If the central task of a television series’ pilot is to convince the viewer to come back for the second episode, the premiere episode of Gotham was a success. More Smallville than Agents of Shield, the examination of the early days of Batman’s universe was bolstered by its ability to depict major characters from series. Thus I didn’t feel any of the bait-and-switch disappointment I did after the first episode of the Marvel based series. (Full disclosure, I haven’t watched Agents after the first two episodes.)
Two challenges faced writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome), and his script met both admirably. There were a lot of characters to introduce, and many of the basic facts of the plot would be well known to viewers. Each iteration of an ongoing comic book series adds its own tweaks, but doing so is a delicate balance of preserving a mythology that the fan base is passionate about while defamiliarizing it enough to allow them (and new fans) to see it afresh.
At first it appeared that Gotham had messed with the origin story by suggesting the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne were perpetrated by Max Pepper, father of (the soon to be Poison) Ivy Pepper, but that turned out to be a red herring. There were hints that Carmine Falcome (John Doman) ordered the murders, but he claimed to have his own reasons for framing Pepper that did not include personally needing a fall guy. The mob angle was an interesting way to shroud the crime in greater mystery, but I hope it doesn’t pan out. There has always been something Romantic with a capital “R” about the notion that the catalyzing event in Batman’s life was a more-or-less random act of violence. The other major wrinkle to the murder was having it witnessed by Selina Kyle. Not sure how I feel about that.
While I am on the subject of Selina, the age difference between Bruce Wayne (who will be Batman) and some of the people who will evolve into Batman villains (Cobblepot, Nygma, and, especially Kyle) could be problematic. Let’s not make Bruce-Selina into Anakin-Padme please!
The art design was an interesting mash up of periods that paid homage to Batman’s timeless qualities. The clothes and street settings retained a noirish, thirties feel, the cars looked out of the seventies, and references were made to cell phones. I think that giving Gotham a contemporary setting rather than trying to make it a (particular) period piece was a wise move.
I also appreciated Ben McKenzie (boy he looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as Gordon. If I had one major concern going into the pilot it was that I have never found Gordon’s character as interesting as some of the Batman scribes apparently do. In his introductory scene, Gordon disarms a gunman holding a hostage, and I thought “here we go, another attempt to make him a police version of Batman.” But he gets in two more fights in the episode and loses both of them, getting saved once by Bullock and once by Falcone.
The one character that I was not quite on board with was Harvey Bullock. I don’t recall Bullock being a corrupt cop, though this is apparently consistent with most iterations of his character. One could argue that we don’t have anyone’s word but his own about the extent of his corruption, but his “easy call” speech to Gordon felt pretty definitive.
A (final) word about Gordon’s fake execution of Oswald Cobblepot. The fact that Oswald killed a civilian immediately after emerging from the water reinforces the strongest parallel between Gordon (in the present) and Batman (in the future). Both experience the accumulation of guilt and rage over their inability, no matter how effective they are at stopping individual crimes, of making Gotham a safe place. One of the more interesting tensions in the Batman universe has always been between the rejection of capital punishment (more broadly symbolized in the eschewing of guns) and the recognition that some people are beyond rehabilitation. Gordon refused to kill in order to protect himself, his partner, and his family. That this decision comes at a cost–and that the cost is not always born by the people who make the decision–was reinforced by the immediate death of the fisherman.
What did you think of the Gotham pilot? Will you continue to tune in for other episodes?