Episode 101 “Pilot”
It’s not Gotham Central, but the new Batman-lite prequel Gotham should stand up on its own.
The word “rogue” will probably get overused with regard to a show about Batman’s turf, but it really applies to these characters in many ways — Gordon the rogue “good cop”, Fish Mooney the rogue crime boss, Cobblepot the rogue crime henchman, and Bullock the rogue. Because that’s just his personality.
“Wheels within wheels” would be a good way to describe this particular show. And it certainly sets out with some ambitious goals — establish the back story for Commissioner James Gordon, provide origin stories for many of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, deliver a film noir crime thriller based in a dark and corrupt city on the brink of collapse, and just for good measure toss in the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents as the catalyst for everything coming together.
So, Ben McKenzie plays James Gordon, newly arrived at Gotham City, with a well-to-do fiancée named Barbara (who seems to have a bit of history with a certain Reneé Montoya…), and he’s faced with the corrupt machine that is Gotham City — both the city itself and the police department. His partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), is one of these morally ambiguous characters who demonstrates that he’s fully capable of being corrupt himself, but there’s a hint of a possibility that he could be on a redemption arc — because in every show there has to be a character on a redemption arc (which is tired, but OK, redemption arc…).
Without giving too much away, Gotham is Batman: Year One without Batman — James Gordon coming into a corrupt Gotham City and learning what it takes not only to be a good cop in a crooked town, but also how to leverage what he learns to get his job done. Gordon and Bullock manage to get the case of the Wayne murders, a case Bullock is only too happy to pass on to anyone else. Gordon, however, righteous do-gooder that he is, accepts the assignment and makes a promise to young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). It’s a promise he may wish he hadn’t made, as events unfold to show Gordon just how convoluted this case may be.
Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is Selina Kyle as a Gangster — smooth, crafty, seductive — and has all the earmarks of a substantial addition to the Gotham Rogues. Her involvement with Bullock — hinted at, teased only with an acknowledgement that there’s an “understanding” — may prove to be the lynchpin of Bullock’s arc. Because let’s face it: either Bullock is going to turn around and mend his ways because of Gordon’s boy scout influence, or he’s going to crack and go completely into Mooney’s camp and go villain. Given the character’s history, it’s probably going to be the first. Despite the reversal in ages, with Bullock now being the grizzled veteran (Detective Flass’ part in Year One), Bullock is still Bullock.
What would actually be more interesting is if Bullock doesn’t move off center. If he stays the morally ambiguous, looking-out-for-himself type, then there are story opportunities there. How does he stay self-serving in light of his partner’s selflessness?
Speaking of Selina Kyle, we don’t get too much of her in this first episode, but what’s there clearly shows her future. And Camren Bicondova certainly has the look and the physicality. If she proves to have the acting chops as well, she’ll be a performer worth watching.
Likewise with Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth. We don’t get to see him do much but fulminate and stew in this episode. Since we’re getting something of a Batman: Earth One Alfred, with the military history at the fore, let’s hope we get to see some Venusian aikido soon…
Oh. And one technical note. Please don’t use the GoPro shots anymore. They’re not noir, and they happened in only one spot in the episode, making it a gimmick and not a standard piece of cinematography in the overall palette. It just doesn’t fit.
The rest of the Rogues get their moments, and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor) is definitely on track to become the Penguin we all know. He’s opportunistic and manipulative, while at the same time very much in fear of Fish Mooney — even while he tries to figure out the best ways to move up in the ranks and take over. Given that Maroni and Falcone are both here, it’s likely the show is giving us an explanation as to the origin of Penguin’s crime syndicate, and it’s an interesting setup that may pay off big dividends. Edward Nygma, likewise, gets an origin that could be worthwhile: forensic specialist with the Gotham police, loves riddles, irritates his co-workers. Likely it will evolve so that the challenge of stumping his co-workers takes on obsessive proportions.
The only odd note that doesn’t play right is the introduction of Ivy Pepper — daughter of the man everyone thinks is the Wayne killer. Poison Ivy is the moniker adopted by Pamela Isley, not Ivy Pepper. Now, it’s possible that Miss Pepper changes her name later in life to avoid a connection with a brutal thug, but still… it’s a change that feels very “Hand of the Writer”, and it sours what is otherwise a very solid debut for Gotham.
Could we have done better with a direct adaptation of Gotham Central? Too early to tell. But it’s a solid entry into the Batman mythology without stepping on the movies — even though Geoff Johns has said everything’s separate. If it can maintain its noir sensibilities and play just enough of the comic book tone, it should do just fine.