CHARACTER ANALYSIS: Gotham‘s Oswald Cobblepot

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The Penguin is far from being a popular villain in DC’s universe, but Robin Lord Taylor‘s portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot has quickly turned the character into a fan favorite on FOX’s Gotham. Today we analyze Oswald’s “inspiring” journey, his childhood trauma and his relationship with other characters from the series, among other things.

WARNING: This article includes spoilers for both seasons of Gotham


Ever since FOX’s Gotham was first announced, we were told that this was the story of the city of Gotham before Bruce Wayne became Batman. Or rather, a cop procedural-type of story about Jim Gordon and his work at the GCPD. However, if we could only choose one character that took all the spotlight during the first season that would be Oswald Cobblepot, also known as Penguin. Sure, we had plenty of villains: there was Fish Mooney, the confrontations between the big gangsters Falcone and Maroni… but the culmination of it all was Penguin standing on top of a building claiming to be the new king of Gotham. Penguin’s road to success is nothing but remarkable, from being Fish’s umbrella-man that no one noticed to deceiving and betraying everyone in order to be the last one standing to run the city.

Where does all that ambition come from? Why did Penguin want to rule Gotham so badly in the first place?

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It’s no secret that Oswald Cobblepot had a bad childhood. As a kid, Oswald was bullied, he was made fun of and he had no friends. Because of this, he could only count on his mother, Gertrud Kapelput, as the only person who truly believed in him and supported him. The relationship Oswald and Gertrud shared allowed us to see a more humane side of Oswald. Aside from the fact that he hid his criminal life from her, he only wanted for his mother to stay away from harm’s way, be it physically and emotionally. Gertrud was also the only tie Oswald had to a past where he could still be an innocent child and a good person at heart. In fact, the only time he shows that softer side again is when he meets his new-found father, Elijah Van Dahl, while being under Hugo Strange’s treatment. Interestingly enough, both Gertrud and Elijah’s deaths are what make Oswald completely snap. It could be said that most of Penguin’s behavior comes as a response to how cruel the world is and how much he hates losing those he loves the most. Similarly, his ambition to rule Gotham is a way to get back at those who laughed at him and to feel powerful and in control for once. This obsession and thirst for power are made clear when Oswald claims that he doesn’t even consider a different life away from Gotham. When Jim tells him to leave the city after he fakes his murder, Oswald replies that he can’t: “Gotham is my home“.

It’s probably because of all this that Oswald really values those who have lent him a helping hand, the most clear example here being Jim Gordon, whom he calls “old friend” after he spared his life in the first episode. Oswald and Jim’s relationships is actually one of the most complicated in the series. Oswald adores him because he’s not used to being helped and, because of Jim’s character growth, the cop’s attitude goes from not wanting to have anything to do with him, to slowly accepting that he can be helpful in certain situations. Just as Oswald looks up to Jim in some way or another, there is another character who looks up to Oswald: Edward Nygma. When Nygma finally embraces his dark side/personality and takes a liking to killing, he goes to Oswald for advice and, to a certain degree, to search for an assassin partner. Their relationship thus far has been quite rocky: they usually find each other at opposite ends due to external circumstance and they also have different views on murder: Oswald uses it as a tool for his ambitions while Nygma just does it for fun. One thing is for sure, though: they are currently two of the most dangerous villains in the show and would make for a (literally) killer duo. Besides, their chemistry has turned them into one of the most popular ships in the fandom:

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All behavioral explanations aside, Oswald also shows clear signs of sociopathy. At first glance, he doesn’t really come off as threatening. He has a dorky appearance and personality and he was under Fish’s shadow for a long time. This is one of the reasons why it was so surprising to see him kill those two boys in the car when they called him “Penguin” in the first season (even if the nickname grew on him, his dislike for the name was one of the things that differentiated him from other versions of the character). The thing is, with Penguin, you are never quite sure what to expect. He’s very likable, funny and his struggles are portrayed in a way that makes the audience take his side, but underneath that dorky façade there’s a very calculative, manipulative and sadistic person. I guess that’s the thing about Gotham: it makes you like the villains and then makes you feel guilty when you laugh along with them. In that aspect, Penguin’s character is magnetic and his reactions are always unpredictable. Is it any wonder fans love him?

Known by many as a traitor, if there was a list of things you cannot do in Gotham (and that would be a long list), one of  them would be trusting the Penguin. Unless he considers you his friend, of course.

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About Author

24-year-old TV journalist. I especialize in fangirling over TV shows and anime. Currently fighting for fan studies to be recognized as a valid academic field.

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