“I promise you, however dark and scary the world might be right now… there will be light. There will be light, Bruce.”
by Meric Moir
We interrupt your regularly scheduled expectations to bring you something new and astonishing! Hey everybody, my name is Meric Moir, and I will be your guest reviewer for the remainder of this post. Grace and Thom asked me, and a few others, to join in on the fun. Share our opinions on artistic happenings that reside in the stuff we like. This fall, I really like superhero TV shows.
So. It’s obvious. Arrow is a thing, and so is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
This year we’re getting a ton of new scratching sticks for the superhero itch that crops up between MCU movies. I’m personally pretty pumped for Constantine and The Flash, and I can’t wait for the Hayley Atwell led Agent Carter. But today, I’m here to talk about Gotham.
Like most of you, I expect, I entered into this show with a little skepticism. What’s a Batman show without Batman? Well let’s put that to bed right away. Batman is amazing. Batman is iconic. Batman is… Batman. But Gotham is something else. Gotham is the dark scummy stuff that turns your average criminals into shattered psychopaths. It’s corrupt cops and all-powerful gangsters and the extreme separation of rich and poor. I mean, have you seen Wayne Manor?
What’s Gotham? Gotham is the Noir background that makes Batman a tragedy about heroes and villains instead of a comedy about a rich guy and his colourfully clothed adversaries.
The pilot opens up on Catwoman. Which seems like an odd choice (but hey, gargoyles!). Nevertheless, she’s a good setup for the rich/poor theme. She’s obviously skilled, intelligent, and down on her luck. She stalks after her marks with the sinuous slinkiness (slightly disturbing on a teenager) that you expect from Selina Kyle, then she steals milk (for her cat) and a wallet. They’ve done her costume pretty well, giving her the trademark goggles without them looking goofy. Anyways, as to why she’s around: she’s a witness.
So here comes the moment we’ve seen a soul crushing number of times. Two extremely rich people with extremely bad judgment walk down a dark alley in a part of town that they probably shouldn’t have been walking in. They call it the theatre district. Looks more like that sketchy place downtown where the car alarm is always going off. Well, whatever.
The scene is very reminiscent of Nolan’s take, except that the shooter is anonymous. Not just a desperate Joe Chill character, a balaclava’d professional. The wallet goes to the gunman, dialogue nearly identical to the Batman Begins scene. Gunman asks for the pearls. Nobody objects. Sure, take the necklace. But then things go dark. With absolutely no provocation the gunman brutally murders the Waynes.
The gun trains on Bruce, and even though you know it’s not going to happen, the fuzziness of the face and the slow motion of the gun just fills your gut with fear. He lowers the gun. Then, with an irreverent and callous shove, pushes Bruce out of the way. That casual cruelty just drives home how different Bruce’s life just became.
And the real twist of the knife comes when Thomas doesn’t even get any parting words for Bruce. Just dazed, terrified, and pained eyes.
Cue Wolverine scream.
At this point, I’m thinking that we’re going a little fast. Honestly, I was expecting some face time with the Waynes. That’s something that we haven’t seen before. I thought we’d get to see Gotham through the eyes of its first family for the first time. But no, they’re dead and gone.
Then again, where else could you start?
What else could be that defining for a whole series? It definitely puts an oomph into it. (And there’s always flashbacks.)
Moving on to Detective James Gordon. He’s bloody perfect. To introduce him, we get a tense situation in the police department where a suspect steals a gun and holds an officer hostage. In swoops the war hero who talks his way through the situation, then finishes it with a solid punch. Bloodless, clever. Of course, then the Gotham police get their turn, and it’s all fists and elbows for the perp. Just a perfect scene to establish that the cops themselves are just as callous as the bad guys. But Jim Gordon is above that. He’s our special snowflake.
Anyways, Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock get assigned to the Wayne case, and Bullock makes it clear right off that he doesn’t want it. Too much pressure with too little chance of an easy cleanup. But Gordon’s a good guy. He doesn’t lend Bruce his coat this time, but he tells a story about how his own dad was killed by a drunk driver. Bruce connects with Gordon, and he gives up some details that become important later. Also Alfred is kind of a dick.
I have to give a special mention to the scene after they speak with their captain. Some solid character building with both Bullock and Gordon here.
“Jim, you seem like a nice guy, but this is not a city, or a job, for nice guys. You understand?”
And Nigma was amazing.
This seems important.
Running down some leads, we get introduced to Fish Mooney and her obviously not important associate Oswald Cobblepot. This show is just nailing the introductory scenes, because I’m immediately sold on this Penguin. He’s like this totally awkward sociopath. And Mooney is played to perfection by Jada Pinkett Smith. This is where I really started to notice what I called the “Noir stings” in the dialogue.
“Well, aren’t you a cool glass of milk.”
“Ma’am, was that screaming we heard back there?”
“Yes. My boys are watching a scary movie.”
“No. Actually, one of my staff has been stealing money from me, so we’re beating his punk ass.”
Every so often there’s a beautiful line that stands on its own as a feature of the Noir setting, then we transition back out into regular dialogue. Some people may find it jarring. I love mashups. And this sets up the unwritten rules that Gordan has to struggle under. Mooney is letting Gordon know that he’s not being polite, which is a problem for her. And you don’t want to cross Mooney. Or take your eyes off of Mooney. As we see later.
One thing leads to another, accusations are made, we meet a little girl named Ivy Pepper (not named Pamela Isley. Odd), then blam, there’s a dead guy who was found with Martha Wayne’s pearls. The city is happy, the cops are happy, Harvey is bloody ecstatic.
But Penguin is an opportunist. Word gets back through the cops that there was a frame-up. This is another great defining moment for viewers, because one of the best ways to judge a character’s integrity is to see how his closest friends regard him. Barbara Kean (Jim’s fiancée) learns about the frame from her friend (possible ex-girlfriend? There’s a vibe there) Renee Montoya of Major Crimes. It kills Barbara to ask if Gordon framed Pepper, but when he denies it, she immediately believes him. More than anything, this sells Gordon as the solid good guy he appears to be.
So now Jim is on a quest to find out the truth. And with those significant clues from Bruce Wayne, Jim is none too pleased about the state of Mario Pepper’s shoes. Darn. Bullock’s not gonna like this.
But James Gordon is a do-it-yourself straightforward kind of guy. He goes to Fish Mooney and accuses her to her face. Another beautiful sting of Noir dialogue “You have a little danger in your eye. I wonder what you plan to do with that?” Remember how I said don’t cross Fish Mooney? Yeah, don’t turn your back on her either. You’ll get a lamp to the back of your head and wake up in a meat freezer.
But there’s a silver lining! Bullock shows up and wants to protect his partner! He’s got solid reasoning and everything when he chats with Mooney about it on the phone. She’s gracious and agreeable. Then she wants to talk to her henchman. Then she’s bone-chillingly terrifying. Ruthless. Smart. Scary. Do not underestimate Mooney.
Interlude! Is this who I think it is?
Anyways. We get a great scene where Mooney confronts Cobblepot over his betrayal. Do I have to say it again? Don’t cross Fish Mooney. She’s faster than you, and she’ll crush your legs with a bit of wood. Probably making you need an umbrella cane for the rest of your life.
Cut back to our hero (and Bullock). This is not a good place to be in.
Did I mention Frankie the leather-clad, knife-wielding torturefiend? Yeah. That’s a thing. Not weird and terrifying at all.
Luckily there’s a pissed off gangster boss who shows up in person when his lauded rules are being broken. Shotguns blazing. Really? He makes house calls? Well. Gordon might just be an exception.
Carmine Falcone is a BA. He and Gordon have this heart-to-heart that really makes you sympathize with the ruthless mob boss. He believes in the city, and with the powers of fore-knowledge, we can tell that he’s the obstacle that stands between the orderly (if corrupt) Gotham of the past and the chaos and terror of the future that includes freeze guns, swamp zombies, joker toxin, preteen vigilantes, and a surprising amount of ninjas.
“You can’t have organized crime without law and order.”
What’s next? Well, we’ve spent this episode showing Gordon overcoming moral obstacles. He shows his integrity. He shows his values. But nothing’s really been on the line except his code and his relationship with the other elements of the city. Those were sacrifices he was willing to make.
But can he put Barbara in danger? That’s the question that Harvey asks at the end. And you’ve really got to feel for Harvey in this moment. He doesn’t want to be in this situation, but he knows how the city works, and he’s got to play along. It’s the only way to survive, and he wants Jim to understand that.
Just like the scene with Bruce and the shooter, the outcome is inevitable. I knew it was coming, you knew it was coming. Only Harvey didn’t see it coming. But the struggle as Gordon tries to find some other way around the situation is what makes this scene work.
In the denouement, we see a couple of cool things. The Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne dynamic really solidifies itself here, and it’s where we get another one of those patented Gotham aphorisms: “Fear doesn’t need conquering. It tells you where the edge is.” It’s these outlooks that really define the city for me. Maybe it’s just a legacy of the heavy-handed themes that the Nolan trilogy touted. But I like it.
So. Gotham. Will this be a good show? Yeah, I think it will. As pilots go, it over-performs. You expect a pilot to have inconsistently portrayed characters, awkward dialogue, and sort of a weak plot. You forgive those pilots because the premise is enough for you to keep watching until the show catches up to its potential.
Gotham didn’t have those failings. The characters were complex and believable. They were desperate and arrogant. They were real—from the cowards to the psychopaths.
The only complaints I really have are about the slightly rushed pacing at the beginning and the lack of a clear template for the future. I mean, is this a case show? Will we follow Gordon and Bullock on random cases that show the beginnings of Gotham? Or will it be a drama where the focus is on Gordon navigating the shoals of the GCPD and the mob families as they vie for the kingdom?
And how lightly or heavily will they draw from the Batman Rogue’s Gallery? In the first episode we get four, maybe five, super villains in their early stages. That’s a packed pilot. Should we expect a new villain cameo for every episode? If they try and do this, it’ll probably get cheap and farcical.
There’re lots of questions about where Gotham can go. But I think the premise is solid. This show will rest on the colourful and complex characters it’s developing. From the sterling Jim Gordon to the maliciously vicious Fish Mooney.
“I love this city, and I see it going to hell. But I won’t let it fall apart without a fight.”
PS: Very Burton-esque Penguin at the end there.
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