This weekend, Netflix officially threw its hat in the increasingly crowded ring occupied with comic book shows and, in many ways, Daredevil was what I’d hoped Gotham would be. A dark, gritty look into a classic superhero with focused storytelling and gripping action sets the latest Netflix original apart from its network cohorts and while there’s no doubt it was aided by fewer episodes, and a friendlier overlord, the vast difference in quality was immediately apparent upon returning to Gotham last night, after a weekend spent in Hell’s Kitchen.
Whereas Daredevil makes few compromises as to what kind of show it is, committing wholeheartedly to its overtly dark tone from the opening episode, Gotham has spent its subpar first season suspended in an odd concoction of extremely dark (and often disturbing) imagery and cartoonish surrealism. This lack of direction has caused many episodes with the potential to deliver an eerily entertaining story to falter. Episode count has certainly factored in as well, forcing the writers to fill 22 hours of television, as opposed to 13, means there will be a few duds and uncreative villains-of-the-week here and there, so it can’t really be held against a show. Tone, however, which writers and directors have control over to a great extent, can be.
The good news is that there are only four episodes left in this first season, and that’s not meant entirely as a slight. While the tone is likely to remain in its oddball form, the storytelling will hopefully tighten. With only four hours to go, the writers don’t have to worry about creating varied stories to buy time; the time has been bought and now they can get on with the story they really want to tell. This week’s episode, “Beasts of Prey,” served primarily as set-up for the final push, with very little actual advancement taking place. Save for Fish Mooney’s life on the Island of Misfit Dolls, the entire hour was spent teasing what’s to come. That was both good news and bad, as it gave viewers reason to be hopeful that the final hours will be explosive, but the trade-off was a sleeper of an episode this week. Last night we got our first look at Milo Ventimiglia as the Ogre (a misnomer, really, as the character is quite dashing), a twisted serial killer who targets young women, particularly those associated with detectives brave enough to investigate him. One of Gotham’s strengths this year has been its villainous guest stars and Ventimiglia is no exception. He seems at home in the frightening mind of the Ogre. Not much happens with the storyline besides your basic introduction, but more is to follow, and given the early returns of Ventimiglia’s performance, it could end the season on a strong note.
Knowing that Jada Pinkett-Smith is not expected to return for Gotham’s second season, Fish Mooney’s fate seems all but sealed. Executive Producer John Stephens has cautioned fans away from that thinking, however, even going as far as to say that Fish will (spoiler alert) survive the island. Which begs the question: what is the point? The island storyline has, from the beginning, felt like a reach to keep an unnecessary character connected to the show when it would have been better off to leave her be until the finale (or whenever the writers chose to return her to Gotham). It has also epitomized the confused tone the show has displayed since the premiere. Nothing has been darker this season than the island storyline, but it doesn’t feel dark in the same way that the most lauded high dramas do. Instead, it feels disjointed, battling to be taken seriously, but coming off as unintentionally comical in the worst of ways. This week, Fish manufactured an escape scheme that went horribly awry and left her bloodied while behind the controls of a helicopter. Given that she survives the island, the question now has to be: in what condition? Dulmacher has promised to make Fish into one of his twisted creations and, unless Fish toughs it out to pilot herself back to Gotham, he might just make good on his word.
Minor developments occurred for Penguin and Bruce, the former of which doesn’t need to be mentioned and the latter was another of Gotham’s severe storytelling reaches to explain a character’s psychology. In this instance, the focus was on Batman’s famous rule not to take a life, and Selina’s lack of abiding by said rule.
?It’s officially the final stretch. With the setup out of the way, the last three episodes will, hopefully, bring fireworks. If the executive producer is to be believed, it will also bring a lot of blood. A show that has divided its time so frustratingly throughout the season could use some clarity in the final weeks, and the Ogre storyline could provide the center Gotham needs to focus itself. But there is also so much to be determined, given the show’s overstuffed roster of characters (all of which have agendas), that it is quite likely the final episodes will fare much the same way the preceding 19 did. One thing’s for certain, though. We’ll finally get to see how bold the Gotham writers truly are.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.