“You want to start a war over the guy who carried your umbrella?”
– Carmine Falcone
The seventh episode of Gotham begins with an icon: Oswald Cobblepot’s umbrella. The duck-footed puppet master is strutting through the streets of his city while, in the dark recesses of her nightclub, Fish Mooney flips out. She thought he was dead and is just now learning otherwise.
Mooney isn’t the only one floored by Penguin’s resilience and cunning; by the end of the hour just about everybody in the show falls under the umbrella of his control in a flashback reveal that made me wish Gotham‘s pilot was worth revisiting (it’s not).
Cobblepot’s coup in “Penguin’s Umbrella” is incredibly satisfying thanks to the episode’s deft handling of its titular symbol. The audience should expect that an episode of a Batman show named after Penguin’s signature weapon is going to prominently feature the use of a campy, umbrella themed gadget. Instead, the series once again shows an encouraging amount of restraint and (I can’t believe I’m using this term in regards to Gotham) maturity when it comes to representing this key image. Penguin has never seemed more powerful, and his umbrella has never been cooler.
Gunbrella – (noun); an umbrella that is also a gun. “The Penguin-man shot at Max Shrek with his gunbrella causing much confusion as to why such a device even existed in the first place.”
There is a lot of violence in episode seven and none of it is executed with an umbrella. It ranges from the threatened, to the heavily stylized, to the downright terrifying.
Catching up with Gordon and Bullock in the GCPD locker room, we start off with the stylized. Harvey punches his partner in the face, sending Jim flying to the ground, then pulls a gun on him. It’s represented with the type of shot that Gotham employs every so often which makes the show feel like a comic book. The low angle for the frame, Gordon’s face falling onto the floor in the foreground with the image of Bullock standing over top of him says, “This is pulp.”
I’m pointing this out because without allowing this comic book language to inform viewers of tone, I’m not sure the rest of the episode’s violence would have worked. The regular use of comically huge guns by the detectives, and the re-purposing of chained-up nuns as a living road block in a mob war, require an audience that knows it’s not just watching a crime procedural. This is Batman – shit like that happens all the time.
Where the violence allowance is really tested though, is with the episode’s introduction of a Batvillain who’s already on the road to Arkham: Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan).
When Butch (a henchman) fails to bring Gordon to Fish Mooney to answer for the sparing of Penguin’s life, Falcone puts Zsasz on the job. The killer walks right through the front door of Gotham PD, tells everyone he’s supposed to bring Gordon in alive, and throws disturbing threats Jim’s way, such as, “Alive is a pretty broad category. A man with no hands can still be alive.”
After shooting Gordon twice but losing him to Jim’s new allies in the Major Crimes unit, Zsasz coldly walks over to a female officer lying prone on the ground. She was a bystander and now is begging for her life. He shoots her, point blank, and adds her murder to his on-body tally with a box cutter. She was number 28.
The murder of the female cop is very upsetting, but not as exploitative as say, the burning alive of that councilor in episode four, “Arkham.” Just like the umbrella, Zsasz’s gruesome hash marks are an essential symbol in this show. The cold brutality and barely contained madness of Victor gives us a baseline we can use to judge how far away Gotham City is from getting the hero it deserves. On a scale of petty theft (1) to clown prince of crime (100), Gotham’s sitting at a disturbing 28.
Umbrella-copter – (noun); an umbrella that is also a one-person gyrocopter. “The Penguin-man had no where to run so, floating into the sky, he escaped with his umbrella-copter.”
The stakes are very high in “Penguin’s Umbrella.” Every character is operating on a life-or-death level of tension, and many end up falling to their doom. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, none of the canonical characters are in any real danger, but the threat of death serves as a great motivator to resolve the first chapter in Penguin’s ascension to the top Gotham City’s criminal ladder.
In “Spirit of the Goat” Jim Gordon described Gotham City as a labyrinth of corruption that he felt trapped in. With the threat of Falcone’s revenge hot on his heels, Jim activates his proverbial umbrella-copter and just flies over all the convoluted social boundaries. His plan, after sending Barbara to a safe place, is to arrest Falcone, Maroni and the mayor on charges of conspiracy.
Gordon entrusts his new allies in Major Crimes with solving the Wayne murders if he bites the dust during this power play and eventually, Bullock comes around back to Gordon’s side. Again, it’s the higher than normal stakes bringing out his most essential qualities: Bullock figures he’s dead either way so fuck it, why not be one of the good guys?
The detectives have no trouble apprehending the mayor, but things get sticky when they make it into Falcone’s home. He raises the stakes even higher, claiming that Zsasz has Barbara and that she will suffer if Jim doesn’t let the mayor walk away.
It’s not a bluff, but Gordon doesn’t know that. Falcone forces him to believe the threat. When Jim concedes, Carmine releases the detectives and Barbara on the condition that Gordon thinks on the topic of the role that the criminal system plays in Gotham. Falcone flies higher than the detectives and wins, but that display of power only serves to elevate the true crime lord that’s pulling all the strings.
Umbrella – (noun); a thing that encompasses many other things from above. “Now that it’s raining more than ever, know that we’ll still have each other. You can stand under my umbrella.”
Penguin has been in control of the entire situation. Until now, it was clear that Cobblepot could at least understand the systems at work in Gotham and use that knowledge to his advantage, but “Penguin’s Umbrella” goes further in illustrating just how much agency he holds.
The entire time that we have been following Cobblepot – from his faked death, to his restaurant management job, to that sponge bath with his mom – he’s had the city under his umbrella. It’s a fact that becomes gradually apparent throughout the episode as he plays the crime families against each other, kills a disgruntled co-worker and finally reveals his true allegiance.
Fish Mooney tries to snatch Penguin back from Maroni under the false pretense of game-respect-game (she really just wants him dead because he knows about her intentions of killing Falcone), but Sal sees too much money making potential in his golden goose to let go.
An apology, a slap in the face and a mob gun trade embargo later, Penguin leads head-henchman Frankie and a couple of goons to a Falcone warehouse containing millions of dollars and Nikolai (Fish’s co-conspirator against Falcone).
Frankie calls Penguin a traitor, but Cobblepot has everything figured out. He knows Frankie, he knows what he loves and he’s used it against him. Frankie is a skinflint, a cheapskate, and has been underpaying his goons. Penguin has bribed the underlings to stand by and watch as he guts their boss while delivering an excellent monologue and finally kissing Frankie’s corpse on the head.
The warehouse massacre brings Falcone and Maroni to the pier where a truce is called, and Penguin is allowed to continue working for Maroni in exchange for a property in Arkham called Indian Hill.
None of this is what it seems.
The power of just even naming the episode “Penguin’s Umbrella” is at play when, in the final scene, Falcone goes out to check on his chicken coop and it begins to rain. Before you can say “pathetic fallacy” it’s apparent that Penguin is going to show up, umbrella in tow, holding all of the power. The two reminisce about the time they first met, when Penguin set all of this in motion, vowing loyalty to Carmine and begging that Gordon be the one assigned to kill him.
As the two friends walk together in the rain, the system that Falcone believes in reveals its weakness. He thinks that Penguin works for him, but the way the scene is blocked shows the true relationship. The way they talk, the words they say and everything that they know about each other would tell us that Carmine Falcone owns all of Gotham, but the only thing keeping the men dry is Penguin’s umbrella.
- Bullock one-liner of the episode: “That’s a hell of a plan. Did you sit down with a panel of chimpanzees and a bucket of crack and come up with that one?”
- Penguin’s metaphorical umbrella of power is my favourite, but I still have a soft spot for the classic gunbrella that has a hypnosis-spiral on it. What’s your favourite Penguin umbrella?
- Anthony Carrigan has made quite a mark in the DC Universe this fall season. Zsasz is set to become a series regular on Gotham and he also played Kyle Nymbus in episode three of The Flash.
- Alfred got to show his bodyguard chops this week, apprehending Detective Allen outside the manor. Little Bruce is in safe hands.
- Speaking of Bruce, I’m still not a fan of his scenes. Yes, they’ve come a long way from broad characterizations of PTSD, but detours to Wayne Manor usually end up boring and expository at best.