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Gotham - Pax Penguina - Review

It’s a new day for “A Dark Knight” and his friends and foes as “Gotham” returns for its fourth season. And “Pax Penguina” is an entertaining entry into those new status quos.

So about three months have passed since the events of the season finale and the crime rate in Gotham City has been reduced by half. But it’s not because of James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and the GCPD, or because of Bruce’s (David Mazouz) vigilante activities. Nope, it’s because of the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). We learn, during a summit with the mayor and the police commissioner, that Oswald re-seized control of the criminal underworld and used it to stem the chaos and violence in the aftermath of the Tetch virus attack. But now, he wants to take his authority a step further by unionizing crime in the city. The idea is that Gotham’s criminals would be required to have a license (stamped with an umbrella symbol, natch), allowing Penguin to both profit from their activities and regulate the levels of crime. “This is Gotham City,” he crows to the cowed officials, “there will always be crime. What I am offering is crime in the hands of professionals, and held to agreed-upon terms.”

Obviously, our heroes aren’t too happy about this. While Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) argues that they need to let the city get back on its feet before going after Cobblepot, Gordon counters that it’ll be harder to win the people back the longer they look to Penguin to keep them safe. But when word comes down from the commissioner that any criminal with a license is exempt from arrest, there’s little Gordon can do. And he finds little support for his stance among his fellow officers, who are happy enough with the relative safety Penguin’s status quo provides, and some of whom beat the hell out of him for trying to interfere (and sidebar – Gordon takes a lot of knocks in this episode; it’s interesting to see him so defeated so early in the season as the show drives towards Batman’s debut).

Speaking of whom, Bruce stumbles across a license while patrolling in his ski mask and black coat and wonders aloud to Alfred (Sean Pertwee) whether there’s anything they can do. Alfred thinks he should stay focused on his mission – using his “real-world encounters” to prepare for the return of Ra’s al Ghul (new series regular Alexander Siddig), who we do briefly see spying on Bruce. But Bruce, feeling some responsibility for the Tetch virus being unleashed, believes he “can make a difference in Gotham” at the same time. This leads to a great proto-Batman moment where Bruce sneaks up on Gordon at the GCPD to talk and then vanishes when Gordon has his back turned. Loved it.

But it’s not just the good guys who are chafing under the new world order. When we first see Selina (Camren Bicondova) this season, she’s engaging in a “real-world encounter” of her own under Tabitha’s (Jessica Lucas) watchful eye, beating the hell out of a gang in a fun proto-Catwoman sequence. But their mentor/mentee relationship comes under threat when Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan, now getting the “and Blank as Blank” credit among the guest stars) shows up at their hideout to extend an olive branch from Oswald. Tabs is not really into the idea of working for Penguin given their history (she knifed his mom in the back, he had her brother blown up with a rocket launcher, stuff like that), but Selina sees it as the step-up she’s been wanting. So they’re at a bit of a crossroads.

Also not psyched about the licenses is a group of robbers led by Merton (Michael Buscemi, “Nurse Jackie”), who would prefer to remain independent and not kick up a chunk of their profits to a “little creep” like Penguin. Early in the episode, they try to stick up a wedding, but are (amusingly) shut down by Zsasz. Looking for an advantage, one of the gang members leads Merton to Arkham Asylum...and Jonathan Crane (still played by Charlie Tahan). Though we haven’t seen Jonathan since season one, he’s still suffering from the overdose of his father’s fear toxin and being tormented by visions of a terrifying scarecrow. The gang pays off the drolly dry warden to take Jonathan with them and they force him to dig up his father’s research and replicate his formula, which they use to publically defy Penguin by pulling off a bank robbery.

All these separate threads come together at the grand opening of the Iceberg Lounge. A couple of notes on the club first – it’s formerly Barbara (Erin Richards) and Tabitha’s place and, according to a reporter interviewing Penguin, Babs is only considered missing at this point. Also, Oswald spins a ridiculous story about a rare brain disease and a dying wish to be out among the people to explain the presence of the frozen Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) in the club. Anyway, Gordon wants to send a message by arresting Merton’s gang, Merton want to send a message by taking down Penguin, and Penguin wants to send a message by making an example of Merton’s gang. The wild card during the subsequent standoff turns out to be Ivy (Maggie Geha, busted down to recurring), who, for some reason, feels slighted by Penguin and turns off the power at a pivotal moment. Gordon emerges with a slight victory as he makes the arrest while Oswald gets sprayed with fear toxin and makes a fool of himself. But it’s clear that it’ll take more than this to loosen Penguin’s stranglehold on the city.

Also at the opening are Bruce and Selina, for very different reasons. Putting the power of his public persona to good use, Bruce attempts to learn more about the licenses by schmoozing with Oswald. Selina, meanwhile, is there to accept Penguin’s offer of work. Tabitha shows up at the last minute to do the same, and while Selina thinks it’s because she actually cares about her, something tells me Tabs has something up her sleeve. Later, on the roof, Bruce and Selina have an entertaining cat-and-mouse conversation where they semi-make peace after their fight in the finale; it really struck me during this scene how grown up both the actors and the characters have become.

There’s a little bit of a cliffhanger with Bruce where it looks like he’s going to be caught at a crime scene by the GCPD. But the real news is what happens with Jonathan Crane. When Merton and his men head out to Penguin’s party, they subdue Jonathan by locking him up with a scarecrow. But when one of the gang members makes it back to the house, he discovers that Jonathan is no longer afraid of the scarecrow, but has become the Scarecrow, and gets a faceful of fear toxin for his troubles. I’m eager to see what kind of shenanigans the Scarecrow gets up to next week.

Those are my thoughts on “Pax Penguina.” What did you think of the season premiere of “Gotham?” And which character’s season four arc has you the most curious so far? Come share in the comments section.


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