While Gotham‘s “Arkham” had several parts that I enjoyed, I am beginning to wonder if the show will move past the few erroneous steps it has made in regards to the layout of the show and characters. I still think it’s one of the best dramatic pilots of the season, but if things don’t get straightened out we’re going to hit a saggy middle, and these characters do not deserve that. They have so much more to offer.
For instance, I am continually amazed and delighted by Robin Lord Taylor’s portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot, the young man who eventually becomes The Penguin. He has not only given Penguin depth via his his pitiable condition and lowly status, he has also managed to infuse his Penguin with the same measured, yet chaotic, madness that Heath Ledger gave to his Joker.
Penguin terrifies and intrigues me. He has managed to stand out among the crowd of characters as a stellar example of writer and actor synthesizing the character into something extraordinary.
What I find interesting is that once Penguin was given a second chance, he immediately came back to Gotham and sorted himself out. He got a new identity, he got a job, and he began to plan his revenge. Penguin isn’t some idiotic lackey as Mooney thought. He isn’t some throwaway worker as his restaurant manager thought. He is thoughtful, dedicated, and clever.
While Maroni takes him under his wing (much to his detriment, I’m afraid), building on their (questionably) mutual Italian ethnicity, love of mother, and similar starting points, Penguin is seeing the advantage of a protector. Unlike Mooney, Maroni values Penguin. He sees worth in him. Would Penguin have been so bent on joining in Gotham’s darkness if someone had valued him earlier in his life?
I see parallels between Penguin and Bruce. While Penguin, in some ways, is more privileged in that he still has a mother and is able to be somewhat independent, both Penguin and Bruce have suffered. Bruce lost his parents and is now living with Alfred who can be harsh and unsympathetic (I find their relationship in the show a bit…unsettling). He is grieving yet still wants to help the city. Penguin, on the other hand, is living alone after suffering pain at the hands of his former boss and embraces Gotham’s criminal element, elated to be part of the seedy underbelly.
What differentiates the two? Bruce was born to affluent, generous parents who doted on him if the few seconds we spent with them are any indication. And while Penguin may have had a caring parent, she appears to have been unable to provide Oswald with much since they live in a poor part of the city.
Do wealth and poverty make that much of a difference? Would Penguin have still been a villain had he been born to rich parents? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s because of the people who raised Bruce and Oswald.
Is it fair? Of course not. Oswald was probably mistreated as a child and raised in a city that delights in corruption. The mitigating circumstances scream Oswald’s eventual turn as The Penguin, a mob boss, much like his mentor, Maroni. Bruce, on the other hand, becomes Batman, the dark avenger of Gotham. With Alfred as his teacher, he becomes a tough, ruthless persona, much like a mob boss. But he does it alone.
I’m curious if we’ll see Penguin go from kitchen boy to mob boss to prisoner in Arkham. What about Bruce? He has experienced trauma, maybe PTSD from seeing his parents die. What if he ends up in Arkham?
Gotham’s “Arkham” may have had some issues, such as the confusion about who Mooney was hiring and why, or the crime of the week villain who didn’t have much of a reason to go around killing people with a spike, or the feeling that there are too many characters and not enough development, but I appreciate the time they are taking to speak on the difference between wealth and poverty, the decisions we make in regards to money, and the qualities that are instilled in us from an early age.
Already I am more invested in how Batman and The Penguin will interact in the future because I am watching from the beginning even before either of them has an inkling of who they will be in the future. “Arkham” begins to draw some lines between these two, a much needed foundation if we are to understand their later relationship.
I will also note that I think some of the choices made by the crew of Gotham, particularly in “Arkham”, were a great mix of crime drama and zany comic Batman. The fight scenes, the props, and the storyline work together to homage both the Adam West Batman (and perhaps even the Tim Burton Batman) and the True Crime Detective comics, while also acknowledging Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
I hope Gotham can streamline the writing so that the episodes after “Arkham” are geared toward the overall story of season one, which is to find out who killed Bruce’s parents.
Gotham has strayed from that into depicting the corruption of Gotham, but we are already aware of this and do not need it repeated. We need to understand why, to know the reasoning behind it, not see it repeatedly played out.
That being said, “Arkham” has some fantastic Penguin storyline material, and I look forward to seeing next week’s episode, in which I’m hoping to spot Edward Nygma.