We're only half a dozen episodes in to the Batman prequel series Gotham, and already we're seeing some slightly messy retroactive continuity. This really is a comic-book show. Spoilers ahead...
In last night's episode, "The Penguin's Umbrella," the show focused on the fall-out of the big reveal that Oswald Cobblepot didn't die in the first episode. And a lot of the action was focused on putting all the toys back in the box, so this can be an ongoing show instead of ending with Jim Gordon's messy death or his premature triumph over the gangsters. That said, it was also a highly entertaining hour of television that was full of crazy-wacky moments from television's campiest superhero drama.
So it was divided into two plot strands: 1) The Penguin manipulating the gangsters of Gotham to avoid being handed back to Fish Mooney for excruciating torture and 2) Jim Gordon coming up with a crackpot scheme to go after the Mayor and Carmine Falcone, so he can either clean up Gotham or more likely go out in a blaze of glory.
So first, let's take plot #1. And here's where the "retroactive continuity" comes in. At the end of the episode, we discover that way back in the pilot, the Penguin asked Carmine Falcone to order Jim Gordon to kill him — because the Penguin believed Gordon wouldn't be able to go through with it. And he offered to go undercover and be Falcone's inside man with Maroni, if Gordon did indeed spare his life. In return, the Penguin told Falcone a secret: that Fish Mooney is sleeping with Nikolai the Russian thug, and they're conspiring against Falcone.
That puts an entirely different spin on the events of the first episode, one that feels like a bit of a stretch but also has the benefit of adding a new layer to the conspiracy-wrangling on this show. And it makes the Penguin way more of a sly mastermind than the hapless idiot he seemed like in the first couple episodes. I don't entirely believe that the Penguin had sized up Jim Gordon enough, in their brief interaction, to decide Gordon would spare his life, and I'm sure this was something the writers thought up later. But it more or less works, if you don't squint too hard.
And the upside is, we get to see the Penguin playing absolutely everybody. Because of Oswald's connection with Falcone, Falcone only orders Fish to go ask politely for the Penguin's return, leading to a great scene where the Penguin offers a "sincere" apology for disrespecting Fish. ("Only my friends call me Fish," she snarls, in a typically understated performance.)
And then after Fish attacks one of Maroni's gun shipments (with or without Falcone's orders, it's not clear) Penguin goads Maroni into fighting back by saying that paying Falcone off would be the prudent course of action. Thus ensuring that Maroni will instead fight to protect his golden goose, who obligingly goes "honk honk." And then he maneuvers Maroni's right-hand idiot, Frankie, into killing Nikolai, thus weakening Fish Mooney's hand. And when Frankie tries to kill the Penguin and make it look like an accident, the Penguin turns the tables because he already bought off Frankie's men.
Finally, when all this is over with, Penguin goes to visit Falcone, and we discover that Penguin urged Falcone to keep Jim Gordon alive. And that Penguin is still helping Falcone to outmaneuver Maroni and Fish Mooney — although probably Penguin is playing Falcone, too.
It's all very loopy and fruitcakey, in the manner of this show, but once you accept that larger-than-life, cartoony vibe, it works tremendously well. This show has settled into a very consistent tone, which was the big questionmark hanging over it when its first couple episodes seemed to be making occasional stabs at being taken seriously.
Meanwhile, Jim Gordon cooks up a scheme that the Joker would be to stunned to laugh at — he's going to take a couple of blank warrants from the pile of blank warrants (signed by Judge Bam-Bam) and he's going to arrest the Mayor and Carmine Falcone on the grounds that he doesn't like their faces. Okay, it's for covering up the Wayne murders, and Gordon is his own witness. Alas, Gordon hangs around the police station too long, and the psychopath Victor Zsasz shows up to collect him.
Some facts about Victor Zsasz: Just like in the comics, he keeps a tally of his kills by cutting himself. He has two fetishy sidekicks, who don't even get names. He intimidates an entire police station full of 50 cops into leaving Jim Gordon to his fate. He shoots a random cop lady. He doesn't get cookies. The ringtone on his phone is "Funkytown." He kind of does jazz hands a couple times. He's not as pumped-up as the big muscley version in the comics (who would have to be middle-aged, if he's already this old now.)
So Jim Gordon gets shot a couple times — he's not wearing a bullet-proof vest, which I appreciate but which also seems imprudent, as the Penguin would say. Luckily he gets rescued by Montoya and Allen, who have finally twigged that he's a good guy. A handy research student patches him up, and then he takes Montoya and Allen to meet Bruce Wayne, for an honestly heartwarming scene where Bruce is pissed that Gordon expects to die but won't explain, and then hugs Gordon out of nowhere.
Then Gordon launches his plan to arrest the most important people in town — with the help of Montoya and Allen, of course. No, wait. He sends them away, because he has to do this alone. Why? Because this isn't a Major Crimes issue, I guess. Luckily, Bullock shows up at Gordon's apartment drunk, has sex on Gordon's bed, and volunteers to go get killed — even though Bullock was ready to shoot Gordon himself not long ago. Love. Bullock.
And then Gordon collects the Mayor and uses him to get to Falcone... but Barbara Kean screws everything up. Her full name should be "Barbara Kean Screws Everything Up." To be fair, she probably does save Jim's life. But at a cost we have yet to know. Earlier in the episode, Jim sends her out of town so she can't be used as a hostage while he does what he has to do. So she of course immediately comes back to town, so she can be used as a hostage. In a weird twist, Falcone refuses to give Gordon proof that Barbara is a hostage, because he wants Gordon to believe him without seeing proof. And indeed, it's true.
And then Falcone announces that he's going to spare Gordon and Bullock, because he wants Gordon to come around to seeing things Falcone's way on his own. It's somewhat flimsy logic (even by this show's standards) but it makes sense once you realize that the Penguin is behind the whole thing. Plus, I guess Falcone still sees Gordon as having the kind of guts he needs to achieve great things.
So yeah — Gotham is already playing fast and loose with its own continuity a bit, while continuing to introduce stuff that would make Batman's world unusually nonsensical, even by Bat-standards. And yet, it's also increasingly confident in its Burtonesque tone, resulting in a show that's just pure campy fun. I just hope this show makes it to season six or seven, so we can see how crazy and how confusing things get by then.