By Darren Franich
April 25, 2019 at 09:00 PM EDT
FOX
type
  • TV Show
Network
Genre

Typical Gotham, always too much.

Fox’s pre-Batman saga had, by my count, three different series finales. Technically, season 5 ended Thursday. “The Beginning…” felt more like an epilogue, though, skipping forward a decade while sacrificing two day-one cast members. And it was also a prologue, table-setting the characters for their legendary journeys. See Commissioner Gordon on the rooftop. See the Dark Knight emerging from the shadows. See the Joker, for real this time. See The Batman Story.

Fine, but what about this Batman story? Last week’s “They Did What?” was the proper climax, uniting the community of crazies in one final showdown against the forces of (more) evil. And the final hour filmed for this series aired last month. “The Trial of Jim Gordon” was added late in the order. “How will we fit a new story into our rigidly constructed continuity?” is not a question you worry about the Gotham writers asking. And “Trial” had a sweetly handmade quality: written by Gordon Himself, Ben McKenzie; directed by Barbara Herself, Erin Richards. It was one of those “love letter to the characters”-type episodes. Typical Gotham, this love letter featured an actual wedding.

Somewhere between those three endings is the one that’s just right: Bloody, sappy, explosive, campy, funny, generations of Batmyth tossed in a blender, every genre possible stewed into a high-tech, supernatural, ultraviolent cartoon. The final statement came last week from Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), declaring once and for all that his blood pumps through Gotham’s broken concrete. (It’s Gotham, man, all the concrete is broken.)

“The Beginning…” was a bit of a letdown from those endings only because it was so much more obvious. In the opening scene, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) walks off a boat toward distant mountains, promising he’ll “return when I know I’m able to protect the people I love.” Flash forward 10 years, and everything looks familiar. Gordon has a mustache. Oswald’s gone Full Penguin, exiting Blackgate after nine and a half years in the clink. Ed (Cory Michael Smith) has gone Full Riddler, long-terming in Arkham, plotting callbacks to old plots.

Also in Arkham: Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan), a comatose vegetable, his face scarblasted pale. He’s only faking. And Monaghan’s final-phase demi-Joker is three exclamation points stapled onto a straightforward rescue plotline. Harvey (Donal Logue) is in trouble, he’ll be fine. There is a gala interrupted by a bomb, quickly defused. Barbara Lee (Jeté Laurence) is in trouble, not for long. Gordon’s thinking of retiring, he won’t. Penguin wants Gordon dead, he lives.

There’s one major miscalculation: Mazouz pretty much disappears after the first scene, and long-running Catkid Camren Bicondova wrapped her run as Selina Kyle last week. Bicondova wrote a thoughtful letter about this decision, and the general disappearance of the teen-phase characters contributes to overall feeling that “The Beginning…” stands apart from the rest of the show.

Lili Simmons was okay as adult Selina. Making this Catwoman a glitter-dressed It Girl Around Town felt off-key, though. The punk went glam, I guess, but I missed Bicondova’s spiky quality, the way she could make Selina look entirely over it, even when “it” was city-tormenting death squads led by resurrected murder maniacs.

Then the very last shot: Batman. Your mileage may vary. I yawned: This again. The finale felt deferential to the hero’s origin, and I preferred the show when it was defacing its own lore, pushing its performers to stratospheres of scenery chewing.

So I loved the way-too-brief scenes with Barbara, now a red-haired real-estate empress. Bruce, we’re told, is returning home because his company finally rebuilt Wayne Tower, a glassily modern skyscraper looking down on the rest of the city. Barbara dismisses the monumental structure. “In three months, he won’t have the tallest building on Gotham anymore,” she says. Roughly translated: Hey, Batman, Mine’s Bigger.

Barbara also calls out Jim for his facial hair choice, teasing him about “that caterpillar on your top lip.” He shaves immediately. You get the vibe the story’s not done between these two. And if there is any justice, the addition of Barbara to the mythos will be Gotham’s most direct influence on the broader Bat-brand. She’s still one-upping local paragons Gordon and Bruce Wayne. Her daughter will become their dual heir — the future Batgirl — but Barbara’s raising her, part of the week at least. Imagine the stories Mom’s telling Barbara Lee about the men who think they run Gotham.

The show brought a lot to comics-adjacent culture in this extremely Batty decade. It’s a kick to see Taylor and Smith bedecked in purple-green villain attire, jailbreaking out the back of a police car like olden-times baddies. There’s that essential silliness Gotham brought back to its world, mixed with all the bloodbathery a broadcast network could allow in these degenerate days.

Which brings us back to Monaghan. His version of Jokerdom evolved from goofy to incisive to transcendent, moving beyond the Valeska twins into an unsettling depiction of insanity spreading virally. In his fifth or sixth distinct guest-star performance, Monaghan sounded like he was doing a soft Brando impression here. One last fun appearance from a dominating character, whose collective 20 episodes form an essential counter-origin.

Monaghan’s last big scene was vintage Gotham, crossing an ancient bit of comic book iconography with a new-wave kinky edge. See Joker at Ace Chemicals, dangling a victim over an ocean of green acid. He sounds, somehow, like a jilted romantic, pining for the one that got away. Listen to this makeup monstrosity talk about Bruce Wayne. “He just abandoned us,” the madman says. “Do you know how it feels to have the one, the only thing you love ripped away from you?”

And the batarang stabs in the back of his hand. And the madman laughs, ecstatic, triumphant. And love lives in Gotham.

Finale grade: B

Series grade: B+


More TV reviews:

Ben McKenzie and David Mazouz star in a dramatic look at what Gotham City looked like before Bruce Wayne became Batman.
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seasons
  • 5
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  • 09/22/14
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