Gotham, Season 1: The backstories of Gotham’s heroes and villains

Gotham TV series review BatmanGotham, Season 1

This is such a great idea for a TV series. We all know the basic story of the Batman thanks to the venerable comics franchise, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, and the recent Christopher Nolan DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY of films. It seems like origin stories are very trendy these days, and it’s an obvious direction to go to expand the reach of any popular franchise. But who would have thought to explore the origins of all the notorious villains of Gotham City while centering the story on rookie detective James Gordon and his cynical older partner Harvey Bullock, the recently-orphaned young Bruce Wayne and his protector/butler Alfred Pennyworth, street urchin and survivor Selina Kyle, and a whole host of criminals like Mafia bosses Carmine Falcone, Salvatore Maroni, and Fish Mooney. You will also get early glimpses of infamous villains like Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Scarecrow, and Joker. The greatest pleasure of the show is picking up on all the little clues dropped as to who might eventually turn into these villains, and how their later relationships and actions were formed early on. So I will be careful to avoid any kind of spoilers in that area.

Overall, I absolutely loved Season 1. The cinematography and stories are so atmospheric, dark, and creepy, reminding me of David Fincher’s Seven, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Tim Burton’s Batman. The show is quite violent and disturbing, so I was initially concerned that my 13-year old daughter was so into it, but it is also filled with humor, irony, foreshadowing, and a love for the iconic heroes and villains of Gotham. It never loses sight of entertaining while telling compelling stories about both good and bad characters, and how each have aspects of both. The villains often steal the show with menace and charisma, especially the sultry Fish Mooney and awkward Oswald Cobblepot. We know they are the bad guys, and the things they do are wrong, but they are complex individuals with codes of ethics and honor among thieves.

Jim Gordon (played by Ben McKenzie of The O.C. and Southland), the only honest cop in Gotham City, stands out that much brighter for insisting on doing the right thing, fighting the rampant corruption of the Gotham City Police Department, the crooked Commissioner Loeb, and dirty Mayor Aubrey James. The highlight of the show is his constant banter with his older, cynical mentor Harvey Bullock, a grizzled senior detective who’s seen and done everything, not all ethical, and has some close relationships with criminals. He just wants to survive, and Jim’s insistent refusal to compromise and take the easy route makes life hard for Harvey, as he constantly bemoans. They have a great cop partner relationship, and it’s very believable.

The other important relationship is between the young and vulnerable Bruce Wayne, who was forced to see first-hand his wealthy and powerful parents Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down by a masked criminal. David Mazouz amazingly captures both his injured innocence, subsumed rage at his parents’ murder, and intense loneliness and alienation from other children and society. Alfred Pennyworth is his protector and butler, a British man of quiet strength and fortitude, who is forced to serve as a father figure for young Master Bruce. His voice is a rich and warm baritone — I wish I had a British uncle like him. Their tiny world is then invaded by the street-smart urchin Selina Kyle. She and Bruce are as different as any two kids could be, but there are some sparks of youthful attraction. Their relationship grows and changes throughout the show.

Here are brief descriptions of each episode that I hope will entice you into watching the show. Once you start, I doubt you’ll be able to stop. My entire family is very excited to see Season 2, Rise of the Villains, which started airing in Sep. 2015.

Episode 1, “Pilot” – James Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock are assigned the high-profile murder case of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Harvey wants nothing to do with it, as the investigation gets them dangerously involved with underworld criminals Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot, and Carmine Falcone. Jim and Harvey find themselves in trouble with Falcone, and Jim is put to the test at the end in a climactic scene with Cobblepot.

Episode 2, “Selina Kyle” – Homeless kids are being abducted from the streets by a creepy couple posing as members of a Homeless Outreach Program, and Selina Kyle is one their targets. Gordon and Bullock are on the case and discover that Selina may know something about the Wayne murders.

Episode 3, “The Balloonman” – This episode is really dark and sinister fun. A mysterious Balloonman is targeting well-known corrupt public figures in Gotham and attaching weather balloons to them, sending them off into the stratosphere. Showing a ruthless survival instinct, Cobblepot manages to land a job as a dish-washer at Maroni’s restaurant.

Episode 4, “Arkham” – Gordon learns about the Arkham Project, a big budget renovation of the run-down Arkham neighborhood that includes the notorious Arkham Asylum. It seems that both Falcone and Maroni have their fingers in this pie, as does the Mayor, and then a mysterious hitman starts knocking off city councilmen on both sides of the struggle. Fish Mooney also conducts a very harsh tryout for two young ladies wanting to work at her nightclub.

Episode 5, “Viper” – Lots of story arcs involved in this one. A new drug called “Viper” is hitting the streets, giving people superhuman strength for just brief periods, causing havoc in the city. Bruce Wayne decides to investigate the board members of Wayne Enterprises to learn their connections with the Arkham Project. Cobblepot, Fish Mooney, Maroni, Falcone, and other bad guys continue to scheme in an ever-escalating power struggle.

Episode 6, “Spirit of the Goat” – Harvey Bullock has a nasty blast from the past as a copycat killer is mimicking the exact M.O. of a serial killer who he killed 10 years ago. Jim and Harvey work to track down the new killer. At the same time, two other detectives are investigating Gordon as the prime suspect for killing Cobblepot.

Episode 7, “Penguin’s Umbrella” – Here’s where the various subplots and schemes of Cobblepot, Falcone, Maroni, Fish Mooney, and others get even more tangled amid an escalating mob war. Cobblepot, the awkward and soft-spoken sycophant of the early episodes, shows he is tougher and more devious than anyone gave him credit for. At the same time, Jim and Harvey’s relationship is tested.

Episode 8, “The Mask” – In this episode we see Bruce Wayne forced to leave Wayne Manor and enter a fancy prep school. Predictably, he gets picked on by rich-kid bullies, and asks Alfred to teach him techniques to fight back. At the same time, a mysterious corporate fight club emerges at a securities firm, where applicants need to fight for the death to get the job. It’s a pretty ham-fisted caricature of unfettered greed and capitalism, and didn’t really fit in with the rest of the series.

Episode 9, “Harvey Dent” – Finally we meet the famous prosecutor as a fresh young crime-buster eager to take down big-shot criminals. Jim Gordon, who is equally stalwart and passionate, is taken aback to encounter someone like Dent in the corrupt Gotham PD. They are both eager to solve the Wayne murders. The episode begins when bomb-maker Ian Hargrove is kidnapped by Russian mobsters now opposed to Falcone. Selina Kyle is also moved to Wayne Manor to protect her as a valuable witness, and she and young Wayne have some memorable exchanges.

Episode 10, “Lovecraft” – Assassins attack Wayne Manor hunting for Selina Kyle, and Alfred has to fight them off to allow Bruce and Selina to escape to the city. Selina takes Bruce to an underground lair where street kids live. They meet Ivy Pepper, a strange young girl with a green and black striped sweater. Dent is after a wealthy businessman Lovecraft who he suspects is behind the Wayne murders. In the pursuit, Jim and Selina tangle with the same assassins in a warehouse. In the aftermath, Mayor James demotes Jim Gordon to Arkham Asylum as a security guard.

Episode 11, “Rogues’ Gallery” – Jim Gordon is now a lowly security guard at Arkham, under the hostile supervision of Dr. Gerry Lang (Isiah Whitlock, Jr., who played one of my favorite characters from The Wire). Arkham is a bizarre 200-year-old facility filled with homicidal maniacs, so when a patient turns up with his brain fried by electro-therapy, the list of suspects is very long. Jim conducts a hilarious series of interviews with the asylum patients, each more crazy than the last. He also meets the attractive Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Meanwhile, there is the usual scheming and double-crosses among the mobsters, as Fish Mooney makes a play for Falcone’s position as head of the family.

Episode 12, “What the Little Bird Told Him” – There’s a whole lot happening in this one. The two escapees from Arkham are causing mayhem, so Gordon is reinstated for 24 hours to catch them. Fish Mooney hatches a plot to bring down Falcone, while Maroni faces off against an old enemy. Cobblepot interferes with Fish’s plot, and gains the upper hand at her expense. It’s action-packed and a lot of fun.

Episode 13, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon” – Fish Mooney finds herself the prisoner of Falcone, while Jim Gordon encounters a sleazy narc detective named Arnold Flass. While in custody, a witness is killed, and Gordon suspects Flass. He wants to pursue this, but his boss Sarah Essen informs him Flass is “protected” and that he should back off. Being Gordon, this just makes him more determined to take Flass down. Butch comes to Fish’s aid, and she decides to leave town to avoid the heat. All of a sudden Selina Kyle claims she didn’t see the Wayne murders.

Episode 14, “The Fearsome Doctor Crane” – Finally, we are introduced to serial killer Gerald Crane, who extracts victims’ adrenal glands and uses their worst fears against them. He creates a serum that he thinks will make him immune to fear. Meanwhile, Harvey Bullock joins a support group that is being terrorized by Gerald Crane, and falls for the attractive redhead who leads the group. Cobblepot and Maroni take a trip upstate to a cabin with interesting results (which reminded me of a Sopranos episode). Forensics expert Edward Nygma frames the medical examiner, creating an opening for Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who Jim is dating.

Episode 15, “The Scarecrow” – Jim and Harvey investigate Gerald Crane further, discovering his experiments with fear. When they track him down, he injects his son with a massive dose of adrenal gland extract. His son Jonathan Crane is put into a coma, forced to see an endless series of terrifying visions. Meanwhile, Mooney is kidnapped and taken to a strange underground prison where people are being kept for a sinister purpose. In typical Fish style, she quickly takes over.

Episode 16, “The Blind Fortune Teller” – Here’s an interesting episode that features a creepy young man named Jerome in Haly’s Circus, at which two rival groups get into a brawl, the Flying Graysons and the Lloyds. Batman fans will immediately recognize some foreshadowing here, even if it breaks from the continuity of other Batman stories. Jerome’s mother, a snake dancer, is murdered and Jim and Harvey investigate.

Episode 17, “Red Hood” – A bank robbing gang gains an identity as the Red Hood Gang when one of the members dons a red hood and throws around money to hide their escape. However, honor among thieves is fleeting and the hood changes hands several times. Separately, Fish discovers her prison is an organ farm run by the evil Dr. Dulmacher, a.k.a. the Dollmaker. An old war buddy of Alfred, Reginald Payne, visits Wayne Manor and is taken in.

Episode 18, “Everyone Has a Cobblepot” – Jim and Harvey find out that Arnold Flass has been reinstated by Commissioner Loeb, making it clear that Loeb is crooked. They investigate his upstate farm, hoping to find his hidden files with blackmail info on most of the cops on the force. They find an unexpected person instead. Meanwhile, Fish Mooney tries to ally herself with the Dollmaker, until she discovers their location is not what she had thought.

Episode 19, “Beasts of Prey” – Bruce Wayne has been investigating potential illegal activities at Wayne Enterprises, and insists on meeting the Board of Directors. Meanwhile, Jim and Harvey investigate a cold murder case of a young woman who was apparently held prisoner before being killed. Through flashbacks, we learn there is a handsome and wealthy serial killer called The Ogre who preys on young women, imprisons them, and kills them when he tires of them.

Episode 20, “Under the Knife” – Harvey reveals to Jim why The Ogre has not been investigated for all these years. Bruce Wayne decides to attend a Wayne Enterprises charity ball with Selina Kyle to learn more about what the board members are up to. Cobblepot hatches a plot to get back at Maroni. Awkward forensics expert Nygma, who has been repeatedly rejected by a co-worker in favor of uncouth police goons, takes his revenge too far. Jim and Harvey learn chilling new details about the Ogre.

Episode 21, “The Anvil or the Hammer” – The Ogre co-opts Jim’s girlfriend, who is vulnerable and shaken since she has discovered Jim’s romance with Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Jim and Harvey track down the Ogre to Barbara’s parents’ house, with shocking results. Bruce Wayne learns more about Wayne Enterprises than he wanted to, calling into question his beliefs about his father. Meanwhile, Cobblepot succeeds in igniting a gang war between Falcone and Maroni.

Episode 22, “All Happy Families Are Alike” – This is the final climactic episode of Season 1. The mob war breaks out in spectacular fashion, embroiling Falcone, Maroni, Cobblepot, Fish Mooney, Butch, Jim, Harvey, Loeb, and a host of mafia soldiers. There are a ton of shootouts, double-crosses, fights and chases, as befits a season finale. Nygma reveals signs of his future self, while Bruce and Alfred discover an important secret in Wayne Manor.


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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 13 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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