Aaaaand we’re back, ladies and gentlemen!
The wait was a bit shorter than it was last year, as Doctor Who ran all the way into July, but I still missed my weekly commentary. I hope it’s not entirely boring for all of you, either! 🙂
As a bit of housekeeping, I’ve added a page to the menu under “This Week on TV,” where I’ll keep track of my Weekly Lineup, past and present. As things stand right now, I am currently following Doctor Who, Gotham, Arrow, and Agents of Shield. I’m also following Marvel’s The Inhumans, as it occupies the slot Agents will fill when it returns, and I’ll be watching and reviewing it anyway, so why not, eh? 😉
Kicking things off with a bang and leading the pack, Gotham premiered its fourth season this week, and they certainly haven’t lost their touch yet!
4.01 “Pax Penguina”
Picking the story up about three months after the Tetch virus incident, we find the city of Gotham has been changed yet again. The disaster and chaos proved to be fertile ground for an ambitious, capable man to move in and make the city his. Penguin is, once again, on top, and he’s made organized crime much more… organized.
A wedding reception is interrupted by a robbery, which is interrupted by Zasz, who drives the robbers out because they don’t have a license. No one is allowed to commit crime without Penguin’s approval now, in the form of a license. Zasz drives the robbers out as they swear he and Penguin haven’t heard the last of this. Of course, then Zasz’s own licensed robbers burst in to do the job instead.
Interestingly, both sets of robbers call the groom a cheapskate when they look at the ring on his bride’s finger. Insulting, maybe, but, then again, they didn’t steal it, so I’d say the cheap option wasn’t entirely bad.
Penguin, it seems, has brought the city back from chaos and reduced crime to an all-time low. Freaks are not running amok. Cops are not being killed left, right, and center. Neither are people, it seems, so long as they cooperate. Oh, and criminals are not being arrested. If they have a license, they’re to be let go, any officer that interrupts is supposed to walk away and let it happen.
Penguin rules the city by ruling the criminals. Either they have a license, or they’re dead. His new kingdom is built atop their corpses, and it feeds on the people of Gotham, but almost no one dares to oppose it. They’re a conquered people.
Of course the city would, as they put it, be in a tailspin after a catastrophe like the outbreak, on top of everything else preceding it, and what Penguin offers would surely tempt even the best of men. It’s part of human nature, the struggle between order and chaos. On the one hand, we have some form of security, an assurance of what will happen, that the world will keep turning and we can live in peace, if we’re just willing to pay the price for it and keep our heads down. On the other hand, we can have freedom from oppressive regimes that leech off the people beneath them, draining our resources, our dignity, even our blood, but that, too, comes with a price. Either choice can feel like a deal with a devil, and either choice is stained with innocent blood, so what’s a man to do?
Accept neither, I would say, and forge a path of balance between the two, where we have a security that enhances our safety.
But, then again, the “how” is always trickier than the ideal itself. For most, the choice is between Scylla and Charybdis, and they don’t take kindly to someone who seems to be steering them to the latter. I think part of that is probably because they hate a monster they can’t defeat, and they hate themselves for making a choice that they know will kill someone, but most of all, they hate someone who refuses to accept that choice.
Thus, Jim Gordon is particularly unpopular right now.
He’s not exactly known for going with the flow and letting bad things happen right in front of him. That earns him more than a little resentment from his fellow officers, who don’t want things to go back to how they used to be. They want to live, to put food on the table, to keep their heads down. But here comes Gordon, rocking the boat like always. A robbery happening right in front of him? He takes the punk down and locks him up, license or no.
Even Bullock is arguing in favor of playing the long game. They can take Penguin down in due time, but it needs to be after the city’s gotten back on its feet again. Thing is, the longer they let Penguin sit like that, the more entrenched he gets, the more people will look to him for their security, no matter how ashamed they are of it, and more irrelevant and impotent the GCPD will become. If Penguin’s kingdom is allowed to continue, it can only grow, and the crimes he authorizes can only grow more numerous, more tragic, more deadly. Yet even then, if everyone is only living by the Penguin’s good graces, it will only get harder and harder to win the people back to the side of the law.
Most of all, I think, if the legitimate powers that be endorse Penguin’s licenses, then they, themselves, are complicit in the crimes which are committed. Silence is consent, as they say, and allowing a crime is the same as committing it yourself, most especially when you do so under the authority of the law. Crime is then legal, and chaos is the inevitable result, including the eventual implosion of such a system back into chaos, and every drop of suffering the people experience in the meantime. Ownership of property becomes meaningless when it can just be taken away, and hard work becomes worthless, and thus society destroys itself. It doesn’t matter how low you keep your head, if you do nothing while your neighbor suffers, then you’re just waiting for your turn to be made into a victim.
That sounds more like Charybdis than Scylla, to me.
Basically, what Gordon is doing, one can argue the costs and the benefits, one can argue morals, one can argue for peace and security, but there is no such thing under such a system as Penguin’s. Whether what Gordon is doing is right, it’s absolutely vital.
Heck, even arguing that things will otherwise return to “the old days” without Penguin’s regime is impotent: they already have. They’ve gone back to the days when a crime lord ruled the city, the cops all looked the other way, and the stalwart defender of justice was an outcast. Everything that’s happened in the last three seasons, and they’re right back where they started. With one exception: people haven’t gotten used to this new version of the old song, so it can still be stopped. That is Gordon’s hope.
So, Penguin prepares to take down his dissidents and enemies, as usual, and establish his reign, as usual, and Gordon plans to take down both sides, as usual. Penguin is even doing a victory lap, as he opens his Iceberg Lounge, featuring as his centerpiece, his old pal and worst enemy, the Riddler, in a human-sized ice cube. He has a story to explain things, of course, about Ed Nygma suffering a terrible disease that has no cure so they froze him, but Ed didn’t want to be locked away in the dark, he wanted to be out in the light and seen and all that. Yeah, bunch of nonsense, but no one dares ask too openly. Even when they ask about the licenses, and the bar that used to be Barbara’s, and the human popsicle people will be partying all around, they don’t push the Penguin too hard. They don’t want to be one of the dirty things Penguin does because no one else will.
Yet, for all his power, the cracks have already started to form in Penguin’s hold on the city. Gordon, for one, and even Bullock’s hope of taking Penguin down eventually. There’s also how, when the law becomes the criminals, vigilantes tend to rise. On which note, Bruce and Selina are both doing well in their respective training adventures.
Bruce stops crimes in process, partially to hone his skills for when Ra’s al’Ghul returns, but also to help save the people of his city. To which end, he wants to investigate Penguin’s licenses. Alfred cautions him against trying to achieve two objective at once, as they often come at odds with each other, but Alfred is also forgetting that their enemy is a schemer with entire associations at his command, so it can only help to gain experience fighting schemers and associations. Either way, Bruce is set on his objective. He speaks to Gordon at the precinct, gets some information with which to form a plan, shares an idea about Gordon’s current crisis, and vanishes. He’s acting a bit like Batman already.
Selina isn’t stopping crime, necessarily, but she’s walking down alleys with thugs in them, looking all vulnerable and helpless, and when they attack her, she kicks their butts. She’s learning quickly under Tabitha, who is watching her back and correcting her mistakes. They beat thugs, they win, they go get pizza, they go home. Where they find Zasz waiting for them, with an invitation/demand that they attend the opening of the Lounge, make good with Penguin and get a license for their crimes. Tabitha hates the idea, but Selina wants to get work again and move up in the world.
And then there’s the “crack” of the robbers who don’t want to conform to Penguin’s rule. Their leader fancies himself an outlaw more than a criminal, as outlaws have a code to live by, though what his code could possibly be, I have no idea. He robs a wedding, swears revenge when thwarted, stops at nothing, and he’s cruel. Really, no code I can see there except maybe refusing to play by anyone’s rules at all, which is hardly a code, it’s just a horrible attitude.
The robbers know they’re facing monsters like Penguin and Zasz, so they go fetch a monster of their own. One of them used to work at Arkham, and he knows Jonathan Crane, the son of the man who tried to artificially conquer fear. The previous Crane created a fear-inducing toxin, which the son can create if he has the notes and materials for it, so they bribe the warden and take the young man out of the asylum. He works for them, in exchange for time away from the scarecrow they create to control him, the manifestation of his fear and terror, but they keep exposing him to it, locking him in with it. Very bad move, that.
So the robbers strike a bank, leaving people shrieking in terror at hallucinations, and Gordon puts things together fairly quick. Unfortunately, the robbers are ready for them the first time, and while they refrain from killing anyone, which might be the sole tenet of their so-called “code,” they still get away clean, and Gordon has no more leads. Then his conversation with Bruce gets him thinking that he can use Penguin to draw them out. So he confronts and goads the crime lord, who makes sure the news mentions his insulting attitude towards the robbers, and they get angry and plan to attack the Lounge’s opening.
And all paths lead there: Penguin celebrating his victory, the robbers wanting to crash it, Gordon wanting to take down the robbers and chip away at Penguin’s power base at the same time, Bruce looking for details about the list of licenses so he can bring the criminals to justice, and Selina, there to make nice and improve her circumstances.
Tabitha joins Selina, watching her back, though the girl and Bruce soon retire to the roof for a conversation, where Bruce apologizes for how he was a jerk (yes, Bruce, good!) and for a moment they’re just two people, albeit remarkable people, who share a connection they kind of hope for but aren’t ready to try again at just yet. Bruce got what he was after, information about who has the list, before this little talk, and it’s a good thing, because the situation reaches critical mass down in the Lounge. The robbers showed up, but were taken by surprise, and Penguin wants to make an example out of them. Bruce wants to save the robbers’ lives, and is ready to suit up in his mask until Alfred councils him to do good as Bruce Wayne, not just in a mask. Bruce rises to the occasion, challenging Penguin to hand them over to the police. Penguin praises Bruce’s character, but refuses.
And then the lights go out.
Ivy, it would seem, is no more loyal to Penguin than anyone else. Feeling a bit put out, she heads to the back and throws the switch, throwing things into darkness. I wonder if she helped the robbers get into the Lounge in the first place, but that’s a question for later. They leap into action out front. One gets away, to Zasz’s frustration as he can’t fire into the crowd, but the rest are taken out pretty easily between Alfred, Tabitha, Gordon, and Bullock. The leader manages to gas Penguin straight in his face, though, before being taken down and arrested. Penguin’s nightmare, a demonic Riddler, comes straight at his face, warped and insane, leaving the man screaming and weeping in Gordon’s arms, an image which ends up on the front page the next day.
So, the momentary crisis is averted, but things have just barely gotten started.
Penguin won’t be happy when he recovers, but Gordon won’t let that stop him. He has an uphill battle to fight, but perhaps the most important part of this, especially as his own fellow beat him up rather than challenge Penguin, is reminding the GCPD that they are, in fact, good men, and good officers of the law.
Bruce obtains the list, and uses it to target a crime in action. But he makes a rookie mistake, leaning on the skylight and falling through. Another rookie mistake, he takes off his mask, revealing his face. But then, worst of all, the criminals flee as the cops arrive, and Bruce can only stand there, the picture of a frightened boy. Not an excellent start to his vigilante career, that!
And the robber who got away finds a monster waiting for him. They locked the young Crane in a room with the scarecrow, and as he screamed, the scarecrow took him. Jonathan Crane is gone, says the creature in the room. Only the Scarecrow remains, a twisted thing in ragged cloth and a mask, sending people into their nightmares.
All in all, quite the start to the season!