over in Sirens' territory, Bullock arrives and searches for Barbara in her bar. She holds a knife to his throat and says no men are allowed on her turf past midnight. He tells her that Gordon needs her help, but she replies that he should save himself. She asks if Bullock gets tired of being his sidekick. Bullock replies that they're friends fighting for the same thing.

Barbara scoffs and recalls how different the two men were when they met. Bullock was cynical and Gordon was an idealist. ("And you were sane," Bullock adds.) Barbara asks what would Bullock's life would be like if he hadn't met Gordon. Bullock loyally says that he'd either be dead or wishing he was. He adds that Gordon will die if Barbara doesn't save him from Penguin and the gangs. Babs says he should've led by mentioning Penguin and decides to head to Haven.

Back in Haven, Penguin wonders aloud why his people would leave him to go to Haven.

"For one thing," Gordon snarks, "It's far away from you."

Gordon then notices Will leading some of the gang members to a stash of alcohol. Gordon tells Penguin to act natural and not draw any attention.

As the gang members get the booze, Will sets the blade on the floor and discreetly slides it under the gate with his foot. Penguin grabs it first and whispers that he'll escape and watch the gangs destroy Haven, but Gordon points out that the gangs will just go after Penguin next. He says they need to team up to take them out. Penguin agrees, and the two of them resolve to break out together, hilariously bending down back-to-back to get the blade so that they can cut their bindings.

As the gang members goof off and talk about what to do with the captured GCPD officers, Gordon enters and tells them that if they drop their guns he won't shoot. They say he's still bluffing, but Penguin emerges and assures the gang members that the two of them aren't bluffing in the slightest. He shoots them down in a manner of seconds.

After he does so, Edward the Dog waddles back over to Penguin, who's happy to have his pet back. The people, realizing that Penguin killed their attackers, begin to chant his name.

Later that night, refugees argue about whether or not they're safe in Haven. Gordon tells them that while there are going to be hard days, they survived this one.

"As long as we survive," he says, "hope survives in Gotham. And I think that's worth fighting for."

Will says that he agrees. Gordon then tells the people and the GCPD that there's work to be done, wounded to be cared for, and supplies to be handed out. As they disperse, Gordon tells Will that he needs people he can trust to watch over Haven. He says that Will could be a deputy (of sorts) and hands him a badge. Will agrees.

Gordon steps outside, where Penguin and Edward the Bulldog are waiting to be escorted out. Penguin asks if the guard is really necessary, since he saved hundreds of people. Gordon points out that Penguin endangered them to begin with and Gordon thought it was best to be safe. Penguin asks if there are any hard feelings. Gordon replies that he's free to go as long as he doesn't make Gordon regret it.

Suddenly, Barbara and Bullock arrive. (Better late than never, I suppose.) Barbara, seeing Penguin, prepares to shoot him. Gordon blocks her shot, saying that while Penguin is fair game outside of the Green Zone, she can't kill him inside of it. She tells him to move or take the first bullet. Gordon refuses to move.

Before Barbara can make good on this threat, however, bombs go off in the apartment buildings and knock them all down. All the four of them can do is watch the destruction in horror.

Plot B: To Catch A Clown

As Selina lies in her bed, she begins to toss and turn. In her dreams, she's reliving the memory of getting shot by Jeremiah. As soon as she wakes up, she runs out of bed.

We then see Selina on the roof of a building, wearing a sleek black cat burglar suit (completed with claw-tipped gloves). She barely hesitates before jumping off the edge in a shot nigh-identical to the opening scene of the show's first episode.

Gotham: "Pilot"

Gotham: "Penguin, Our Hero."

The next day, Bruce sees Selina walking around and tells her she should be resting, per the doctor's orders. She tells him that she doesn't need to; thanks to Ivy's cure, she's never felt better. And now that she's on her feet, she wants to find Jeremiah.

Bruce says that he's been looking for him since the bridges blew and still hasn't found a lead. Selina points out that now that Haven's been flooded with refugees from all over the city, they're bound to find someone who knows something about his whereabouts. Bruce retorts that even if they find Jeremiah, he's had months to plan and get stronger. Selina asks if he's scared, and Bruce admits that he is—specifically, he's afraid of losing her again.

Selina says that she's not his to lose and that he can't stop her from going after Jeremiahbut she is asking for his help. Bruce agrees but says if they take him down, they're going to do it properly and take him back to Haven so he can stand trial for everything he's done. Selina laughs and kisses Bruce, saying she figured she could count on him to help.

A little bit later, one of the refugees tells them he heard rumors about Jeremiah gathering followers in the Dark Zone at the other end of Gotham. However, the refugee warns them against entering this territory, saying that Jeremiah is the least of their problems if they step into the Dark Zone. He says that everyone there is insane and backs up this statement by showing them a friend of his who had the word "KILL" carved onto his chest several times by one particularly bloodthirsty gang.

Bruce and Selina decide it's worth the risk and enter the Dark Zone together. Selina remarks that she recognizes the area; it used to be the "posh" part of town. Bruce replies that everyone with money got out of the city. Selina points out that he didn't leave, causing Bruce to simply say that he had a "reason to stay." (It's a sweet moment, but we all know that reason wasn't Selina. He stayed because of his one true love: VIGILANTE JUSTICE.)

Selina and Bruce's conversation is interrupted by someone screaming for help. A man runs down the street with a nail bomb strapped to his chest, and they quickly duck down behind a car to avoid getting hit by the blast.

After the smoke clears, they see a gang laughing over the dead body. The gang is full of people wearing leather, spiky hair, and visorswhich might be a familiar sight if you've ever read or watched The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. The story focuses on an older Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement and donning the mantle of Batman once more.

In the beginning of the book, Batman must face down the Mutant Leader and his gang. By the looks of things, this is clearly the same gang. While The Dark Knight Returns isn't one of my favorite stories, I appreciate this cameo of the Mutant Gang, since they have a distinctive aesthetic that really fits into the post-apocalyptic, "Purge"-esque world that Gotham has become.

But I digress. Bruce tells the gang that they don't want any trouble and are just looking for Jeremiah. The gang replies that after they kill Bruce and Selina, they'll kill him too. Bruce asks Selina what she wants to do; she replies that the answer is simple: "Find the schoolyard's biggest bully and kick his teeth in."

Bruce and Selina begin to fight the mutants. Bruce takes on several at once, while Selina fights one who appears to be the Leader (based off his large stature and bare chest, similar to that of the comic book character). She trash talks him and asks if he knows where Jeremiah is. Despite his brawn, she quickly gains the upper hand, slitting his ankles and then laying him out on the ground. She gets on top and begins to beat him, stabbing her metal claws into his chest. She says that if he doesn't tell her what she wants to know, her face will be the last thing he ever sees. The Leader gives in and says Jeremiah is in Old Town North.

This isn't enough for Selina and she asks if he's lying. She then continues to stab and beat him. When Bruce can't talk her down, he stops her by using a grappling hook to grab her arm. She then steps away (rather cheerfully for someone who's just stabbed and beaten a man half to death) and says it was easy enough to find out where to go.

Later on that night, Bruce and Selina continue to move through the Dark Zone. Bruce asks what she was doing to the Mutant Leader. Selina says that he and the other mutants needed to know she was serious, but Bruce says she didn't have to keep hurting him. Selina, however, says he was trying to kill her just like Jeremiah tried. In her mind, he got off easy. She asks whose side Bruce is on, and he replies that he's always on hers.

The two of them then spot a building with windows that display a stained glass image of Jeremiah. They see people dressed in identical button-down shirts and slacks entering the building. Bruce and Selina follow them inside, where a masked woman in a white robe with black and red stripes welcomes them to "the church of Jeremiah Valeska."

The masked woman says that everyone here wants to meet Jeremiah, but he requires a sign of faith. A few people stand up and the woman says that after they follow her up the stairs they'll have a chance to prove themselves. She then tells everyone else to leave.

Selina, however, approaches the woman and tells her she wants to meet Jeremiah as well. The woman says that Selina doesn't look like one of his followers, but Selina replies that she's "witnessed his work firsthand" and "will never forget it." The woman allows her to follow them but whispers something to another cult member. After Selina goes up the stairs, the woman takes off her mask, revealing the painted face of Ecco.

Ecco leaves the scene. Bruce, who's been skulking in the back, leaves to search the rest of the building. He finds a dark room with several dead bodies of worshipers.

Elsewhere, Ecco leads Selina and the other followers into a blood-stained room. It's worth noting, in my opinion, that she's changed from her robe and mask to a more modern, motorcycle-rider look, complete with red and black leather, white fringe, and a messy updo.

(This version of Harley has gotten to wear a lot of unique outfits so far. I'm starting to think I should rank them at the end of the season.)

Ecco rips a cloth off of a table, revealing several six-shooter guns. Each person gets one gun and one bullet. Selina asks what's going on, and Ecco replies that it's a show of faith. She mocks Selina for being scared. Selina replies by grabbing one of the guns and spinning it around. She and the other followers then get in a circle with Ecco watching from a distance. Each person places their gun on the head of another in an even more twisted version of Russian Roulette. Ecco counts to three and then the guns go off.

Some of the followers die, but Selina manages to block the gun behind her. Ecco sighs and says she's disappointed in her. Selina replies that she's not a "mindless idiot" who's willing to get shot in the head. Ecco then tells the other followers that Selina must have come to judge Jeremiah and his methods. Ecco says that while his methods seem like madness, they'll be the path to salvation for his followers. The statement echoes (no pun intended) Jeremiah's own claim of his sanity in season 4.

Ecco then dismisses the remaining followers and tells them that since they passed the test, they may "proceed and be reborn." She then asks if Selina didn't want to meet Jeremiah after all. Selina replies that she just doesn't want to play crazy games, and says that if it's so much fun, Ecco should play. Ecco cocks the gun and replies that she did play. She then brushes away a bit of hair to reveal a bloody wound on the side of her head. She says that the bullet's still there, and she can feel it "rattling inside her brain."

(I wonder if she played her round of Russian Roulette prior to aiding Jeremiah's scheme in "That Old Corpse" or if he made her do it between seasons. The latter might make more sense, as she's certainly become a lot more talkative and visibly unhinged since her mostly-silent and more serious appearances in season 4.)

Selina says she's insane, but Ecco says she was merely willing to look death in the face and allow her old self to die. She says that Jerome gave the same gift to Jeremiah.

"Don't you want this?" she asks. "I know you do . . . Selina."

Selina realizes that Ecco knows who she is, and Ecco replies that she and Jeremiah know everything about Bruce Wayne's life.

Ecco says that Bruce wasn't willing to embrace his true self and neither is Selina. Selina says that Ecco might be right, but Jeremiah made her realize one thing: she hates having a gun pointed at her face. The two of them fight and Selina gets the better of Ecco, grabbing the gun and cocking it. Ecco replies that she always knew Selina could do it, she just needed "a kick in the pants."

 Bruce arrives and tells Selina to drop the gun. Ecco taunts her, saying she doesn't have it in her, but Selina says Ecco deserves to die. Bruce tells her to stop again, which distracts Selina long enough for Ecco to get loose, stab her, and run away.

As they leave the room, Bruce tells Selina that they need to get her patched up. Instead of following Bruce, however, she handcuffs him to a nearby gate and says they've tried doing things his way, so now she's going to do it her way. She then chases after Ecco, leaving Bruce to call out her name in the darkness.

The Verdict

Plot A: I wasn't particularly interested in Plot A this week. Since the whole enemies-or-allies, on-and-off shtick has always been a part of Gordon and Penguin's relationship, their team-up at the end of the episode (and, as we know from the flash-forward, their team-up at the end of the season) was kind of a foregone conclusion.

However, I am curious about two points. The first is why these past two episodes have spent time focusing on Will, who doesn't appear to be a particularly important character. All I can say is that minor side characters in Gotham are usually the first casualties in any conflict. So it's possible he's going to get hurt or worse later in the season, and the ensuing anger will fuel Gordon's fight against a, as-yet-unknown enemy.

The second point I'm curious about is the identity of that as-yet-unknown enemy. Is it the same person who shot down the chopper in "Year Zero," or someone else? In either case, was Jeremiah Valeska the culprit? Or was it someone we haven't seen yet? Perhaps the culprit is a character who, if you've watched the season 5 trailers, promises to be a major player in the ensuing drama.

If you haven't seen the trailers, I don't dare spoil the surprise. All I'll say is that, this season, Gotham City has been cast into shadow. What better time to introduce a man who thrives in the darkness?

Plot B: For me, this was the more interesting part of the episode because it did more to develop individual characters and their place in the Batman mythos. This was especially the case with Selina and Ecco.

For Selina, Ivy's cure seems to have improved her strength and reflexes, while awakening a sort of bloodlust and thirst for vengeance. (Though, to be fair, Selina's always been one to hold a grudge. In season 3, for instance, her immediate response to recovering from being pushed out of a window was to get out of bed and attempt to murder the person who pushed her out.)

These changes serve to distance her from Bruce, morally speaking. Gotham's version of Bruce is someone who, despite having a strong desire for vengeance, has mostly resisted the urge to kill those who have wronged him. (There is the obvious exception of Ra's al Ghul, but killing him resulted in a downward spiral of guilt and shame that Bruce wouldn't want to repeat.)

Selina, on the other hand, has always done whatever it took to survive and protect the people she cared about (as evidenced by her pushing Reggie out of a window in season 1 to keep Bruce safe). Murder wasn't her first resort in the past, but now something has changed—and I'm not just talking about the effects of that seed thing she swallowed.

At the end of season 4, Selina came closer to death than ever before and had her mobility stripped away for months. She's now living in a war zone where the stakes are high and the law is practically non-existent. That's enough to make her rethink what it takes to survive—and thanks to her new enhanced abilities, she doesn't have to run from a fight. To Selina, killing is what it takes to survive in this new Gotham City,  and she's well-equipped for that.

In other words, I understand the change in Selina and think it makes sense. Catwoman will always have a different moral code than Batman, and it's important that the show establishes that. While their other quarrels in the past have often been petty, the divide between the two of them that emerges in this episode is important. It's not a personality clash or a misunderstanding; it's a major moral difference.

Also, shout-out for Selina's actress, Camren Bicondova, for not only looking like a young version of Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in Batman Returns but also mimicking her extremely well.

But enough about Selina. Let's move on to the harlequin herself: Ecco.

Ecco probably says more words in this episode than in all of her other appearances put together. It's clear that joining Jeremiah's cause has brought out a more ostentatious, deranged, showy side of her. One thing hasn't changed, though: she's as devoted to Jeremiah as ever, to the point that one wonders if she even hesitated to stay with him after his transformation.

Ecco's version of Harley Quinn is unique in that it's certainly less comedic than other takes (particularly the character's debut in Batman: The Animated Series or "BTAS"). This Harley might laugh it up, but she's certainly not joking around. She's willing to kill without mercy, and she's certainly not as amicable or goofy as her BTAS counterpart.

While I prefer the more lighthearted, cartoonish version of Harley, that approach wouldn't work for Ecco, Jeremiah, or Gotham itself. For one thing, Ecco was introduced as a cold and efficient bodyguard to Jeremiah who was competent enough to single-handedly knock out and capture Jerome. It makes sense that her new alter ego would be just as ruthless. Turning her into a clown wouldn't make sense.

As for Jeremiah, I've said it before: so far, he's been a cold, calculating version of the Joker. He's a harsh person who (most likely) wouldn't want to put up with the hijinks of a bubbly, comedic sidekick. His version of Harley has to be just as ruthless as he is.

And let's be honest: Gotham, for all of its quirks, humor, and comic-book shenanigans, is a dark show. I might be wrong, but I don't think the comedic antihero version of Harley Quinn would gel with its mood.

All this to say that I think the changes to both female characters are smart, interesting, and effective. Selina feels more like Catwoman than ever, and Ecco's starting to cement her own, unique take on the Harley Quinn character.

Overall: I enjoyed this episode and it raised a lot of questions about the rest of the season. "Penguin, Our Hero" helped raise both the tension and stakes of this season after last week's lull. All in all, I'd probably give it an 8/10. If this episode is anything to go by, it'll be nigh-impossible to look away from every second of the nine remaining episodes.

Come back next week for a recap of "Ruins" (5x04). Until then, feel free to comment below with your thoughts, opinions, and theories.

I'll see you next week, Gothamites. Until then, stay sharp, and remember: cult worship and Russian Roulette are never the answer to your problems.


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