'Gotham' winter finale recap: Another fan favorite gone

For The Baltimore Sun
Just when "Gotham" was back in our good graces, another main character is killed off.

Just when “Gotham” was back in our good graces for bringing back Jerome, they kill off another fan favorite.

Barbara, Butch, Tabitha — any of those low-level crooks could disappear without so much of a yawn from me. But Penguin? He’s the most fascinating and well-developed character in this over-the-top series. Sure, Ed and Jerome are maniacal forces to be reckoned with, but how can the show go on without Robin Lord Taylor’s chilling and ferocious performance as Penguin?

I’m not as grief-stricken as I am disappointed that the writers killed Penguin off in the Season 3 winter finale, “Mad City: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” The rebirth of Jerome seemed like an attempt to reel in any frustrated viewers who gave up after they killed off an integral character.

You think the writers would have learned their lesson the first time. I wonder how many fans are walking away for good after Monday night's episode, especially since the show is on break until April 24. That’s a lot of time to find a higher-quality show to get addicted to.

That’s not to say that “Gotham” should be focused on ratings. Ideally, the writers should be creating original and compelling storylines. To their credit, Penguin’s demise unfolded in an unconventional way. It’s a rare to see a villain rise to the top, only to be brought down by the man he loves.

Penguin’s end begins with him going to the warehouse to find and rescue Ed. Penguin is wearing his signature purple ascot with one eerie difference: This tie has red polka dots, foreshadowing the blood splatter from his murder. Ed, meanwhile, is dressed a dark green green suit under his black trench coat, symbolizing that he has embraced his dark nature as the Riddler.

The reason for the murder is anything but a riddle: Ed wants revenge for the murder of Isabella. “I did it for love,” Penguin confesses. “I did it because I love you. You should know that.” That’s not love, Ed insists — "the truth is, Oswald, you would put your own neck before anyone else."

The method of murder, in true Riddler fashion, is much more complicated. He straps Penguin to Isabella’s wrecked car with a vat of acid dangling above him that’s changed to a block of ice above a fire. Basically, it’s an elaborate way to make viewers to bite their nails until a police officer stumbles upon the scene and free him.

But Penguin’s death will only be postponed for so long. He goes to Barb’s empty club, where she, Butch and Tabitha threaten to kill him unless he reveals where Ed is. “I won’t call Ed! I won’t let you kill him!” he protests.

Suddenly Ed walks into the room, revealing that he was listening the whole time. “I wanted you to die knowing you were incapable of loving another person,” he tells Penguin.

But Penguin does love someone. He loves Ed, and he proves it by being willing to sacrifice his own life for someone else. Even if he’s wrong, Ed still wants revenge. Since this is no ordinary bromance-turned-betrayal murder, Ed takes Penguin to the docks for a more picturesque farewell. Penguin, meanwhile, pleads for his life.

“I’m the only one who can still see you for who you are and who you can become,” Penguin tells him. This exchange is hauntingly reminiscent of the last time Penguin saw Fish.

(Quick refresher: Penguin was ready to shoot and kill her — for the second time — until he asked why she didn’t kill him when she had the chance. “Of everything in my life, possibly the best thing in my life was turning Oswald Cobblepot into the Penguin. I couldn’t destroy that.” Her touching response inspired him to let her live.)

But Ed didn’t give Penguin the same courtesy. Ed shot his mentor mid-sentence, then pushed him into the water. It’s an overly CGI-ed replica of Fish Mooney’s murder, in which Penguin shot her on top of a building, causing her to fall several stories high into the river. It’s also a faint reminder of Season 1 at the docks when Jim pretended to shoot Penguin and told him to swim away, rather than kill him.

And though Penguin’s contorted face as he sinks to his death makes it seem like goodbye, we know that’s rarely the case in Gotham. He could be brought back to life like Fish, even though that plot device is so overplayed that Jim and Harvey joke about it.

“You wish I would’ve shot him?” Jim asks Harvey after arresting Jerome. “Eh, he probably would’ve come back from the dead again,” Harvey quips. Valid point. At this rate, “Gotham” brings back more characters from the dead than from Arkham Asylum.

Speaking of Jerome, thankfully there were some rewarding and riveting moments in the episode.

Gotham has awaken, erupting into violent and murderous chaos. Where is the man who orchestrated this pandemonium? “Not one to miss out on the fun,” as Jim puts it, Jerome is off finding Bruce Wayne to kill him.

If you’re wondering why he’s obsessed with murdering Bruce, so are Bruce and Jerome himself. “I don’t know,” Jerome admits to Bruce. “It’s the last thing I remember when I woke up. It’s been nagging at me.” It’s not the most rational decision, but that’s the logic you’d expect from the Joker.

Jerome is ready to kill Bruce point blank, until Bruce points out that’s an anti-climactic idea for a man of Jerome’s stage presence. So Jerome drags him off to the circus and leaves Alfred to fend for himself against his goons. (Don’t worry, Jim comes to his rescue.)

The circus Jerome takes Bruce to is a madman’s wonderland. There’s a whack-a-mole with real people’s heads popping in and out, a dunk tank filled with piranhas and weaponized carousel from hell. “Is there a plan for all this madness?” Bruce pointedly asks. “These people don’t want a plan,” Jerome replies. “They just want an excuse.”

Most people let off steam by working out, watching YouTube videos or taking much-needed vacations. Apparently, the citizens of Gotham take a vacation from any sense of right and wrong and cheer Jerome on as he promises to make a show of killing Bruce.

In a Looney Toons-inspired move, Jerome stuffs a cannon with a massive cannonball and dozens of swords and knives. He aims it right at Bruce, but he’s able to escape his handcuffs with one of the staples Jerome stuck in his skin.

After escaping, Bruce leads Jerome into the hall of mirrors. If this scene weren’t spoiled by their promotional video for the episode, it would have been “Gotham’s” most gripping moment. It was a flawlessly choreographed fight scene with expert direction to capture the dizzying madness of their confrontation

Bruce then lunges on him and pummels his face, each blow loosening Jerome’s newly attached skin. In a fit of fury, Bruce picks up a shard of broken mirror, ready to plunge it into Jerome, who’s cackling maniacally and begging him for more.

But then Bruce stops and catches himself in the mirrors. He sees himself from every angle, and realizes this is not who he wants to become. Tossing the mirror shard, he leaves Jerome and runs out of the maze.

Bruce reunites with Alfred, then Jerome stumbles out of the maze with a sagging face. But the stomach churning doesn’t end there. Jim walks up to Jerome and punches him so hard, he knocks him out and sends his face flying next to a puddle on the ground. Barf.

Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred talk about the fight and how close Bruce was to murdering Jerome. Thankfully, something stopped him.

“After everything Jerome had done, the idea of killing him felt right. It felt like justice,” Bruce admits. “There’s a very fine line between justice and vengeance,” Alfred points out. But Bruce knew where the line was and didn’t cross it. From here on out, he promises he has one rule that he will never break: “I will not kill.”

Congrats, Bruce Wayne! Not only have you become a man, but you’re one step closer to becoming Batman, the hero Gotham needs. And what better villain from whom to learn that lesson than the Joker, whose obsession with chaos and murder starkly contrasts Bruce’s passion for order and justice?

Forget “Gotham” — the “Batman” franchise wouldn’t be as successful without the two opposites always battling. It’s just like Jerome said to Bruce, “We make a good team, you and me.” Thank goodness the “Gotham” writers realized that and brought Jerome back for good — I hope.

More highlights from “Mad City: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”:

Best Harvey one-liner: Jim: “Jerome said he wanted to plunge the city into darkness so people could do what they wanted, right? He’s not the one to miss out on the fun. So what does he want?”

Harvey: “A puppy? How the hell should I know? I didn’t talk to him.”

Worst makeup job: The blood on Bruce’s mouth when he’s tied up. Any kid who’s ever had a skinned knee will tell you dried blood turns dark. That smile was as red and splotchy as ketchup.

Double vision: The episode ends with Bruce’s clone ready to serve his mission for the Court of Owls, whatever that may be. My guess is the clone must kill Bruce and take over his role as a docile yes-boy, who won’t interfere with their dirty deeds. I know Bruce said he wouldn’t kill anyone, but I hope this character gets killed off some other way so we don’t have to deal with another clone plotline.

All in the family: Jim gets a visit from his uncle, one of the higher-ups in the Court of Owls. I have a gut feeling that his uncle and the Court of Owls were somehow involved in his father’s fatal car accident.

Winter finale: As much as I appreciate innovation, having a winter fragment of episodes was a terrible idea. Yes, it was explosive, and yes, it got viewers excited to see Jerome rejoin Gotham’s rogue gallery, but ending it after three episodes is a surefire way to lose momentum.

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