Gotham (2014) season 1, episode 1
WRITER: BRUNO HELLER
DIRECTOR: DANNY CANNON
AIR DATE: September 22 2014
I was dubious at first when I heard about the television show Gotham. A series about the city before there was a Batman, with Bruce Wayne as a boy, and early looks at Catwoman, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and the Riddler? And casting Ben Mckenzie, who was best known for being the lead in a show about a bunch of self absorbed teenagers in California (aren’t all California teenagers self absorbed?) as the central character, the young Detective Jim Gordon, seemed a troubling notion. So going into the pilot, I was running on low expectations.
Perhaps that was a good thing; the surprise of how well the first episode worked seemed all the more that way. The series is very much a film noir look at the city of Gotham through the eyes of two policemen, Gordon and his veteran partner, the ethically murky Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). The two men are very different from each other. Where Gordon believes in the law and is idealistic, Bullock is corrupt and ill tempered, looking thoroughly rumpled. They don’t like each other... and yet they stand up for each other. They’re in a city filled with corruption and graft, where most of the police department is on the take from the mobsters who control the underworld. It’s a dark, brooding, bleak place, and the way the pilot conveys the atmosphere of the city in the first episode is just what you might expect of Gotham City: a place of little light and no hope.
The first episode opens up with an iconic moment in the history of comics: the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in an alley at night, witnessed by their son Bruce (David Mazouz). Gordon and Bullock land the case, definitely not the sort of case a cop wants; in the police vernacular, a murder involving the most prominent family in the city is a redball. The investigation brings them up against two detectives assigned to the Major Crimes Unit, Renee Montoya and Cris Allen, who Bullock has little use for, and the feeling’s mutual. It also takes them into the dark heart of Gotham, and the criminal elements populated by kingpin Carmine Falcone, his lieutenant Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), and one of her underlings, the young Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor).
James Gordon and young Bruce Wayne
The first episode gives us a strong beginning, with action where needed, but a great emphasis on characterization. The major players are all introduced, some with short appearances, such as Edward Nygma, the man who will one day be the Joker, a young girl meant to become Poison Ivy, and the largely silent Selina Kyle, who comes across as a street kid just a handful of years older than Bruce. In leaving Ivy and Selina at such an age, it takes care of concerns I had when I first heard of the series; they’re not adults despite earlier impressions. We also meet Jim’s fiancée Barbara; they’re a believable couple, but she has secrets of her own, a possible past (or not so past) relationship with Renee.
Fish Mooney, as far as I know, is a brand new character, and yet Pinkett Smith does good work with her. She’s a woman who can be civil and welcoming in the one moment, and dangerous in the next. She’s also ambitious, with eyes on taking full control of Gotham’s underworld. Taylor’s interesting as a younger version of the Penguin. At this point in his life he’s a socially awkward mobster, but the opportunist, the schemer, the conniver... all these things are already there. There’s a moment late in the episode when we are left to wonder how the character can possibly continue to be walking the streets of Gotham; we shall have to wait and see.
Where there is a Wayne, there must be an Alfred Pennyworth, and Sean Pertwee is the latest actor to inhabit the role of the butler. We don’t see too much of him this time out, but the aspects he does play this time out show us a man who’s trying to help his young charge through the first agonizing days of grief. We see the surrogate father and confidante already establishing itself in him. Mazouz plays the young Bruce Wayne, and at that pivotal moment when the boy finds his childhood destroyed, the death of his parents, he conveys the grief that will define the man he’s going to become. As we see more of him through the episode, it’s already clear that his journey has begun.
Gordon and Bullock
Donal Logue is one of those actors who can keep me entertained in pretty much anything he does. He plays Bullock much like you would expect the character to be, even though he’s a good deal leaner. He’s slovenly, abrupt, and his morals are shifty. He has a temper, doesn’t want the responsibility of a major case like the Wayne murder case, and he has little patience for his new partner, who he views as a boy scout. He places Gordon in a quandary, and yet backs him up. In this, he’s an ideal foil and counterpart to Gordon.
I expected the worst out of Ben Mckenzie given his previous acting roles, and he surprised me by not living down to that. He inhabits the role of Gordon quite well. There’s an idealistic streak in the character, a man who believes in justice and yet finds himself in the most corrupt city he can imagine. McKenzie conveys that, all the while as he becomes more aware of the scope of that corruption. He doesn’t overplay emotion either, which suits the character.
It’s a strong start; a police procedural in the city of the Dark Knight, but long before there was a Dark Knight. The two lead actors inhabit their roles very well indeed, the two polar opposites, and yet that friction between them kept the first episode compelling. I look forward to where this series goes next.