I expected a great deal from Gotham. I expected it would be mostly a police procedural. I expected to strongly feature Jim Gordon, one of my favorite comic characters, and I expected it to be a street-level story.
I also expected it to be good. It is good. But not in any way I’d anticipated. After ten episodes, it’s clear there are strengths and weaknesses to the storytelling.
1. Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, brilliantly portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor. He’s creepy, he’s fun, he’s murderous but he’s also the smartest person in Gotham, albeit with a few lapses here and there. He’s also the only character to get a real arc this season, from literal holder of Fish’s umbrella to Falcone’s most trusted advisor. He’s a revelation and the heart of the show.
2. Teen Selina and Bruce. I had reservations on including the kids. How interesting could Bruce be at this point? Where did Selina fit into the picture except as a street kid? Instead, she’s the key figure in solving the murder of the Waynes and she’s also the only one able to bring Bruce out of his self-imposed shell into the real world. And yet, it’s nuanced. Selina talks a good game but she’s not always able to walk the walk. She knows it, too, and bristled when Bruce called her out for being “not nice.” Bruce, for his part, recognizes there’s much of the world he doesn’t know and yet wants to know. As I said last week, if the writers of this show decide to pull on the comic thread that has Selina as the illegitimate daughter of Carmine Falcone, things could get very interesting for our Cat and cloud her budding friendship with Bruce.
3. The coming mob war. It took several episodes to set up the competing mob factions of Fish, Maroni and Falcone but it works, mainly because Penguin stitched all the threads together. Fish, once so over-the-top, is toned down and playing a long game, especially with the destruction of the money last week. Will Liza be found out by Falcone? Will Maroni? And what if Falcone finds out Penguin crossed him by keeping the truth about Liza from him?
4. Bullock. Donal Logue is having a great time as slovenly detective Harvey Bullock, even getting a spotlight episode and showing flashes of smarts. And he’s often slyly funny as well.
What needs work?
1. Though it pains me to say it, this list begins with Jim Gordon, supposedly the main character of the show. He started off well, playing the game of appearing to be corrupt while uncovering corruption, but his continued bull-headedness and inability to be subtle are killing the character. Instead of sympathizing with his aim at cleaning up Gotham, the audience is left thinking “yeah, that’s not very bright, Jim.” I want to see his intelligence as well as his honesty. He’s up against people who view a billionaire like Lovecraft as a pawn. Why they haven’t gotten rid of Jim or assigned himself to a crap job like guarding Arkham Asylum long before this episode? (Yes, I know. Falcone likes him. But why?)
2. Montoya and Allen. I put them here because, while I enjoy their appearances, they’re not on-screen enough for me to know who they are. Why are they so determined to fight corruption too? How is Major Crimes different from Gordon’s precinct? I may as well add some of the other cops here too, including Eddie Nygma, Essen and Alvarez, They show potential to shine but they’re just not on-screen enough.
3. Needs More Alfred. As shown by last night’s awesomeness, Alfred should be interacting with the rest of the cast more instead of being stuck as a cockney Jedi Master to Bruce’s padawan. He and Bullock made a dynamic duo last night, fire and cool, and his scene with Fish held some real heat. Careful, there, Alfred, that’s an inferno you don’t want to touch.
Again, it pays me to say it, but that’s Barbara Kean. Erin Richards is doing well with a muddled part that suffers from girlfriend syndrome. She seems to only exist as something for Gordon and Montoya to fight over, or for Falcone to use as a pawn. Give her something she can do, save pose beautifully in the clock tower that her daughter will use as the headquarters for the eventual Birds of Prey super team. I have a theory that the reason she ran off to Montoya is that she’s pregnant but that’s just going to make her the pregnant damsel in distress and isn’t progress.
My frustration with Barbara’s character, however, hasn’t significantly impacted my enjoyment of Gotham. That’s because this show consistently passes the Bechdel test and includes a wide range of female characters. This puts it in another category than, say, The Flash, in which Iris suffers from an even worse case of girlfriend syndrome, topped off by a side of stupid. Barbara sticks out in Gotham as a badly written character, rather than as a badly written character who’s the only female of significance.
What’s next after the winter break?
My hope is that there’s some movement in Gordon’s crusade, some sign of an intelligent plan to at least carve out a small corner of competent police work in Gotham. I hope the show better integrates all those quick jump cuts between characters to tell a coherent story each week instead of bits and pieces of several stories. I hope that Eddie and Oswald start fighting over Jim, given how attached they are to him. (Okay, not really, but wouldn’t you like a scene where Eddie tries to out-smart Oswald with riddles and Oswald is intrigued and amused but also getting a bit murderous?)
And I hope the show stops hitting us over the head with all these budding villains. Penguin’s carrying the show. That’s enough.
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.