Thursday, September 25, 2014

[GOTHAM] Pilot Episode Review

I know I said that there is a fourth part for my review of Gotham: The Legend Reborn which was the making-of documentary of the show but the last installment only had two minutes and thirty-five seconds of material which was just a summary of the previous three videos so there was nothing else to say. Enough about that because we just had the season premiere of said show last Monday September 22! Since I do not live in the United States, I have to wait the next day before I get access to it and then another day before I can post an official review. So you'll see me talking about it around every Wednesday of the week from now on; the latest would be posted on a Friday in case real life (hey, I do have one of those, okay?) get in the way. For now, I posted this on a Thursday but I promise to be quicker about it next time. My reviews will discuss, as much as possible, every scene featured. I'm sure the format will change as the show progresses (I may only have to discuss the key points of an episode as oppose to rehashing the entire thing). But to commemorate Gotham's pilot episode, let me take this time to break down all of its parts.

But first, my overall impression: I LIKED IT IMMENSELY. It was fun to see characters I recognize instantly make their appearances. The dialogue is crisp, albeit stiff in some places. And the casting choices fit the roles unexpectedly better than I initially thought (which I will expound on later). Sure, there were a few scenes that I felt were put there to pander to the majority of Batman fans but I would also like to think they would serve a bigger purpose in the plot as the show develops. Heller stressed that this show isn't about Batman nor should it be, but I understand the need to connect it with the Batman mythos every now and then though I do worry that the show may not stand on its own for viewers who aren't exactly well-versed in Batman factoids. Still, Batman has had many adaptations in the past, and his rogues' gallery has been portrayed in television before (the Adam West show and the animated series are the prominent examples) so I'd like to think that even the casual viewer would at least be familiar with the likes of Catwoman, Penguin, Poison Ivy, the Riddler (who were also featured in the Burton and Schumacher films in the nineties).

However, I think it will take Gotham a while to find a core audience but I know it will get there because Heller is an impressive showrunner (based on his work on Rome and The Mentalist). I also think that the show would fare better if it won't attempt to try too hard to win over the comic book crowd. Why do I sound so optimistic about this? Well, let's say I have an experience about this with another fandom. Sherlock Holmes is as much of a childhood hero as Batman was while I was growing up, and I was a hardcore fan of the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett. And then Steven Moffat came along with Sherlock and I fell in love with it too. But we then get an American adaptation Elementary from the CBS network and I was wary of that for a while until it finally won me over. What I'm trying to say is that it's going to be a typically a difficult transition at first; a lot of Batman fans may not root for this show initially but I would encourage them to keep watching because, I find, that most of the things we don't expect from too much ultimately grow amazing before our very eyes as long as we're patient enough to see it through. That's what I intend to do with Gotham. Besides, I was honestly hooked already and that had more to do with the way most of the actors presented their characters within the forty-five minute format of a standard episode.

"However dark and scary the world may be, I promise you there will be light."

We already get four scenes in before the title sequence of the show even started. These were the crucial ones that quickly wasted no time in initiating the viewers into the premise. First, we get a young girl whom we all know based from the promos as Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), an amateur petty thief who roams the city at night to steal. While hiding in an alleyway, she coincidentally witnesses Thomas and Martha Wayne as they were gunned down by a masked mugger who simply walks out on their son Bruce instead of killing him alongside his parents. Canonically, Selina was never there but I'm curious to see how this would affect the dynamics between her and Bruce (David Mazouz) especially since they might have future interactions in the show. As for this scene itself which we have seen play out before in Nolan's Batman Begins, it was just as brutal and I believe both child actors displayed enough gravitas to handle such a traumatic event. I especially liked that shot of Bruce staring into the barrel of the gun which only lasted for a few seconds but did feel as if time itself just froze. That was pretty intense. We cut right to the Gotham Police Precinct where a mentally unstable suspect held one of the officers in hostage, demanding for his pills. In walks Ben McKenzie as James Gordon, doing his best to contain the situation. He accomplishes that but his senior partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) was not impressed and proceeded to scold him like a disappointed big brother. He criticized Gordon for--being too much of an upstanding guy, I guess, instead of straight-up shooting the suspect because that's how they do it in Gotham apparently.

Gordon looks very out-of-place in his environment and this continues on as he sees things unfolding before his eyes but ends up not knowing the best way to understand them and react to them accordingly. I don't think he's necessarily wet in the ears, but Bullock kept hammering him down about the way the world works in Gotham in almost every interaction they have. One can see that Bullock is the kind of law enforcer who has learned to expect little from the city he serves so his lectures about the ways of the city might come from a place of adapted cynicism but he does have a genuine concern for his new partner as we later find out by the end of the episode. I like the chemistry between these actors; the formulaic contrast to their characterizations is important. That's how this relationship will function and hopefully evolve during conflicts and compromises along the way.

One of my favorite parts, of course, since the trailer was released, was the conversation between Gordon and the young Bruce Wayne. This scene alternated with the one about Bullock and the responding officer at the Waynes' crime scene. It's notable that Bullock didn't want to take the case as soon as he learned who the victims were. Hmmm...what are we hiding, Harvey? Let's leave it at that and jump back to Gordon and Bruce. I loved this scene because I'm a sucker for interactions between favorites especially one that is the show's original take. Canonically, Gordon wasn't even a part of the investigation concerning the murder of the Waynes, but I'm liking this angle a lot because Gordon is an idealist caught up in a less than ideal city and he badly needs something other than himself and his fiancée (Barbara Kean who will appear later) to get up to every morning. That could be no other than Bruce (and I predict that this child will always be someone Gordon will take into account as he makes critical decisions during dangerous situations). While sitting in the corner of an alleyway, Gordon reveals his own tale of woe to the kid which was enough to earn Bruce's trust so he opened up about his parents. I thought this was a rather well-acted dialogue and both actors were able to deliver the solemnity and awkwardness of the conversation. Gordon took the time to make a connection with Bruce which for me shows that he is a genuinely decent man and that he didn't just take this job because he thinks it's where most of the action is but it's also because it's a position where he could do some good in the society. Another marvelous scene was followed by this and that comes when Alfred appears. Can I just say that the actor (Sean Pertwee) they casted was a rather bold move? He wasn't the frail old butler with his signature sardonic quips that we know in most adaptations. This Alfred looks like he will kick your ass if you hurt Master Bruce--and I LOVE IT! His exchange with Gordon was one of my favorites too where Gordon vows valiantly to find the Waynes' killer and Alfred looked at him as though he's from another dimension of reality (because clearly Gordon has no idea how the majority of crimes aren't solved here in Gotham). The stern and brassy way that this actor portrayed Alfred with was refreshing, and I look forward as to how he and the young Bruce Wayne will carry on together in the wake of the Waynes' death.

"This is not a city or a job for nice guys"

Right after the titular sequence, we get back to Gordon and Bullock at a breakfast diner, having a banter for a few minutes until two people from the Major Crimes Unit appeared. They were named Montoya (who was from the comics) and Allen (I don't know him, is he an original character or did I just forget about him?). There is obviously some tension between them and Bullock, especially when they offer to take away the Wayne murder case. Bullock picked up on their eagerness and didn't hand over what they want just to spite them (apparently, he considered their kind rude and elitist). Gordon has yet to familiarize himself with office politics so he kept his mouth shut. Can I just say that McKenzie making glum faces in every scene remind me of his days in that teen show The O.C? It was slightly distracting, only because I knew him so well in that role and have to remind myself to forget about that and focus on him as Jim Gordon. The next few scenes still dwelled on these partners (Bullock complains to their captain about having a green boy as a partner; that really weird montage interrogation scene between them and some muggers/suspects which was shot rather amateur-ishly) until we get to that appearance (or glorified cameo, if you want) of one Edward Nygma, a forensic analyst of some kind who was too giddy for comfort with his 'riddles' as Bullock pointed out. I didn't mind seeing him but the nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspect of the dialogue was heavy-handed. The introduction was too blatant for my taste, but I did like the actor's take on it which was meant to be cartoonish; and Gordon not missing a beat when he easily answered Nygma's riddle. The camera does a close-up shot of Nygma's face twice which might mean something. I suppose Nygma never had a police officer engage with him like that, let alone answer his riddles voluntarily. I sense that Nygma might get curious of Gordon because it certainly looks like he became suddenly aware of his presence the moment he answered the riddle. Hmm, this could be promising if they followed up on this some time in the next episodes.

After hearing the latest forensic results, Gordon put on his thinking cap for a working theory he was more than happy to share with Bullock. He believed that it was not just a simple mugging incident; this is a professional hit and someone wanted the Waynes dead. My ears perked up immediately at that. I was beginning to have those suspicions myself. Bullock didn't completely dismiss the theory but he wasn't that hot about it either. I just love Donal Logue's body language every time he's with Gordon. I know he's hiding something but he's clearly experienced enough to conceal the fact that he's hiding something...does that make sense? Anyway, they were off to their next place of inquiry which was Fish Mooney's place.

Nothing to see here: A Lesson in Turning-The-Other-Cheek

Delightfully enough, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Robin Lord Taylor's first appearances as their characters Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot were instantly engrossing. There is a complexity to the way their characters bounce off each other, an electricity that threatens to give you a shock any moment if you're not careful. When we meet Fish for the first time, she was beating up one of her lackeys with a bat while Oswald holds an umbrella for her because it's drizzling outside while they do this. Fish is in her element, casually brutal yet very much in control of the scene which can't help but remind me of Heller's memorable anti-heroine Atia of the Julii from Rome. It was enough to make me shiver until the camera lingers in Oswald's face, and I could see that his expression is that of elation like a spectator in an arena. He's obviously aroused by the violence his lady boss inflicts and the sexual enegry coming from both their characters as a unit is unmistakable. I was very intrigued of their dynamics already. But we had to pull back a little because Bullock and Gordon just arrived and requested to see Fish. She graciously welcomes Bullock into her sordid club (bit kissy much those two, though) and complisults Gordon by remarking, "Aren't you a cool glass of milk?".

Meanwhile, this scene alternates back to Oswald and some of Fish's crooks. One of them offers Oswald the bat and, like a killer puppy, he obliges and starts to beat up the lackey. He was enjoying it way too much that the crooks started teasing him about it, the most nudge-nudge-wink-wink of it was when they called him "penguin". Oswald doesn't like that. He's like the group's little brother who just wants to hang out with the big boys, but is constantly the butt of every joke. There's something pitiful about that. Back at the club, Gordon overhears the commotion outside and volunteers to check it out. As soon as he meets Oswald and the crooks, none of them reacted to the fact that he's a cop who just caught them beating up somebody. The bemused indifference they all shared was grating to Gordon but it's also easy to see that this is just the way the world of Gotham goes and you either join or stay out. Gordon decided to play it smart and left them alone, but he's not scared easily either. While Bullock bids farewell to Fish, Gordon could literally choke the life out of Fish with his parting death glares. McKenzie's always been good with intense staring and the actor deliberately plays that up--but Pinkett-Smith's Fish Mooney doesn't back down from it either.

I loved the entire scene sequence. Pinkett-Smith and Taylor already leaves the viewers a lasting impression, and it's such a treat to watch Gordon as he continues to figure his way out of the oddness and unwelcoming aspects of Gotham City while Bullock navigates his way with much experience, employing professional detachment all throughout.

Cased Closed....or is it?

Speaking of Gordon, and since it is his story we are following, we finally see him relax a bit in the presence of his fiancée Barbara Kean who seems to play the role of the caring woman just right. She seems to possess tons of compassion for the kind of work that is required in Gordon's job and offers him counsel. I like her for now, especially since her scenes with Gordon actually have a subplot forming which will be explored later on. The next day, Bullock and Gordon follow a fresh new lead which got them to a man named Mario Pepper. This was Fish Mooney's intel as served by Bullock (who we saw drinking his way through the wee hours while investigating, and I found that quite hilarious and endearing. This is one cop who has seen far too many grimness that perhaps incorporating habitual drinking into his work routine takes the edge off). Anyway, as they knock on the door of the Pepper residence, another cameo of a future Bat-villain happens; this time it's a young Poison Ivy (Pamela Isley in the comics but she is now named Ivy Pepper). How do we know this? Aside from the name, we also see her lurking around, playing with plants in the background. Yeah, that happened. So Bullock and Gordon started questioning Mario Pepper and his (obviously battered) wife (who didn't even bother covering her black eye with a concealer or anything) automatically confirms his alibi. But then Mario Pepper himself screws it up and runs off and we get the obligatory perp chase. It was a great action sequence. Gordon busted some chops and Bullock took the kill-shot. Good times. And apparently, it was a case-closed matter the moment they found Martha Wayne's pearl necklace buried far too conveniently inside a bag of drugs. Yeah. Totally inconspicuous. Case closed indeed...

...or is it? *insert ominous music here*

Gordon and Bullock drop by to the Waynes' funeral to inform their orphaned son Bruce the good news. Gordon has truly learned to care about this child and wanted to give him the closure he deserves. Mazouz as the young Bruce Wayne has a great presence to him even if this was just the second scene we see him in the episode. Also, Pertwee as Alfred just standing there behind Bruce in his dapper suit, looking more like his ex-military bodyguard than the family butler, is a nice touch.

More Than What It Seems: A Lesson in Pulling-the-Strings behind the scenes

I realized that I jumped ahead with the Waynes' funeral scene, but I feel like grouping that alongside the Pepper failed arrest action sequence due to causal purposes. The next scenes we get among Cobblepot and the Major Crimes Unit as well as that two-fold scenes with Barbara Kean are the moments in the show that establish the chess pieces to be moved across the board later on. Let's start with Oswald Cobblepot. I remember talking to one of my guy friends about Robin Lord Taylor and this role he plays in the show, and that we both believe that he may be the interesting one yet and I still maintain that, especially after I have seen him in action. I wasn't that shocked that he would play both sides and snitch to the law enforcement. This Cobblepot character has ambitions and he has his eyes set on becoming a ruler of the crime underworld which was basically a Penguin trait from the comics. But he's young and that does prove to be a disadvantage for him in the game. Nevertheless, Taylor portrayed Oswald Cobbeplot in this show with such honest-to-goodness level of cunning and a touch of unexpected vulnerability here and there that I believe makes him powerfully engaging to the viewers. He makes me uncomfortable but I want to see more of him. He does feel like a kooky bird waiting to spread his wings and leave his mother's nest for good--and perhaps too eagerly.

As for Barbara Kean, she had a timely visit from Montoya of the Major Crimes Unity whom she seemed to be good friends with. Knowing who Montoya is in the comics, the moment she says the line, "Does he (James Gordon) know you like I know you?", I had an eyebrow raised because the implication was not lost to me. I have to go online to see what the other reviews said and my suspicion was confirmed. It looks to me like Montoya and Kean had a romantic past (Montoya is a lesbian character after all). In their scene, Montoya warns Barbara about Gordon, planting the distrust between the two which I will be interested to see take root and grow as the show progresses. Montoya thinks Gordon is a crooked cop, working with the mob. Not exactly an unfair assessment because Gordon has yet to discern the crowds he gets caught up with. Right after that revelation, we get a confrontation between Barbara and James where she told him that MCU believes that Mario Pepper was framed by Fish Mooney and the GCPD had conspired with her. Gordon then confronts Montoya about it, and felt naturally compelled to investigate and double-check himself if there was some truth to this accusation. It was notable that Gordon looks like he wasn't aware of Montoya and Kean's romantic past--yet. It should get interesting to see the dynamics among these three unfold in light of the events in Gotham where nothing is what it seems, and dangerously so.

Gordon, of course, has to start with his own partner Bullock and they take turns trying to convince each other; Gordon wants to re-open the case while Bullock begs him to forget about it and turn the other cheek. Well, you can't tell a retired soldier of pristine honor to do that, can you, Bullock, and not expect Gordon to keep going, right?

"You got a little danger in your eye. I wonder what you plan to do with that.."

It's such a thrill for me that within the forty-five minutes of this pilot episode, we already have the suspense carefully built and sustained especially for the next climactic scenes ahead. Gordon confronted Fish Mooney about Mario Pepper and she had him captured. Bad move, Jimmy. And then Barbara goes to the precinct and meets Bullock, stating that she was worried of Gordon because he hasn't come home yet. Bullock, clearly inconvenienced, knew exactly where to go to find his missing partner. Mooney's crooks have hung him upside down inside a butcher shop next to the dead cattle and was ready to get creative with how they will dispose of him. Bullock asks to speak to Fish over the phone and he warns her that she has a rat in her presence and Fish instantly concluded that it's Oswald Cobblepot. Fish had the crooks take care of Bullock as well while she confronted Oswald. These scenes were absolutely great to watch. I just love it when characters are caught up in entangled conflicts like this and each actor's performance was top-notch for these respective scenes.

I personally enjoyed the one with Fish and Oswald the most. When Fish said that Oswald was like a son to her and that he broke her heart, (so she proceeded to break his leg with one of the chair pieces she had smashed against him right after Oswald tries to stab her--yup, a love-hate relationship doesn't even begin to cover these two), I admit that I was pretty giddy about it because these two are becoming the characters I would love to watch some more in the upcoming episodes. The dynamics, chemistry and general fucked-upness of their characters together are massively entertaining!

"You can't have organized crime without law and order."

Going back to Gordon and Bullock who were just hanging there, not really ready to get butchered, a timely interruption happens which was good for them. Said timely interruption is the appearance of the mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Doman) who was also Fish Mooney's superior. He wasn't pleased about the glossy violence that was about to take place, seeing it as rash and wasteful. With direct orders from the major boss, the crooks let Bullock and Gordon live and Gordon gets to have 'the talk' with Falcone which was a great scene for me because I miss having the mob presence taking a center stage in Batman adaptations on screen, and I'm pleased that Heller has expressed his interest to explore that in his show. Doman looks like the right fit for the role and he had that pragmatic, sensible businessman vibe going on which was non-threatening on the surface, possibly concealing the real shark beneath such still waters. The quotation I used above is easily my most favorite line in the episode. It had an atmospheric implication; an overall ironic meaning that simply stresses the reality of the situations in Gotham City. It speaks of the corrupt state of police force as they work side-by-side with the crime classes to make the city function. It's possible that you can't have one without the other especially in Gotham, and I think that's Falcone's message here.

"Don't ever come back to Gotham."

The last two scene sequences of the episode has gotten me very excited for what's to come next. First, we have Bullock capturing Oswald Cobblepot and pushing Gordon to dispose of him to prove that he has an allegiance to uphold which apparently means he needs to do crooked things from now on if he hopes to protect the people he loves. At this point, the idea that Bullock is one of the cops that Falcone has in his pocket has been spelled out. This was an intense scene because I almost believed that Gordon is going to end Oswald Cobblepot and I don't know why because it's obvious that Cobblepot will live. What was surprising is that Gordon let him live (which is so gonna bite him in the ass later, I bet). We all know that showing mercy or having some sort of code of honor will get characters like Gordon into a helluva lot of trouble when the grays around them are overwhelmingly real--but we root for them to succeed anyway. Personally, I love the idea that he spared Cobblepot which means that, at some point, Cobblepot may think he owes Gordon something and may want to repay him, so their future interactions would be amusing to see unfold.

We get the final appearance of the young Bruce Wayne in the second to the last scene of the episode. The boy is obviously coping from the loss of his parents pretty badly since we see him standing on the top of the mansion (in a way that reminded us that this is the boy will become Batman so it's only right for him to conquer his fear of heights), and he only came down when Alfred scolded him. Gordon paid him a visit to give him an important disclosure about the corruption in the police force, and that Mario Pepper wasn't the one who killed his parents. He then asked Bruce's permission to investigate further because it was the right thing to do and he just couldn't forgive himself if he did nothing. He also promised Bruce that he will do whatever it takes to take down the corrupt cops within his precinct. I was...nervous the entire time this conversation was happening. It's risky for Gordon to come out in the open like this but I guess he wanted Bruce to know that he can trust him as an ally.

Like I said, it was fairly established from their very first meeting that Gordon has formed a connection to this child, and someone of his personality and integrity do tend to place themselves in situations that would entail sacrifice for the sake of honor and saving innocent lives. In this case, Bruce Wayne is the representation of Gordon's ultimate goal. Also, he acknowledges the importance of the Waynes in the Gotham community and he could feel in his gut that their murder is the right place to start if he hopes to put a stop to the corruption and madness in the police force. As Gordon leaves the Wayne Estate, we get another shot of Selina Kyle crouching at the gates which was parallel to her first appearance in the beginning. She was also there at the funeral earlier. I think she's becoming attached to the young Bruce herself, seeing as she witnessed the crime of his parents' death and must be moved by the tragic senselessness of it. Perhaps...and this is my theory, she might even know who the killer is (or at least be indirectly connected to him and the one who hired to do the job somehow).

Mazouz as Bruce is properly broody and he fills the role with the kind of maturity only a child who had survived a traumatic event can display. He embodied the character in a subtle sense and I look forward to how he goes on from there. I am liking him a lot as young Bruce but I want Gotham to be foremost a James Gordon story since Heller did promise that. Sure, this is a network show and the crime procedural formula is still present but making it a serialized drama would be a challenge for both the showrunner, production crew and actors themselves so I do hope they test and go out of the confines of that genre (just as much as CBS' Person of Interest did). I'm already very invested and hopefully the next episode will have more focus than the pilot did. I could do away with the glorified cameos for the time being. I want the show to take their time first in telling the story earnestly because quality can always guarantee longevity. They have a rich tapestry to take their material from, and I certainly hope that they remember to pay the utmost respect toward the characters and the city that I have grown up with and loved.


With plenty of subplots and storylines to pursue, GOTHAM shows promise and lots of potentials for interesting narrative and compelling character interplay among its chief heroes and villains.

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