After the success of the Christopher Nolan series of Batman movies, all Bat-fans wondered what would be next for the caped crusader. One of the first projects announced in the aftermath of those films was a television series for the Fox network. Gotham eschewed the traditional pilot order, instead getting 16 episodes out of the gate. What confused and frustrated fans, however, was that rather than the new Batman series wouldn’t be about Batman. Instead, it was a prequel series set immediately after the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Unlike Smallville, this show would not closely follow the life of young Bruce but rather Jim Gordon. Nothing about this series should have worked. Yet, despite a glaring disregard for the Bat-mythos and questionable moral decisions from the protagonists, Gotham is the most entertaining 44 minutes of madness you can watch. After five seasons, the Gotham series finale ended the only way it could: by finally introducing the dark knight detective.
One of the most consistent criticisms faced by the DC inter-connected movie universe is that the early film sacrificed “fun” for “grim.” Yet, Gotham proved that those two things were not mutually exclusive. The Gotham city in this show is violent, bloody, and ruthless. However, like a magic trick, this show somehow still managed to be ridiculous and silly. For example, they included the character Professor Pyg in one of their story arcs. Inspired by the comics, this character is a brutal, sadistic serial murderer who wears a carved-out pig’s head as a mask. It is simultaneously grotesque and hilarious. Any other show or film would lean into one or the other. Yet, the people behind Gotham were able to shoot it straight down the middle. On paper (or screens) it sounds like this shouldn’t have worked. Yet, from it’s first episode to the Gotham series finale, this show was always a good time.
What is Gotham?
Despite the mixed reviews The Dark Knight Rises received, Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman was a defining one. Never had a superhero film felt so grounded in the real world. It could have been any really good action film, that it featured a classic comic book character was only a bonus. The superhero genre to that point leaned in to that idea, eschewing comic book conventions like costumes and mustache-twirling rogues. They wanted their movies to feel real. But after the Nolan trilogy, the only daring artistic choice was to dive face-first into the silliest of comic book conventions. While the MCU and films like Deadpool have done that of late, Gotham was one of the first test cases for it. And they didn’t even have the option to use their “hero,” instead making a cop with a familiar name the series’ protagonist.
If you want a traditional “Batman” story post-Nolan trilogy, you should actually check out the show his writing-partner and brother Jonathan Nolan created. Person of Interest is essentially the street-level Batman stories the movies couldn’t tell wrapped up not in a cape and cowl but a sci-fi AI thriller. Like many great Batman stories, this show deals with the balance between saving lives, punishing the guilty, and seeking justice. Gotham does not deal with any of that, at least not overtly. This show presented a five-season-long argument about why Gotham needs the Batman, and they did it better than any other on-screen Batman story. When he finally shows up in the Gotham series finale, it feels like the natural progression of the kind of crazy that city breeds.
The Batman Is Boring
In the context of the entire series, events in the Gotham series finale wouldn’t make a list of the ten craziest things to happen on the show. This might seem like a criticism, but it’s probably by design. The Gotham series finale is when the Batman makes his debut in the city, and this Batman knows what he’s doing. One thing that helps keep the show fun is that nearly every character is a complete idiot. The Riddler and the Penguin? Buffoons. Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock? Well-intentioned dolts. This makes it easy to believe that Bruce Wayne, even as a child, is the smartest person in any room. (At least, unless Selina Kyle is there.) After growing up around nincompoops making terrible plans, Batman executes his investigation in the Gotham series finale expertly.
The plan is to blow up Wayne Tower with some Joker mayhem thrown in for the final act. While we don’t see much of the Dark Knight himself (likely because actor David Mazouz couldn’t age ten years between episodes), we see his efficiency. He quickly dispatches the Penguin, the Riddler, and the Joker, far more easily than Jim Gordon and the hapless Gotham City Police Department ever did. One “justification” for telling the story this way is that once Batman is on-the-scene, the crime-solving and plan-foiling happens so easily there would be no drama. In a way, this is the perfect Batman because his predecessors made all the mistakes for him.
Why Gotham City Needs the Batman
During the formative years of Bruce Wayne’s life, he bore witness to unspeakable tragedy. His parents shot dead in front of him. Kidnapped by no less than two murder-cults who wanted him dead. Two homicidal brothers targeted him individually and nearly destroyed the city to do it. This isn’t even considering the two dozen-odd kidnappings he suffered at the hands of random rogues. Throughout this mess, the Gotham City government and police force proved woefully ill-equipped to keep the city safe. Jim Gordon himself is guilty of murder a few times over in this version of the story. And he’s the city’s one good cop. Yet, the true genius move this show pulled off was the idea that costumed villains showed up long before costumed heroes. In a world this mad, dressing up like a bat to save the city feels more like a viable option.
The downside to the serious nature of modern comic book films is that they often fail to show why dressing up in a mask and costume is a sensible option. They toy with practical and symbolic reasons, but it never fails to make the heroes look slightly as mad as the villains. And maybe that’s the right viewpoint. Still, in a city with the Penguin, the Owls, the Joker, the Riddler, Firefly, Mr. Freeze, and others, you need a Batman. Every villain’s narrative in Gotham focuses on their transition from their civilian identity to their villain one. These new identities come with power, and Bruce is the first person smart enough to co-opt that power for the side of the angels. Just like the series’ entire premise, seeing Batman in only the last shot of the show should be frustrating. Instead, it’s not just satisfying but it may be one of the best versions of this story. Becoming Batman isn’t when the battle begins, it’s when the battle is won.
Gotham Series Finale Introduces Selina Kyle 2.0
In the Gotham series finale, set ten years after the previous episode, Lili Simmons plays the adult Selina Kyle, A.K.A. Catwoman. However, for the previous run of the series Camren Bicondova played perhaps the most intriguing version of that character put on-screen. A street kid with no family of her own, this Selina became the perfect foil for young, moody, but privileged Bruce. The two were allies more often than not, though she remained the harder-edged of the two. She also did not share Bruce’s qualms about killing. In fact, in the middle seasons of the show, she was the adventurer and Bruce her sidekick. It’s a shame that Bicondova wasn’t able to play the role in the Gotham series finale, but she claims it was her decision. It also helps that Lili Simmons looks very much like a “grown-up” version of Bicondova, though the actor is 19 years old.
The episode previous, Bruce Wayne decided to leave Gotham to start the global trek that’s long been a part of the Batman crucible. Yet, he all but abandons Selina. There is the typical “it’s for her protection” argument, but it’s a little lame. After all those years learning about Selina’s life, you’d think Bruce would have set up a trust fund or something for her. He didn’t, so she’s resorted to a life of thieving. If anything, the Gotham series finale did not give these two characters the reunion they deserved. It’s all about hinting at the “conflict” to come, and these two won’t stay at odds for long. Yet, giving Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle a childhood bond is such a great idea, it’s a wonder the comics hadn’t tried it sooner. Gotham is as much Selina’s story as it is Bruce’s, and that’s where the series shines.
Where Does the Gotham Bat-Family Go From Here?
Now that the Gotham series finale put the series to bed, the die-hard Bat-fans want to know what’s next. Luckily, there will be plenty to choose from. Matt Reeves continues to work on the next Batman film, which will feature a new actor behind the cowl. The DC Universe series Titans will add Bruce Wayne to their cast of characters for the next season, though it’s unclear if he’ll suit up. In October, Todd Phillips’s movie Joker will debut, telling a Bat-less origin story of the titular character. The new series Pennyworth also seems to be telling the origin story of this version of Alfred, though that’s not been officially confirmed. Finally, it’s possible that there might be life for this version of Batman, too.
The DC Universe streaming service is hungry for new content, and DC has a robust animation division. If the fan desire is there, they could easily revisit these versions of the character in animated films. Voice-over work is much easier to make happen than live-action commitments, and it would allow the younger cast members to reprise their roles. Future projects or not, Gotham is a show that will live on and find new fans via streaming and syndication. It was a great Batman story, even without Batman, and it will be missed.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.