It’s autumn again: the leaves are turning red, and the new TV season has started, this year with the most comic-book-inspired series ever. Of the new shows, Gotham looked most promising to me, and now after having watched the premiere, I am still excited about the new season, though I do have one significant reservation too.
The previews for the series effectively identified the heart of the series as Jim Gordon’s quest to stand for integrity in a world of compromises, and the premiere did not disappoint in this regard. Ben McKenzie’s performance as Jim Gordan certainly drives the show, and his acting is spot on, capturing Gordon’s “misfit” status.
Just about all the other characters, particularly his partner Harvey Bullock (playfully brought to life by Donal Logue), think that Gordon does not belong in Gotham, his vision of virtue seeming quaint and even childish in the dark “real world” of Gotham. The odd-couple pairing of Gordon and Bullock works from the start. The premiere has an enjoyable moment where Bullock relishes Gordon’s labeling him “lackadaisical”; Bullock even brings the word back at a pivotal point later in the episode. It will be fun seeing these two characters play off of each other as the series progresses.
From the ads, we see the series will highlight a myriad of characters, mostly “villains” in the Batman mythology the show draws upon. With 75 years of stories in comic books and film, this mythology has become extensive and rich (if not confusing). There are many iconic images to draw upon, from the recent Nolan films to the Warner Brothers animated series, and Gotham hits many of these notes efficiently, teasing viewers with shots of Selina Kyle, Edward Nygma, and Ivy Pepper in the premiere, but the episode devotes more time to developing newcomer Fish Mooney (a character created for the TV series) and Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot.
Ms. Mooney (played smoothly by Jada Smith), who fits seamlessly into the world of Gotham, is a potential threat to Carmine Falcone, who rules the city’s underworld. She and Harvey Bullock have a special arrangement, both working (as we discover) under Falcone’s umbrella. Cobblepot (portrayed eerily by Robin Taylor) is working for her, like a son (as she expresses in a pivotal scene), until he decides to undermine her influence by leaking information to the police (specifically Montoya and Allen, important characters in the comic series behind the show). Their performances, along with John Doman’s as Falcone, give life to the twisted, dark side of Gotham.
We see quickly Jim Gordan really is a stranger in a strange land. Yet he has allies, notably the boy Bruce Wayne (given life by Touch-star David Mazouz). There is a special bond between them, a shared pain (the loss of parents while they were young) and a shared vision (to seek justice). The scenes between Jim and Bruce are stellar, from Jim’s “However dark and scary the world may be right now, there will be light; there will be light, Bruce” to the moment when Bruce pushes the detective badge back to Jim.
Jim also is engaged to Barbara Kean, who seems to be in his corner, declaring to Montoya that Jim is the most honest man she’s ever met, yet who potentially has a dark past (or at least a big secret), which Montoya alludes to in that same conversation. Alfred Pennyworth is a potential ally too, but the butler is mostly curt and skeptical, trying to shield Bruce.
The episode centers on a series of moral dilemmas, the police (specifically Harvey, along with Fish Mooney’s help) framing an innocent criminal for the murder of the Waynes, and Jim’s reactions when he learns about Harvey’s compromises, Falcone’s “noble” portrait of organized crime (holding the city together), and the request to eliminate Cobblepot. The story draws us in quickly. Like other shows before it (such as USA’s La Femme Nikita or Fox’s 24), we will be wondering how Jim Gordon can maintain his virtue in such a world.
Gotham excels at atmosphere, character, and mystery. The pilot has me hooked, but I am still cautious. I know that a number of children will be drawn to the show because of the Batman mythology, but parents should be very aware of the “Viewer Discretion Advised” warning. Violence is elevated, as often occurs on Fox shows. From the blood gushing from bullet wounds to Cobblepot’s beating a man with a baseball bat to Mooney’s breaking of Cobblepot’s leg to the potential torture of Jim and Harvey in a meat locker, the level of violence is much more intense than it should have been.
This is particularly true of the last scene. First images and last images are telling, and writers should carefully shape them. I felt the episode should have ended with Selina looking at the manor (to parallel the opening scene) rather than with Cobblepot killing the fisherman for a sandwich. This show is not for children, and I think we should all be aware of how many violent images we consume. Although it is not likely (since Arrow has the same problem), I do hope future episodes will tone down the violence. It just isn’t necessary.
It is a promising start, with a script with many memorable lines. Here’s hoping the arc of the season is as impressive as the atmosphere, characters, and tone set in this first episode. Jim Gordon has some work cut out for him!