Gotham: The Beginning

Penguin: "I did not spend ten years in Blackgate to give my city to a man dressed like a bat!"

Me, watching the Gotham series finale and being confused that Gordon still doesn't have the iconic stache? It's more likely than you think.

If we're being honest, I could have watched a series finale that consisted of forty minutes featuring only Batman repeatedly foiling foolish and bumbling plots orchestrated by Penguin and Riddler, and walked away with zero complaints. Instead what we have is a suitcase-overstuffed-with-too-many-Tommy-Bahama-shirts of a plot that should have ran ninety minutes condensed into forty minutes. And yet, dare I say, I actually enjoyed this finale for what it was. It's flawed, contrived in some areas, and possesses a plot so convoluted, Donnie Darko is jealous, but I didn't walk away from the conclusion to Gotham feeling I had been cheated of something. But maybe that's just me coming to terms with the fact that no amount of time-jumps or finality are going to salvage the aspects of Gotham that are poor in quality.

The time-jump takes us ten years into the future, long after Gordon has been promoted and Bruce has left Gotham City. It's beyond me why this series chose to make such a drastic time-jump though, yet keep most of their cast members looking like they haven't aged a day. What's that? Oh right, how could I forget: they threw some purple hair dye in Lee's locks, now I can rest easy with that gripe.


Why Bruce went to a Tibetan-looking village specifically, we don't know, but something-something-bats happens, and he returns to his home city with a mission to drive out any trace of criminal activity he comes across, putting him on the radar of the mayor and the GCPD. At the same time, Jeremiah puts into motion a plot that for some reason needs to involve his escape from Arkham, Penguin, Riddler, the framing of Bullock for murder (I guess nobody bothered to dust the handgun that the victim – not Bullock – shot himself with for fingerprints?), and an immense collection of explosives to topple the new Wayne Tower. While Gotham has always had difficulties finding a consistent identity, it has mostly always walked a fine line between 'gritty' and 'campy,' and this is especially evident and welcomed in this finale, with certain sequences paying homage to the Year One comic, and others feeling like they were pulled right off of a Adam West Batman reel. I will also point out how the cinematography in this finale nicely contrasts the dark, dulled colors of everything before in Season 5, by giving us many vibrant, energetic scenes instead.

Another nice advantage a finale like this has compared to literally the entire series before it is that Gotham no longer needs to feel obligated to insert various easter eggs and set-ups for future characters; rather, it's allowed to take the cast it's been guiding towards their fated roles, and just allow them to be that. In other words, Gotham had freedom in this episode to do really whatever it wanted with the story now that there was no need for any further world-building, even if that story is borderline nonsensical at times.

I'm not sure yet even as I write this how I feel about David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova not returning to reprise their respective roles. Lili Simmons is fine as an older Selina and the resemblance between her and Camren is actually a little uncanny, but I can't imagine how much of a sucker punch it must feel to play so brilliantly the part of Bruce Wayne or Selina Kyle for five years and then learn that you won't even get a chance to put on the Batman-suit (which has this aesthetic to it that summoned some unpleasant memories of Batman and Robin) or Catwoman-costume when the finale is all said and done.


While we're on the subject of costumes, I have to give praise for Cory and Robin, and their input into the final designs for Riddler and Penguin; Riddler's outfit feels like a nice fusion of the spandex suit from Batman Forever, and the more formal wear from the Arkhamverse games, while Penguin's feels like it was inspired directly by the Burgess Meredith outfit. Perhaps issue may be taken with the fact that they may not seem as intellectually apt as before, or that Batsy got the best of them so quickly, but isn't that the whole point? From here on out, the feeling of being curbed by Batman's grappling hook is going to become practically routine for them. A service is done to the term 'callback' as well with Penguin and Gordon's scene on the docks, one I just wished hadn't been spelled out previously in the trailers, and Penguin's decision to taunt Gordon before pulling his trigger, evoking Riddler's words to him back in 'Heavydirtysoul': "Instead of killing me when you had the chance, you've decided to feed your ego."

I wasn't sold immediately on Jeremiah's final look as Joker from the promotional material. If I may be blunt, I miss the green curls, and scrutinized for days leading up to this finale over why the costume designers found inspiration for this look in The Walking Dead's whisperers. Cameron Monaghan though, in the precious five minutes of screen time he's given, succeeds in making Joker (or 'J' as he's now referring to himself as) once again feel like a distinct entity separate from Jerome or Jeremiah, as well as from previous live-action interpretations of the source material. It almost sounded as though he was channeling a Christopher Walken caricature, and the indication that he may find Batman just as, or even more, fascinating to obsess over as Bruce is pretty amusing to me. I'm not sure I understand even in reflection why he needed to frame Bullock as part of his whole operation though. It's in Bullock too where one of my major gripes with this episode lies, and it is how Bullock just feels more now as a plot point used to move other components of the story along. For example, why on Earth would an experienced detective like Bullock go alone to investigate a lead, how on Earth could an experienced detective like Bullock single-handily be bested by a single uppercut from around a corner, and I don't believe that an experienced detective like Bullock would keep the fact that someone set him up from Gordon of all people.

The actual execution of how to sell Batman in a finale like this is a tricky thing. On the one hand, I initially entertained this notion that Batman is never completely seen, but still his presence is felt. By the end though, what was also felt was that this episode seemed to be going out of its way to not show you the dark knight. Take for instance the final scene between him and Selina where Selina has her outburst, denouncing Bruce for walking out on her ten years ago. In most cases, I would think this is the type of conversation that warrants a face-to-face interaction. Instead, Selina chooses to keep her back to Batman in a rather impractical manner so that we as the audience are forced to stay focused on her for the entire exchange.

At the end of it all, Season 5 of Gotham is quite frankly, all over the place, and for me, its entertainment value and quality never ended up topping 'Ruin' or '13 Stitches.' Too many subplots that ended up receiving no payoff in the end each scrambled for control anyway over the season's narrative, costing the audience opportunities to see further developments of Bruce's transition into Batman, why Selina ended up choosing to not leave the city with Oswald, the strange attachment Nygma had with his question mark playing card, and a supposed allusion to a comic the showrunners couldn't reveal the title of at the time because it would be considered too much a 'spoiler.' It is dispiriting that this is the note Gotham goes out on for me because I will in fact miss many of these characters and all of this cast as it's been clear for a while that each of the actors have been making the effort to go 110% with what they're given to work with. My final thoughts shouldn't suggest either that this is the verdict by which I'm forced to remember this series by, au contraire, I'd instead prefer to look back on Gotham and judge it by the chapters it was able to execute wonderfully, among which include 'Penguin's Umbrella,' 'Welcome Back, Jim Gordon,' 'This Ball of Mud and Meanness,' 'Mad Grey Dawn,' 'The Gentle Art of Making Enemies,' 'How the Riddler Got His Name,' 'The Primal Riddle,' 'Pax Penguina,' 'That Old Corpse,' and 'Ruin.'

When I get right down to it in its entirety, the closing words to Grand Canyon just about sum it up; "I think it's not all bad."

Aaron Studer loves spending his time reading, writing and defending the existence of cryptids because they can’t do it themselves.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Aaron, thank you so much for joining Doux and finishing this series. And thank you so much, Thomas Ijon Tichy and Joseph Santini, for all of your Gotham reviews as well.

It sounds a bit like Gotham suffered throughout from many of things that plagued Smallville -- too much set-up and an inability to follow through because of the prequel nature of the series. It's sad that Mazouz and Bicondova didn't get to do the finale, although I sort of understand why.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this review.
Goodbye Gotham, it's been fun and strange. Yeah it had a case of the Smallvilles. But it ended in time. Harley died? So she wasn't the real Harley I assume.
mazephoenix

Patrick said...

Camren Bicondova put out a post on social media after her final episode, stating it was her choice to leave and let a different actress play the older Selina. She was also effusive in her praise for Lili Simmons take on the character.

https://twitter.com/camrenbicondova/status/1119316098166423552

Aaron Studer said...

@ Patrick
I have read this, and her reasoning for leaving does make plenty of sense; that being said, and without an intent to muddy it, I know how passionate Camren is about the role and wonder if the decision was 100% her doing, or if FOX wanted to age the actress up along with the character.