Stuck like a Batarang between the twin traumas of Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones‘ season 8 Battle for Winterfell is the last episode of Gotham, ever. After five seasons of serving as a prequel to the Dark Knight’s arrival, the series finale, titled “The Beginning”, jumped ten years into the future, to a time when Commissioner Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is a weary man with a glorious mustache, Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) is a white-faced Joker cracking wise above a vat of chemicals in a cheap purple suit, and Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) finally puts his greatest fear on like a mask and starts professionally crippling muggers by moonlight. Gotham, weird, wonderful, absurd Gotham, is about as far from a perfect television show as Bruce Wayne is from being a mentally stable human being. But as a finale, as a coda to the five wild years that came before it? “The Beginning,” as an ending, was perfect.
I’ve written about every episode of Gotham since the pilot episode in 2014; recapping the show was one of my first assignments in this game ever, back when recapping individual episodes of a TV show was still a major thing. I recognize that it’s possible this long-term commitment gives me bias or, conversely, has driven me insane. But I think watching the show’s entire arc has given me an above-the-clouds perspective, like one of those shady blimps that always seems to be hovering over the city for absolutely no reason.
Gotham started out rough as can be, a show very confused about how to go about making a Batman show without Batman, wedged between a hard-boiled detective show where all the detectives were doofuses and an endless DC Easter Egg hunt where the prize was recognizing that there are plants in a pre-teen Poison Ivy’s apartment. But, as I’ve said before, the writers quickly realized no one was interested and promptly lost its freakin’ mind. It became a story to match its cast’s delightfully hammy performances. It added buckets of color to that drab, grey skyline. It blew up James Fran with a bazooka, turned Michael Chiklis into a hulking rage-monster thanks to the poison blood of a Mad Hatter’s sister, became the type of show where Professor Pyg (Michael Cerveris) sang show tunes on a table filled with meat pies made of homeless people parts.
In short, Gotham‘s arc is…Gotham City’s arc. The solution to a “Batman show without Batman” is to tell the origin story of a place so insane Batman is its savior, not a circus freak. Gotham, like Gotham, started out as an objectively tough place with a lot of problems rooted in corruption and street-level violence. But then those problems didn’t so much grow as they got stranger, more pastel-colored, more vaguely themed to fit the criminal committing the crime. It became a mad-house run by the inmates. It became a city that needed a symbol of hope as fucked up as the things making it seem hopeless in the first place.
In a lot of ways, Gotham‘s “real” finale is its penultimate episode, “They Did What?”, which actually wrapped up season 5’s “No Man’s Land” storyline, handed defeat to Bane so Shane West can somehow age into Tom Hardy, and provided emotional closure to its main characters in the most Gotham of ways possible: Gordon and Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) are co-raising a child with Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), a former mental patient and business owner who has tried to murder them both on several occasions. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) decide to be the best Rogues they possibly can be, while also temporarily agree to not literally stab each other. And Bruce Wayne flies off in a private jet, en route to distant lands to learn detective work and throat punching while Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) looks on from the ground, just a few years away from becoming the best cat burglar the city’s ever known.
It’s the ending Gotham deserved, but not the one it needed. “The Beginning” was an episode of the Burt West ’66 Batman series mixed together with the aesthetics of Tim Burton‘s two movies, then injected straight into Tommy Wiseau‘s veins like some sort of over-acting Venom concoction. It was gaudy, campy, over-the-top. It was a delightfully comic-book-ish look at a Gotham City right at the moment it needed Batman. And just like he has in every incarnation over 80 years, Batman arrived just in time.
I’ll miss this show dearly, every batshit flaw, bungled investigation, and jilted piece of Jim dialogue. I’ll miss Taylor, Michaels, and Richards making a feast of the scenery weekly to see who could become the cheesiest future-villain in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. I’ll miss McKenzie gritting his jaw as Gordon so hard his face occasionally caved in on itself, miss Mazouz’s quietly powerful chemistry with Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth. I’ll miss the Gotham City Police Department being unable to stop even a stiff breeze from infiltrating their precinct and slaughtering at least six of their finest officers.
But Gotham certainly served its purpose. It turned a city insane and birthed a Batman out of darkness, blood, and endless warehouses filled with chemical vats. More than anything, over five seasons of absurdity Gotham proved you don’t necessary need Batman to become one of the best Batman stories ever told.