Just about four years ago, I sat in Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con with thousands of other fans to watch the world premiere of Gotham. At the time it was pitched as the gritty origin story of both Bruce Wayne and his ally, James Gordon.
The pilot was fascinating, and I was eager to take the weekly trip. Four years later, there may have been some bumps along the road, but the Season 4 finale “No Man’s Land” lived up to all the promise of that premiere. If Gotham had been canceled during the May Massacre, this would have been one hell of an exit episode. But since it’s been renewed for one more shortened season, the episode also sets the stage for Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming the Dark Knight.
Picking up where we left off
Last week’s episode ended with Selina shot by Jeremiah, just after she and Bruce had finally kissed. The finale starts with a rush to the hospital, Selina begging Bruce to stay with her. It’s heartbreaking to hear, because Selina has been abandoned so often. It’s even more heartbreaking when Bruce promises he’ll stay – because you know it’s a promise he can’t keep.
But that’s through no fault of his own. While he and Alfred were trying to save Selina, the U.S. military comes in to Gotham to institute martial law. The major in charge (and why a major instead of a general? Surely Gotham rates a general?) has Bruce brought to GCPD in an effort to get Jeremiah to give up the locations of all his bombs.
I really shouldn’t repeat the old saw about military intelligence being an oxymoron… but I’m going there anyway. The major’s actions play right into Jeremiah’s plans. Jeremiah wants Bruce, so he can offer him up to Ra’s al Ghul. Jeremiah has become a true believer in Ra’s’ vision of a cataclysm that will create a Dark Knight. “Prophecies are not my thing,” he tells Bruce, “but rebuilding Gotham and rebuilding you are one and the same. Gotham falls, we rise. Together.”
That in itself is a prophecy, one that we all know comes true. Batman and the Joker are forever tied together. And even though Cameron Monaghan has said many times that his character can’t be called the Joker because DC wants to reserve the character for its films (a debatable choice by DC), he is still playing “an idea. A philosophy. Living on in the shadow of Gotham’s discontent.”
And we fans are all quite happy to call that idea “The Joker,” no matter what DC wants.
“I was never gonna be who you wanted.”
As if Jim Gordon doesn’t have enough on his hands with Jeremiah and his battery bombs, he gets kidnapped by the Riddler. Ed Nygma’s not trying to help Jeremiah, though. His agenda is all his own – he believes he has to kill Jim so Lee will fully choose him and become the person he wants her to be.
But Riddler can’t just take the easy route. No. Instead of a simple bullet to the brain, he’s got to make a production of it, pinning Jim under a gigantic press machine. The scene is reminiscent of some of the ways the Batman ‘66 villains tried to kill the Caped Crusaders. And as in Batman ‘66, “try” is the operative word. Lee arrives in time to stop Riddler and tell him she won’t stay with him if he kills Jim. Riddler agrees to let Jim go, gloating that Lee chose him.
— Gotham (@Gotham) May 18, 2018
Then the cataclysm rains down on Gotham, and Riddler figures out the truth: Lee was never going to stay with him. But neither was she going to stay with Jim, even though she will always love him. “You both want to change me,” she tells Riddler.
Any couples therapist will tell you that a good relationship is not one where one partner tries to change the other. Change has to come from within, not be forced from without. It’s something Lee recognizes when she says her farewell to Jim. He tells her he would change everything if he could, leaving Gotham with her the moment they met. “Then you wouldn’t be you,” she tells him, and he counters, “That would be a good thing.”
But Lee is once again wise enough to be straight with him, saying, “No it wouldn’t.” And she is right. She knows that Gotham needs Jim Gordon. Especially right now, when things are falling apart around them.
Contrast Jim’s acceptance of Lee’s words to Riddler’s reaction. When he figures out Lee won’t ever be the person he wants her to be, he turns murderous.
And so does she.
Their twisted love story almost ends with them bleeding out from stab wounds on the floor of Cherry’s Place. But remember – this is Gotham. And nothing is what it appears to be.
Out of the crucible
Barbara Keane is one of those who isn’t quite what she appears to be. Ra’s is trying to recruit her to rejoin him, because he believes she still holds some of the power of the Demon’s Head. But while she tells him yes, Barbara has had quite enough of all the death and destruction, thank you very much. She puts a little team together to take on Ra’s and Jeremiah: Her own assassins, along with Tabitha and Penguin.
— Gotham (@Gotham) May 18, 2018
This band of oddfellows makes it to the hideout where Jeremiah and Ra’s are holding Bruce, waiting for their battery bombs to explode and destroy all the bridges into Gotham. In the ensuing fight, Barbara manages to join hands with Bruce and together they kill Ra’s – for the second time.
This time, Bruce does not fall apart over having taken a life in violation of his own code. Instead, he finds the steel to keep fighting – steel that he will need, because those bombs have indeed turned Gotham into a no man’s land – one the federal government is ready to abandon, even if Jim Gordon and the GCPD are not.
They will have a monumental task ahead of them, even without repairing bomb damage. Gotham’s criminal element is busy carving up the city, with the bigger fish swallowing up the smaller ones along the way. One of those smaller fish ends up being Butch. He’s cured of his Grundyism by Dr. Hugo Strange, only to be shot by Penguin right in front of Tabitha – payback for her murder of Penguin’s mother a couple of seasons back. (And judging from an interview with Variety by actor Drew Powell, who plays Butch – this is a death that will stick.)
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and no one can make it colder than Penguin. Unless it’s Mr. Freeze, who is one of a montage of villains shown taking over sections of Gotham. Some of them are familiar, like Firefly and Scarecrow. There are also a few faces – and masks – we haven’t seen before. And it looks like Dr. Strange is still in the business of reanimating the dead; we see him looking over the bodies of Lee and Riddler. Add to that Barbara Kean’s revamped Sirens, mad as hell over the destruction of Gotham and ready to take it out on any man who comes near them.
There are two who make it out of the rubble of Gotham, but who we can probably expect to return: Selina and Alfred. Selina survived the gunshot wound with a severed spinal cord. The injury probably cannot be repaired. The easy comics callout is to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, shot by the Joker in “The Killing Joke” and left paralyzed, eventually becoming the Oracle. But it seems the Gotham writers turned to Flashpoint instead, where Selina Kyle became the Oracle, also paralyzed.
Does this mean there might eventually be some synergy or even a crossover between Gotham and the Arrowverse, where Flashpoint is a thing? Not likely since they’re on separate networks, but it’s a fun thing for fans to chew on over the summer, especially since we now know Kate Kane/Batwoman will be part of the Arrowverse next year.
Alfred goes with Selina, to see her safe. We can only imagine what her reaction will be when she wakes up and Bruce is not with her, his promise to stay broken because Gotham needs him.
Coming full circle
The ending of “No Man’s Land” feels like a bit like a homecoming: Bruce and Jim together on the roof of the GCPD, staring up at spotlight trained on the clouds over Gotham. It’s something we know will be repeated often in Gotham’s future, although Bruce will be in the cowl and cape.
Bruce reminds Jim of something he said on the night they first met – the night Bruce’s parents died. “You told me the world may seem dark, but there is light.”
— Gotham (@Gotham) May 18, 2018
And there is indeed, although it may be hard to spot in a place as dark as Gotham. We see it in the officers of the GCPD who have remained loyal to Jim Gordon, even at the risk of taking on the U.S. military. We see it in Jim’s constant struggle to do the right thing, even after making repeated mistakes.We see it in Jim’s friendship with Harvey Bullock; these brothers in arms have traveled a difficult road and come out stronger for it. We see it in the love between Alfred and Bruce, who have also been tested and tempered in a crucible far more severe than the one Ra’s al Ghul foresaw; theirs was a crucible of trust lost and regained.
And we see that light in the young man who will become the Dark Knight.
I’m looking forward to more of his journey.
Gotham will return to FOX in the midseason for its final 13 episodes.