What a difference a season can make. Gotham started off as a show that was full of atmosphere, great sets and cinematography, and a ton of potential. It offered a unique set of stories based in the Batman mythology, but set in a time before Bruce Wayne dons the cowl. With a fresh take on Penguin, Edward Nygma working in the GCPD, mob bosses Falcone and Maroni, and a new villain created just for the show in Fish Mooney. The first few episodes were uneven and rocky as the showrunners were working out tone, theme, and style, but I felt it was still ahead of ABC’s show “Agents of Shield.” Well, a full season has come and gone, and AoS has soared, and the Gotham that started with a bang, ended in a whimper. There were so many issues with “All Happy Families are Alike” that sum up the overarching problems the show has had all season, it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s just start at the beginning.
The season finale opens with Fish Mooney floating out of the fog of Gotham harbor, after being held captive by the Dollmaker, and her presence is almost instantly felt by the feuding mob bosses Maroni and Falcone. Fish represents everything that was good and bad with the first season of Gotham, as Jada Pinkett Smith was a blast to watch. She was both over the top and campy, but her character usually had strong emotional motivation. But her inconsequential storyline that sent her to toil on Dollmaker’s island for long parts of the second half of the season is an example of the lack of narrative cohesion on the show. The first season was setup to be the story of Penguin’s rise from low end henchman to super villain, Gordon’s struggle to clean up the city of Gotham, and how a young Bruce Wayne began to become the hero that Gotham needs. In some ways it did that, but it was of detours into murder of the week cases and forced nods at the Batman mythology. The show spent 22 episodes looking for a consistent voice and storyline, and haphazard character development.
Fish Mooney began as a smart, tough, and dangerous woman that demanded respect in the testosterone heavy underbelly of Gotham. But like all the other characters in Gotham, she was left to spin in a narrative no man’s land, caught between over the top camp and gritty realism. It’s too bad that such an interesting character suddenly channeled Aunty Entity from Mad Max and “died” in such a boring and rushed way. Last we saw her, she was shot in the stomach escaping from the Dollmaker, but now she’s completely healed, head half shaved and bejeweled with clothing that left little to the imagination. She recruits Selina to be a part of her gang, because every mob boss wants teenage kids hanging around, and when Fish isn’t busy plotting her “New Day” in Gotham, she sends Cat to get her hair styled as well. Why have Selina join fish if it’s only for one episode? Well, because the show wanted to make sure she had something to do in the finale. At one point, she even rubbed her head against Fish as the mob boss praised her – because she’s CAT woman…Gotham is subtle like that. Oh, and don’t get me started on the dialogue they give poor Selina. Vera Farmiga wouldn’t be able to give a convincing performance with lines like when she tells Gordon that’s she just “chillin’” with Fish and doesn’t want to “blow to coolest gig ever.”
The mob storylines were the best all season, and that was true in the finale. Maroni launched a full scale attack on Falcone, and the showed paid homage to the Godfather with the attack at the hospital. (Why does Gotham hospital look like a dungeon set that would seem more at place on Dollmaker’s island?) Penguin had a few quiet moments with Falcone at the hospital, and gave a decent monologue about his conflicting emotions of dedication to the mob boss and his personal lust for power. But those few moments were swallowed up in the inconsistencies of the show. At the midseason finale, Falcone was resolute in never leaving Gotham. He was so strong in his resolve, that he strangled the woman he thought he loved in front of Fish to prove he was never leaving this city. Well, he changed his mind, and he wants to retire after all. Maroni shot a few bullets at him and he’s ready to run to Zihuatenejo, Mexico and hang out with Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding on the beach. Fish shoots Maroni in the head (completely changing Batman mythology) because he won’t stop calling her “babes” and then is shot in the stomach (again) by Butch, and then thrown into Gotham harbor by Penguin who then channels Jack Dawson and screams that he’s the King of Gotham to the sky.
The rest of the season finales were even more frustrating. The show has a track record of not understanding female characters, and it’s on full display here. Barbara decides she will only go to trauma therapy if Dr. Leslie Thompkins is her doctor, even then Thompkins isn’t a specialist. At their first meeting where it seems more like Barbara is trying to seduce her doctor than discuss her experiences with the ‘Ogre”, she tries to get the doctor to talk about her personal relationship with Gordon and then out of nowhere she claims she killed her parents and attacks Thompkins with a butcher knife. These woman aren’t characters with individual motivations and stories, they are merely there to complicate the lives of Jim Gordon. Their entire conversation is based about Jim, then they fight, and then Jim shows up at the last second to end the fight and comfort Thompkins, and there is no conclusion to the storyline. Barbara is so bad, I was afraid she might pull a Jack Torrance as she is chopping at the bathroom door, push her face through the hole and scream “Here’s Barbie!”
As bad as Barbara’s scenes were, they were nowhere near the worst this week, and I’m as shocked as anyone. That award is a tie between Edward Nygma and Bruce Wayne. These are two characters that started more in the background, and had quiet but consistent growth this season, but suddenly hit overdrive in their plot development. Nygma gets one scene where Ms. Kringle notices the “clue” he left in his note from the last episode, and after a quick denial, he morphs into full crazy in a matter of moments. He starts talking talking to himself, the camera moves quickly, and edits are jarring to show his confused state of mind, and voila, a super villain is born right before our eyes.
Bruce is just as a bad, as he searches frantically for his father’s secret that Lucius Fox hinted at. Alfred asks him what he is looking for and Bruce replies “I’ll know it when I see it” and that is probably the most used phrase in the Gotham writer’s room. Later in the episode he remembers that Fox said his father was a stoic, and he suddenly pulls a book from a pile where he discovers a hidden remote control. Once he pushes the button, classical music starts playing, the fireplace moves, and we see steps leading into a cave with the sound of bats in the background. Yep, Thomas Wayne had different public and private personas, tried to save Wayne Enterprises, and built the Batcave. He was Batman without the cowl. WHY? Oh Gotham, why?
When the season started, I hoped Gotham would be a great show. I hoped that it would explore a sprawling city full of interesting characters. I hoped it would give an insight into the rise of Jim Gordon, the demise of a city, and the rise of the Caped Crusader. I hoped that it would be entertaining and give a fresh view on an often overlooked corner of Batman mythology. I hoped that this promising but inconsistent show would find solid footing. I hoped that the show would pull out of its tailspin that proved almost unwatchable as the season progressed.
Well, it turns out that Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot was right after all: “Hope? It’s for losers.”
How do you feel about the first season of Gotham? Sound off in the comments!