Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 6, 2015)
Batman began - cinematically, at least – in 2005, but the first film of the Dark Knight trilogy only hinted at a lot of the character’s background elements. A new TV series called Gotham aims to explore the characters and situations that eventually led to the Caped Crusader’s career.
Very eventually, as Gotham starts with the murder of young Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents, so the show will need to stay on the air a long time if it ever hopes to reach the point at which Bruce actually dons the cowl. This Season One Blu-ray set offers all 22 episodes. The synopses come from IMDB.
Pilot: “James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) are assigned to track down the killer of Thomas and Martha Wayne.”
While the premise of Gotham intrigues me, I must admit I remain a little skeptical that a Batman series without Batman will maintain my attention.
Of course, I’ll defer judgment about the series’ success until much later in this review, but the “Pilot” offers a decent launch. Like most programs of this sort, the “Pilot” devotes much of its running time to character introductions and exposition. We get the basics about those elements in a fairly efficient manner, though not one that makes the episode leap off the screen. Still, it does what an opening program needs to do.
Selina Kyle: “Someone is kidnapping homeless kids. One of them is a young girl named Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) goes off the grid.”
Matters perk up here, mostly via the Cobblepot thread. The main story about the homeless kids seems a bit flat, but Oswald offers some fun moments, and those help elevate the episode.
The Balloonman: “A masked vigilante is killing off corrupt citizens by strapping them to weather balloons. Cobblepot returns to Gotham.”
“Balloonman” offers a good mix of overall narrative – related to the pursuit of the Wayne killer – and episode specifics. The title character provides an intriguing look at the burgeoning world of Gotham crimefighters and turns into a solid show.
Arkham: “Falcone (John Doman) and Maroni (David Zayas) fight over the Arkham section of Gotham. Cobblepot becomes the manager of Maroni's favorite restaurant.”
After the highs of the last episode, “Balloonman” feels like a step down. It manages to advance parts of the general plot fairly well, but it never becomes especially engaging.
Viper: “Gordon and Bullock search for the source of a new street drug that causes euphoria then death. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot works his way deeper into Maroni's inner circle and Fish Mooney continues to plot against Falcone.”
Gotham seems to be on some odd/even schedule, where the odd-numbered episodes are much better than the evens. “Viper” demonstrates this pattern, as it becomes one of the better shows to date. It feels more like the Batman universe than we’ve seen so far, and that’s a good thing.
Spirit of the Goat: “Someone is killing rich children by taking on the name of The Goat (Christopher James Baker), a serial killer that Harvey took down when he was young. Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) finally have evidence against Gordon.”
The even-numbered “Goat” shows a dip from “Viper”, mainly because the main story doesn’t really go anywhere. However, I do like the way the episode opens up Bullock’s character, as it gives us some intriguing insights.
Penguin’s Umbrella: “Word is out that Cobblepot is alive, leading Falcone and Maroni to the brink of war and causing Gordon to go on the run.”
The last few shows have built up elements related to Gordon’s choice not to kill Cobblepot, and “Umbrella” brings these to a head. Those moments give the episode a lot of dramatic heft, and it’s fun to see more development from Cobblepot himself. We might only be seven programs into the series, but Penguin is easily the most compelling character so far.
The Mask: “Gordon and Bullock investigate a Gothamite who runs a deadly fight club for candidates applying for a job at his financial firm. Meanwhile, Bruce returns to school and gets a visit from a new friend.”
“Mask” offers half of a good episode. I like the parts that advance overall character arcs, but the moments specific to this show and its titular villain seem sillier than I’d like. It’s not a bad program but it lacks consistency.
Harvey Dent: “Gordon teams up with a young attorney named Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto) to find the Wayne family's killer. Russians break a former bomb maker out of prison. Selina goes to live at Wayne Manor.”
One of the Batman universe’s most important supporting characters debuts here, and that becomes a major development. Dent’s arrival reflects the pursuit of the guy who killed Bruce’s parents, and that thread proceeds well. The main story about the bomb-maker seems less enchanting, but it functions in a reasonably satisfactory manner.
Lovecraft: “Assassins attack Wayne Manor to try and kill Selina, causing her and Bruce to go on the run. While Harvey and Alfred try to find the kids, Gordon tries to track down the man he believes was behind the attack: Dick Lovecraft (Al Sapienza)”.
Throughout much of this season, Bruce hasn’t had a lot to do, but that’s slowly changed, and “Lovecraft” allows the young Wayne and Selina to shine. I like those elements, and the sight of a butt-kicking Alfred adds to the fun as well.
Rogues’ Gallery: “An unknown person in Arkham Asylum is experimenting on the inmates, while Oswald unexpectedly finds himself in jail.”
After the thrills of “Lovecraft”, “Gallery” feels a bit lackluster. It still includes some good developments, but it’s a little less enthralling than usual.
What the Little Bird Told Him: “In an attempt to get his job back, Gordon seeks to capture Jack Gruber (Christopher Heyerdahl), a deranged electronics genius who has escaped from Arkham Asylum. Meanwhile, Falcone struggles to hold onto his empire after Fish Mooney makes her next move.”
Though not a two-part episode, “Bird” does act as a follow-up to “Gallery” since it focuses on the same villain. That means my relative disenchantment continues here. Like “Gallery”, I think “Bird” works acceptably well, but it’s not among the season’s better shows.
Welcome Back, Jim Gordon: “When the key witness in a homicide ends up dead while being held for questioning by the police, Gordon suspects an inside job and looks to an old friend for information.”
I admit that to date, I’ve not been especially interested in the Fish character, but she starts to become more entertaining here. There’s something about the odd glee with which Pinkett plays Fish’s torture that makes her strangely endearing. After the minor sag of the last two shows, S1 bounces back here.
The Fearsome Dr. Crane: “Fish Mooney reveals a secret of Oswald Cobblepot's, prompting Maroni to take him on a trip to test his loyalty. Meanwhile, Gordon and Bullock hunt down a killer who targets victims with severe phobias and Bruce Wayne confronts Gordon for failing to make progress on his parents' murder case.”
Batman fans know where the name “Crane” will lead us, but we’ll have to wait until next episode to see more about that. On its own, “Fearsome” offers a decent show, though not one I think excels, mainly because it gets a little goopy at times – who wants to see Bullock in love?
The Scarecrow: “Gordon and Bullock set out to stop Gerald Crane (Julian Sands), a biology teacher who has been harvesting the glands of his murder victims.”
In a series about origin stories, “Scarecrow” gives us the origin of an origin story – or something like that. I’ll be curious to see if we learn more about the Scarecrow’s development in later shows or if this’ll be a one-off, but it’s a good little exploration. Add to that a fun meeting between Cobblepot and Nygma and this turns into a solid show.
The Blind Fortune Teller: “The circus comes under attack while Gordon and Dr. Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) are in attendance.”
With the circus in town, it won’t surprise Batman fans to learn that the Graysons enter the picture here. As with Scarecrow, I’ll be curious to see if the series develops that clan; it’s still too early for Dick to appear, of course, but we could get to know his family.
On the negative side, I’m ready for the Gordon/Thompkins relationship to end, as she just comes across as smug and grating. At least Fish’s story gets interesting, and we meet a character who might just develop into someone awfully prominent down the road.
Red Hood: “Following several bank robberies, Gordon and Bullock investigate the Red Hood gang. Meanwhile, Selina bonds with Barbara (Erin Richards), Penguin faces problems, Fish tries to reclaim her position, and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) is visited by an old friend (David O’Hara).”
Batman buffs know about the identity of the original “Red Hood”. Gotham deviates from that history and has fun with it along the way. The Alfred segments seem less effective, though.
Everyone Has a Cobblepot: “While Gordon seeks information about the recent controversy with Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari), Fish's allegiance with the prisoners is questioned when she appears to join forces with Dr. Dulmacher (Colm Feore). Meanwhile, after an attack close to home, Bruce deals with the aftermath.”
This show manages to produce a decent level of intrigue but it lacks a ton of zest. It moves along various plot areas well enough without becoming anything memorable.
Beasts of Prey: “Gordon and Bullock inspect a cold case involving "the Ogre", a serial killer who targets young women in Gotham City. Meanwhile, Fish plots her escape from the Dollmaker, and Bruce and Selina confront Reggie.”
Too much of “Beasts” tends to focus on Gordon’s investigation, and that side of things feels like a pretty standard police procedural, not something that connects to the world of Gotham. It’s a decent show but not an especially good one.
Under the Knife: “Gordon and Bullock continue to investigate the Ogre, who begins to make his move on someone close to Gordon. Meanwhile, Bruce and Selina team up to expose a corrupt Wayne Enterprises employee and Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) comes to Kristin Kringle's (Chelsea Spack) defense.”
Given that I didn’t take much interest in “The Ogre” last episode, it comes as little surprise that “Knife” also leaves me cold – at least in regard to that storyline. Other elements – especially related to Edward and Oswald – come along well, but the weakness of the main plot makes this a lackluster program.
The Anvil or the Hammer: “The Ogre breaks down Barbara's emotions, while Gordon and Bullock track him down. Meanwhile, Penguin leads a massacre, beginning an epic war, while Bruce learns the truth about Wayne Enterprises and Nygma deals with his recent actions.”
At last, the Ogre saga ends, and with it, we find the same strengths and weaknesses as the prior two episodes. The main plot falters but the overarching narratives thrive. With the Ogre finally finished, we head to the season finale with some momentum.
All Happy Families Are Alike: “All hell breaks loose on Gotham's streets as the crime families collide. Dr. Thompkins helps Barbara through therapy. Bruce and Alfred try to find out Thomas Wayne's secret.”
Season One finishes on a reasonably positive note. While I can’t call this the most exciting, dynamic conclusion I could imagine, it develops elements in a positive manner and leaves me eager to get to Season Two.
And I do look forward to Season Two. While it has ups and downs, S1 mostly works well, and I find the “pre-history” of Batman to be fascinating. Would I enjoy the series as much if I didn’t love Batman? Possibly not, but I still think it offers a strong show.