Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Gotham City Before The Dark Knight

Some links before I get started today. Norma had a Friday photoblog at her page yesterday. Parsnip enlisted the Square Dogs for her usual Square Dog Friday. Krisztina had an interesting pumpkin concept at her blog plus an oatmeal suggestion. And Shelly wrote about Rosh Hashanah.

Now then, new and returning shows are upon us here as fall gets underway. I thought I would take a look at the opening of a new series.

I was expecting to be disappointed.

When I first heard of the notion of a series about Gotham City, but before there was a Batman, I was skeptical. Bruce Wayne as a boy? The main character being the young police officer who will one day become Commissioner Gordon? Further details left me dubious. Poison Ivy and Catwoman as characters? The casting of Ben McKenzie, a refugee from the not at all missed teen drama The O.C. as Jim Gordon? I felt that this was going to be a mistake, so I went in with low expectations.

And after watching the pilot for Gotham, I was instead surprised.

The first episode deals with the case that started it all: the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne by an unknown gunman in the streets of Gotham, witnessed by their son Bruce (David Mazouz). It’s also witnessed by someone else, a street thief not that much older than Bruce, one we recognize to be Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). The detectives sent out to the scene from the nearest precinct are the two characters who will be front and center through the series, and they’re as different as night and day. Jim Gordon (McKenzie) is a newly promoted detective from the ranks, trying to find his way, still idealistic, still a believer in the ideas of law and justice. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is a slovenly, corrupt veteran with a chip on his shoulder and very little in the way of ethics. The two have been recently assigned as partners, and don’t particularly like each other. Bullock, upon recognizing the victims, would rather see the case handed up to the Major Crimes Unit. Gordon instinctively comforts the distraught Bruce and makes a promise to him.

Bruno Heller developed the concept for the series, drawing on the history of the Batman and his city in the DC comics world. There’s a good deal of influence from a comic book series, Gotham Central, which dealt with the detectives of the Major Crimes Unit in the world of the Dark Knight. Some relationships have shifted; some characters altered, but not overly much. Where Bullock is a junior officer compared to Gordon in the comics, here he is the senior, reluctantly working with a detective who doesn’t share his corruption. Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) is their precinct captain, quite a difference from the comics, where she was Jim Gordon’s second wife. Two detectives from Major Crimes have more of an antagonistic relationship with both Gordon and Bullock than what you might expect from the comics versions, but at the same time, in personality, the two are just as I would have imagined them, and it was a surprise to see their inclusion. Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones) come across as dismissive of the rampant corruption in other parts of the police department, and suspicious of both Gordon and Bullock. Renee’s inclusion in the series, even if she’s not considered a main cast member, is very welcome; she’s a character I really like.

The first episode, directed by Danny Cannon, is permeated with the dark, moody, bleak aspect of Gotham, even, it seems, in daytime. It’s a place out of a noir movie, filled with corruption, graft, violence, and a sense of hopelessness. The pilot certainly establishes that in the way buildings look, the way characters behave, and the interactions between key players. It is a city dominated for all purposes by crime bosses, the most powerful being Carmine Falcone (John Doman), familiar from the comics and from his appearance in Batman Begins. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is one of his lieutenants, a woman with her own ambitions to oust him. She runs her operations out of a night club, and among her employees is the slightly nasal and rather creepy Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), who’s been nicknamed Penguin by his fellow mobsters. It’s a name he doesn’t like.

It’s also a world full of secrets. One must wonder just how connected Fish is to Bullock; they seem much too comfortable around each other. Gordon’s fiancée Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) has an encounter with Renee, and things are said between them. There’s history between the two women, and a lot of subtext, and considering Renee came out of the closet in Gotham Central, there’s every reason to expect there is or was a romantic relationship between these two characters. Yet Gordon seems to have no idea.

The casting for these characters seems to have been done with great care. We meet Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), a coroner who likes riddles (one day he’ll be the Riddler). He looks the part, and annoys Bullock in a way that could easily foreshadow what’s to come. There’s a girl named Ivy, about Bruce’s age. She’s played by Clare Foley, and she gives the character a slightly disturbed quality; it’s quite fitting, as this appears to be the woman who’ll eventually become Poison Ivy. Camren Bicondova’s casting as Selina Kyle is an interesting one; she’s the first character we meet, and she’s largely silent through her appearances in the pilot. I wondered how you could have a Catwoman in this sort of series and have her be that much older than Bruce, but the age difference is a handful of years; she’s pretty much a kid herself. And yet she’s resourceful, stealing to stay alive, knowing the back alleys and rooftops better than anyone, all the better to make an escape. What she does convey in this opening for the series is an empathy as she shadows the young Bruce at a distance; witnessing what happened to him clearly has an effect on her, and Bicondova brings that largely through her eyes and expressions.

Taylor’s an interesting choice for a younger Penguin. He plays the role as something of an opportunistic, socially awkward creep (much like you’d expect out of the standard depiction of the character in comics). Yet there’s a lack of confidence in the character as we might expect in years to come; still, there is something dangerous in the character, and it makes for the sort of person you’d cross the street to avoid. Doman embodies the ruthlessness of Falcone as I would expect the character to be; when at last we see him, he’s reinforcing his authority in an unusual way, demonstrating his clear belief that the city belongs to him, and he’ll fight for it. Jada Pinkett Smith is a surprise as the new character Fish Mooney. She can be sweet and lovely in one moment, and utterly ruthless in the next moment. This is a woman you really do not want to cross.

Erin Richards surprised me as well. Barbara is a character that’s more often referenced in comics than seen; the marriage ended, and while she’s made appearances, she has not been a major figure in the way Jim Gordon was. Richards plays her as supportive and loving, and yet the notion of keeping secrets is right there from the beginning, even though those secrets are about her. Sean Pertwee turns up as the Wayne butler Alfred Pennyworth. He’s wary of the police, intensely protective of his young charge. There are already hints of the surrogate father role for him in how he relates to Bruce, and yet he’s willing to break the traditional butler role and chide the boy for what seems to be a moment of recklessness, and yet isn’t- it’s a hint of the future. David Mazous has the difficult prospect of playing the young Bruce Wayne; the audience knows where his future will take him, but for now, he’s carrying the burden of sorrow, starting out as a boy who’s just lost his parents. His howl of grief is an agonizing one, particularly because the audience already knows his ultimate destiny, and it is followed by hints of a boy who’s not a child anymore, but one who is starting out on his own path.

One of the two lead actors surprised me; the other did not. Donal Logue is the one who didn’t surprise me. He’s a veteran character actor I’ve seen in many roles, and here he plays Bullock. He’s perhaps leaner than I would picture the character in the comics, but he fits the role perfectly. He’s rumpled, surly, and looks like shaving is something he might think of every other month. He looks like he sleeps in his clothes. There’s a temper there; he doesn’t like his new partner, and he doesn’t mind showing that. He is thoroughly corrupt, and yet at the same time, underneath it all, there’s something resembling ethics in his personality; he acts to save his partner just because they’re partners.

Ben McKenzie did surprise me. I was expecting the worst, a refugee from a pointless television show that isn’t missed at all. He played a teenager in that show full of teenagers, but it’s been a few years now. Instead we see the idealistic officer in a city filled with graft; he doesn’t like what he sees around him, and he still believes in justice. It brings him into conflict with those around him, even those he is supposed to work with, but even so, his principles remain with him. They’re summed up foremost in an understanding with a grief stricken boy.

And so we have the first episode behind us, one strongly emphasizing the character and personality of each member of its murky cast. Where can Gotham go? That would be the question. It feels more like a police procedural and crime drama, which for all intents and purposes it is. It is a story of one good man in a bad town, unsure of who to trust. And all the while, the hints of the future have already been established. I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here.


  1. Great review William! I saw this show and enjoyed it. I think it has a lot of potential. They seem to have a great cast, and I liked the chemistry between the actors.

  2. I saw it, too--and loved it. Most of the D.C. comic book characters come off as one-dimensional (Superman, I'm talking about you!), except for Batman. I think this series will show us how Bruce Wayne, eventually Batman, comes to trust the future Commissioner Gordon and come to regard him as a friend as well as an ally.

    Great review, as always.

  3. Sounds interesting! I'll check it out once the season is online. Batman isn't my favorite when it comes to comic book characters, but he does have an interesting story.

  4. You sold me. I might just watch this one.

  5. @Denise: I think for me, going in with low expectations, it turned out all the better.

    @Norma: it certainly captures Gotham's atmosphere in just the right way.

    @Meradeth: here it's already posted online the day after it airs.

    @Cheryl: thanks!

    @Shelly: you'd enjoy it.

  6. I missed this one but saved. It is on the same time another show I wanted to see was on.
    I have read three good reviews from bloggers I follow and appreciate their reviews.

    cheers, parsnip

  7. Ok, you've done it again. Now, I'll have to watch the damn thing! Sheesh! Great review, though!

  8. Hmm, this sounds pretty good. I'm going to have to check it out. Thanks for the review.

  9. Sounds great, but I hate going backwards after really great movies. It's like what they did with Star Wars after the first 3 movies. Going back to see all the old characters when they were young just to follow the "backstory."

  10. I loved your review. Great. Thanks.


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