Marc Alan Fishman: How Gotham Got Great(ish)
The past Monday, Gotham had its fall finale. While the episode itself was a bit meh to not-bad, the show thus far this season has been darn good to dare I say great. Since I last wrote about James Gordon and friends, the show has really settled into a fantastic groove. It’s been so good, I’ve privately sang its graces enough to ComicMix‘s EIC, Mike Gold, such that he mentioned it on his rockin’ good radio show. When Mr. Gold recognizes your opinion as valued, then you know something must be going right.
With the new season dubbed “Rise of the Villains,” Gotham has added a bit more serialization to its previously procedural format. We started with the entrance of the never-been-comic-booked nemesis Theo Galavan. Introduced as a scene chewing billionaire by day/evil criminal mastermind by night, Theo’s been mostly a high point to the proceedings. Especially when he flipped the script and murdered the Joker. OK, should I have said spoiler alert? Nah.
One of the worst parts of any prequel is knowing where everything and everyone is headed. Gotham smartly sidestepped that and showed that it has no problem playing its audience a fool when Theo sliced the throat of the proto-Clown Prince of Crime. And while the ginger-haired Jerome was an astounding would-be Joe Kerr, the powers-that-be recognized that there can be too much of a good thing. One knife slit later, and suddenly the show is a bit more unpredictable than it was the week prior. When Gotham remembers that it need not follow any known scripts to see means to the eventual communal ends we know and love, things have been never better.
Gotham from the starting gate was clawing over itself to debut as many proto-villains as it could. The need for world-building outweighed the need to build and establish emotional arches for the bloated cast. Take the curious case of Edward Nygma.
When first we met the horn-rimmed medical examiner, most of us smacked our foreheads in frustration. Nygma was easily one of the worst parts of the show when it began. The fact that the writers shoved him unnecessarily into the fold at the GCPD felt like the cold, lifeless hand of the boardroom trying to script doctor its way into good synergy. Each time Nygma popped up, the show got goofy. And while camp has proven useful to lighten Gotham’s macabre production design, with Edward it always felt like a chore.
However, in season two we get to see the fruit from those wicked seeds. Halfway into “Rise of the Villains” and Eddie is a murdering, piano-dueting, BFF with Oswald Cobblepot. Remember when I said camp is useful? I beg you to answer the riddle of how taking the character 1000% away from anything resembling even the Jim Carrey performance somehow ended up with the Riddler being one of the high spots of the series. Maybe it was the slick turn from Nygma’s actor, Cory Michael Smith, in showcasing the dormant dichotomy within Nygma. Or maybe it was the writers leaning into the shared psychopathy of seemingly everyone in the show, allowing all problems to be eventually solved with murder. Whatever the specific answer to that riddle is, I assure you, making me care about Edward Nygma has been a huge win for the season at large.
And how could I forget the last son of Gotham? At the end of the first season, Bruce Wayne found his father’s secret cave of wonders (behind the fireplace, don’t ya’ know). I half gagged over the triteness of it all. Somehow, my silent prayers were answered. Season 2 has shown young Wayne to have finally gotten a dose of needed testosterone. Somewhere between firing, re-hiring, and demanding a fight education from Alfred to staging his own abduction to glean information from Silver St. Cloud, I saw the necessary glimpses of the man who would become the Bat.
Kudos for denoting Bruce’s love of owls. Well-played, fancy pants. And double kudos to the writer who wrote Wayne’s parting words in the fall finale, which denoted the young scion’s predilection to planning the perfect escape.
Ultimately Gotham has come a long way. It’s traveled from a groan-inducing parody of noir and Mafiaso procedural to a semi-serious / semi-camp gallivant loosely playing with every known rule in the Bat-handbook. There’s no doubt we’ll never get to an actual man in a cape and cowl striking fear into the hearts of men. Instead, we’ll travel to every dark and dank corner with a murder-happy grin-scowler in James Gordon as he cleans up the streets just enough to eventually need the help from a sexy Ben Affleck and frowny Henry Cavill.
And while we’re making our way there, the writers and producers will ruin every single villain and confident we think we knew… laughing maniacally all the way to the bank.