It feels like it’s been an exhausting first season for Gotham. It’s had its ups and downs for sure and from moment to moments I’m still not entirely sure where I fall on the season as a whole. It’s not Batman, but it throws in Batman references in spades. It’s not a police procedural, but there’s plenty of one-off cases for Bullock and Gordon to solve. It’s not a crime drama, but there’s intricate gang politics between four sub-factions plus the police. It’s dark and gritty, but there’s plenty of characters that are so over the top that it becomes full on camp. One episode has me thinking… well you get the picture. It has some great actors pulling out some great performances, and tosses in some gorgeous visuals, but if the show continues on this path I don’t see it continuing into a season three.
I’ll start off with the character that seems to be the touchstone for anyone who doesn’t like this show as well as many people who do. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney. Where most of the cast would play everything straight, dark, and gritty, Smith played up the absurdity and theatricality of Fish in every scene she was in. She was the center of attention with a look somewhere between a cabaret dancer, a leather fetishist, and a Mad Max scavenger, and her voice would often have a hint of Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman. She was camp through and through, and there was no reason whatsoever to have her on the Dollmaker’s Island only to have her come back and get killed. The only other character I disliked almost as much as Fish was Barbara, but I’ll get to her in a little bit.
One reason why I stuck with this show through its ups and downs were some of the characters that I did enjoy no matter what was happening to everyone else. My favorite character by far was Sean Pertwee’s Alfred. He’s the reason why all the baby Bruce scenes were tolerable. He plays the right amount of British badass combined with an honest compassion for the child of his dear friend. Next to Alfred comes the character who was mostly comic relief, but in the best way possible with Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock. He’s a corrupt cop, but he’s only corrupt because that’s what he has to do to make it in Gotham PD, and while he doesn’t always like it he does always get Gordon’s back. And to wrap things up for my favorite characters comes Leslie Thompkins or Lee as she ends up being called most often. She’s the right amount of intelligent, sexy, and a bit of a thrillseeking personality that comes in handy when you live in Gotham. She was a massive improvement on Barbara as a love interest for Gordon and generally only got better as the show went on.
One of Gotham’s biggest problems was that it never felt cohesive. I already mentioned Fish Mooney’s stay at the Dollmaker’s island. It provided absolutely nothing in the way of character development for Jim Gordon as he never knew of its existence. It also provided very little character development for Fish Mooney, but that was completely pointless because when she finally returned to Gotham proper she was still the exact same character as when she left. Not only that, but she was then killed in the same episode. The same sort of issue happened with Barbara’s character arc. There was no direction, one minute she was the doting girlfriend, then she was the jilted lover, the alcoholic, the spoiled and unwanted child, then she disappeared for half a dozen episodes only to return to become the victim, and finally a cold blooded killer. I doubt there was any forethought to where she was going to end up when the season started, she was always just an afterthought.
But not all of the story arcs were handled badly. The best parts of this first season can be boiled down to the opposite ends of the spectrum with Penguin & Gordon’s rise to power. In fact, if I were to go back and re-watch this season, I think I would find a lot more hints about how they are connected throughout the show. Penguin starts out as the low man on the totem pole under Fish Mooney who was under Carmine Falcone, and through manipulation, deceit, and planning he ends up being right at the top of Gotham’s underworld. Meanwhile Gordon starts out as low man on the totem pole at Gotham PD, and as he discovers all the manipulation, deceit, and corruption around him, he begins to manipulate the system to make himself rise through the ranks under the guise of doing what’s right. Penguin uses his status as a spy to play both sides of the gangs against each other, culminating in a full out gang war which gets Maroni to get rid of Falcone, Fish to get rid of Maroni, and Penguin gets rid of Fish. Meanwhile Gordon uses his connection with Penguin to gain the upper hand with Commissioner Loeb, it truly is the highlight of this show for me.
One other minor ongoing storyline that I was mostly on board with was the pre-Riddler Edward Nygma. He had a nice slow arc going on where he was the weird forensics expert who had a thing for riddles and dead bodies. They threw in a bit of conflict with the cute records keeper Miss Kringle which culminated in his first kill, and a clue in the form of a riddle that he was compelled to leave. My only problem with his arc was that it felt like it escalated just a bit too quickly towards the end, and it was a little ridiculous how they overplayed his self doubt and anxiety with double exposures and Smeagol-esque talking to himself.
This is one part of the show that I have nothing but high marks for. Throughout the entire series I loved the look of it, even though there’s plenty of dark corridors with highly lit windows in the background I rarely got tired of them. And there were so many moments that really helped sell the comic book origin of the show. Besides all the backlighting, there was also a lot of frames around people, from Barbara’s giant window clock to plenty of other windows, characters are often getting boxed into frames. There were also a handful of masks, though not quite as many, like the red hood.
Welcome Back, Jim Gordon
It was a close call between this episode and the Red Hood episode, but I think this one won out because it was the first moment that actually made us think that we were going to get rid of Fish Mooney. It has great moments from all of the characters, especially Butch and Alfred. I haven’t mentioned Butch too much, he spent most of this season being criminally underused but had a few brief moments to shine. Even though it wasn’t in this episode, the scene with him and his old friend in the car at the end of an episode was one of the best moments of the show. This episode also had one of the best lines from Alfred “Shall I get a broom then, Master Bruce? Or would you rather continue crying over the shattered fragments of your young dreams?”. Once in a while there really are strong moments in the writing that shows up in the dialogue, it’s just a shame it doesn’t always come across with the characters. Another one of my favorite lines came out in the season finale from Falcone “He was the most honest man I knew, but he carried a knife.”
I don’t have too many thoughts about season 2 aside from a tidbit I just recently caught over Twitter that Morena Baccarin will be promoted to series regular which I am completely thrilled about. I hope this means that they are taking Barbara out of continuity and replacing her with Leslie because she is a much better foil for this version of Jim Gordon. They have also announced that Freeze and the Joker will be making an appearance in season 2, though it’s unclear as to how big of a part they will play or what their roles will be. It’s entirely possible that Freeze will be introduced again as a pre-villainous doctor with a wife who has just contracted her terminal illness, and there have been so many different possible pre-Jokers that it’s hard to tell which way they will eventually go with it. While I doubt this would go over well at all with most Batman fans, I think it would be a very bold move for them to continue Barbara onto her current path and have her become a Joker similar to the alternate universe from Flashpoint as they aren’t being held to strict canon. The show has had its ups and downs, but it’s been one of the easiest shows to write about just because of how off the rails it gets at times. Feel free to share your thoughts on this season of Gotham in the comments good, bad, or otherwise.