The Batman origin story embraces chaos in season 5.

I’m so happy Fox was insane enough to bring back Gotham. The garish supersoap wrapped last year with an apocalyptic finale that demolished every bridge out of crazy town. Now the final season starts with poor Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) holed up in police headquarters, which has become a resource-depleted green zone in a city of luscious chaos. Gordon calls the mainland for help, on a two-way radio that looks rather Roosevelt-y. (Count on this show for flea market chic!) The government gives him a stern warning: “No one is allowed in or out of Gotham.”

Who’d want to leave? Everybody’s here, and every baddie’s got a neighborhood. Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) owns the ammo factory, so he lives in Art Deco splendor in City Hall, feeding his dog overcooked steak while his starving minions serenade him. Barbara (the wonderful Erin Richards) has massive stores of food on lock inside the Sirens Club, her safe-space feminist discotheque. At Sirens, the party’s still popping three months post-civilization: Kids, life finds a way! Society’s trending religious — and not the fun kind of religion, think Seventh Seal. Scarecrow (David W. Thompson) is off crucifying people. There are whispers of a fairy-tale witch in the poisonous garden. And a burgeoning death cult is putting Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) on stained glass windows.

Credit: Giovanni Rufino / FOX

The whole “Gotham City gets amputated into a stateless Westeros-of-supervillains” idea previously served as plot foundation for 2011’s Arkham City and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. (The title of this season, “No Man’s Land,” homages a 1999 comics storyline.) Gotham brings crazypants eccentricity to a familiar Bat-plot, though, plus a final-act feeling that the safety’s off. The first three episodes overflow with bullet-y standoffs, blood feuds declared, unexpected explosions. “One hundred thousand rounds of ammunition to whoever kills Jim Gordon!” counts as a low-key piece of conversation. There’s even, good lord, a bazooka blast of topicality: Here’s a city full of refugees America won’t help, broken families fending for themselves behind a cruel impassable border.

Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is now a stern teen with a gadget or two, and the show can feel dedicated to certain limitations of the origin story format. The first few episodes suffer, too, from the absence of Monaghan, who’s already given two great performances as two different (maybe-)Jokers. But the anarchic setting encourages some truly ravenous performances. Taylor’s always had fun as Penguin, and now he’s exploring new stratospheres of fussy egomania, living in perpetual third-hour-of-Scarface decadent paranoia.

And Richards’ Barbara will stand as Gotham‘s best contribution to Dark Knight history. Way back in season 1, she was introduced with love interest-y blandness, Jim Gordon’s frequently distressed damsel caught in a cheesy bisexual love triangle. Then she killed her parents and broke bad playing dress-up: The Bruce Wayne origin story, backward and in heels! Now she’s the vengeful empress of her own club kingdom, and I love how Richards gloriously pinpoints the character’s melodrama and the high comedy. A question I always ask myself watching Gotham: Is Barbara the real hero here? Early in season 5, some dumbo tries to cross her. Her response: “I will rip out your heart!” Reader, I applauded.

I love the show’s sincere commitment to everything campy about the Caped Crusader. And there’s something fully giallo about this final season, all these impeccably dressed cops in a broken city of masked horror. At one point, a gang of Mad Maxy hoodlums attacks Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue)… and a steel-tipped arrow punches through his armored color. “It’s a freakin’ arrow, Jim!” he says, tone of voice sounding simultaneously afraid, exasperated, and delighted. That’s Gotham country. B+

Episode Recaps

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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