The 2014 Fall debut of Fox’s pre-Batman series Gotham was highly anticipated by yours truly. However, the first half of its first season didn’t do much to earn that excitement. In fact, the show burned away any good will I’d granted it, so much so in fact that now it’s got some real work to do if it wants to sway my opinion back in the other direction. The good news for them is that it’s a new year, which comes with a fresh start and a second chance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we get to whether or not Gotham’s back on track, I thought I’d take a look back at where it’s gone so far. Whether you’ve been watching from the beginning or are just now deciding to give it a shot, I’ve put together a list of ten things you need to know about Gotham before its mid-season premiere, “Rogues’ Gallery.” Hit the jump to get caught up.
1. Bruce Wayne
Batman or not, this universe doesn’t exist without Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). His origin is almost exactly as you remember it, and the show’s pilot wastes little time in making young Bruce an orphan. The noir tone of the cold-blooded murder that serves as Wayne’s formative event in becoming the Batman seemingly set the stage for the rest of Gotham’s episodes to follow, and though episodes stray from the hard-boiled aesthetic on occasion, the spirit of noir still remains. And yes, Bruce’s obsession with solving his parents’ murder is still the driving force at the center of his character.
What’s changed, however, is the manner in which Bruce becomes the Bat. Sure, he still has Alfred (Sean Pertwee) looking after him and even training him in the martial arts (even if those arts are the odd bit of fencing, boxing, and learning how to beat the shit out of school bullies with your dead father’s gold watch…), but another teacher has joined the fray: Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). Yes, you read that right. Catwoman herself (though she’s simply called “Cat” at this point in her young life) teaches Bruce the perils of street life, the dangers of Parkour, and the bittersweet moments of a young romance. I’m curious as to whether longtime fans of Batman lore find this interesting or just outright insulting to the Batman/Catwoman relationship. Regardless, this is the direction the creative team of Gotham has chosen. I’m just happy to report that Mazouz and Bicondova aren’t the worst child actors to grace the small screen.
2. James Gordon
Let’s face it, Gotham is about Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his various run-ins with the title city’s criminal underworld and its equally corrupt police force. I gave McKenzie a pass in the early going since Gordon’s character is written as a one-note do-gooder who is incredibly uptight and stubborn to a fault. That’s fine, to a point, since he’s literally the only straight arrow in a city full of crooked cops and politicians pocketed by Gotham’s various crime families. But McKenzie’s acting hasn’t progressed as far past wooden as I would have expected, and the writing for Gordon has yet to develop any new wrinkles. So what’s his journey been like so far?
Upstart Gordon lands opposite down-and-dirty Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and the two immediately butt heads. Their clashing ideals serve as a great point of dramatic tension since they are stuck working together to solve various crimes plaguing the citizenry. (For a while anyway. Eventually this relationships devolves into a series of predictable tropes.) Early on, Gordon resists Bullock’s suspect method of operating (ie making deals with criminals, paying off low-level informants, etc) but soon gives a little when he realizes that Bullock’s connections are helping to solve cases, and to keep them alive. Gordon’s Boy Scout reputation is further put to the test when he becomes ensnared in the plans of one of Batman’s greatest villains, the Penguin. Although it looks like Gordon is going to start playing ball with the criminal underworld, he soon reverts back to his stubborn ways, taking on the crime families, the police department, and the mayor himself. So it’s no surprise when the department turns its back on him (excluding a few decent cops and Bullock himself), the heads of the mafia threaten the lives of his loved ones, and the political power-brokers of Gotham bump Gordon down to nightguard at Arkham Asylum. For a cop who can solve complicated crimes seemingly on intuition alone, this wasn’t a very smart play. And for a show set in the universe of the World’s Greatest Detective, it’s just not smart writing.
3. Harvey Bullock
Let’s talk about Detective Bullock for a second, shall we? In a city full of truly evil people, Bullock’s antics are decidedly pedestrian. He’s not even really a “dirty” cop by network procedural standards, but he does operate in some gray areas. Logue starts out great as Bullock, hassling Gordon for his stick-in-the-mud attitude, drinking on the job, and fighting trans-sexual hookers in his spare time (still one of the show’s best moments). Bullock’s very real threat to kill Gordon if the Good Cop doesn’t put down the Penguin is the high point (or low point, I suppose) of Bullock’s criminal ways. Unfortunately, after that issue is resolved, he’s just not that interesting anymore. Sure, he helps Gordon save the day each and every episode, but it feels as if the writers didn’t know how to handle him after the first few episodes. His swagger and bravado have been reduced to loudly shouted one-liners. It’s one thing to make a caricature out of Bullock, but it’s wholly another to deprive the character of his chance at redemption. Perhaps the second half of the season will give him that opportunity; Logue deserves to see it through.
4. Barbara Kean
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Miss Kean (Erin Richards), Jim Gordon’s girlfriend and almost-fiance. I feel bad for Richards here. She probably saw an opportunity to hop on board the series adaptation of one of the most popular superheroes in history, at a time when such properties are incredibly lucrative. What she got was a thinly defined character whose most interesting attributes are her mysterious source of wealth and her past lesbian relationship coming back to cause trouble between her and Jim. Her character alternates between being fully committed to helping Gordon shoulder the burdens of his profession, to being so distrustful of him to the point of ending their relationship and shacking up with her former lover (and Internal Affairs officer who’s investigating Gordon).
Admittedly, I’m not as up to snuff on the comics version of Barbara Kean-Gordon as I am the other characters. Her origins and relationship to James Gordon (and their children) have been changed quite often in Batman’s history, so I can totally understand why Gotham would want to put their own spin on her story. But so far, it hasn’t been anything noteworthy. The most her character has contributed to the show to this point is a couple of swanky places to shoot romantic scenes. Perhaps we’ll see Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) step up to the plate before too long.
5. The Penguin
Okay, I’ve been pretty harsh up to this point, so time for the show’s bright spot: Robin Lord Taylor. His version of the Penguin might not be the fully fledged kingpin that takes on Batman later in life, but it was a great decision to allow viewers to watch his rise to power in lockstep with Bruce Wayne and Gordon’s own journeys. I’d argue that the Penguin’s arc has been the most successful of the three. We’re introduced to him as Oswald Cobblepot, bootlicking lackey to Jada Pinkett Smith’s ambitious gangster Fish Mooney. He tries playing both sides of the Thin Blue Line, acting as a lowly servant to the criminals while offering up juicy intel to the cops.
Of course, Cobblepot’s double dealing is soon discovered, so it’s put to James Gordon to execute the traitor (and thus test the new cop’s loyalty to the crime family). This tense and temporary allegiance between Penguin and Gordon was perhaps the best moment of the series so far, showing off Cobblepot’s razor-sharp intelligence alongside Gordon’s own quick thinking when the cop fakes the execution of the criminal. Later on in the season, it’s revealed that Penguin (who resurfaces quite alive in order to infiltrate the Maroni family and set the competing crooks against each other) has not only been working for Falcone, but has been slowly cobbling together his own loyal soldiers. Time will tell just how the Penguin’s arc ends up this season, but it’s been the best the show has to offer to this point.
6. Falcone, Maroni, and Mooney
The crime families of Gotham run the show, that’s always been part and parcel to the Batman stories. And as much as Gotham has been about Gordon’s cleaning house and Penguin’s rise to infamy, the main conflict has really been among the mafia houses. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) rules them all with cool, calculated confidence and a business-like demeanor, though he’s not averse to getting a little bloody when his underlings act up. Mooney, a character created for this show, is his biggest threat from within his own organization while his rival Sal Maroni (David Zayas) is his biggest enemy without. Maroni and Falcone eventually reach a win-win deal over the Arkham Asylum property and associated contracts, which puts a blood feud between the families to rest.
Falcone’s plant in the Maroni family – the Penguin – certainly helps his case, but Mooney has an infiltrator of her own. In one of the show’s strangest sub-plots, Mooney trains an attractive assassin to get close to Falcone, earn his trust, and report back regularly until the time comes to off the old man, at which point Mooney will take over. She’s got a few other crime families to take care of first, but with Penguin eliminating some and her associate Butch (Drew Powell) negotiating with others, Mooney may make a real run at overseeing all the crime in Gotham before the season’s end. I think Penguin might have a thing or two to say about that.
7. The Villains
Aside from the big names in Batman lore I’ve already mentioned like Falcone, Maroni, the Penguin, and Catwoman, some other infamous villains creep into Gotham as well. The thing is, even though the show folds them into the world that exists in which Bruce Wayne is a little kid, there’s no continuity as to just how these villains appear. In the case of Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), he’s much less villainous and much more irritating as a know-it-all forensic investigator for the GCPD, but at least his quirkiness serves as an eerie portent to what he will become. Then there’s Poison Ivy, aka Ivy Pepper (Clare Foley). Ivy might be the youngest character in the entire show, so it’ll likely be some time before she does anything to warrant Batman’s attention. The daughter of a deceased man charged with the murder of the Waynes, Ivy certainly has a score to settle with the surviving son, at least in her own twisted mind. Unfortunately, there really hasn’t been any indication of the plant-loving psychopath she’ll grow into.
Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto) has already made his debut as a relatively older but still fresh-faced lawyer with a cool demeanor, until his hot temper gets the better of him. No telling if we’ll see him again this season. Victor Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan) made a memorable appearance, and his unique brand of insanity is probably too enticing to leave at a one-and-done. And then there are the villains yet to come. There’s promise of Jonathan Crane (Charlie Tahan) arriving this season, though this version of Scarecrow will also be of the junior variety. The biggest tease of all is the Joker, a character probably as famous as Batman himself. It’s been reported that the showrunners have seeded hints and clues about the Joker throughout the season, but a lot of this will probably be misdirects and red herrings. Part of me wants to see Gotham stick it out until the Joker makes his appearance; another part of me would rather just let sleeping criminals lie.
8. The … Other Villains
Oh, yeah, you might have guessed that since Batman isn’t around and that his infamous villains are just children, that Gordon and Bullock have had to square off against some lesser known criminals. Rather than introduce some of the weirdos from the dusty corners of Batman lore, the writers made up their own. So instead of seeing Killer Moth, Calendar Man, or the Ventriloquist on the small screen, we get the Balloonman, the Spirit of the Goat, and the kidnappers Patty and Doug. So, yeah. I’m all for creative expression, but when there’s such a wealth of characters to draw from, why not at least throw them a bone every once in a while rather than going back to the drawing board? The good news is that it looks like future episodes might tie in more to the Batman lore we know and love, even if that starts with the minor villain, the Executioner.
9. Arkham Asylum
The re-opening of Arkham Asylum has been a running plot line through the season so far. It’s been folded into a deal with the mafia families, mentioned as being part of the Waynes’ previous philanthropic interests, and served as a campaign point for the city’s politicians. So it was fitting that the early part of the season ended with the inmates heading into the poorly revamped asylum, under the watch of newly appointed night guard, James Gordon. I wasn’t thrilled with the asylum’s look in early episodes as it lacked the Gothic horror that the infamous building has been known for, but going forward, the interior design (and especially the behavior of the inmates) makes Arkham a much more terrifying place. Hopefully we spend some more time here for the season’s run.
10. Gotham Going Forward
Gotham certainly has potential to improve on its performance so far, and it’s got decent numbers in the viewing department. It’s pretty standard in the police procedural department, so if they just remember that the show is birthed in Batman legend and pay homage to that, they could do so much better. But I’ve said my piece about what I’d like to see (actually using Batman villains, a deeper respect for the story, and serious consideration for the show’s female characters); now I want to hear what YOU think of Gotham so far, and what you want to see in the episodes going forward!
Gotham returns to Fox Monday night, January 5th at 8pm. Be sure to check back here for our recap!