Gotham is the crime drama series based on DC Comics’ Batman universe. Having premiered on Fox in the autumn of 2014, the show initially focused on young versions of James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). Over time, though, the series introduced younger iterations of well-known villains in the Batman franchise, as well as lesser-known characters to provide a wider representation of the Dark Knight’s universe. Additionally, with Season Two, the episodes were grouped into “Rise of the Villains” (Episodes 1-11) and “Wraith of the Villains” (Episode 12-22), and that concept was continued in Season Three, with Episodes 1-14 grouped into “Mad Love” and Episodes 15-22, under the subtitle of “Heroes Rise.”
Warning: A proliferation of spoilers are contained in this review.
Concepts deriving from the overarching themes were weaved throughout the various storylines. Betrayal is often associated with love, and this theme was well represented throughout the season. Between lovers, siblings, work colleagues, and enemies, betrayal was a symptom of the deterioration of Gotham. Gordon tried to take the high road with his ex-fiancé Lee (Morena Baccarin) who moved on to a relationship with Dr. Mario Calvi (James Carpinello) and fell into an uneasy sexual relationship with Valerie Vale (Jamie Chung) that included a number of lies and betrayals due to their goals arising from their respective jobs – bounty hunter and reporter. But, the downfall between Gordon and Vale came when he is forced by Jervis Tetch (Benedict Samuel) to choose between Vale or Lee in “Follow the White Rabbit” (Episode 6). Although he chooses Vale, all parties easily infer that Gordon is still in love with Lee. Later in the season, Bruce commits a deadly betrayal against Alfred (Sean Pertwee) in “Destiny Calling” (Episode 21) after being kidnapped by the Court of Owls to spend time with The Shaman (Raymond J. Barry) and meeting Ra’s al Ghul (Alexander Siddig). Surprisingly, one ray of light occurred between Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). Desperate to know why she didn’t kill him, Penguin was surprised and humbled that Fish saw in him her greatest creation (“Burn the Witch” Episode 2).
As often that a character was turning on another individual, sometimes the betrayal came from within. Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) seemed to be one of the most conflicted characters through the season, trying to answer the question, “Who am I?” His identity, publicly as Penguin’s Chief of Staff, and privately as Penguin’s mastermind, resulted in a vacuum of questions after Nygma shot Penguin, believing he had killed his best friend who overshadowed and defined him. As a result, Nygma tested a number of the city’s intelligent people for assistance in determining his own identity separate from Penguin. The Tetch virus enhanced and brought out certain traits of characters and finding themselves at odds with themselves. Captain Nathaniel Barnes (Michael Chiklis) received a drop of blood from Alice Tetch (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) which heightened his commitment to the concept of justice, becoming judge, jury, and executioner as well as embodying the law (“New Day Rising” Episode 4). Dr. Calvi’s jealousy was amplified, and Lee became a bad girl looking for the bad boy in Gordon, who was forced to self-infect the virus on himself in “Pretty Hate Machine” (Episode 20). As one of the heroes, Gordon was the only one who could control his magnified emotional state.
Amongst chaos, the heroes rise; however, the idea of heroes is a double-edged sword, so the viewer’s traditional definition of hero will be challenged in Season Three. Executive Producer John Stephens said, “Everyone goes through a major character metamorphosis throughout the course of the yea,r” in an interview with Comicbook.com. What is the most dramatic event that a character could go through? Well, it seemed that death (or near-death) and rebirth was a common event for most of the characters. For instance, Ivy Pepper (Maggie Geha) was touched by one of Dr. Strange’s (B. E. Wong) monsters and not only did she age about 10 or so years, but it was the belief of Selina (Camren Bicondova) that Ivy had died. Fish Mooney, Victor Fries (Nathan Darrow), who became Mr. Freeze, and Bridgit Pike (Camila Perez), who became Firefly, actually died and were reborn. It should be noted that while some characters died, they did not embody their familiar mantle: Ivy isn’t known as Poison Ivy, Selena hasn’t become Catwoman, and Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) may have the iconic creepy wide smile, but nary a whisper of “Joker” has been heard – yet. Perhaps in Season Four that premiered last week in which the first four episodes are grouped under the subtitle “A Dark Knight” might reveal the familiar Joker to audiences.
The parallels amongst pairs of characters did deliver intriguing comparisons. For example, viewers witness the very public destruction of Penguin, each layer of his personae being taken away from him. The betrayal is deliberate, a conscious effort on the part of Nygma, Barbara Keen (Erin Richards), Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas), and Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell). Eventually, even Penguin’s life is taken from him; however, there is also a private betrayal occurring in Lee. She has internalized her loss and although she argues for justice and grabs for the preverbal straws, she finally realizes that she is the root cause of her own betrayal. She hits rock bottom and as a result, injects herself with the Tetch virus, embracing her ruin.
Due to the large ensemble cast of regular cast members, plus the recurring and special guests through the 22 episodes, one of the inherent issues is affording enough screen time to each character so that their origin story is fully explored, resulting in a well-developed character. While Gordon and Wayne/514A (David Mazouz, in a dual role) are central characters and will typically appear in each episode, some of the other regular characters, such as Selina Kyle, Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk), or Butch, seem to disappear from the storyline. For example, in the closing minutes of “How the Riddler Got His Name” (Episode 15), Edward Nygma/The Riddler reveals to Lucius that he is struggling with defining his identity separate and outside of the shadow of Penguin. After announcing to Lucius that he is the Riddler, Nygma knocks Lucius out in his car. Viewers next see Lucius in “Light the Wick” (Episode 18). Fish Mooney is another character that is missing for most of the season after appearing in the season’s opening episode, “Better to Reign in Hell…” Their disappearances do cause some gaps, such as where was Lucius for two episodes, 16 and 17 – one would assume that someone from the GCPD would notice Lucius sleeping off Nygma’s attack in the front seat of his car, parked across the street from the precinct.
Because Gotham is about the origin stories of the younger versions of Gordon, Wayne, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and numerous others, what regrettably results is a lack of investment in the characters, especially when faced with life-threatening moments. Penguin being shot in the stomach in “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” (Episode 14) is visually dramatic for instance, but lacks the emotional impact due to the viewer’s foreknowledge that Penguin cannot really die because an older Wayne as the Caped Crusader will eventually fight Penguin. Those who die during the season are individuals who are not part of the established Batman universe, such as Frank Gordon or Alice Tetch. The Shaman is based on an established character in the universe; however, he is killed in “Destiny Calling” (Episode 21) by the protective Alfred, and Dr. Calvi is gunned down by Gordon in “Beware the Green-Eyed Monster” (Episode 11). Occasionally, key characters’ deaths are anti-climactic; case in point, the Court of Owls’ Kathryn Monroe, who was a powerful character through much of the season, was quickly and gruesomely dispatched in a disorienting moment in “All Will Be Judged” (Episode 19).
The third season of Gotham provides intriguing complexities to the overarching denigration of the city into chaos and the telling of individual character origin stories. While the origin stories are fascinating, the fact that there is foreknowledge that most of the characters cannot die because they will one day face Bruce Wayne as Batman does cause a wrinkle with the audience’s engagement with the storylines. To compensate, spending more time on character development would alleviate some of the indifference inherent to the nature of prequel narratives. That said, Gotham is a binge-worthy show. The city is visually stunning, and the Steampunk feel captivating. Audiences unfamiliar with the origin stories will likely enjoy the show just as much or more so than those that come to the show with familiarity from reading the comics.