Tuesday, July 7, 2015

GOTHAM [Official Season 1 Review]

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.



I maintain that this was a fantastic show-opener. It has enough attention-grabbing moments to make up for those few odd and forced comics easter eggs in between scenes (like a young Poison Ivy conspicuously surrounded by plants). The murky atmosphere was captured well by the cinematography and set choices for this episode, emphasizing the way this city is steeped in corruption and crimes as well as haunted by its ghosts. I think I watched this episode the most so far (three times with different people) and I still enjoyed it. The introduction of the main characters such as Gordon, Bullock, Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot depended on the overall countenance of their characters which I believe were memorable enough for casual viewers. A segue to the Wayne murders and a grieving young Bruce (plus a hardass Alfred) was a treat for me as well. But my favorite moment has to be the first conversation between Gordon and Carmine Falcone which led to Gordon and Bullock at the docks where Bullock forcefully coaxes Gordon to terminate Cobblepot which golden-boy Gordon faked. That entire sequence was superbly shot and an effective enough cliffhanger.


I was immensely entertained by this episode because it was the closest thing that this show touched upon the campier elements of the Batman mythos while also being able to play it straight. There's a madman who casually drugs transient citizens of Gotham with a potent green substance similar to that of Bane's Venom. The final confrontation where the bad guy turns the poison into airbone chemicals is something one can easily encounter in an Adam West Batman episode. This episode also gave young Bruce some more material to work on as he take the first step closer to the corporate conspiracy surrounding his parents' deaths, with the strong implication that the mugging might just have been a set-up, and people in Wayne Enterprises may have been behind it all.

"Spirit of the Goat"

Co-written by CW's Supernatural's Ben Edlund, this is something I objectively consider as one of the strongest entries of the entire season, and easily in one of its top three spots. Donal Logue's Harvey Bullock was the focal character as he works on a cold case surrounding a serial killer who ritualistically murders rich children and displays their corpses across the city. The flashback sequences flow seamlessly with the present as we also learn more about Bullock and his personal baggage. I thought this kind of narrative should be something the show should aim for where a certain character is the main focus while other plotlines tackled within were reasonably sidelined but were still just as relevant. The surprise revelation at the end of this episode concerning Oswald Cobblepot's return just as Gordon was about to be arrested for his murder was also quite well done.

"Penguin's Umbrella"

This may inarguably Gotham's best installment for the season. There is a lively and brisk pacing to it especially when it came to the execution of the action sequences. Everything comes to a collision for this episode; from Gordon's confrontation with Zsasz and his deadly femme fatales, to his enlightening face-off with Carmine Falcone, this episode was exciting and brutal without overplaying its hand. The climactic moment arrives near the end when Cobblepot's allegiance to Falcone, and their scheme and strategies, was revealed in the most thrilling fashion, showcasing both men's skills to play the long mob game. This episode proves that the show knows its core strengths and should focus on developing them down the pipeline. 

"What the Little Bird Told Him"

The return of the second half of the season was very mixed and its quality is certainly polarizing, more so than its first half. However, I did find Gordon's brief stint as a security guard at Arkham Asylum as an arc that was dropped too soon. Personally, two good things came out of it: his meeting with Leslie Thompkins played by the lovely Morena Baccarin, and his cat-and-mouse game with Jack Gruber a.k.a The Electrecutioner. I really loved the opening sequence featuring Johnny Cash's God's Gonna Cut You Down. Christopher Heyerdahl who plays Gruber was exceptionally eerie and grating for the role. On the mob side of things, Fish finally plays her hand and fails miserably when Falcone discovers her plot involving the girl Liza and chokes Liza to death for himself. I thought John Doman is one of the show's finest actors and he gave such a stellar performance in this episode just as good as in Penguin's Umbrella.

"Beasts of Prey" and "Under the Knife"

Milo Ventimiglia plays a tortured romantic with beauty issues and he also happens to be Gotham's uncatchable serial killer known as the Ogre. He was only on Gordon's radar because of Commissioner Leob's manipulation. As it happens, any cop who tries to investigate the Ogre ends up having their loved ones killed. Gordon worries putting his new girlfriend Leslie's life in danger, but he has a job to do and so pushes through anyway. This arc span for at least three episodes but I think this first two installments were the strongest. I thought it was a good serial killer story, and the build-up was done just right. The twist concerning Barbara Keen also worked; her involvement as the "soulmate" the Ogre has been looking for was pretty terrifying and sad at the same time. The writing has not been kind to Barbara's character at all since Penguin's Umbrella but Erin Richards does her best to portray the slowly deteriorating sanity of this character.


Alfred Pennyworth and Harvey Bullock

Both Sean Pertwee and Donal Logue who played Alfred Pennyworth and Harvey Bullock respectively truly turned the interpretations of their characters as their very own brand of badass. Their scenes and interactions with Gordon and Bruce are always interesting to watch, particularly whenever they demonstrate their sense of duty and loyalty to these two. This may be my most favorite version of Alfred. I'm pleased that this show opted to showcase that Pennyworth has a military background, and that though he serves more as a butler and faithful guardian to a young Bruce, you know he can kick some ass if somebody tries to hurt his young master--and he has shown this very efficiently. His genuine affection and concern for the boy have added a layer of sweetness to his seemingly rough-and-tumble personality. It certainly makes me look forward to a future season where Bruce grows up to become a teen with destructive issues and how this Alfred will handle it. On the other hand, Bullock is often goddamn hilarious and Logue definitely knows how to deliver his one-liners with enough wit and attitude. His character-centric episode humanized him as well as the steady progress of his partnership with Gordon. I like that he has street smarts and knows his way around the city. Over the years of service he may have gotten cynical about crimes and his role to play but through his gradual and challenging friendship with Gordon, we get to see a man who still cares about doing the right thing…but in a very Bullock way where he still has to be damn sure it won't get him killed.

James Gordon

Ben McKenzie is an actor I really, really enjoy watching even way back in a teenage delinquet role in The O.C. Playing one of the most iconic characters in the Batman universe and certainly with a very loyal fanbase must have been intimidating for an actor but McKenzie, I personally believe, managed to grow alongside his character. The first half of the season showed us a Gordon who is rather fixed in his ways and often rides a high horse, blindly believing he could change things as long as he doesn't lose his values along the way. We find him less rigid in the second half where he finally learned to play the game when the stakes are against him. He had to change if he hopes to change the corrupt and violent status quo of Gotham. Through a few series of failures and the many interesting people--sociopathic, criminal and the vulnerable alike--Gordon's passion for justice only grows stronger and more steadfast, demonstrating that he is still a good man who must do a few bad things to get more important things done. His sporadic moral choices throughout the season have been compelling for me to see unfold as well as the consequences that come along with them. I definitely think McKenzie as James Gordon holds up as the main protagonist of the show and hopefully we get to see more of his comics' counterpart in the next season.

Bruce Wayne

Dave Mazous is a talented boy. Sure, he struggled in the first few episodes of the show but he continues to improve and deliver, in my opinion. Playing the young Bruce Wayne has never been done with such raw vulnerability like Mazous had, and his scenes may sometimes seem too forced in select episodes or even be outright fillers but I think his scattered appearances serve as jigsaw pieces that are finally fitting in the right places as we got closer to the finale. I like watching the young boy who will one day become a man who will fight a crusade against the evils of Gotham. I like how fragile, lonely and slightly disturbed he is, and that underneath all that there's steel and determination to define his place in the world and not just be the orphaned rich boy who witnessed his parents' murder. I can't wait to see what is in store for him next year.

Carmine Falcone

John Doman needs more screen time and with this season's finale putting him on retirement somewhere (which should not be permanent) I am quite sad to know that I will not be seeing him around, more so in the next season. I never expected to even like Falcone in this show but each time Doman gets in a scene, he commands a presence which truly emphasize the fact that his Falcone is a man to respect and fear. His few focal scenes are one of the strongest performances in the show, no doubt, and I pray that the writers will find a way to bring him back because I don't think Falcone would give up his power so easily the way he did in the finale.

Oswald Cobblepot

During the first half of the season, I thought Robin Lord Taylor is such an eerie actor giving top-marks haunting performances that keep me so engaged on screen. The second half, however, has been wasteful on his character. For someone who was built up to be so strategic albeit being insane, Cobblepot started making unforgivably stupid moves in the mob game which I suppose makes him more of the Penguin I recognize from the comics; one who is a pathetic opportunistic slimeball. However, even that Penguin knows how to strategize. In the show, there are times when the writing turns Cobblepot into just a whiny misfit teenager playing a losing game against the big-leagues Falcone and Maroni which lessens his formidability. It just feels off, considering all the build-up of his character's dangerous wit and seemingly clairvoyant prowess from the first ten episodes. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward for this problem to be remedied soon in the next season.   

Special Mentions: Butch Gilzean, Salvatore Maroni and Leslie Thompkins


The following are the character arcs and plot directions that I personally found myself very invested on as I watched the show.

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.   


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.


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. 


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.


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.


Remember what I said about the fact that writing these reviews help me organized my thoughts and therefore increased my enjoyment of an episode or at least make sense as to why whenever I don't enjoy it? See, I had to stop reviewing the second half of the season because I have a self-imposed X-Men Comics Diet for 2015 in my other comics geek blog so I need to put anything Batman-related on the shelf so I can focus on that other geeky endeavor. I opted to just keep watching as each episode gets aired weekly, and then find time to post one long review to capture all of my final thoughts for the entire season. And let me tell you--not writing about my analyses of the later episodes actually made me enjoy what I was watching less. I don't know if it has more to do with the quality of the later half of the season (which, according to multiple sites, has been all over the place) or with the fact that by simply not intellectually engaging in an episode, and opting for a passive-viewer mode, the flaws of the show became more pronounced for me. In any case, I found myself losing interest and even stopped looking forward to episodes that I actually let three episodes slide, but then I just came back to binge-watch them on a weekend. 

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.


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