Throughout its five-season run, FOX’s Gotham made a point of marching to the distinct beat of its own campy drummer. But while the show’s take on the crime-ridden streets of Batman’s home town and his classic rogues’ gallery of villains stood out for being deliberately exaggerated and theatrical, it never quite managed to be the show it could have been. That’s not to say Gotham had to be yet another attempt to ape the stylistic and tonal aspirations of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but it wouldn’t have hurt if the series felt as though its approach to storytelling was more than throwing remixed versions of Bat-villains against the wall to see what sticks.
So much of the final season of Gotham has been a mixed bag of ambition and inevitability. The show’s producers have long said that the Caped Crusader won’t make an appearance until the series’ finale, leaving the 12 episodes of this last season with a lot of heavy lifting to do, so the show’s resident Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) would be ready to don the cape and cowl before spending his nights punching bad guys really hard. That was in addition to the ‘No Man’s Land’ storyline that dominated much of the first 11 episodes of the season. After the city was separated from the rest of the U.S. and besieged by roving gangs headed up by the likes of Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), and more, what remained of the GCPD — including James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) — was left to maintain some semblance of control. That was until Bane (Shane West) showed up and everything went predictably to hell.
As far as final seasons go, that premise isn’t bad. Gotham City has always been the problem child the rest of the DC Universe would rather forget about, and putting its survival on the line like that (despite the obvious comparisons to Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises) fittingly raised the stakes for the series. And to see Gordon and Bullock paired up with Penguin, the Riddler, and more to save the city from destruction made for the sort of story the show often struggled mightily to be: one not about the rise of Bruce Wayne to become Batman, but that of Jim Gordon, the titular city’s other protector.
In many ways, last week’s ‘They Did What?’ served as the series’ official series finale, with ‘The Beginning…’ serving as more of a coda to the overarching story. With the city saved and Bruce on his years-long quest to become the hero his city needs, Gotham was ready to hand the reins over to its pointy-eared protector, but what the series actually delivers is a shallow pastiche of previous Batman origin stories, one told too hastily and from too many different perspectives to deliver a truly dramatic punch, much less an enticing new spin on the character’s early days.
The issue stems mostly from the decision to jump forward 10 years in time, putting the characters in the unenviable position of having to explain what’s transpired over the last decade, while also dealing with the arrival of Gotham’s golden boy. Bruce’s homecoming is hamstrung by the fact that Mazouz only makes a brief appearance at the episode’s beginning, before the time jump takes place. And while the series scores some points for the clever casting of in Lili Simmons (Banshee), as the now-grown Selina Kyle, Selina’s role as the cat burglar extraordinaire Catwoman feels unmoored from the character viewers have gotten to know over the past five seasons.
It’s a problem that carries through the hour as the arrival of both Bruce Wayne and Batman is the talk of the town, but both characters are shunted off to the margins, with Bruce never actually being seen and Batman only showing up in his bargain-basement suit at the episode’s end. Throughout the episode, Gotham seems to be wrestling with how much time it wants to devote to the character audiences have been waiting to see, with the awed reactions of street-level characters like Gordon, Bullock, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk). In the end, it the hour winds up punting on both accounts.
Credit to Taylor and Smith who are tasked with screaming through most of the episode as they’re either revealed to be patsies in Jeremiah Valeska’s grand scheme to dunk Gordon’s daughter in a vat of Ace Chemical-brand green goo, or are besieged by an offscreen guy presumably dressed up as a bat. Cameron Monaghan, meanwhile, gets to be the Joker — but not in name — wearing some garish makeup and doing his level best to sound sort of but not too much like a mashup between Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s versions of the character. In the end, neither Jeremiah nor Penguin and Riddler have any sort of meaningful run-in with the Batman. Instead, that’s saved for Selina, who speaks to Bruce without ever making eye contact (otherwise the show would have to focus on his costume), in a scene that provides little to none of the emotional closure either character probably should have had in that moment.
Though it often succeeded in being exaggerated and weird, Gotham struggled to match its odd-duck status with its ambitions to be a compelling comic books story. As the final hour demonstrates, the series was ultimately too concerned with where Bruce Wayne was headed when it should have been more invested in what the arrival of Batman meant in the city for which the show was named.
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Gotham seasons 1-4 are available to stream on Netflix.