In the weeks leading up to Gotham, Fox put a lot of effort into marketing. The studio released an interactive version of the Thomas and Martha Wayne murder scene for fans to explore, as well as a site for the fictional newspaper, the Gotham Chronicle. But will that all pay off in ratings and critical acclaim? That remains to be seen.
Gotham opens on a young girl, presumably Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), as she steals a woman’s milk and a man’s wallet in a dimly-lit, computer-generated Gotham. The show then abruptly cuts to a young Bruce Wayne, played brilliantly by David Mazouz. He and his parents step out into the night having just seen a performance at the local theater. They soon run into the thief who, as most of us know, is fated to kill Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Subsequent to these first few moments, Gotham clearly sets up James Gordon (Ben McKenzie of The O.C. fame) as the main character of the series. He promises Bruce that he will find his parents’ killer and from there becomes the focus of the hour-long pilot. It’s evident from this episode that Gordon’s story will be about his struggle to reconcile his moral compass with Gotham’s fine edge of corruption. He seems like a man who will do what it takes to make his city good again.
In “Pilot,” Gordon and his partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), try to solve the Waynes’ murder. What struck me as odd was the how procedural the episode felt. It begins with a murder and proceeds with an hour of “who-dun-it” TV – a strangely familiar structure for a show based on a comic book universe. It was interesting to see Gotham dip into that genre in their first episode and I am curious to see if the rest of the season continues on that tack.
For the most part, the episode felt slow. After the synthetic aesthetic of the opening shots with Selina Kyle, Gotham becomes more rooted in reality. But the move to practical sets still leaves something askew about Gotham’s appearance. Some time into the pilot I realized this version of the city looks more like Chicago than Batman’s old haunt. While this isn’t a problem, it does take away some of the mystique of the infamous urban playground.
The best part of the pilot was getting re-introduced all of the characters we know and love, good and bad, as the city only begins to slip into its embrace of criminality. Watching Selina Kyle slink around Gotham or a young Ivy Pepper in her parents’ apartment had a distinct familiarity to it. The realization that before Edward E. Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) was The Riddler he was a Forensic Analyst for Gothm police and that Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) began as a lowly thug are likewise creative re-imaginations of old origin stories.
There was also a fun reference to classic Batman villain when Bullock calls Gordon and asks to meet at “4th and Grundy.” I thought this shoutout was a good inclusion on the writers’ part, clearly aimed at all the diehard Batman fans watching.
Cameos aside, the best character in the pilot is certainly Falcone (John Doman). Dolman steals the episode, hands down, when he first appears onscreen to banter with Gordon about the city. He talks about Gotham with such affection and care that you forget he’s a bad guy for a moment. His actions as a crime boss seem reasonable as he declares only wants the best for his home. This is confirmed with his powerful line: “You can’t have organized crime with out law and order.”
One big plus for Gotham is that the major villain of the series is female. It’s refreshing to see Jada Pinkett-Smith in the role of Fish Mooney, a cunning and ruthless mastermind; it is rare to see a woman playing such a powerful character, protagonist or antagonist. At Mooney’s core, she is just a bad person who wants as much power as she can get. Mooney can hold her own with villain out there. Her gender doesn’t hold her back, and that is what is so empowering about her.
Throughout “Pilot,” the color green appears in some form in nearly every frame: Mooney’s nail polish color, the highlights of Gotham’s sky or a reflection on the window of an apartment building. Traditionally the color represents envy, and is indicative here of the greed infecting the people Gotham. The color even seems to hint at corruption that lies in wait within the hearts of good men.
One thing is clear: Gotham isn’t just a villain origin story. The show isn’t bound exclusively to Edward E. Nygma’s transformation into a cunning criminal mastermind or how Oswald Cobblepot turns into The Penguin. On the contrary, Gotham tells the story of a city that grows to need a hero like Batman. Whether we need the show, however, remains to be seen.