Gotham Series Premiere: You Won’t Miss Batman

Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) and Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, R) attend the Waynes’ funeral.

If you’re a casual television viewer, you probably remember Jim Gordon as the bumbling commissioner on the Batman live-action television show. If you’ve seen the recent Dark Knight trilogy, you might have a more positive opinion of Gordon as a hero.

But if you’re a reader of comics, especially Batman: Year One, then you know Gordon serves an incredibly important role in the Gotham mythos: he’s Batman’s conscience and the moral center of a city already half in ruins.

This is why he was picked as the centerpoint of Gotham.

The first episode of the series nails Jim Gordon’s essential morality. There’s a line he won’t cross and shortcuts he won’t take. At least so far, because the first hour of Gotham promises some serious challenges to his worldview. It also provides Gordon an excellent counterpoint in cynical, slovenly and yet smart Detective Harvey Bullock. If Ben McKenzie doesn’t watch out, Donal Logue’s Bullock is going to steal the show from his Gordon. Watching the two of them this season together promises to be a lot of fun, especially if they can continue to exchange the wryly funny looks like the ones they gave each other while upside down on meathooks.

So what did we learn about the future of this show in the pilot?

First, we know Gordon would rather save lives, not take them, even at the risk of his own life.  This is underscored by the way he takes down the mentally ill prisoner in his first scene. It’s a fine introduction for our hero, skimping on backstory and going right to the action.

Alfred (Sean Pertwee, L) comforts Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz, R) while he attends his parents’ funeral

Second, we learned that young Bruce Wayne, Alfred and Selina (Catwoman) Kyle will be a large part of the story. That’s due to a major addition to the inevitable and horrifying murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of young Bruce: Selina saw the whole thing from a perch on a fire escape. By the end of the pilot, she’s tracked Bruce to Wayne Manor.

I like this addition. Selina is already stealing milk to feed stray cats and leaping around rooftops and thus promises to be Bruce’s introduction to the seedy side of Gotham. However, I hope they tone down her sensuality. I know she eventually becomes the sexy Catwoman but, right now, she’s a pre-teen. Let’s not get creepy, show.

And there’s Alfred, played by Sean Pertwee, as an intense former military officer fiercely protective of his newly orphaned charge. Series Executive Producer Bruce Heller said in a conference call with press last week that Alfred and Gordon will be somewhat opposing father figures for young Bruce. I can already see the tension between them.

Third, we learned that Oswald Cobblepot, eventually Penguin, is likely going to be the Big Bad for the whole season. Gordon’s act of mercy in letting Oswald escape is going to bite him in the ass. It already has since, at the end, Oswald murders a man after he crawls up from the Gotham river. Gordon already has his hands dirty, in one sense. I see angst approaching on the horizon and a bloody trail behind Oswald. 

Jada Pinkett Smith stars as Fish Mooney.

Fourth, much as I like Jada Pinkett Smith, her portrayal of Fish Mooney was the weak link in this episode. Fish was so over-the-top in her villainy that it almost feels like she’s in one of Joel Schumacher’s cheesy Batman films rather than in the more realistic and noir-like environs of Gotham.

But Fish is obviously important to the plot. She’s the one running a gang, she’s possibly involved in the Waynes’ murder, and she’s the one who determined Oswald had to die. She’s also the one auditioning a comedian in a scene where she’s beating the crap out of Oswald. I didn’t pay much attention to the beating because I was thinking “are they setting up the Joker by keeping the stand-up comic in that scene? Will he show up again?”

That better not be a throwaway, show.

Fish is an original character and her fate could go several ways but I’m guessing she dies gruesomely. I hope she acquires a more interesting personality before her inevitable demise.

Fifth, it’s just plain weird for a long-time Batman comics reader to see Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen as not only contemporaries to Jim Gordon but his superiors in the force. At the end of the first hour, the pair believes Gordon’s corrupt and will probably continue to believe it until he trusts them enough to clue them into his one-man sting operation against Gotham’s underworld.

I look forward to an eventual friendship developing between the three of them but that’s not going to be easy as there’s one other new wrinkle the show tosses out: Gordon’s fiancée Barbara Kean and Det. Montoya have a romantic history. Not a surprise for Montoya, as she’s a lesbian in the comics. It is a surprise for Barbara Kean, whose personality has rarely been fleshed out in the comics. Barbara steams up the screen with Jim, then tossing around lots of UST with Montoya. I’m intrigued.

The pilot moved so fast and set up so much that there wasn’t much of two characters also eagerly anticipated by comic fans: Edward (Riddler) Nygma and Police Lt. Sarah Essen. Nygma did get in some riddles, however. And, okay, I’m probably one of the few anticipating Essen because I love her and she’s gotten a raw deal in the comics, going from femme fatale to Gordon’s second wife, to dead, to limbo. (Comics, everyone!) But Essen is one of the few three-dimensional female characters created by Frank Miller. (Comic writer Gail Simone once quipped that Miller’s women run the gamut of whore to dead whore.) Therefore, I want Essen to finally shine. She’s white in the comics but is being played by an African-American actress, a move to add diversity to Gotham that I applaud. She’s also Jim’s boss now, which should make things rather awkward if a romantic relationship develops.

What’s next?

Detective Gordon is going to regret letting Oswald go.

The pilot ends with a new status quo. Bullock and Gordon are sort-of owned by crime boss Carmine Falcone, though Gordon has his own plans, young Bruce is seething, Selina is watching and waiting, Montoya and Allen are looking to investigate Gordon for corruption, Barbara might be doubting her fiancée, and Oswald is walking around in a murderous rage, bent on revenge against Fish and Falcone.

So, things are falling apart in Gotham. Must be Monday. Tune in next week, same Gotham-time, some Gotham-channel for another recap.


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.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.

Comments

  1. Maya

    Good analysis. I too was very intrigued by the Montoya/Kean tension. I agree that it’s just a matter of time before Montoya & Allen figure out Gordon is one of the good guys, I’m hoping it happens soon because I think there is a lot of potential there.

    I wasn’t thrilled with Alfred but I realize he hasn’t been on screen long enough for me to form an informed opinion.

    I’m also glad I wasn’t the only one who was worried about how Selina was being portrayed. She’s too young for the catwoman sensuality and I hope they tone down the poses. Yes, we get it, she’s going to grow up to be Catwoman. I’d like it better if she was shown in more atheletic movements.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of Fish Mooney because she felt very one dimensional to me.

    I really liked Jim Gordon and how he’s been put in the position he is in. He has to play a role which goes against everything he believes. How many compromises to his principles will he have to make and at what cost to himself in the process?

  2. Stephan R

    When was the original series version of Gordon a bumbler? I remember him as level headed, conservative and thoughtful. When a supervillian was on the loose, he called Batman. He didn’t “bumble” something and then call Batman. It was Chief O’Hara who was the bumbler. Gordon always seemed like a strong leader and, actually, often showed up to help the dynamic duo out of jams when they were caught. He always had batman’s back.

  3. Maya

    I saw Jim Gordon as an idealistic young rookie detective who is just learning the ropes. I peresonally didn’t get the impression of bumbling but I did get the impression of a newbie who isn’t sure of himself at all. Usually when he shows up he has many years under his belt and he’s the strong leader. I see this as his back story more than anybody elses. I *think* this show is going to show us how a young idealistic Jim Gordon grows up to be the man who not only has Batman’s back but why he would put his faith in Batman, when this young man wouldn’t be as ready to do so.

    The final scene when he’s talking to Bruce about the compromises he has to make in order to clean up the department from the inside was I thought foreshadowing of their lifelong relationship. Both of them will be making more compromises and doing things that at this moment they can’t possibly imagine.

    The Jim Gordon I saw last night would thrive in a city like Metropolis. So,how does that young idealist evovle in the Jim Gordon who leads the Gotham police department is the story that is being told.

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