May 24, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Gotham”


GOTHAM did a better job of navigating its clog of characters in its second season.  Bruno Heller’s mash-up of Batman origin story, the Dark Knight trilogy, 1930s-style cop drama, and all-around comic book freak-show still had at least one plotline too many–truthfully, no one would miss its Riddler, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), if he weren’t around–but the decision to put characters like now-crazy Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Penguin Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and criminal sidekick Butch Gilzean (Drew Powell) on the shelf for weeks at a time, along with Morena Baccarin’s maternity leave, allowed the show to finally have some focus.

Heller followed the Once Upon A Time model of telling overlapping but separate stories in fall and midseason.  The fall arc concentrated on the Galavans, Theo (James Frain) and sister Tabitha (Jessica Lucas), and their nefarious plot to take over Gotham and execute Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) for grievances they had against the Wayne family, and although the siblings briefly returned in the Spring (Theo among the characters making their way back from the dead), they were minor presences after November.  Midseason concerned itself with Gotham City’s iconic Arkham Asylum, where Dr. Hugo Strange (BD Wong)–not to be confused with Marvel’s Doctor Strange, hero of November’s upcoming Benedict Cumberbatch movie–whose berserk yet often successful experiments included mind control and reanimating the dead.

Tonight’s Season 2 finale, written by Heller and directed by Eagle Egilsson, wrapped up the Arkham storyline while setting up possibilities for next season.  Unusually, it allowed Ben McKenzie a comedy break from his almost unrelentingly grim Jim Gordon, thanks to a synthetic Gordon created by Strange, who managed for a while to fool Jim’s best friend and partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue)–but not loony Barbara, who figured out the truth almost immediately.  McKenzie seemed to have a great time playing for laughs, and who knows when he’ll have the opportunity again.  Heller also managed to organically return Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney to the cast as another of Strange’s returnees, this time with mind control properties in her skin (when last seen, she had put Penguin under her control).  Arkham and most of downtown Gotham were saved from a nuclear bomb thanks to Gordon’s mistakenly thinking that Strange’s aide-de-camp Ethel Peabody (Tonya Pinkins) was telling him to defuse the bomb by pouring water on it, when she was just thirsty.  (More humor!)  After that, Jim went off into hiatus, in search of Baccarin’s character.

Sectioning off pieces of the story allowed Heller room to develop some subplots that actually worked, like Penguin’s brief sojourn with his long-lost father (played by Paul Reubens, who had played Penguin’s father in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns almost 25 years ago), a story that ended up as an extremely black-comic version of Cinderella.  It also helped that Bruce became a more active character this season, whose story beats weren’t as closely tied to the Batman mythology, and that Mazouz has great chemistry with Catwoman-to-be Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova).

While CW’s toychest of DC Comics sagas (now including Supergirl) have to do their stuff with compact budgets, Gotham is deluxe all the way, boasting some of the most sumptuous production design and CG on network TV.  Arkham had a physical scale impossible on shows like Arrow, and under Egilsson’s direction, tonight’s finale made fine use of the sets and resources available for the show’s action sequences.

Plans haven’t been announced yet for Season 3, although the final episodes of Season 2 brought news of a sinister cabal that controls Gotham City while wearing leftover masks from Eyes Wide Shut.  No doubt Heller will provide stories and characters perverse enough for Gotham‘s corner of the comic book hellmouth.  While Gotham hasn’t been the blockbuster hit FOX originally thought it had, it’s still–Empire aside–one of the network’s stronger dramas, and returning in the same tineslot and with the same lead-out it had this spring from the compatible Lucifer, it should continue to be a reliable performer if not blessed with ratings superpowers.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."