I can still remember the anticipation and excitement I felt when news of a pre-Batman television show created by Bruno Heller (also responsible for some gems like HBO's Rome and CBS' The Mentalist) and starring Ben McKenzie (who is the known heartthrob lead from the CW teen show The O.C which I grew up with) is going to air in FOX. Since then, I've kept tabs of the trailers and teasers online as well as interviews concerning behind-the-scenes production and discussions on the character arcs they will divulge in for the show. To further express my support and interest, I decided to review each episode in my Bat-blog and successfully managed to review all ten episodes before the show took a mid-season break. Now it hasn't exactly been consistent or superb all throughout in that early half of the season. I'd like to think that I was both critical and forgiving enough in my reviews as I make assertions concerning its overall cohesiveness not only as a television show based on the material where my childhood superhero has originated from, but also as its own breed of serialized drama. In retrospect, I think there have been a few standout episodes as a whole which I could commend for their excellence, and certain actors whose performances were really worth experiencing. This review will be my most final piece about the entire first season. I aimed for it to touch upon my favorite episodes and characters, highlights in the storytelling and plot directorial choices, and, of course, some notable criticisms.
If anyone reading this now has also had a chance to peruse through my reviews of the first ten episodes, then you basically know what you're in for. When this show aired, I was in the bandwagon, always willing to give any adaptation of any beloved source material a try instead of needlessly being pessimistic about it like most so-called die-hard "fanboys". What I found interesting about my experience in watching a show like Gotham is that there's a different perspective you suddenly acquire once you cease just being a passive viewer and actually engage in the thought process of deconstructing and commenting on an episode's framework and the actors who played the roles in it, etc. This is what happened to me last year on a weekly basis; I would watch an episode, pay close attention to everything as it unfolds, and then compose my insights as succinctly as possible two days later in my Bat-blog. It helped me understand and make sense what I was viewing and whether or not I enjoyed it. The truth is I really do enjoy Gotham with all my heart especially when I write my reviews because, as flawed as some things were for this show, it was still something I would keep watching because there are aspects to it that I'm fully invested on. So, that being said, I will first tackle the things I did love about this show and then start talking about the things I felt just didn't work or are still a work-in-progress. When all is said and done, however, I'm pleased this show is getting a second season because I think there are still stories and developments that can be improved upon next year. The entertainment value of this show is present, the directorial approach has great potential and can be polished some more, and specific character arcs for me are meaningful enough to stay invested on.
"Spirit of the Goat"
"What the Little Bird Told Him"
"Beasts of Prey" and "Under the Knife"
Alfred Pennyworth and Harvey Bullock
Special Mentions: Butch Gilzean, Salvatore Maroni and Leslie Thompkins
1) OSWALD COBBLEPOT CHARACTER ARC (First half of the season)
When Gordon faked his execution of Oswald Cobblepot, the latter spent the first five episodes trying to get back to Gotham and the journey has been both brutal and amusing. With an awkard limp and a deceptively fragile outer appearance, Cobblepot is a target for mockery among the people who make his acquaintance. He has been underestimated and overlooked all his life in spite of his drive, cleverness and ambition. It was his clandestine arrangement with Falcone to embed himself in the opposing gang to earn the trust of Salvatore Maroni which showcased how far he will go to win the game. The first half of the season included some of Robin Lord Taylor's most fantastic performances. He was simply magnetic as the Penguin, whether he is limping and stuttering around to maintain his cover, excessively killing some random person just for the heck of it, or scheming his way to the top. I always look forward to a Penguin scene because he's just so darn unpredictable and entertaining.
2) EDWARD NYGMA CHARACTER ARC (Second half of the season)
A lot of viewers complained about this character's treatment in the first half but by the second half we see some step forward in the right direction for the future criminal mastermind, the Riddler. A less formidable and nerdier version of Oswald Cobblepot, Edward Nygma lurks around GCPD, an unwanted and socially incompetent yet highly intelligent forensics analyst who fails to connect or make meaningful relationships with his co-workers. He is hopelessly love-sick with a woman who has an abusive boyfriend and he annoys his own colleagues with his lack of tact and sense of propriety. His scenes were a gradual descent to madness. As his obsession with his crush worsens, he finds himself committing nefarious acts that unleashed his morbid enjoyment for the macabre. I really found actor Cory Michael Smith to be exceptionally creepy. I feel like the reason Cobblepot didn't get many great scenes on his arc was because the writers want to focus the spotlight of crazy on Nygma which I thought paid off.
3) JAMES GORDON CHARACTER ARC
The second half of the season has found James Gordon rather sporadic in his actions and choices. But then again, he has been rattled by Comissioner Loeb who wants nothing more but to kick Gordon out of the force since he's such a straight-laced cop that he is in no one's pocket. That may still hold true but Gordon also has been taking more questionable risks lately and the more he makes mistakes or finds himself slightly comprising his values, the more his characters evolve and the situations he is put in all the more beguiling to watch. I'm pretty happy about his arc for the first season. It's engaging with a few dark spots here and there. Overall he has great and insightful interactions with a lots of the characters and I like seeing him in the context of the relationships he struggles to hold together.
4) BULLOCK-HARVEY FRIENDSHIP
Nothing more needs to be said about these two. They have challenged each other with their contrasting priorities. They tried to wear each other down. In the end, their trust for each other only deepened, especially on Bullock's side who is finally learning to see the silver linings again thanks to Gordon and his uplifting state of mind. I love this relationship for all its trials and tribulations.
5) INTRODUCTION OF LESLIE THOMPKINS
Baccarin is a breath of fresh air as Leslie Thompkins who becomes a medical examiner in the show as oppose to a psychiatrist in the comics. Her chemistry and unmistakably compatible relationship with Gordon has contributed to his character's more relaxed stance in his personal life. I want to see more of Leslie next season and I hope she participates in bigger stories by then.
6) THE WAYNE MURDERS CONSPIRACY
I enjoy the consistent and slow-burn journey in uncovering the real reason why the Waynes were disposed of. The only downer is that Gordon, who originally promised to investigate this case, was far to preoccupied now that it left young Bruce no other choice but to pursue it all on his own. And it looks like he's closer to the truth than he realizes. I have a theory about the possibility that--if the show will be so inclined to the idea--the Waynes were killed to serve a purpose that aligns with the secret gathering of the Court of Owls, as told in Scott Snyder's run in the comics. But this is just wishful thinking on my part.
I mentioned a few times during individual episode reviews last year that Gotham has a certain unevenness to its delivery and style which is comparable to the similar problem a show like HBO's Game of Thrones has. I suppose this is only unavoidable, considering the ensemble of characters and plenty of material to showcase in a forty-five minute installment every week. Much like with GoT with its hour-run for every episode, some events in Gotham are merely glossed over or certain plot points are gracelessly crammed together. The effect is a decrease in the tension which then underwhelms viewers; or the tension is far too high all of a sudden without the necessary build-up that transitions to it--a problem that is uniquely resonant in Gotham's finale which I will later discuss. The twenty-two episode format should have helped this show established some stronger foundations and fleshed-out developments but it actually only contributed to the growing problem this show has when it comes to prioritizing storylines and how to give them enough time to breathe and thrive.
(1) The unevenness in combining influences from the comics source material and other adaptations
This has been made obvious from the very first half of the season although the second half finally took a step back and for once tried to tell stories unique to its own setting and multiple character conflicts. It's only been one season yet so it would be unfair of me to say that this show had nothing to offer to the Batman mythos/universe because I sincerely think it's still finding its own identity. That being said, I maintain that out of the twenty-two episodes, only less then twelve of them are pretty decent while others are too tangled up, too dull or too off-beat to consider a cohesive standlone.
(2) The shoehorning of comic books references that dilute the impact
A bad example of this was the young girl Ivy who hovered around plants, looking sullen. Edward Ngyma used to be one of this two with his quirky, riddle-telling dialogue exchanged with Gordon and Bullock but it's a good thing we got a more believable development and direction for his character later on. I have to say that a mixed example is the possible Joker character from The Blind Fortune teller, one I'm still not sure how to feel about even as I write this. As for introducing the rogue's gallery: The Mask episode was also a missed opportunity to introduce yet another interesting Bat-villain, but the inclusion Red Hood Gang was something I think was nicely done as well as the two-parter Scarecrow origin story that has some of the most surreal hallucination sequences.
(3) Some really unbelievable character developments or lack thereof
The greatest fault of Gotham for me lies in its female characterization and the so-called "developments" they had, or a distinct lack of it as the show progressed. Unbelievable ones had to be with Fish Mooney, Selina Kyle and that forgettable filler character Liza. The first two were just all over the map and the only consistent thing about their characterizations were the inconsistency of them, especially leading to the last two episodes of the series; most particularly with Selina. The young girl kills a man rather remorselessly and then joins up with Fish during the finale, having little problem disposing someone like Gordon when he clearly tried to help her out before. Selina showed a great amount of compassion and sympathy especially when around Bruce but then the extreme opposite of it somehow was stark apathy towards violence and death. Her actions in the finale just doesn't make sense. One moment she's calculating, the next she's impulsive. This is not a sign of dynamic character; it's a sign of a conflicted one with no clear objective or motivation to her choices which would make her less of a person to value for a viewer. And I really love Camren Bicondova for the role.
I've always had a soft spot for Barbara Keen played by Erin Richards, mostly because I like misunderstood, neurotic blonde characters in general. The first half of the season treated Barbara as some sort of trophy girlfriend in the sidelines, making irrational choices that almost got herself and Gordon killed. The second half gave her some spooky material to work with which Richards delivered well enough for me, especially when she completely broke down and literally hunted down Leslie Thompkins with a knife, giggling and wide-eyed the entire time it was happening. As fun and creepy as that scene was and the scenes with the Ogre that she had, Barbara remains two-dimensional. A lot of the viewers have no sympathy for her already so I believe that her downward spiral to madness lacked emotional impact.
(4) Underuse its talented cast
Jada Pinkett-Smith is a fabulous actress with an intensity to her performance for Fish Mooney that on some level appeals to me greatly but I find that the storylines she is constantly being hitched to are either absurd and out-of-place in its campiness or bizarrely uncomfortable to watch. Of all the actors, she plays her character with a captivating harshness but oftentimes she can get over-the-top and ridiculously vindictive in countenance and presence alone. Still, I thought Fish was the perfect villainess for this show. She has charisma, she has style and she's not afraid to step on a few heads and broken bones to survive. This is further displayed when we see her all alone in the island with the Dollmaker and some fugitives where she won them over and she held up long enough to escape the godforsaken place and return to Gotham...only to get killed.
I refuse to believe she's dead, by the way.
Robin Lord Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot is a show-stealer but the second half left so much to be desired in the character. He was a hollow shell by the finale, outright gunning down people while whining in desperation to get his turn on the throne. It's..tacky and a complete disservice to what I originally perceived to be a remarkably, cunning man who can be frightening when he allows himself to be. In the finale, he was a puddle of mess and literally got lucky enough to throw Fish off a bridge and the fact that Falcone is old and wants to retire and enjoy the rest of his twilight years somewhere far from Gotham. His rivalry with Maroni was anti-climactic. It was Fish who ended his life with a headshot that was shocking and unexpected, yes, but ultimately robbed the satisfaction for the viewers to see a tense face-off between Maroni and Cobblepot who have axes to grind on each other, if not literally. Killing Salvatore Maroni so early on in the game is also wasteful. David Sayas is a fine actor and his role in the show could have been explored more for its next season. Instead what we got in the finale was the irreconcilable fact that his character was reduced into some arrogant and stupid chauvinist who couldn't keep his mouth shut that Fish was driven to murder him from where he stood. Yeah, I'm just gonna say it:
(5) The Finale was weak when it came to the delivery of the stakes and suspense. It had a rather rushed pay-off, and offered no long-term resonance
...because of those main reasons I stated above. I have no energy to talk about it anymore so I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut this review short since I've been going on for a while and y'all may be tired reading this post. Honestly, I've been writing this for two and a half days now so I think it's time to mercifully just end it and give my final rating below.