Gotham Season 4 premiere recap: Pax Penguina, bad masks, and good cops (for once)

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SPOILER WARNING: the following recap for the Gotham episode "Pax Penguina" contains spoilers for "Pax Penguina." That's pretty obvious, but, okay, okay, you still got your warning, so please be cool.

Previously on Gotham... this. Now on Gotham...

The short version: Penguin makes a deal with the new mayor and commissioner of Gotham to unionize crime, so, if a criminal has a union card, cops won't bust them. James Gordon doesn't like that, so he busts some criminals anyway. Criminals without union cards also don't like it (I dunno, make a fake card, guys, they ain't even got a watermark on those things), so they kidnap Jonathan Crane, force him to make fear juice, and then use it to rob banks. Ultimately, Jim manages to save Penguin from the gang after he gets gassed, thus making the Penguin look foolish and making the crime union look weak. Also, Bruce Wayne is fighting crime in a really stupid-looking mask. Also, also, Jonathan Crane loses his damned mind and makes a scarecrow costume for himself. Because he real crazy.

The good: Gotham City at an all-time ridiculous high, Selina got her whip out, Jim looks okay for once, Bruce is growing up

Before we get to the beginning of the good things I listed above, I just need us all to acknowledge the fact that this episode begins with a literal rickroll. Literally, a band plays "Never Gonna Give You Up" as if to say, you are being rickrolled by the very virtue of watching this ridiculous, silly, and cartoonishly violent show. And you are going to love it.

And you know what? I did. So first of all, MY GOD, what planet is Gotham set on where openly unionizing crime is a viable option? I mean I think we all know that there's both pragmatism and corruption between criminals, cops, and politicians. But, like? Literally carrying around a union card so that you can steal a handful of twenties from the local dive bar without consequence? Only on Planet Gotham could such a thing happen.

I am here for Planet Gotham. Maybe it's the quality of the performance, maybe it's the thought of criminals having access to dental, maybe it's the comedic release of watching a world where the criminals and governmental institutions are somehow worse than those in our real world. That's not easy to write these days, kids.

Also, I would like to acknowledge that having the rest of the citizenry of Gotham be more or less cool with unionized crime is maybe the quickest (and only) way left to make gun-happy, dummy-dumb Mr. Murder, Jim Gordon, seem reasonable. Criminals being able to do whatever because they're part of Penguin's Kool Kids Klub? K'mon. But the good news is that, finally, Gordon and people with brains have something in common. And watching him best Penguin and begin to secure some confidence in the GCPD after three very long, inept GCPD seasons felt satisfying.

Also, Selina uses her whip and it's waaaaaaaaay dope. She and Tabitha as a team is maybe the best storyline women have ever gotten in the history of this not-very-good-about-women show. More of them using whips and being good at crimes, please. Also, Selina's hair is out-of-control big so far this season. It is so big that a nest of kittens could live there, which would make for the best, weird, new Gotham origin ever.

Finally (wow, this was a good episode, I guess), Bruce Wayne is at last mature enough to be part of all the other events of Gotham without feeling like he's in some junior squad doing a sidequest. He has a great conversation with Penguin about crime and how Bruce's parents my still be alive if crime had been unionized? It's all a ruse, of course, but Penguin falls for it. And David Mazouz really sells it. That kid, I tells ya. He gets better and better every year.

P.S. Robin Lord Taylor's suit at the club? That wild tuft of hair? There is a mighty lust in me. Clearly he will never be with Ed, because he is destined to be with me.

The bad: Ivy breaks Penguin's heart, that mask, also Scarecrow's mask/CGI

Honestly, there's not a lot bad to say about Gotham's season 4 premiere. I usually complain that Gotham is great at knocking 'em down, but terrible at setting 'em up, but they set it up real good this time.

The only real complaints I have are that I don't know why Ivy suddenly turned on Penguin, and I don't like Scarecrow so far. Ivy and Penguin were such weird friends last year, and it was so fun and funny. But Ivy turned on Oswald the literal moment he got a head full of steam and didn't spend all his time with her. I mean, I get it. I just wish it had played out longer.

And while I understand that realizing Scarecrow's fear serum is not easy, I do not like the cheap-looking CGI they have so far. Riddler shows up for a hot second and he looks like a corny funhouse mirror. It is not scary. I believe this can work. The best parts of the Batman Arkham games were absolutely the wild Scarecrow sequences. My fingers are crossed Gotham will find their way, but that can only happen if we acknowledge that what they've got going on so far is not cutting it. And Scarecrow's mask looks weird and not good.

Speaking of masks: Bruce's is awful. It's kind of a Batman mask, but they can't do a Batman mask so I guess they landed on "a Batman mask but bad." Please, Gotham: come up with something better.

Lingering Questions

Is the crime union going to last? What will Jonathan Crane's motivations wind up being? We saw Ra's al Ghul for about a second, so we have no idea what's up with him yet beyond that he wants Batman to be Batman? Don't we all, man. Don't we all.

Also, obviously we're all waiting for Ed to get unfrozen and for Barbara to come back to life. And where is Lee? I'm sure she'll return to Gotham inevitably, along with Firefly, Mr. Freeze, and all the others.

But those are storylines for another day. For now, Gotham is on our TVs again, and it's ridiculous, insane, kinda dumb, but mostly great. Welcome back, Gothamites. I'll see you next week.