State of the Union
This week on Gotham the primary struggle is, once again, against institutional corruption. “Everyone Has a Cobblepot” is one of those titles that makes a big promise, namely that it will prominently feature Robin Lord Taylor’s compelling portrayal of The Penguin, but like all the best episodes of Gotham, it carries with it a slightly deeper meaning. The eighteenth episode of Gotham is all about identity.
“Cobblepot” asks viewers to think all the way back to episode one when Detective Jim Gordon pretended to kill Oswald Cobblepot as a measure of good faith to the Falcone crime family. Turns out, about half the Gotham City Police Department has made a good faith kill in the name of staying alive and paid. Unlike Gordon’s though, everyone else’s Cobblepots stay dead, and the consequences of that fact become apparent in episode 18.
Commissioner Loeb, the corrupt head of the GCPD, has evidence of these occupational misdeeds and uses them to pull the strings of all his puppet boys in blue. This week, he blackmails Bullock to confess to fabricating evidence used to charge bad cop Arnold Flass a few weeks ago. As a result, the most corrupt of the cops is brought back into the fold just in time to run for president of the police officers’ union.
If the plot sounds convoluted that’s because it is. Gotham has gotten to the point where every plotline requires that the viewer has a passing knowledge of the series’s happenings. It’s a point of maturity for a television show when it can make 18 episode-long callbacks with this kind of confidence and succeed.
The case of the week is compelling to a point, and moves at the fast pace we’ve come to expect with a confident episode of Gotham. Jim, betrayed by Bullock, turns to the other Harvey – Dent, that is – to help track down the stash of incriminating evidence Commissioner Loeb is using as leverage against his employees.
When Jim and Harvey Two-Face get too rash in the face of Xi Lu, a Chinese crime boss they were pointed to by Loeb’s former partner, Bullock saves the day, joins the hunting party and scores some essential intel Sin City-style (hanging Loeb’s old partner out of a speeding car, head inches from the pavement). The gang learns of Falcone’s involvement in the blackmail scheme and head to Oswald’s (Penguin’s club), to make use of the only Cobblepot left living.
Here is where the episode gets clever conceptually. At this point in the series, if I were to pin down a central theme of Gotham it would have to be identity. The importance of being a canonical Batman character has been underlined by the brutal treatment of extras, and all of the most compelling moments have involved the major steps characters take towards their established mythological personas. Yet, as Bullock and the episode title impress: everyone has a Cobblepot.
But if it can be said that everyone has a Cobblepot then it needs to be clarified: only Jim has a Penguin. Jim’s altruistic action in episode one has elevated him above all other characters behind the badge while also separating his Cobblepot from everyone else’s littering the bottom of the river.
Penguin agrees to bring the detectives to the “super secret blackmail hoard” in exchange for five minutes with the information they find and a favour from Jim Gordon in the future. A fun scene with two old hench-people and some tea at the farm where the secrets are supposedly held leads to the break in the case, though with disappointing repercussions for Penguin.
Instead of all the blackmail info, the investigation turns up Loeb’s daughter Miriam, who is being kept in the attic so that she might be kept out of Arkham Asylum for murdering her mother. It’s not exactly what the detectives wanted either, but Gordon uses the discovery as leverage to further cut himself away from the cloth and bring Bullock with him. Blackmailing the commissioner, Jim liberates Bullock’s Cobblepot file and receives Loeb’s recommendation for union president.
Doctors and Dollmakers
Speaking of identity themese, a short scene between Bruce and Selina Kyle in the hospital goes a long way in fleshing out the backstories of Batman and Catwoman. Selina found out that Bruce was keeping Alfred company as the butler recovers from last week’s backstabbing and takes the opportunity to apologize for her running away from the bat boy’s generous offer of the rich life. Their make up is sweet, but also establishes a fundamental aspect of both characters as adults: their will-they-won’t-they romance fueled by their self-identification as dark loners.
In another hospital far far away, the theme of identity is much less subtle. Colm Feore guest stars this week as Dr. Dulmacher (aka: The Dollmaker) and he is only interested in the question of what makes a body a person. First he explores this by replacing Fish’s self-scooped eye with a blue one in a stunning negation of stakes. He then muses on the idea of at what point transplant surgery addicts cease to be themselves. If we’re all just a collection of parts, what happens to our identity when we change our composition?
Fish, meanwhile, tries to cut a deal with The Dollmaker and become his right hand, giving him access to the prisoners she’s cut him off from with her tiny revolution of the past few episodes. The plot – though still painfully ridiculous -works on two levels here, as The Dollmaker further makes his point on identity by revealing the abomination he made out of his former assistant (taken apart then reassembled as a chimeric Frankenstein monster) and Fish defies her own internal identification as she keeps her motives and allegiances hidden.
The Dollmaker plot fits in well thematically with the rest of “Cobblepot”, and the reveal of the monster Dr. Dulmacher made out of his old employee succeeds as a small piece of horror camp. That said, I still can’t get behind everything that’s happening here. The story in the Dollhouse ends with the reveal that Fish is on an island and can’t escape, underlining the plot arc’s weird Lost-ish quality, but mostly highlighting how removed Fish and Dulmacher are from the rest of the show.
A final point of identity is made with this week’s Riddler subplot. Cory Michael Smith has become, along with Robin Lord Taylor, a delightful reason to turn into Gotham every Monday, even if his storyline is starting to feel repetitive.
With Arnold Flass back in the good graces of the GCPD, Ed Nygma is motivated to make his move on Kristina Kringle before old abusive romances rekindle. His forwardness doesn’t pay off though, and a misunderstanding leads him to the discovery that the apple of his eye is now dating a police officer named Tom. The confrontation couldn’t go better for fans who have long been waiting for Nygma to snap.
Kringle’s new beau identifies Nygma as the guy who likes riddles and lobs one across the plate. Nygma home-runs it through his condescending, self loathing rage. As Tom and Kristina leave for the night, the cop boyfriend renames Nygma “Riddle Man” and oh my god it’s so close to what we’ve been wanting all this time.
While Nygma has been displaying the characteristics of a proto-supervillain since his first appearance, it’s reasonable to say that he has not been presented with enough motivation to go full-on Riddler. He’s a law enforcement lab technician after all, and with the exception of The Electrocutioner, the super villain career option hasn’t really presented itself in Gotham City’s job market.
By naming – or rather, misnaming – The Riddle Man, Tom may have inadvertently planted the the seed of remarkable identity in Nygma. Just as Jim Gordon’s honesty and altruism elevated him and The Penguin to mythological status, Tom’s naive dismissal of Ed will hopefully serve as the catalyst that transforms a collection of body parts and obsessions into The Riddler.
-Bruce is reading Alfred’s copy of Great Expectations while he sleeps. Always apply a liberal amount of Dickens to a stab wound.
-Bullock line of the week: “Go! Before I lose my good shoe!”
– Two weeks ago I pointed out all the similarities Gotham has with other, better shows. This week, with Miriam Loeb hidden away in an attic the parallels with NBC’s Hannibal were near comical. The character reveal in “Cobblepot” is shockingly similar to one regarding a character named Miriam Lass in Hannibal. Throw in the fact that Lass is a stand-in for Clarice Starling and Miriam Loeb’s necklace made of starling bones, and it all seems like the basis for a robust TV conspiracy theory.
-Bruce’s conflict with Wayne Enterprises is really pushing him in the vigilante direction. “Cobblepot” was the first time I entertained the thought of Bruce donning the cowl as a child. I think that would make for some fun TV.
-Poison Ivy lurks in the hospital and steals food from the “sickies.”
-Penguin’s method of eenie-meenie-minie-moe was a pretty fun way of dealing with the loose thread of the farming hench couple. That said, really? Dude’s a crime boss and he only has one shotgun shell?