Gotham fans, there's no good way to say this so it's probably best to just go ahead and rip off the Band-Aid; Penguin and Nygma are never going to ride off together into the sunset. We know that idea likely hurts for some of you, but it is a fact that many fans need to come to terms with and not just for their own protection. It is also because it's unhealthy to expect it to end any other way.
Let's get to the backstory. A few weeks ago, Gotham made internet waves when Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) announced that he has feelings for his Chief of Staff, Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). The confession split the fandom into multiple factions. One group was appalled that Gotham would deter from Batman canon so abruptly by making Penguin "gay" (this despite the fact that Gotham has never had a strict adherence to canon). Another side was stoked that the show's best bromance was taking things to the next level and potentially making 'shipper dreams come true. Then, there was a smaller group of fans stuck in the middle who realized this storyline was a disaster from the start — but I'm here to say that disaster is OK, at least within context.
Let's talk about Penguin and his feelings first. What does it really mean for Penguin to have feelings for Ed? It means that Penguin may not identify as a 0 on the Kinsey scale, the sociological idea proposed by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 that humans aren't strictly heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, but land somewhere on a scale between heterosexual (0) and homosexual (7). But Penguin's number is not necessarily enough to label him as all-out gay. There's not enough evidence to make that distinction, and in 2016 we should be willing to accept fluid sexualities without strict definitions.
There's also the issue of whether Penguin is actually capable of feeling genuine love for another human being. The crime kingpin may have been softened after his time at Arkham Asylum with Hugo Strange (B.D. Wong), but he still has a lot of sociopathic tendencies, which calls into question his ability to feel real love. It's obvious that Penguin cares very much for Ed, but these feelings only arose when Ed proved that he would protect and take care of Penguin. Ed has filled the hole in Penguin's heart left behind when Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) killed Penguin's mother last season. Penguin needs Ed, but to confuse that need for love, as he himself has done, can only lead to terrible things.
And it actually already has. As of "Mad City: Follow the White Rabbit," Penguin has yet to reveal his feelings to Ed. Instead, when Ed confessed that he had fallen for someone else — a Miss Kringle face-twin named Isabella (Chelsea Spack) — Penguin lashed out. At first he tried to threaten Isabella into staying away from Ed. When she refused, he cut her brakes, and she inevitably died when her car ran into an oncoming train. Ed has already figured out that foul play was involved and is on the hunt for his lover's killer. When he eventually finds out it was Penguin, his reaction will be drastic and violent. This will not end well for either Penguin or Ed, and it is irresponsible to ever expect it would.
Labeling Penguin as gay, or even bisexual, and rooting for this couple assumes that they are a normal LGBT relationship, and they aren't at all. At the very least, Penguin has sociopathic tendencies and Ed is schizophrenic. That's not to say the mentally ill people can't find love, but Gotham exacerbates these particular character traits of the two main villains for maximum drama, making them unhealthy romantic partners. Even if Ed returned Penguin's affections (before he killed Isabella of course), this would not have been a healthy or prototypical example of a functioning LGBTQ relationship. Thus, we shouldn't parade the storyline as such or herald it as a progressive move forward for LGBTQ representation in comic book shows. It's not, and it was never meant to be.
The relationship doesn't have to be a good representation though, because TV has evolved a lot over the past decade. Ten years ago, when you could count the number of gay TV characters in series regular roles on one hand, it was critical that those characters be fully fleshed out and not reinforce stereotypes to the mainstream audience at home. Now the LGBTQ community has more representation on television — including over half a dozen supporting characters on comic book shows. These characters vary in their sexual orientations and labels and provide a wide variety of experiences for the audience to relate and connect to.
It's important not to confuse "more" LGBTQ representation with "enough" representation. That milestone may never be reached (how about a lead character that's not strictly heterosexual?), but the amount of gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning characters on TV with varying backgrounds gives Gotham some leeway to not depict a perfect, all-encompassing gay relationship between Penguin and Nygma. That wouldn't be right for the characters, and it wouldn't make sense in the world these two characters live in.
If you want to see a coming-out storyline done well, then you should be paying attention to Alex Danvers' (Chyler Leigh) journey on this season of Supergirl (which also airs Monday nights at 8/7c over on The CW). If you prefer to stick with Gotham, Barbara (Erin Richards) is also a prime example of a strong, capable bisexual character who is confident in her sexuality. She may have problematic behaviors, but it's not because she's questioning who she is or what she wants.
The saddest thing about the Penguin and Nygma storyline, though, is that Penguin's actions, due to his repressed feelings, will inevitably make it impossible for the two to remain friends once Nygma discovers the truth. It will break apart one of the strongest relationships on the show that never needed to be romantic to be satisfying. However, the show has already made its way down its path, and we, as viewers, just need to be fully aware of the characters involved and the full context of the world they live in.
Penguin and Nygma couldn't be a healthy example of a romantic relationship because Gotham isn't conducive to those types of relationships as a whole. Even Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) can't find a happy ending because Gotham isn't a place where those happen. It is a show that breeds the villains that will eventually lead Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) to live his adult life alone and in the shadows. Penguin and Nygma's one-sided brief romance will end in disaster, but it was wrong to ever expect it to do anything else.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox.