It’s a bold move indeed to launch a television series steeped in the mythology of Batman without including the Caped Crusader himself. Fox’s Gotham attempts to do just this, by choosing instead to center on Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), the city’s lone hero who looks to avenge the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, put an end to the corruption within the police department, and clean up the mob menace that currently rules the streets. It’s a solid start, if not a groundbreaking one, that should please both comic book fanatics and police-procedural regulars alike. There are plenty of nods to the Great Detective’s mythos and Rogues Gallery in this stylized noir version of the title town, but Gotham also leans heavily on familiar (and proven) tropes from the ever-popular detective dramas. Time will tell if the Batman-less gamble pays off, but for now, hit the jump for my recap of Gotham’s premiere.
Gotham wastes no time in introducing viewers to the gleaming city with the seedy underbelly, an urban landscape that’s got a lot of the hustle and bustle of New York City’s crowded streets mixed in with the neo-noir of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles. Rather than drift aimlessly up and down Gotham’s alleys, the viewers get to tag along with a nameless young pickpocket (Camren Bicondova) who slips between folks on the sidewalk while skillfully relieving them of their groceries and wallets. She dashes into an alley to escape one of her marks, only to pour out a saucer of milk for the local cat population. Here, my friends, is our introduction to Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. While she doesn’t speak in the first episode, she acts almost as our Virgil in this particular version of the Inferno, popping up at pivotal moments with important characters and observing infamous events from comicbook lore. Namely, the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
To Gotham’s credit, they get this out of the way fairly quickly, using the murder of the Waynes and the resulting grief of young Bruce (David Mazouz) to galvanize both the citizens of Gotham and the lone straight arrow on the police force, Detective James Gordon. While Gordon’s life and career are destined to become intertwined with that of Bruce Wayne/Batman, our introduction to him in Gotham stands on its own. Executive producer/writer Bruno Heller and director Danny Cannon do a great job setting up Gordon as a classic noir hero, as he calmly (and bloodlessly) deals with a psycho criminal who takes a police officer hostage in full view of a department chock full of trigger-happy cops. Though Gordon pacifies the situation, his new partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) chastises him for not putting a bullet between the man’s eyes.
Here’s the real core of the show. Forget Batman, forget the infamous villains you know and love; the heart of the show is the Odd Couple partnership of Bullock and Gordon. Logue and McKenzie have solid on-screen chemistry that should only get better as the season progresses. The cleverest part of the show so far is how this well-written character dynamic sneaks in behind a masked pretense of costumed heroes and comic book baddies. As we’ve seen with some other shows (which will remain nameless), it’s not enough just to have the comicbook stamp; you’ve got to have characters you can truly root for … and against.
New to the villainous lineup is Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), a vicious mobster who runs the Theater District and is making a power play to upend the infamous Carmine Falcone (John Doman). Pinkett Smith gets to strut her villainous side as a power player who pulls the GCPD’s strings and has Bullock wrapped around her little finger. Gordon, however, becomes a thorn in her side when he figures out that Bullock and Mooney colluded in order to frame a low-rent criminal for the murder of the Waynes, pinning a neat and tidy bow on a high-profile crime in order to calm the citizens and keep the mafia in control. Gordon messes this up, and for his honorable intentions he gets strung up alongside Bullock as a gimp-suit wearing maniac brandishes a very sharp cleaver in their general direction. That’s when things get nutty.
I loved the twist that happens about three-quarters of the way through, when Falcone and his goons rescue the detective duo. Why does he do this? For one thing, he puts the upstart Mooney in her place by shutting her down when she oversteps her bounds. For another, Falcone goes way back with Gordon’s heroic father, and wants to see if he can’t bring the equally impressive son over to his side of the fence. Gordon’s morals are put to the test in a climactic scene in which he’s forced to put a bullet in the head of Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), who snitched on Mooney to the MCU. It’s either that, or Bullock will do the dirty work for him, disposing of Gordon at the same time. Instead, Gordon chooses a third option, a clever, albeit short-sighted decision to feign a headshot, after which Cobblepot falls into the river with the unspoken promise to never return. (Yet, obviously, he does, in short and gruesome order.)
We close out the premiere with Gordon visiting young Master Wayne and his snarky butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee), explaining the frame-up and stating that the real killer is still on the loose. Here’s where we get the premise for (at least) the rest of the first season, in which Gordon plans to clean up the streets of Gotham, restore honor to the police force, and bring justice to the Waynes. It’s an ambitious goal for the hotshot detective, and a great starting point for Gotham.
Can’t say enough about the developing relationship between Gordon and Bullock. I’m looking forward to many, many episodes with the pair of them.
Things to keep an eye on this season: Gordon’s Quest, Bullock’s Path to Redemption (or Not), Wayne’s Coming-of-Age, and Penguin’s Rise to Power
Some of the name drops and villain intros were quite good: Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) as a police forensics expert who loves riddles (and was amazed when Gordon quickly answered one of his) was a great turn. It’s clear they’re having fun with their version of the Catwoman character, and I hope that [Poison] Ivy gets a bit more development in the future. Bullock saying, “Meet me at 4th and Grundy” should definitely perk up the ears of Batman fans as well.
I’m on the fence about Gordon’s fiance, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). Sure, Gordon needs a fiancee, so who better than a successful (and gorgeous) art dealer? But the odd interaction between Kean and the MCU’s Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) was just downright strange. At least give them something to talk about other than Gordon and their (potential) romantic past.
So the Waynes’ killer wore a black mask, huh? Could it be … Black Mask?? This one could go either way, but for fans of the character in the comics, it very easily could have been an early giveaway.
As good as the previously mentioned character introductions were, some were just downright laughable. Penguin’s moniker being revealed by Cobblepot saying, “You know I don’t like to be called [Penguin]!” was particularly forced.
Gordon’s “Shiny Shoe Defense.” Don’t think that’s gonna hold up in court, bud. I like McKenzie’s noir style, but the down and dirty police work is going to have to get a bit better in the coming weeks to bring it home.