Spoilers ahead: The following discusses plot points from the April 24 episode of Gotham, “Heroes Rise: How The Riddler Got His Name.”
Oswald Cobblepot is dead, but not forgotten. Well, he’s not even that dead, as it turns out, but Edward Nygma doesn’t know it – at least not yet.
In tonight’s episode of Gotham, Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is on his journey to becoming his Riddler alter-ego, but before he can properly wear the bowler, he has to face down his ghost-like visions of Penguin.
“I’m playing his idea of who the Penguin was; I am playing an extension of him,” said actor Robin Lord Taylor, who portrays Oswald/Penguin on the Fox series, at a recent media screening of the episode.
Apparently Nygma’s projection of who Penguin is also includes Oswald singing the Amy Winehouse song “Wake Up Alone.” Taylor excitedly notes he found out after the fact that he recorded the song in the same studio Winehouse did in New York City (from the Lioness: Hidden Treasures posthumous album).
But in addition to carrying a tune, Taylor said in a separate interview that Ghost Penguin is “unforgiving, unsympathetic, and clippy in the sense he has no time for any bulls***. There is absolutely no feeling there, except for maybe sardonic ‘Look what you did to me.’”
Taylor added that even though Ed did kill Oswald, the quizmaster still saw Penguin as his best friend, and that guilt haunts him.
“He is haunted by it because he can’t process it, and the way it is coming about is as a sarcastic vision of his friend calling him out.”
Interestingly, Taylor points out the importance of what Oswald is wearing in Edward Nygma’s visions of him: “It’s the first time we introduce the top hat, and I’m wearing the traditional Penguin outfit.”
“Before I was shot, I keep coming to Riddler telling him, ‘I defined you, I made you who you are,’ and weirdly, in his fantasy, he made the Penguin who he is – it was this beautiful meld of the two psyches, and the connection they had.”
From a performance standpoint, Taylor said the episode was a fun one to film. Not only did Ghost Penguin get to be in control again, and sarcastic, it was light in comparison to the heavy emotional work he had to do for the previous episode, “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,” where Oswald was emotionally dismantled by Ed.
“It’s hard to sit there while someone breaks your heart, and sets you up to break it again; that’s what Nygma did,” he said. “It’s not my heart; it’s the character’s heart, but if it’s going to look real, there has to be real feelings that blend into there.”
Taylor said the fan-favorite relationship between Oswald and Ed has been so revealing because his character is so damaged that even his lust for power connects to a need for safety, and love. And when he met Ed, someone who was a true friend to him, “he went right to love because he has no boundaries.”
And that clue might inform Oswald’s arc down the road. Though tonight’s episode seems to set up a war between Penguin and Riddler by the end of Season 3, Taylor said the larger arc for Oswald throughout the course of Gotham involves him holding onto “whatever scrap of humanity he can.”
“If you look at the comics, and where he ends up, there is virtually no humanity there,” Taylor said. “So we’re going to watch all of that erode away, and fighting for that – fighting for being a human being who has a heart, and gives a s*** about somebody else.”
But, he warned, it’s not a “good” story for Oswald, because he’s a villain.
"We’re talking about a downward spiral, and we’re just on the second loop around.”
However, while his character is headed for bad things – which hopefully includes an epic showdown with Edward – Taylor said acting frequently opposite Cory Michael Smith this season has itself been an important journey for him personally.
“You’re catching me on a night where it’s the last night of the year,” said Taylor, speaking on the day production wrapped for the season. “And to go on a journey with someone you trust, and really, truly respect – he knows me better than I know myself in a lot of ways – I am very emotional about it, and very grateful to have the opportunity to work with someone like him.”
Whatever may be in store for Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot, it seems certain he'll have a few questions for Riddler when they next meet on Gotham this season.