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'Gotham' boss on crafting 'iconic' final moment in season finale

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Jessica Miglio/Fox

As the war in Gotham reaches a boiling point, the Fox drama about a young Dark Knight (among others) looks to close out its first season with an iconic image that will leave fans wanting more.

During Monday’s finale, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) makes a triumphant return as she aims to be the Queen of Gotham. But she’s not alone in her quest: the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) will stop at nothing to inherit the throne—even if it means killing off his predecessors. Can Gordon (Ben McKenzie) put a stop to the violence before Gotham tears itself apart? EW caught up with executive producer Bruno Heller to discuss his process for creating the perfect season finale. (The Gotham boss was among a slew of showrunners who contributed to our season finale piece in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, which is on stands now.)  

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you sit down to craft a season finale, what’s the first thing you do?

BRUNO HELLER: First order of business is to make sure we have tied up all the story and told all the story that we want to tell for that season. When you’ve got so many characters and storylines running, sometimes you want to leave people hanging. Then, it’s looking at the whole season and knowing what that whole season has been about. With this one especially, the challenge is that there’s so many great things to reveal and stories to hit the high point on. It’s about which one you leave the audience with rather than how to leave the audience. In this case, there’s a very iconic moment.

Is it difficult to find the right balance of giving fans answers while also leaving things open for next season?Absolutely. It’s really just the judgment. We think and talk about it a lot. For the most part, I hope we get it right, but it’s one of those things that there’s no science to. It’s an art and opinion. With these stories, with these DC characters, who are so vivid and colorful and larger than life, it’s an embarrassment of riches. You don’t want to be too big. I’m always aware this is an ongoing process and ongoing entertainment. You want to build dynamics into it. With this storytelling, you can keep climbing, and we intend to keep climbing.

The trick of that is not to throw everything at people in the first moment. This is the first chapter of a much longer story. That’s the only limitation really, otherwise there are so many great characters and so much story to tell that people are already familiar with these characters to a degree. They’re intimate with them. The sky’s the limit. It’s about trying to give as much as you possible can, but still at the same time leave people wanting more.

What’s the most challenging part of writing a season finale, and what’s the easiest?

The hardest thing after a season’s worth of storytelling—and I think people probably don’t realize how much week by week the storytelling is not improv—but the story doesn’t necessarily go where you thought it would in the beginning, except for the broadest strokes for the arcs. The hardest thing is making sure there’s room to tell all the story you need to tell in the very precise and limited time that you have to tell the story. The fun part is, because you’re telling episodic stories, there’s so much you’re holding back that you want to leave to that last minute. So being able to deliver the show-stoppers, if you like, is the fun part of it. The big climatic fights, the huge revelations—that’s the stuff you save for the curtain.

Did it bum you out creatively when news got out that Jada Pinkett Smith was only sticking around for one year?

Technically, business wise it bums out the process, but for me personally, not at all because all publicity is good publicity. Also if it was a boxing match or sports entertainment, and it’s all about who won and who was standing at the end, then it would be a problem. Stories are much more complicated than that. It’s about how anyone goes out, not whether they go out.

I never say never. I love working with Jada. The character is a great character. The one technical issue that is forced on us by this kind of stuff is that you have to be sure that you’re paying full attention to that character in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily do if things were different. Servicing all the story that you create over the course of the season, and suddenly you’re at the last episode of the season—you’re like, “Oh dear, we’ve actually got to wrap this up.” It’s so much fun to keep telling these stories. It’s nice if you can just keep humming, but sometimes there has to be a hardout. That’s the technical problem when characters are leaving, or when a story is leaving for the season. But it’s really about making sure the audience has something to enjoy even if they have an idea of what the outcome might be. It’s not a sporting event.

See how Gotham ends its freshman season Monday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.