Warning: major spoilers ahead for the series finale of Gotham.
Gotham spent five seasons building characters with familiar names into the iconic heroes and villains from the pages of DC Comics and many DC adaptations. The series finale finally delivered Batman, although he was never officially given his famous moniker. The new Selina was Catwoman in all but name, Jeremiah was more Joker-esque than ever. One of the biggest transformations of Gotham's run saw Penguin change from Fish Mooney's umbrella boy to criminal kingpin of Gotham City.
Penguin was clearly still a bad guy at the end of the penultimate episode, as he reaffirmed his determination to rise to the top of the criminal element despite aligning himself with the likes of Jim Gordon and the GCPD against Bane. Still, it wasn't until the finale sprung him from Blackgate prison after ten years to stew over what Jim did to him that he really became the Penguin that many viewers have been expecting all along.
Actor Robin Lord Taylor, who already revealed his thoughts about what happened to Edward the Dog, chatted with CinemaBlend about how Oswald finally became the true Penguin for the finale, saying this:
In the story that we tell, the true villain version of The Penguin – the one that we see ten years into the future in the finale – is not a result of anything that he was in control of. It's a result of the fact that he was put into prison for ten years. Of course, he deserved to go to prison for many more years than that. [laughs] But because he was in there for those ten years, it was even more of a catalyst for him to lose what last humanity he had left.
Hey, just because Penguin deserved to go to prison and had enough heroism to stand against Bane doesn't mean he would tolerate ten years in the clink very well! Almost as soon as he was out of prison, Penguin went after Jim, furious that the newly-minted Commissioner Gordon had thrown him behind bars. He forced Jim to the edge of a dock and put a gun to his head to reenact the moment from the series premiere when Jim had him in the same position, but with one key difference.
Jim didn't want to pull the trigger on Penguin, and so he let him go and set a series of events in motion that changed Gotham City forever. Penguin totally intended to pull the trigger and kill Jim. Fortunately, Jim got the jump on him and jumped into the water, escaping. Another revenge scheme bites the dust!
Oswald's transformation into the true Penguin for the finale was physical as well as mental and emotional. Despite Robin Lord Taylor's previous statement that Gotham's Penguin would never get fat like his comics counterpart, there was definitely some extra meat on his bones after his decade in Blackgate. Taylor explained how the show found a happy medium between the over-the-top look of comics Penguin and the original look of Gotham's Penguin for the finale:
We didn't want it to be cartoonish. I realize there's always going to be a cartoonish element to it, but we also wanted the look and the extra girth of Oswald to be representative of the real shit he went through when he was in prison for those ten years. It had a physical effect on him, and also compounded with the limp and the injury that he'd had for the last five years, carrying that through an extra ten years. We really wanted the way his body looked to exemplify and show all the pain that he's been feeling all those years. I think it was really successful. It felt so good to be in that suit in the way that it felt authentic. It felt like all of this physical pain and physical trials that he has been through, this is what it has left him. I thought it was cool.
Gotham isn't exactly a gritty crime drama, and considering that the finale was tasked with setting up a status quo in which a guy dressed like a bat fights crime, of course everything wasn't going to be played 100% straight, but the Gotham team still held back from getting too cartoonish with Oswald's new look as Penguin. Though he was a bit thicker in the middle after his time in prison, he wasn't quite as egg-shaped as Penguin in the comics.
Penguin was cartoonish insofar as he's one of the villains of Gotham with the most screentime, so of course he has some ridiculous layers to him. Part of what has made Gotham so unique has been its ability to combine the ridiculous with the dramatic. But the physical changes to him weren't played for laughs, and his experiences behind bars clearly impacted him in some serious ways.
Robin Lord Taylor went on to explain why Oswald became the version of Penguin that he is by the end:
Oswald's failings have been to think the best of people; it's always gotten him into trouble. And he did it again with Gordon. He thought Gordon was going to have his back, and wasn't going to throw him away to jail, that Gordon would understand, 'If Oswald is running things, then at least I have an ally in that.' Gordon didn't do that, and he didn't protect Oswald at all. So in the finale, when they're yelling at each other, Oswald is rightfully upset, because he thought he understood where Gordon was coming from, in terms of their connection. But again, it was an example of how Oswald really starts to feel things. His innate desire to connect to people was his ultimate undoing. That's a beautiful story, I would say, that we could tell with this character. It was almost like he was too good to truly succeed in the way he deserved to in Gotham City. That's saying a lot for The Penguin.
There's a reason why viewers can root for Penguin and enjoy his antics in a way that they really can't for J, or Jeremiah and Jerome before him. Penguin always has a goal, and he does want connections and recognition from people he thinks highly of.
The various Valeska incarnations either wanted to watch the world tear itself apart or watch the world tear itself apart with Bruce Wayne by their side. Penguin's undoing is sympathetic, and he's definitely one of the many things I think a lot of people will miss about Gotham. Robin Lord Taylor and others shared what they're going to miss themselves about Gotham, and some comments may surprise you.
Sadly, Robin Lord Taylor's time as Penguin is done, but fans can see him in a brand new role in the second season of You on Netflix when that eventually premieres.