NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Gotham” are present in this review
Gotham is getting a jump on the other regular season television premieres ahead of Premiere Week next week, with this week’s fourth season premiere, “Pax Penguina.” Gotham isn’t the first FOX show to jump the line, with the network’s new sci-fi series, The Orville airing its first couple of episodes even earlier in the month (and its third on the same night as Gotham’s season premiere), but this being a veteran DC Comics-inspired series, the handful of extra weeks might be useful to court the attention of DC fans, before the heavy competition of The CW’s four (six in 2018) DC shows hit the airwaves again in October, along with FOX’s other DC-inspired series, Lucifer.
Fortunately, the move to Thursday nights for Season Four has allowed Gotham to shuffle away from direct competition with The CW’s Supergirl on Monday nights (which now has the thankless task of competing against FOX’s highly beloved Lucifer in that timeslot), even if it now airs during the hour before The CW’s sibling DC series, Arrow’s new timeslot, now that it’s vacated Wednesday nights. Gotham’s new Thursday night timeslot does rather precariously pit it against the juggernaut of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory in the first half hour too, along with its newly-launching spin-off, Young Sheldon in the half-hour timeslot that follows it (as of November anyway), but hopefully, the move to Thursdays can help Gotham’s ratings stay a little more steady for much of this season.
Of course, it also helps that, “Pax Penguina” is a pretty strong start to Gotham’s fourth season, providing an interesting new status quo for Gotham City, while also setting the stage for a very promising new villain. Bruce is also taking a critical step in his journey to becoming Batman, since he’s now taking to the streets in a hood, mask and cloak to beat on criminals, even if he doesn’t yet have his future self’s array of gadgets, nor the ‘Batman’ identity at this point. Bruce’s vigilantism also quickly puts him into conflict with Penguin, nicely paralleling a great new conflict for Gordon, who must try to restrain himself from arresting criminals that are awarded a proper ‘crime license’ from Penguin.
The idea of Penguin regulating all of Gotham City’s crime and turning it into a business is already pretty interesting, even if it does feel like a page taken from Marvel’s iconic crime lord, Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin, but where this conflict really excels is in how it manages to perpetuate real peace in Gotham City. In the fallout of the Tetch Virus attack that made up Season Three’s climax, Penguin was the one to organize the city’s criminal element and make it safe, making him an outward hero to the public, even if he’s allowing small crimes, and forcing both the mayor and the GCPD’s higher-ups to walk away from petty criminals, so long as they have a license approving their crimes. This creates an interesting and interpretive conflict which, frankly, Gotham isn’t usually smart enough to realize this effectively. If the show can keep mining interesting material from Penguin’s crime license system, and how Bruce and Gordon may be in the wrong for challenging it so bluntly with old-fashioned values, we could have a particularly strong front half to Gotham’s fourth season ahead of us!
That said, Gotham has generally done a very good job of starting out its seasons in the past, with its larger problem being collapsing under its own weight in later episodes. Hopefully Season Four avoids that, but the pieces all seem to be present for a strong season opener in the, “A Dark Knight” story pod regardless. Even Bruce’s early path to becoming Batman isn’t too bad, as he does a decent combination of fisticuffs and amateur detective work in discovering Penguin’s license racket. Bruce’s skills are a little inconsistent, mind you, since the show seems to be currently unable to decide whether he’s already Batman in all but name, or is still a bumbling amateur in some respects, such as when he carelessly crashes through a skylight and gets cornered by cops at the end of the episode. For now though, considering how quickly Bruce became a vigilante in the final seconds of last season, the storytelling for Bruce’s arc isn’t bad here, especially as we get an indication early on that Ra’s Al Ghul is still watching Bruce from the shadows, with some mysterious agenda in mind.
Season Four also promises to properly launch the criminal career of Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow, who hasn’t been seen since he was stashed away in Arkham Asylum during Gotham’s first season. After a gang of thugs who refuse to play by Penguin’s rules kidnap Jonathan and bring him to their lair to make Scarecrow’s trademark fear gas for their robberies, they start becoming the newest danger to everyone, presenting the main argument for why Penguin’s system doesn’t seem to be foolproof. Penguin does manage to capture them at the end of the episode, providing an interesting opportunity for Alfred to hold Bruce back from saving them at the Iceberg Lounge (the grand opening of Penguin’s well-known club from DC Comics lore also takes place in this episode, as a re-branded Sirens that is now owned by Penguin), saying that there’s a time for masks, and a time for Bruce Wayne. If the series effectively ties this question in with the fear theme, this could be another way to parallel two great conflicts, this time between Bruce and Jonathan, particularly as Jonathan seems to formally adopt his Scarecrow identity at the end of this episode, after the goons make the mistake of locking him in a closet with a scarecrow that he’s terrified of.
Also tossed into this episode is Selina starting to cut her teeth on Gotham City’s streets with Tabitha Galavan, now acting as a spiritual ‘Catwoman mentor’. Selina still hasn’t adopted the Catwoman identity yet, but her scenes with Tabitha set up another very promising story arc, especially as Selina tries to be practical about working with Penguin, while Tabitha initially refuses, due to their bad history. It’s too bad that Gotham couldn’t commit to Tabitha’s refusal, since it has to take the lesser evil of having her go along with Selina to avoid pissing away their mentor/student relationship out of the gate, but it’s nonetheless cool to see Selina already becoming a natural Catwoman-in-the-making, complete with wielding Tabitha’s bullwhip as her own now!
In typical Gotham fashion, “Pax Penguina” is a pretty busy, but also pretty exciting season premiere for FOX’s veteran DC drama. There’s still a few story bolts to tighten, namely with Bruce’s current limitations as a budding Dark Knight, but the show seems to be on the right track to delivering an entertaining season, and one that might even be a bit more clever than its predecessors. The season has just started, and we’ll have to see if Gotham once again falls into the trap of biting off more than it can chew with its large-scale storytelling later on, but between a fairly solid Scarecrow origin, a genuinely inspired new city state from Penguin, and an intriguing clash between old-fashioned heroes and new-world compromise, there’s a lot to look forward to with the coming of Gotham City’s, “New day.”
- Clever new city state from Penguin's crime licensing
- Inspired new origin for Scarecrow
- Gordon and Bruce becoming more effectively interpretive heroes
- Bruce's vigilante aptitude is too inconsistent
- Tabitha abandons her Penguin aversion rather quickly