I’ve said before that Gotham is not and never will be Mayberry. It’s no shining city on a hill. It’s an urban hellscape, a waking nightmare, a long tall glass of absinthe with an LSD chaser.
But it’s still the setting of my DCTV happy place. While a few episodes of Gotham’s fourth season fell a little flat for me, the show rarely bored, disappointed or outright aggravated me, unlike so many of last season’s DC shows on other networks. Even the less impressive episodes were vital parts of the season’s plot, which twisted and turned like Jeremiah Valeska’s underground maze.
Batman’s origin story has been told over and over again, so the challenge for Gotham has always been to find fresh angles. Four years ago, Gotham was not so much Bruce Wayne’s story as it was Jim Gordon’s, showing us the journey of a white knight who has, all these years later, become more and more grey — like the grimy daytime face of the city he serves. But Gotham is a place of night and shadows, and this year the focus shifted more and more to the man who will become vengeance, who will become the night…
Who will become Batman.
The Shaping Of The Dark Knight
Bruce had his toughest year since the murder of his parents. He’s already dealing with the guilt of having released the Tetch virus on Gotham. Then he got hit with a little more guilt early on in Season Four, when Ra’s al Ghul murders a boy right in front of him.
And then Ra’s goads Bruce into killing him as well.
That’s what finally breaks Bruce, sending him into a downward spiral of drinking and bad decisions. He’s at odds with nearly everyone who cares about him. It was painful to see Bruce travel this path, but it was also necessary. One must know the enemy to fight him, and Bruce got to know darkness in a way he’d never done before.
Conflict always makes for great drama. But not every conflict is believable. An example is OTA vs. NTA in Arrow; completely contrived and not necessary. In contrast, the conflicts in this season of Gotham were completely believable and important parts of the character journeys for Bruce and Jim.
Bruce’s conflict with Alfred is in part a product of growing up. But it’s vastly complicated by all the deaths he’s witnessed. When Alfred tries to pull Bruce out of his downward spiral, Bruce fires him – and things only go further down from there. It takes a near-tragedy to reunite them. It was difficult to see Bruce and Alfred at odds, but there was no illogic to their conflict. What it did, though, was temper their relationship and strengthen it.
The same is true for the conflict between Jim and Harvey. Jim was hiding things and Harvey called him on it. Jim had to admit to himself – as well as to Harvey – that he doesn’t own the deed to the moral high ground. It was, again, a believable conflict resulting from Jim’s questionable choices. It forced both men to take hard looks at themselves, and they are both better men and better cops because of it.
Gotham’s Big Bads
What’s Batman without his supervillains? Well, since Batman hasn’t truly appeared yet, let’s instead focus on the supervillains without their arch enemy, because Gotham is as much their origin story as it is Batman’s.
- Penguin – He started the season as the King of the Gotham Underworld. We got to see Robin Lord Taylor play Smug Penguin, Angry Penguin, Scheming Penguin, Hero Penguin, Homicidal Penguin… even Mime Penguin! It was a delight to watch all of these different facets of this character.
- Riddler – Another character who had many facets, there was a battle between Ed Nygma and the Riddler this season. Every time it seemed as if the Riddler was taking over and permanently in control, something would bring Ed back to the fore. It will be interesting to see which of them survives once Dr. Hugo Strange revives Ed and Lee.
- Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska – Two utterly insane versions of the proto-Joker, both played with chilling intensity by Cameron Monaghan. It’s been reported that neither of the Valeskas is the actual Joker. That may be true. But – the Joker isn’t just a person. As Jerome said in his last words, the Joker is an idea, a philosophy, living in the shadows of Gotham’s discontent.
The Best One-Liners
I’ll just leave these examples here, all from episode 4×08:
- “You owe me an apology for electrocuting me.” – Barbara Kean
- “It was nothing personal when I shot him in the head.” – Barbara Kean
- “No one appreciates how hard it is to be a crime lord.” – Penguin
- “What you are is four courses of barbecue. Crispy skin.” – Firefly
What Didn’t Work
The Long Hiatus
We had a three month wait between episodes 4×11 and 4×12. That’s a really long time when you’re trying to build a story arc over an entire season. At the mid-season finale, Gotham was in pieces (well, what else is new?), but with so many players on the board it was hard, three months later, to pick up all the strings. It also didn’t help to have another two week break in the latter part of 4B.
With Gotham going into a reportedly shorter final fifth season in 2019, it’s not likely we’ll see these kinds of breaks again.
Gotham has at times really pushed the envelope for its 8 p.m. time slot, with some surprisingly violent sequences for a broadcast network program. I’m not completely averse to the Game of Thrones approach, but I’ve noticed this season that things are more intense when the violence is covert rather than overt. For example, when Ra’s kills Bruce’s friend in 4×04, we don’t actually see the strike but rather Bruce’s reaction to it. It kept us riveted to the screen. In contrast, the grotesque murder in 4×09 made us look away, uncertain about looking back.
I’m not looking for Mayberry. That’s not Gotham. But I’m not looking for a slasher show either.
What We Wanted to See More Of
— Gotham (@Gotham) May 11, 2018
These two have always been wonderful together, from the very beginning. Every one of their scenes is a delight, whether they’re snarking at each other, fighting together or flirting together. The last time they saw each other was heartbreaking, with a wounded Selina begging Bruce to stay as she was rushed to the hospital. Of course, we knew he wouldn’t be able to stay. What will be next?
Peyton List joined the cast this spring as the third iteration of Ivy Pepper, and my favorite so far. This Ivy is dangerous and smart and is literally poison. But after a couple of appearances early in 4B, she disappeared. Hopefully we will see her again in Season 5. (And if not, then I hope List will reappear on The Flash or even Legends of Tomorrow as Lisa Snart – bringing her brother with her.)
Then there’s Victor Zsasz, a delightfully quirky henchman. I enjoyed his sass in the season’s opening episode and hope Anthony Carrigan has time for more appearances in Season 5.
And the Sirens felt under-used in Season Four, probably because of the sheer size of the cast. These three badass ladies could have been the perfect tools to take down Penguin, and there should have been so much more of Barbara using the power of the Demon’s Head. But that story and the weapons shop both felt like afterthoughts. The Sirens deserved better.
What We Wanted to See Less Of
Not that she was a bad character or that she didn’t serve a purpose. Someone had to knock Penguin off his throne, and Sofia’s head games with Penguin were a marvel. But Gotham already has such a vast roster of villains, and playing Sofia up meant less time to develop others – like the Sirens, who wound up being her errand girls. It was almost a relief when Sofia was finally taken off the board, because there was just too much going on.
Yes, I mentioned that above. I’m saying it again.
4×18 “That’s Entertainment.” A riveting hour that mixed plot and character development with horror and comedy in the way that only Gotham can. Not only was it my favorite episode of the season, it’s easily one of the best of the whole series.
4×17 “Mandatory Brunch Meeting.” The Legion of Horribles, the Valeska brothers and the Riddler’s Wheel of Misfortune make for just the right amount of black comedy.
4×21 “One Bad Day.” The episode lives up to the legacy of its title, with some of the most shocking moments of the season, and cementing Jeremiah Valeska as the most terrifying of Gotham’s villains.
Least Favorite Episodes
4×09 “Let Them Eat Pie.” An episode focused on Sofia Falcone’s imported serial killer, the heavy emphasis on action and gore just didn’t work.
4×06 “Hog Day Afternoon.” The episode that introduced Professor Pyg, that imported serial killer and rather uninteresting villain.
4×02 “The Fear Reaper.” There were really good parts to this episode: the return of Barbara Kean, the unveiling of the proto-Bat suit. But the main villain, the Scarecrow, was a bit of a letdown and deserved better. (And got better later in the season, as part of the Legion of Horribles.)
Season Finale Impression
After watching “No Man’s Land” the first time, I wrote that the episode lived up to all the promise of the 2014 premiere. We were finally coming up to those final steps that would turn Bruce into Batman. When the script was written, the writers didn’t know if the show would be renewed. Had it been canceled, what they created would have stood as a stellar series finale. But it also worked as a season finale, leaving us some mysteries to take us into the final season.
Next Season Speculation
FOX says Season Five will be the last. While we haven’t seen an official episode count yet, the word is that it will be a shorter season, which usually makes for tighter, more focused storytelling. We also know the final season’s main story is about Bruce’s transformation into Batman – a tale we may think we know after more than 75 years of comic book history. But Gotham’s writers have continually managed to surprise us over these past four years, and I expect nothing less in Season Five. Because of that, my only speculation is that a Dark Knight will rise.
What were your thoughts on Gotham Season 4?