For many, myself included, Gotham once begged the question of why the show existed in the first place. Right out the gate, the showrunners made it clear they were not going to use Batman and in fact, if he ever appeared, it would be in the final episode of the series. The story’s focus was on Commissioner Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne was just a kid, fresh off of seeing his parents murdered before his eyes. How far could you go with this concept? I’m not going to lie, at first it felt no different than any other run of the mill procedural cop drama, with some more real-world and “early days” versions of Batman’s rogues galleries. But I’d argue that at the end of season one and the start of season two, when it showed that no character could be typecast and betrayals and redemption were possible where least expected, that’s when it started to get interesting.
So having blazed trails of chaos for the last several years, the show arrives at the start of its final season, with the show’s interpretation of the 1999 Batman comic event kicking into gear. The previous season ended with the (literally) unholy alliance between Ra’s Al Ghul and Jeremiah Valeska (the closest thing the show has had to the Joker) resulting in violence, chaos, and eventually, the city’s bridges being blown up and the entire populace effectively being cut off from the rest of the world. However, rather than pick up where we left off, the show uses an interesting tactic to start off by forwarding to one year later – for reasons as of yet unknown, Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Riddler and Penguin all team up and take out what appears to be the army, or someone using army tanks. And then we cut back about 300 days beforehand. This is a great way to lay out to us what things will look like down the road, near the end, to leave us wondering “how the hell did that happen.”
In the more current time period, Jim Gordon gives a report over the radio wave on the state of affairs as he makes a desperate attempt to get the federal government to step in and intervene. Penguin has taken up residence in the mayor’s office, his old home. Barbara Kean has retained control of her nightclub and now uses it as a safe haven for women. Scarecrow seems to be the most ruthless figure of all, spreading fear and terror everywhere he goes. There is a mention of other villains as well (although not shown). The GCPD has created a safe haven in their headquarters to oversee the welfare of around 150 civilians, specifically those that were unable to leave the city before they were locked in. The government doesn’t budge, and Gordon realizes they are on their own.
This is a great way to set the stage for not only the episode, but arguably the rest of this final season. The storyline itself doesn’t move super fast (with one major exception) – Bruce and Alfred tend to a paralyzed Selina, Jim has to grapple with internal and external rebellions on his turf, Penguin is losing whatever sympathetic elements he has left as he eats heartily while others starve, Riddler is somehow alive again (with an “emo” haircut!) and Scarecrow seems to be the one person in all of Gotham who seems to be benefiting from No Man’s Land. But when Bruce, stung by his regret and guilt over what happened to Selina, decides to get a helicopter with supplies to fly in from Wayne Enterprises, that’s when things enter the usual Gotham chaos.
The helicopter gets shot down and a three-way battle ensures between the GCPD, Penguin’s crew, and Tabitha Galivan (still smarting over the death of Butch at Penguin’s hands in last season’s finale). Then, almost out of the blue, Penguin kills Tabitha, signaling that Gotham is moving to “clearing the decks” mode. As Barbara appears and grieves for her lost friend, it makes you wonder if she’s next as she is also an character unique to the show, and not in the comics. In the midst of the confusion, Bruce and Gordon make some critical moves and secure the supplies. The resulting calm is short-lived, as Bruce has to return to Selina’s side and Jim learns of a group of kidnapped kids nearby (all while getting a telegram of sorts from Jeremiah, who doesn’t appear in the episode).
There were two major recurring highlights in this episode, and both were around relationships that viewers can appreciate – Bruce and Jim’s partnership, and Bruce and Selina’s deteriorating romance. The best part about Gotham has been watching Bruce transform into a man before our very eyes, and it actually feels believable since this growth has never been portrayed in any Batman medium before. His desire to help others is balanced by the internal darkness that eats at him and his constant need to go it alone; which makes Jim’s acknowledgment and appreciation for their partnership throughout the episode even more fulfilling.
On the other hand, his relationship with Selina takes a major hit in this episode; first he has to bear her comment that the only reason she got shot is because she was his friend, and then later he has to watch as she tries to kill herself (a scene in which Camren Bicondova gives the best performance I’ve ever seen her give). This is no longer the cute, kiddy relationship of early seasons nor is it the angsty dramatic back and forth that it was recently. This is a very real, raw and relatable situation that has created a truly dark schism between two friends that may in fact never be repaired. Bruce’s decision to do something desperate at the end leaves me all kinds of curious.
What I didn’t enjoy was the addition of a Riddler subplot that seemed jammed in and quite frankly felt like it could have just been saved for another episode. First, we unceremoniously find out he’s still alive (which is confusing since he was as dead as a doornail at the end of last season), but then we basically get more of the schizophrenic Jekyll and Hyde act he’s been into since the early days, which is getting tiring at this point.
What I also didn’t like was the fact that the absence of certain villains seemed to be a bit confusing and made it too obvious that the actors were unavailable, either because of money or scheduling. While the explanation for Jeremiah’s absence (no one has seem him in 3 months) is plausible, it almost makes Gotham City feel smaller than ever by not showing us Freeze vs Firefly (which is made worse because they’re actually mentioned like the other villains yet not shown), Ivy, Hugo Strange, or even Captain Barnes (who would arguably have a field day in this new environment). This is the season opener! Would it have been too much money to get all these actors to film one scene each? Perhaps it would have been repetitive to a degree from the season 4 closing scene, but it’s the opener!
Gotham is mostly successful as No Man’s Land kicks off. The trademark chaos combined with the wackiness is as strong as ever, and arguably the two most important relationships in the show are explored more than they have ever been. While the inclusion or exclusion of certain supporting cast could have been handled much better, there was enough surprise and shock with those that were there to carry the day. Even though this is the stretch run, the show remains fun and appears primed for a thrilling ride building up to the Bat-tastic moment we’ve all been waiting for…
- Gotham has been great at one-liners. My favorite from tonight comes from Harvey, when he hears the government is cutting them off: “I am never paying taxes again.”
- The introduction of these unknown allies near the end is a plot thread that needs to be picked up and should not be left dangling.
- In the comic version of this storyline, it seemed a bit hilarious that other superheroes could come in and out of Gotham City at will; rather than organizing an effort to smuggle out people, they just came by to boost Batman’s spirits (gee, thanks!). Fortunately, there appears to be less of that in Gotham‘s version (so far).
- What makes Gotham so different from any other adaptation of Batman’s story is that ultimately, the focus always returns to the city and the common people. This version of No Man’s Land has the potential to be better because it focuses on the every day people, while the comic version seemed almost hyper-focused on Batman’s issues. So far, the show is doing a nice job of keeping the focus on the regular people trapped and seems primed to continue that in the next episode.
- Who is the “witch” that is going to “fix” Selina? Ivy? Lee? Someone else (Zatanna?)
- You’re gonna want to watch next week’s episode…that preview!