FOX broadcast the first episode of its new DC adaptation yesterday, Gotham’s origin story as much as Jim Gordon’s — and that of so many of the villains Batman has come across in his many years of (dis)service to the city. The Waynes’ murder kicks off the city’s spiral into destitution and corruption — and Gordon, new in town and just out of uniform, is right at the heart of it. He’s going to grow up in Gotham, as the city will grow dark around him.
Falcone: “You can’t have organised crime without law and order. […] You have a hard head, just like your father. Don’t be self-righteous, don’t be arrogant.”
A City in Limbo
Visually, this show is stuck in limbo, just as its characters are caught in a world between the one we know it’s going to become, the one we retroactively expect it to have been, and the cowl looming in the shadows beyond twelve-year-old Bruce Wayne’s head. The set and costume design appear anachronistic and out of sync with the world around them, but that’s the beauty of the concept: it’s a conflated world, an assortment of characters and narratives — it’s like several time lines happening at the same time. The city is framed as a character in itself, with the locations and their dressing, the back alleys and the sparingly used panoramas, the rooftop views — Selina Kyle’s perspective. Who, by the way, has yet to perfect her pickpocketing game. She’s Catwoman, but she’s also a teenage, homeless girl who is, perhaps a little randomly, our intro into this little opera.
Now, there’s good things and bad things to say about this pilot:
- Ben McKenzie needs to go easier on the understanding, sad puppy dog eyes when talking to Bruce.
- Donal Logue did good to tone his character down a little after his first few scenes. It’s ok, finding your character can be tricky, but jeez.
- In the end, the show will rise or fall with the relationship between Gordon and Bullock, because cop shows always do. After the initial friction, things are looking up for them — the “we’re going home” is actually kinda sweet. Of course, until you remember that Bullock really, really needs to save his own ass. So, there’s that.
- The introduction of Montoya via her conversation with Barbara — uh, no. How about no. I’ve had to do some reading because I’m not a comic aficionado from the ground up, so. Montoya is a Gotham Central character who is, late into her character being known, revealed to be homosexual. Which, on paper, is fantastic. What’s also fantastic is that her past relationship with Barbara means that Barbara is bisexual. What’s less fantastic is the show’s way of introducing both of those facts from the get-go. We know literally nothing else about these women, beyond the bare facts that Montoya is a cop with Major Crimes and Barbara… who is Barbara? I know nothing about her, except that she’s got money, apparently, and that she rocks a little black dress, but I know she’s bisexual, because, clearly, that’s the first thing I just have to know about her. Really, Gotham? Really?
- This also gives the whole thing a love triangle vibe I really did not need — that the show does not need. (And that does, from what I’ve read, little justice to Montoya’s character on Gotham Central.)
- Narratively and in terms of exposition, Gotham could have done better. For instance, the little montage where Gordon and Bullock go fishing for someone who might talk — what was that? A swinging ceiling light, sudden extradiegetic soundtrack taking over the audio, and Gordon pulling his slightly weird “detached brooding to stare down criminals” face. Like, yeah, no, honey, you’re not scaring anyone with that.
I do absolutely love Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney — one of the few original character creations in this charade, she really brightens the canvas with her energy and her delight in her character’s deviousness. She’s having fun, she is fun, and then two seconds later she reminds you of why she is a force to be reckoned with and a more than worthy adversary. She’s giving the Penguin aka Oscar Cobblepot the creeps, man.
In the end,
Falcone tells Gordon to see things his way — what would destroying the city’s already crumbling last defence accomplish? Overthrowing City Hall, tearing down GCPD? It’s a tough sell, that one, to someone as idealistic as Gordon still is.
“I wasn’t being honest with you. But you weren’t ready for the truth.”
“You didn’t tell me because you were ashamed.”
And then, Bullock takes him to the harbour and tells him that, unless he kills Cobblepot, he’s toast, and so’s Barbara. Bullock’s a coward and a mess, and here we see what both pisses him off about Gordon and what will tether him to the man: Gordon’s still willing to fight the fight he can’t bring himself to, started caring about too late. Of course, Gordon’s a smart man, and Cobblepot will live to ruin Gotham another day. Ah, the incorruptible hero saves the day and goes to a twelve-year-old for permission to keep doing his job.
Next on Gotham: Selina Kyle.