Gotham ends its freshman season in a confusing place.
Gotham’s first season ends much as it lived—with confusion, poorly plotted scenes and by turning a blind eye to everything that makes Batman great. To say “All Happy Families Are Alike” is a letdown would be to expect too much from this finale to begin with. But after this week’s episode finally cuts to black and the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel like the entire first year was a missed opportunity.
Even though Gotham had 20 episodes to build up to something compelling, the first season finale came off rushed and tossed together. In fact, even the characters themselves seemed unsure of what was happening moment to moment.
As we saw in the final minutes of last week’s “The Anvil or the Hammer,” Gotham opens in the middle of an all-out gang war between Carmine Falcone and Salvatore Maroni. This end-of-days blood feud was initially sparked by Penguin, who hired killers to act like Falcone’s men to assassinate Maroni. When they botched the job, Maroni responded with furious anger and began systematically eliminating Falcone’s businesses.
This brings us up to date, and Gotham wastes absolutely no time in squandering the set-up. Fish Mooney appears out of the mist and meets Selina Kyle, who’s just bumming on the shore. Mooney is dressed like some kind of Jedi (or maybe Sith is more appropriate), says some cryptic double-speak about it being a new day and continues on her way.
The problem? We haven’t seen Fish Mooney for two episodes, and the last time we saw her, it looked like she was about to die. She certainly looks fine now. What happened to her? How did she survive? If they’re not going to address it, then why shoot her in the first place at all?
NEXT: The Birth of the Batcave
After that happens, Gotham jumps forward two weeks later to a harried Bruce Wayne doing his best Captain Ahab impression while searching for the “white whale”: the secret of his father, Thomas Wayne. This all stems from last week’s discussion with Lucius Fox (actually a great little scene) about how Wayne Sr. led a “double life” and that he was a “stoic.”
While a gang war explodes throughout Gotham City’s streets and other plot points unravel (we’ll get to that in a second), Bruce spends his whole time—much like he has this entire season—in that well-known, wood-paneled study. He begins ravenously searching high and low for some kind of secret, any secret that would help explain Fox’s cryptic message. With piles and piles of books stacked taller than Bruce, he and Alfred slump in defeat. No luck. There’s nothing. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce and finishes with the phrase: “There are none so blind.” Bruce recognizes the line as a phrase by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Really? He’s like 12), then puts together that Aurelius was known for being a stoic. He finds the book he’s looking for and—bam. There it is. A secret compartment reveals a button.
This is some impressive detective work by Bruce Wayne, but if Lucius Fox knew this secret, why didn’t he just tell Bruce “hey go look for that Aurelius book when you get home”? All the cloak and dagger subterfuge doesn’t make that much sense in hindsight. But regardless, the button reveals a secret passage to… somewhere. We hear the squeaking and flapping of bats, so it’s probably safe to say that this is the future batcave. This is all a little different from how Bruce originally found the batcave, and the show seems to be doing away with the whole “I’m afraid of bats” thing, which is pretty much the entire reason why Wayne chooses the animal as his crime fighting totem in the first place.
But while Bruce takes one step closer to being the Caped Crusader, Gotham’s one and only dark knight is James Gordon. Gordon and his girlfriend, Leslie Thompkins, are still helping Barbara after her mind-altering encounter with The Ogre. It seems Barbara has been regularly visiting Leslie for psych checkups for a while (never mind that Leslie works at a police station, I guess, and not a hospital).
Whatever the case, Barbara asks Thompkins to be her psychiatrtist, and she reluctantly agrees. (That this has to be some kind of breach of medical ethics, but it doesn’t come up.) Throughout the entire episode Thompkins never leaves Barbara’s apartment. She asks her questions about her kidnapping, while Babs constantly deflects to ask her questions about Jim. It’s not some of this season’s most inspiring dialogue, and acts as an awkward juxtaposition to the fast-paced action happening throughout the rest of the show.
Eventually Barbara reveals that it was she who killed her parents willingly last week, and (as she describes the grisly details), Barbara grabs a kitchen knife in hopes of repeating the act against Leslie. There’s the requisite fight, with Leslie finally winning out right as Jim arrives with Harvey Bullock and Carmine Falcone.
Barbara has been problematic for the entire season, and this felt like the final blow. What is Gotham doing with this character? At this point, I have to believe they’re going completely off-book with Barbara, and maybe she isn’t the true love of his life. Maybe they should just make her Harley Quinn, The Joker’s well-known sidekick, and be done with it. Oh wait, the Joker is like… 16 right now. *Hard sigh*
But let’s rewind the tape real quick and focus on the main action of the episode this week: Carmine vs. Maroni. While Falcone is on the docks looking at a female chicken and saying how he “likes her style” (really Gotham editors?), a grenade launcher nearly kills the mob boss. He wakes up in some creepy abandoned hospital room where Maroni is supposed to send men to finally finish the job.
But Penguin gets there first.
After some required arch-villain posturing, Penguin is about to put the scalpel to Carmine’s throat, when none other but Jim Gordon appears. (He heard a tip that Falcone was hospitalized.) Jim arrests Penguin and his sidekick, Butch Gilzean, and waits for Maroni’s men to show. Eventually they do, and a gun battle ensues. But… if you watch closely, Gordon flees the room where Falcone and Penguin are, and is chased through the hospital while Maroni’s thugs run right past the room to chase Gordon. You’re not here to kill Gordon. You’re here to kill Falcone, and you just walk by his room? And for what? Why?
NEXT: The Final Joke
As silly as that sequence was, the Gotham finale still managed to get more ridiculous. Gordon and crew flee to one of Falcone’s safe houses, where he says he’ll turn the tide against Maroni and win the war. But who should be there waiting for him but Catwoman (all done up with new hair and a strange getup) and Fish Mooney.
Another sigh: The entire season of Gotham builds up Selina Kyle as a character who listens to no one, and yet ends by making her a lackey to Fish Mooney?
She holds Falcone and friends hostage, calls Maroni, and he shows up to kill ‘em all. But before he can do that, he, of course, has to posture and prod and then makes a fatal mistake—he makes fun of Fish. She unhesitatingly puts a bullet in his brain. RIP Maroni.
What follows is complete chaos—and not the good kind. Gordon, Bullock and Falcone escape (and the Penguin just disappears), and Falcone takes the time to tell Gordon that he’s just going to give it up, meaning literally everything Jim has been doing this entire episode makes no difference at all.
They then run into a storage container (?) even though they know they are checking them. Surprise: Gordon, Bullock and Falcone are caught by Selina Kyle, who then delivers a line that is sure to make comic fans, Batman fans, and Selina Kyle fans everywhere cringe: “Cat got your tongue.”
They bring Falcone back to the hideout where Mooney then does her own posturing and everyone seems to have conveniently forgot Penguin, who is very much alive and pulls out a machine gun and mows down Mooney’s henchmen. She escapes up some steps and Penguin chases after her.
After they fight—and after Butch has an identity crisis, filled with indecision over whom to shoot because of his brainwashing—Penguin screams, “Goodbye Fish.” She responds with, “It’s all good.” (Really?) And the Penguin bum-rushes Mooney off the edge and she plummets, off camera, to her supposed watery grave.
Here’s a question: What did Fish Mooney do? When you have two major crime bosses, why have an underboss as a main character at all? Why send her to creep island to be cut up and stitched back together? All she really did was shoot Maroni and really anyone could have done that. Her character proved to be very extraneous to the entire show.
Which is just one of the many reasons why Gotham feels so messy as it ends season 1. The writers have written so many characters into inescapable holes—and built a plot on such a shaky foundation—that salvaging the show for future seasons will take quite an effort. Whether fans return to Gotham for season 2 remains a question—but the only place to go is up.