A Look at Gotham- Season 4 Premiere: “A Dark Knight: Pax Penguina”

We’re back for Gotham’s fourth season as the city is now a much safer place than it’s ever been before, thanks to…Penguin?  Also, hello again, Jonathan Crane.

The season begins with yet another couple being ambushed by two muggers who, in turn, find themselves ambushed by a masked figure.  After Bruce takes the men down, he checks one of the men’s pockets and finds a Letter of Misconduct slip that bears Penguin’s symbol.  As Bruce pockets the slip and leaves, Ra’s al Ghul watches him from a distance…

We then cut to a wedding, where the singer’s rendition of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” is interrupted by a small gang.  Leading this group are Merton, played by Michael Buscemi, and Grady, played by Michael Maize.

The robbery doesn’t last long when Zsasz, also in attendance, tells the men that no one can commit a crime in Gotham City without a license from Penguin.  The men have no desire to work with or for Penguin, but still, no license, no crime.  Also, Merton loses a finger.  The men leave, but then some folks who who do have licenses enter.  Best wedding ever.

Penguin speaks with Mayor Burke, played by Larry Pine, about how crime is now down 57 percent thanks to him, but Oswald wants to take things a step further by unionizing crime.  Though Oswald has made the city safe, he knows better- it’s only a matter of time before panic hits Gotham City again.

What Oswald wants to do is put crime in the hands of professionals who will agree to certain terms- terms in which Oswald profits.  The choice is an era of calm prosperity or a return to the good old days.  Penguin also tells Burke to keep an eye on the GCPD. Officers must walk away if they find a person committing a crime, but has a license. After the mayor agrees to Oswald’s terms, Oswald leaves.

To further emphasize how rampant crime is, Jim enters a bar and finds bartender Frank being held at gun point by a mugger who just casually takes his money.  Despite this guy having a license, Jim arrests him anyway.

Jim then hauls the guy into the GCPD, much to the anger of his fellow officers.  Bullock speaks with an account named Mr. Penn about making sure the GCPD, specifically Gordon, complies with Penguin’s licensing terms.  When Jim enters and reveals the license he found, Bullock reminds Jim that he’s homicide.  Despite that, Jim won’t let this slide.

The commissioner’s word is that anyone with one of Penguin’s card gets to walk. It doesn’t help that the city is standing because Penguin took control of the criminal underworld, but Jim won’t give the city over to Penguin.  Not that it’s up to you, Jim. Harvey promises that they will take down Penguin sooner or later, but getting the city back on its feet is priority.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred discuss how to turn Penguin’s plan against him, though Bruce is more focused on preparing for whenever Ra’s al Ghul returns. Plus, he still feels responsible for almost releasing the virus, so he wants to make a difference in Gotham.  Alfred tells Bruce to pick one priority, but Bruce is confident that he can prepare for Ra’s and make Gotham safer.

Merton and Grady arrive at Arkham and meet Warden Reed, played by Damian Young, who brings them to the still infected Jonathan Crane- with Charlie Tahan reprising his role from Season One- who has spent a good amount of time talking about his father’s fear toxin.  Merton and Grady figure that if they get their hand on the toxin, Penguin won’t be a problem.

But since the toxin Gerald Crane used on Jonathan overloaded his fear response, he’s made a sort of boogeyman figure that haunts him.  This, in turn, can allow anyone to control Jonathan.  As Merton and Grady haul Jonathan off, Reed sees that Crane was busy drawing an image of a scarecrow on the ground.  Of course.

The two bring Crane to Gerald’s home, where they uncover his work so they can create more of the fear toxin.  To ensure that Jonathan complies, and so he doesn’t get lonely, they’ll be bringing along the scarecrow to keep him company.  These guys are dicks.

Following this, they use some of the fear toxin to make sure their bank robbery goes as smoothly as possible.

GCPD arrives later and Jim asks Harvey if Penguin issued a license for this, given that this was a public act.  Harvey warns Jim that going after this gang before Zsasz would still be him thumbing his nose at Penguin.  Jim does have a lead: the way that the victims are acting is very reminiscent of Gerald Crane’s formula.  And while Gerald is dead- not that death matters much in this city- he still had a son.

Jim and Harvey head to Arkham and question Warden Reed on whether any staff members had access to Crane.  When Reed doesn’t comply, the two inform him that Gerald Crane’s fear toxin was used to rob a bank, and this is a direct challenge to Penguin. If Penguin were to find out that Reed was involved, it wouldn’t take long for Zsasz to find him.  At last, Reed gives up a name.

The two head to Grady’s place, but Grady and Merton are waiting there to ambush them. They tell Jim and Harvey that they, as outlaws, have a code, but criminals like Penguin take everything with his licenses program.  With that, Grady and Merton leave.

Then Selina and Tabitha take down five guys in an alleyway because hey, Selina needs more practice with her whip.  When the two head to their hideout, Zsasz is waiting for them and offers an olive branch from Penguin.  Also, if Tabitha comes to the Iceberg Lounge’s opening and basically kisses Penguin’s ass, she’ll get one of those fancy licenses.  Tempting offer, I know.  Also, Zsasz gets no pepperoni pizza.

Now, Selina is all for working with Penguin because she still wants to move up in the world.  Not to mention the current living situation isn’t ideal.  Tabitha, though, has no desire to work for Penguin.

At the GCPD, Bruce makes the first of what will be his many unexpected visits to Gordon and informs him about Penguin’s licensing cards.  However, Bruce found a number on the license, meaning that there’s probably a master list that connects the crimes to the criminals.  But, as Jim points out, the judges are going along with the licenses.

Though Jim is in a bind on whether to rattle the cages again, he knows that if Penguin makes an example of this un-licensed gang, it will be further proof that the public doesn’t need the GCPD.  Bruce suggests that Jim use Penguin to lead him to the gang. Good enough suggestion.  He then extends an invite for Jim to join Bruce for dinner at the manor, and then Bruce just disappears.  He does that.

At the Iceberg Lounge, Penguin speaks with the press about his grand opening, though they’re quick to ask if Penguin acquired this club from Barbara Kean, who has been missing for months.  What was once the Sirens’ club is now Penguin’s. Sirens, huh? When someone questions Oswald about the licenses, Penguin counters that crime is at an all time low.

Just as Augustus Caesar ruled over the longest period of piece known as the Pax Romana, Oswald envisions that one day, this period will be known as the Pax Penguina. Roll credits.  And shut up, Gotham writers.  That was terrible.

Ivy then unveils the main attraction: a frozen Edward Nygma who apparently had a rare brain disease. The only option was to freeze him and wait for a cure.  But Nygma begged to not be hidden from the world, so here he is on public display.

This disease isn’t named MacGregor’s Syndrome, is it?

Anyway, Jim arrives and tells Penguin that the gang using Gerald Crane’s fear toxin isn’t afraid of him.  Other gangs will follow.  Oswald isn’t concerned and instead believes Jim is just saying whatever he must to stay relevant.  Plus, Oswald is confident that he can take down this gang no problem.  And following that, everyone will see that Oswald Cobblepot is the one who keeps Gotham safe.

Merton and Grady are still forcing Jonathan to work on the fear toxin.  Now they have plans, but as for Jonathan, they think he should get to know his new friend a bit more, so they lock him in the room housing the scarecrow.

Oswald speaks to frozen Nygma about how far he’s come and that he’s no longer a slave to his emotions.  So now, which one of them is really frozen?  Ivy rightly points out that Ed is literally frozen.  Ivy, go away.

Jim organizes a plan with officers on watching Penguin’s club to wait for this gang to arrive, but they’re less than enthusiastic.

Jonathan is still stuck in the closet and begs to be let out, but he hears the scarecrow calling out to him…

In the locker room, the officers confront Jim and ask why he needs to rock the boat, but Jim knows he’d be wasting his breath trying to persuade them.  Not that these cops work for Penguin, but life’s been good since Penguin instituted his license system. Jim puts up a good enough fight until he’s overpowered.

At the Iceberg Lounge opening, Bruce and Alfred ask Oswald is Nygma is still alive and whether he’ll eventually be thawed.  Soon enough, Bruce thanks Oswald for everything he’s done for the city, but he then asks about the licenses and promises that anything Oswald says will stay between them.  Penguin wonders whether Bruce truly would be in favor of licensed crime.

But Bruce’s response is that if crime been licensed three years ago, then Thomas and Martha Wayne would still be alive.  Anyway, Oswald has no direct hand in the licenses. He issues the guidelines, but Mr. Penn handles the details.  Just when Bruce starts to formulate a plan, he spots Selina, who runs into Zsasz.  Tabitha soon shows up and assures Zsasz that they’ve agreed to join Penguin.

Back at the GCPD, Harvey finds Jim with fresh bruises.  So backup is probably off the table.

At the Lounge, the gang waits to strike, but they can’t spot Penguin.  That’s because Penguin, as well as Zsasz, has spotted them first.

Bruce heads up and finds Selina balancing herself on the roof’s edge.  He apologizes for what he said at the hospital and admits that she made a kind gesture.  Bruce joins Selina and advises her to not take Tabitha as a mentor, but that means nothing to Selina.  After Bruce compliments Selina on her dress, Alfred tells Bruce that there’s a situation downstairs.

With the gang now captured, Oswald tells the audience that he, not the GCPD, is keeping Gotham safe.  Bruce wants to stop them, but Alfred tells him that there’s a time for masks and a time for Bruce Wayne.  As such, Bruce asks Oswald if the men will be turned over to the police or killed, but Oswald reminds Bruce that he does the dirty work no one else will.  Still, Bruce insists that the men be turned over to the police.

Penguin admires Bruce’s good heart, but still, he refuses to spare the men.  Then, all of a sudden, then Ivy kills the power.  A fight breaks out and Oswald gets sprayed with the fear toxin, so he sees a hallucination of Nygma.  Of course.  He then cowers in fear.

Next day, as the press tears Penguin a new one, Jim is now focused on finding Jonathan Crane since he’s on the run with his father’s fear toxin.  Even if Jim doesn’t get much help from the GCPD, he’s confident that there are still good cops in the city.

Bruce arrives at Arkham and snatches Warden Reed’s master list before leaving in a flash.  On the roof, he spots some men in the middle of a robbery.  Bruce watches this while leaning on some very sensitive glass, so it’s no surprise when the glass shatters and he falls through and lands on the floor.  The men flee just as GCPD arrive to find unmasked Bruce Wayne at the crime scene.  Tough luck, Bruce.

Grady heads back to find Crane, but Jonathan Crane isn’t here anymore.  It’s just the Scarecrow.  Crane, now donning the full scarecrow outfit, sprays Grady full of the fear toxin as the episode comes to a close.

Welcome back to Gotham and a very strong premiere.  There’s a new status quo in Gotham City courtesy of Oswald Cobblepot and it makes for some pretty good storytelling in a way that manages to combine and connect each story arc without feeling convoluted.  That’s been one of the show’s weaknesses in the past, but here, in a way that makes sense, all roads lead back to Penguin.

Leave it to Penguin to use rampant crime in the city to his advantage.  And as a former public official and still known figure, he’s still beloved by many in Gotham.  So of course he’d institute a licensing system to make certain crimes legal.  This allows him to reap the benefits, as well as maintain some semblance of order as the city is still recovering from the Tetch virus from last season.

What I appreciate about this connective tissue is that, rather than starting fresh, we see how the events of the previous season have led to Penguin’s decision to orchestrating the criminal underworld.  Managing crime allows him to hold a monopoly over what counts as acceptable crime and still lower the crime rate from what it normally is in Gotham City.

I like how cunning Oswald still is here.  While he’s not calling himself the King of Gotham right now, it’s hard to see him as anything but when he’s on top of the world and manipulating criminals into obeying his directives.

So at this point, what good is the GCPD when crime is at an historic low?  Sure, the precinct isn’t filled to the brim with corrupt officers- as far as we know- but they don’t have to lift a finger all the time and can turn a blind eye to certain crimes being committed because the orders are coming from Penguin.

But Jim being Jim has to throw a wrench into everyone’s plans.  And part of me agrees that with Penguin that this is Jim trying to stay relevant.  With crime down, there’s next to no need for the police except for extreme circumstances.  To Jim, a simple robbery is enough, and given his combative history with his coworkers, it still doesn’t take much for him to rub them the wrong way when he tries to play by the rules.

Though Jim has still done his fair share of terrible things and I’m left wondering how long, if at all, he’ll remain the straight arrow before he does something that blurs the line between good and bad.  And hey, since crime is so low and things are, for the most part, fine than they were at the end of last season, Jim doesn’t have much of an argument here, so he’ll find a loophole by going after un-licensed criminals.

But what lines Jim won’t cross now are fine for Bruce.  With this being a world without Batman yet, it’s fine that Gotham makes this Bruce pretty much Batman in all but name and years of training.  Sure, he hasn’t been scared by a bat yet and doesn’t have his symbol, we’ve seen Bruce train over the years and gain inspiration from characters like Azrael.

He has the black suit, mask, semblance of fighting abilities, and disappearing acts. More than that, he uses his public identity to blend in and gain information that will further assist him when he dons the mask.  It’s Batman without Bruce being Batman. But what works is that this, to an earlier extent than Batman Begins, Bruce is early in his journey and still prone to making mistakes, as we see by episode’s end.

The point I’m getting at is that I like this slow, methodical approach to Bruce’s vigilantism.  He still has Alfred at his side giving the trusty advice of maintaining a balance between protecting Gotham, but also preparing for whenever Ra’s al Ghul returns.  Plus, Bruce beating up vigilantes and finding the license is a good way to bring him face-to-face with Penguin.

Speaking of a slow approach, the same can be said for Tabitha training Selina. Although Selina’s been doing pretty much what you’d expect from a future Catwoman from the start.  She just didn’t have the whip.  Now she does.  Though I’d agree with her over Tabitha as far as working for Penguin to improve their living situation.

Then you’ve got Jonathan Crane.  First off, I’m glad that despite Charlie Tahan having a small role back in the Season One two-parter where he and Gerald first appeared, Gotham brought him back rather than pulling an Ivy or Bridgit and recasting him.  But with Jonathan back in the mix and access to the fear toxin, it won’t be long until Gotham goes through another case of panic in the streets.

And while we don’t see a lot of Crane in the full Scarecrow outfit, I do like what we have right now.  It looks like a blend of different incarnations, in particular the Arkham series games and Batman Begins.

“Pax Penguina” isn’t a mindblowing episode, but it is a very strong and solid start for Gotham’s fourth season with Penguin monopolizing the criminal world and making Gotham as safe as it’s been in a long time.

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