A new season of Gotham is here and many new elements have come along with it. A young Bruce Wayne is beginning to embrace his role as a masked vigilante and a traumatized Jonathan Crane is transforming into the terrifying Scarecrow. There's now even literal licenses to commit crime.
One element that certainly feels familiar, though, is that of Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in control of Gotham's criminal underworld. Seasons 2 and 3 also began this way for Penguin, before villains like Theo Galavan, Edward Nygma and Barbara Kean destroyed his world and snatched his power. Both times around, Penguin learned from his mistakes and reclaimed control of not only the underworld, but his identity as well. Robin Lord Taylor's brilliant take on the character made the struggles feel genuine and earned. However, to follow a similar story arc again in Season 4 will undermine Penguin's character and many of the integral relationships that drive the show.
His Relationships Are The Show's Past And Future
In many ways, Gotham was built on the Jim Gordon-Penguin relationship. Gordon's decision to spare Penguin's life broke the cycle of endless corruption and self-serving justice. Penguin then broke the criminal underworld wheel consisting of Carmine Falcone, Fish Mooney and Sal Maroni. Their ends — whether it was death or, in Falcone's case, retirement — coupled with Penguin's rise to power closed the age of mobsters and ushered in the age of supervillains. Gordon's quest for justice and Penguin's quest for power and respect often crossed paths, largely because of the common enemies threatening their goals. Trading favors and always in each other's debt, the righteous lawman Gordon and sly criminal Penguin constantly banded together, needing the other to achieve their goals, despite Gordon's moral reluctance at their alliance.
This dynamic took a bit of a backseat in Season 3 as Penguin's story revolved much more around his relationship with Nygma than Gordon. The Season 4 premiere "Pax Penguina" has brought the Gordon-Penguin relationship back to the forefront. Gordon has indulged in quite a bit of darkness the past two seasons while Penguin's rise and fall from the underworld — twice — sent him down quite a trying road that revealed the vulnerabilities behind his sinister brilliance.
Season 4 looks to place them in more consistent roles, painting Gordon as the one man determined to dispense justice and defy corruption in the GCPD while Penguin firmly controls the criminal underworld. The literal licenses to commit crime he dispenses help control not only the underworld, but Gotham's key political figures, the GCPD and, to an extent, the public. Penguin and Gordon have settled into the roles they set out to fulfill from the beginning. Now the show can further develop their relationship, pitted against each other with the experience and knowledge they lacked in earlier seasons. They've survived and triumphed through hellish villains, sometimes only by working with each other. A #Penguin that stays in control of the underworld against a Gordon, unrelenting in his self-righteousness, is a conflict worth unfolding at this stage of the show.
Beyond Gordon, Season 4 has also teased an important dynamic unfolding between Penguin and Bruce Wayne. Despite both constantly being at the core of the story, the two characters have rarely interacted in previous seasons. Penguin and Bruce present unique challenges for each other. Bruce is finding his rhythm in taking down street criminals in masked vigilante mode, but finding how to deal with a public criminal far more clever, influential and experienced than those street thugs is a different matter entirely.
It's not a physical, but a psychological battle when it comes to Penguin — a threat Bruce must learn to face in order to become #Batman. This may help Bruce develop the detective aspect of Batman as he investigates how best to take down Penguin. A powerful, cunning, resourceful adversary like Penguin is a villain who can truly test what Bruce hopes to become. Staying in power while the two characters clash, each experiencing victories and defeats along the way, helps establish a rich history between the two before Bruce ever becomes Batman.
When A Penguin Flies
Penguin's character often succeeds when he flies under the radar. That's how he became the King of Gotham in Season 1 despite the respective powers of Falcone, Fish and Maroni. When he lost control of the underworld in Seasons 2 and 3, he was no longer considered a legitimate threat and that's when he became most dangerous. It's how he played an essential role in killing Theo Galavan — both times — and how he defeated the brilliant Nygma.
Now Penguin has to prove he can fly successfully under scrutinity as well. As the King of Gotham and Mayor of Gotham, he lost control. Brainwashed and reformed by Hugo Strange, nearly killed by Nygma and with none of his previously reliable resources and allies, he reclaimed power in unexpected ways. Losing power again would show he's just incompetent and not a viable threat. He's learned from his mistakes, and he's not trying to be a copy of Falcone or outright become a political figure this time.
With the licensing system and fear he instills — largely through the charming but deadly Victor Zsasz — he's found the perfect way to create and maintain criminal, political and public control. This shows true progression from the mistakes he made in previous seasons. Robbing him of that development will be detrimental to his character and the show as a whole, regardless of how well Robin Lord Taylor plays the character. This doesn't mean Penguin should be infallible: he will sustain heavy losses but he should still maintain control of the underworld, solidified as a formidable villain worthy of his incredible journey.
Do you think Penguin will stay in control of the underworld on Gotham? Share your opinion in the comments below.