Seriously, guys. Gotham has gone beyond an extremely fast-and-loose look at the years before Batman made his debut to a wacky soap opera with supervillains to a super-violent and insane Batman '66 prequel. But after this week's two-hour finale, I think there might be even more to it — guys, I think there may suddenly be a method to Gotham's madness.
Let me be clear: I do not mean Gotham is not still insane, or very silly, or doesn't still have a hilariously bad habit of debuting new characters, forgetting about them entirely, then smashing them into other plotlines and/or killing them — sometime repeatedly, because the chances of someone staying dead on this show are only about 10 per cent.
And that's good news for a lot of characters, as Gotham tried to (or pretended to) clean house. At first blush, here's the killed-in-action report for the two-part finale: Fish Mooney, Butch, Alfred and Barbara. The fact that (at least) two of them are not dead by the end of the finale tells you that Gotham is sticking to its core principles of "what the hell ever", but I'll get to that in a bit.
The episode begins with its two main heroes evil: Jim Gordon is infected with a virus that makes people super-strong and incredibly violent (although Jim kills so many people in his day-to-day life it doesn't make much difference), while Bruce Wayne is under the thrall of a guy who was essentially R'as al Ghul Jr, or Vice-President of Bruce Wayne Operations, League of Assassins, although Alfred shot the dude last week and brainwashed Bruce is still mighty upset. Also, several thousand inhabitants of Gotham City were also infected with the virus and murdering people left and right, but no big deal.
The first moment I knew the finale was going to be something special is when the League of Assassins' assassins showed up (and not the crappy Talons the Court of Owls had) and Jim Gordon took one of their katanas and started slicing away. Imagining Commissioner Gordon killing ninja warriors with a samurai sword may seem the height of Gotham's nonsense, but guys, it isn't even close. The enraged Jim also murders Fish Mooney — who showed up for two minutes last episode, clearly just for this purpose — with the sword, causing her to drop and destroy all of the antidote for the virus. You might think that Gordon has doomed Gotham City, and you'd be right, but somehow of all the characters on the show only Lee Thompkins seemed able to see Gordon's trigger-happy demeanour, selfishness, and willingness to completely ignore the law. (By the end of the finale, Lee had abandoned Gordon and Gotham again, for what is literally at least the third time in two seasons.)
I guess the reason everyone else is always so willing to ignore Jim's faults is that even when he does something stupid and terrible, he finds a way to fix the problem he himself created. In the case of a cure to the "kill everyone" virus, it's by helping capture Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter, whose blood is key to making the cure (long story). Unfortunately, a bunch of criminals have him and Tetch pinned down. He can't get Tetch out of there safely. But Gordon's a problem-solver!
Here's how he solves the problem: By cutting open Tetch's neck and filling an nearby mason jar with his blood and running away. A 500mL mason jar. TO THE BRIM.
I think Mad Hatter is still alive? But only because no one specifically said he dead when the other bad guys found him with at least part of his throat slit. When Gordon killed Fish, Fish did say she felt like she was dying for realsies this time (I'm paraphrasing), so that's probably true, maybe? This time? For a while, anyway, until Jada Pinkett Smith gets bored?
At least when the entranced Bruce meets the real Ra's al Ghul, who brings him a captured Alfred and demands that Bruce kill his butler to truly cut himself off from his past, and Bruce runs him through with a sword, the show does clearly point out Alfred has been successfully murdered by Bruce Wayne. It's enough to snap Bruce out of his mind-control, at least. But then Ra's, for shits and giggles I suppose, tells Bruce the giant pool of matcha latte he's standing next to — a Lazarus Pit, obviously — can restore Alfred, so he gets better, too.
As for Butch and Barbara, their deaths also seem unquestionable (... at first); Barbara has enough of Butch and shoots him right through his brain, while Tabitha, in revenge for Butch, manages to electrocute Babs after a lengthy fight. Oh, and I guess Penguin had Victor Fries use his ice gun to encase Riddler in a giant block of ice, as a Han Solo-esque reminder never to be weakened by love again. But given everything that happens on Gotham regularly, it literally seems absurd that being frozen in ice would be at all harmful to a main character on the show. I'm sure he's fine.
A lot of death and a lot of ridiculous twists? Sounds like par for the course for Gotham, right? Well, my mind started being blown when the show suddenly started pivoting back towards some semblance of Bat-canon — hard.
First and foremost, the two-part finale had — for the first time I can recall — an actual theme. The adults were trying to know themselves, while the younger characters were trying to figure out who they should become. That doesn't really mean much for Gordon — he's accepted his inner darkness, but it isn't like he had a tough time breaking the rules or murdering people before — but seeing Penguin accept his emotionality, even if it's something he needs to try to conquer as a crime lord, was immensely satisfying. Him informing the Riddler that his planning may be a strength, but his inability to adapt was also a weakness was icing on the cake.
As for Bruce and Selina, well, Selina is looking to become more than just a scavenger-thief on the streets. She asks the newly solo Tabitha for guidance, who tells Selina to try to use her whip. It's such a small thing, but seeing the Catwoman-to-be first pick up her iconic weapon is pretty striking, no pun intended; it may also be the most significant thing the character of Tabitha has done all season.
Bruce, meanwhile, has had all the pain of his parents' murder flooding back, along with the horror and guilt that he'd (briefly) killed Alfred. The Court of Owls and Ra's al Ghul had/have their own purposes for Bruce, but Alfred tells his ward he needs to find his own. Look, Bruce has literally trained to be Batman for two weeks, three tops, but man, was it satisfying to watch some muggers hold up some poor family on a Gotham street, and for a diminutive figure in a black ski mask pop out of nowhere and beat the crap out of the criminals. (Even if there's absolutely no way he could have gotten to the top of that building to striking an iconic pose against the sky without a grapple gun.)
But my favourite moment may be when Penguin, currently the last crime lord standing in Gotham, revealed his plan for his new nightclub/HQ: The Iceberg Lounge. It's been the character's iconic homebase in the comics for ever, and seeing it finally coming to Gotham gave me a thrill. And when someone asked Penguin if he named it after his nom de guerre, and he said, "That's part of it..." and I realised the further significance of the object of his affection turned deadly enemy Riddler being frozen in a giant cube of ice... I may have clapped.
After a rocky first season, Gotham has become more entertaining by its sheer audacity and silliness, as well as its refusal to give a damn about Bat-canon. The stories have seemed random, characters and plot are introduced and then abandoned at a dizzying rates, anything can happen and anything can un-happen.
But this week, for the first time since the show began, it feels like the season has actually made progress towards the day Bruce first puts on the cowl. Bruce's experiences with Jerome, the Court of Owls and the League of Assassins have led him to a place where he finally wants to be help people as a vigilante. It's been a shaky trip, but it feels earned. Selina's decision to be a hardcore glamour-thief is less earned, but it's still a definite step forward on the way to her becoming Catwoman. Penguin is back to being a crime lord again, but he's wiser than he was before, and it seems like he's genuinely on the path becoming a formidable Bat-foe. And both Gordon and Bullock rededicate themselves to solving normal crimes, not weird cults of the one per cent or psychotic rage viruses — but we'll see how long that lasts.
Just as importantly, Gotham seems to be making a concerted effort to make its extraneous characters useful. Butch and Barbara are discussed below — suffice it to say they're about to contribute a lot more to the Bat-canon than they had previously — but Tabitha will presumably make for a perfect mentor for Selina next season after hanging around for zero narrative purpose this entire season. Fish is out of the way, and Poison Ivy, Mr Freeze and Firefly may actually be sticking around for more than the occasional episode, which would give them some needed character development
Honestly, things had gotten so insane that it was genuinely shocking to me to see Gotham suddenly take such a large step back towards some semblance of normality. To be sure, the show is still a million miles off from generally accepted Bat-canon, but after this week it's hell of a lot closer than it was before.
It's only a beginning, of course. But it's something. Now if someone finally shows Bruce Wayne a goddamn bat then we'll really be on our way.
- After being shot in the head and looking as dead as anyone has ever looked on Gotham, there's a final scene where we discover Butch in the hospital, probably in a coma, but inexplicably alive. The nurses aren't thrilled to be helping a known criminal, but they do reveal Butch isn't his real name — it's Cyrus Gold. Best known as the unkillable Solomon Grundy in the DC universe.
- Guys, Butch is Grundy. I can't imagine that this was planned before season three started — and probably a lot later — but turning one of Gotham's most extraneous characters into a major villain was just fantastic.
- You may or may not remember that Harley Quinn was supposed to appear in this episode, and that supposedly we'd previously seen Harley on the show without realising it. But Harley Quinn very much did not make her appearance in the finale. However, Barbara Kean went increasingly insane, start laughing hysterically a bit more, and even started getting a bit sing-songy in her speech. The implication is clear.
- But then Tabitha electrocuted her, seemingly killing her. But she looked a hell of a lot less dead than Butch did, and it would be one of Gotham's most plausible twists for her to recover and become a proto-Harley Quinn, that is, a psychotic lunatic with a light clown motif who may or may not partner with Jerome, currently hanging at Arkham. If Gotham decides to replicate Joker and Harley's dysfunctional romance with Jerome and Babs, there are going to be problems. Hopefully they just become BFFs and kill a zillion people.