Premiering in 2014, Gotham always seemed to be an underdog of a series. That’s an amazing statement since Batman is still the crowned jewel of comic book characters. At the very least it’s the most prized asset of DC’s universe. Personally, I’m more of a Superman guy. But Chris Nolan’s trilogy, particularly the middle film, solidified that Frank Miller’s gritty version of Batman was the one that would most resonate with viewers (Tim Burton probably wanted his version to look like Nolan’s but didn’t pull it off). The problem with the success of the 2008 movie is that DC wasn’t able to recreate it no matter how much it tried with every subsequent project. Thankfully Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam! appear as ample evidence that they’ve found a new direction.
Also in Gotham’s way, beyond the legacy of the Nolanverse, was the fact that it was with the first Batman prequel. Smallville paved the way with Superman’s origin, but the show never claimed to be about the mythical town in Kansas for which it was named. Rather than focus only on the Caped Crusader’s origin story, the showrunners focused on his breeding ground Gotham really was about the city that gave birth to Batman. Executive Producer John Stephens and Danny Cannon reminded viewers this after Thursday’s finale. We were left to wonder not only what kind of person would become The Dark Knight, but kind of place would be worth spending his life protecting?
If the show had a true main character beyond that it was Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon.
When asked to cite a story arc that inspired Gotham, Stephens answered with Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. It’s an interesting answer since before he became Gotham’s future commissioner, Ben McKenzie was Bruce Wayne to Bryan Cranston’s Gordon in the animated movie. B-Mac always had a sense of humor about his role, even if he couldn’t show it much onscreen. A few months after the show premiered, he went out for Halloween as the best known incarnation of his character. In the end he never quite got to play the Gary Oldman era Gordon. He did once in 4th season hallucination caused by Poison Ivy, but that’s beside the point.
Gotham’s finale was supposed take place ten years after the previous episode. Gordon was indeed sporting the ‘stache in the beginning, but shaved it off ten minutes in after getting shit for it. It was clearly fake but was still kinda spectacular. My 8-year old son Aaron loved that social media was highlighting the nine minutes of time it existed. It turned out to be a nice departure for an episode that was didn’t have a ton of surprises. That isn’t a bad thing when you’re talking about a story where you already know the ending. The showrunners knew the final shot would be a shot of Batman (David Mazouz) looking over the city he swore to protect. But how do you tell a story of him becoming both a man and a hero while interacting with all the villains you will one day be fighting? And what about young Selina Kyle (Carmen Bicondova)? Like Commissioner Gordon, Catwoman is supposed to walk the line between suspecting Bruce’s identity and actually knowing it. Wouldn’t it be impossible for her not to be aware of the truth?
The final season of Gotham needs to be viewed separately from the rest of the series just as the finale is really a standalone from the year of episodes that preceded it. Adding to its underdog appeal, the series was never quite a hit for FOX. So when it was renewed one last time, its creators made a conscious decision to take the season to finish the show on their terms. I’m not enough of a comic expert to really discuss their choice of 1999’s No Man’s Land as a starting point. You can look all that up, but all you need to know is the city is basically declared a disaster zone and left to fend for itself. In the penultimate episode, Gordon, Wayne, Penguin, Riddler & Co. all stand together for Gotham. But circumstances and destinies all cause them to go in their pre-determined directions.
Even though the show wasn’t focused on him, Mazouz did a good job as Bruce Wayne. The last season forced him to become quicker than natural. He’s still only 18, after all. The ying to his yang, Cameron Monaghan, had a little more opportunity to dig into his role as The Joker. Since the name itself is reserved for DC’s movies (as is Batman), he ended up playing several versions of “Mr. J.” He even played twin brothers and did a fantastic job. For me, the best moments of the show were ones centered on cartoonish violence and macabre humor. Great performances included Carol Kane and Paul Rubens as Penguin’s parents. They didn’t appear at the same time, but were great nonetheless. Plus, Pee Wee appeared opposite Melinda Clarke. Yes, this meant Ryan Atwood and Julie Cooper once again inhabited the same space even though there was no Journey or Bob Seeger to be heard. But I still believe Kim Delaney is out there somewhere with Peter Gallagher listening to the Allmans and sharing that bottle of Patron. It of course means that Seth Cohen is also in the DC Universe, courtesy of Shazam!
In the end, the series left us with a young Dark Knight and Batgirl to face the future. Gotham’s showrunners were successful enough to have the chance to go farther back in time for Pennyworth, premiering on EPIX this summer. While Teen Titans Go To The Movies did an amazing job of sending up a possible Alfred movie, Pennyworth looks pretty good. Also, DC has Titans (not to be confused with short-lived Victoria Principal/Perry King show which I actually watched), which will help continue the story of Batman in its second season. The show airs on DC’s streaming platform, which also owes a little to Gotham. Krypton got its chance on SyFy thanks to it as well. Now it’s getting a sophomore season. But Gotham did more than preserve the brand for the last five years. It was a hell of a lot of fun too.