Someone’s eye is watching this show. It just isn’t mine.
Gotham City wasn’t always a haven for cape-wearing do-gooders. But it’s always had a supersize need for them. Fox’s pre-Batman metropolis is no Big Apple, no Windy City, no City of Lights. If anything, it’s a City of Id—a tawdry town built on secret desires, hush money and the broken bones of would-be reformers. Strip clubs, not Starbucks, dominate its corners. Thugs stalk its alleys. Few good people live in Gotham, it seems—and those who do don’t stay, or stay good, for long.
James Gordon aims to change that.
The idealistic detective is the shiniest cog in Gotham’s tired, broken-down crime-fighting machine. He’s a war hero and certainly no stranger to difficult jobs. He’s the son of the city’s old district attorney. But even he’s not sure whether he has the strength to beat down this beast.
Gotham is a painstaking prequel to the Batman mythos, and it’s all about Gordon’s struggle to swim in Gotham’s murky waters—or, if not that, at least keep his head above water. There are no superheroes (until Batman is introduced in the series’ finale) to bail him out when things go wrong. Just an unreliable police force behind him and a bevy of supervillains just beginning to sow their evil oats.
Penguin. Hugo Strange. Dr. Freeze. The Riddler. Bane. They’re all here, and they’re all seriously bad dudes. Teens Ivy “Pamela” Pepper (the future Poison Ivy) and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) are both here, too, and Selina’s particularly friendly with a young, serious Bruce Wayne—little knowing what the future has in store for the both of them.
And in a place as dark as Gotham, perhaps it’s not so surprising that even the light-side guys have their shadows. Bruce is obsessed with tracking down—and perhaps killing—his parents’ murderer. And even Gordon himself has sometimes strayed from the straight and narrow.
Gotham clearly isn’t given to pulling punches. People die, often with a bloody flourish. Beatings are brutal and gory. This isn’t the “SMASH!” “POW!” “BOP!” Gotham of the 1960s. Instead, it takes its cues from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy … and moves on from there.
As mentioned, the streets are filled with bars and strip clubs. Couples kiss and canoodle and engage in sleazy shenanigans (opposite-sex and same-sex). Language can be raw. And Harvey Bullock, Gordon’s less-than-idealistic adjunct, always seems to be taking swigs from a hip flask.
The glimmer of hope in all this dimness? Mr. Gordon, of course, the guy with the flashlight that he shines in Gotham’s darkest recesses. He’s not a superhero, and as mentioned, he’s far from perfect. (He’s not even above carrying out a shadowy killing of his own.) But he also tries to do the right thing. And, of course, we already know how he emerges in the end as an icon for justice and righteousness.
And Bruce Wayne, tutored by loyal butler Alfred, is there too, growing in purpose and strength season by season. As he inches closer to the Dark Knight he’ll one day become, the city’s bad ‘uns worm closer and closer to him.
When Jim first meets the young and shivering Bruce Wayne, huddled in a blanket and in shock over his parents’ murder, the detective sits beside the boy and tells him that he, too, lost his father—to a drunk driver who never even stopped. “I know how you feel right now,” Gordon says. “And I promise you that no matter how dark and scary the world might be right now, there will be light. There will be light, Bruce.”
It’s a flash of empathy and connection that’s both inspiring and illuminative, revealing just how dark the rest of Gotham really is.
The series finale finds Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham for the opening of Wayne Tower 10 years into the future. Selena works through her resentment toward Bruce. Gordon hopes to retire as commissioner, but the release of Penguin, the Joker-like Jeremiah and Enigma (the Riddler) from prison convinces him to stay on the job to keep the people of Gotham safe.
Bruce’s 10-year absence means that much has changed in Gotham, but it’s nothing the new-and-improved Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, can’t solve. Bruce stops baddies from causing total destruction (and even kills one with a throwing knife), but he’s not able to stop everything.
Terror, panic and murder still run rampant in Gotham. Men and women are stabbed in the stomach, throat, leg, torso and head. A woman is shot and blood pours from her mouth. A man shoots himself in the head and we see blood spatter. Dead bodies cover a warehouse floor as blood pours from their bodies. Men and women alike get punched in the face and knocked out. Death is a popular topic of conversation, as are death threats of various kinds.
The Riddler fills a table with explosives. Jeremiah kidnaps a young girl and threatens to drop her into a tub full of chemicals. Penguin attempts to kill Gordon. Selena tries to steal a valuable jewel. Crazed criminals yell, lie, steal and kill innocent victims.
Gordon and his wife Lee kiss and drink wine. God’s name is misused four times and other profanity includes a few uses of “h—,” “d–n” and “screw.”
Jim Gordon is rescued from a bomb blast just in time, but most of Gotham City doesn’t know it. With the city lacking its top crime fighter, terrorist Jeremiah Valeska makes his move—telling Gordon’s police partner, Harvey Bullock, that he has six hours to evacuate the city before he blows the whole thing up. Some of Gotham’s most famous villains plot to stop Jeremiah, hoping to curry favor with others. Meanwhile, Bruce tries to rescue Alfred from the clutches of the villainous Scarecrow.
Jim is apparently rescued by Edward Nygma (the Riddler) and his girlfriend, Lee Thompkins (who’s also Gordon’s ex-fiancée). When Gordon expresses surprise that the two of them are together, Nygma says, “Oh, Jim, she is with me in every way.” Barbara Kean, another of Gordon’s exes gone seriously bad, hangs out in a bar with her former (female) lover, Tabitha. Selina and Bruce kiss.
We see Alfred being tortured horribly with electric shots, dental drills and several slugs to the face. He appears to have his cheeks cut open before he’s shot gorily in the head (but is then revealed to be someone else entirely). A man with a grenade taped inside his mouth is blown up via bazooka, which sends blood and flesh flying. Dozens of people are apparently trapped in a room and burned alive. Jeremiah detonates Gotham’s clock tower, presumably killing an untold number of people. When Gordon calls Nygma a killer, Nygma retorts that Gordon is “ten times the killer I ever was,” which Gordon does not dispute. People are poisoned via gas. A critical character is shot in the stomach; when a companion touches the wound, the hand is covered in blood. Several people are shot. Someone’s attacked with a scythe.
Characters drink whiskey and martinis. Someone says “holy mother of God” and “for the love of God,” both times perhaps sincerely. Profanities include “a–,” “d–n,” “h—,” “crap” and two misuses of God’s name.
Jim Gordon goes undercover and joins the Court of Owls, a shadowy, Illuminati-like group that makes the “tough choices” it feels need to be made to allow Gotham to survive and thrive. This time, the Court wants to release a vile virus that will show the people of Gotham “their darkest selves.”
Capt. Nathanial Barnes, a former good guy, suffers from the virus himself; as a result, he’s become the vengeful Executioner. When he tries to escape from Arkham Asylum, he tears out the throat of someone who wants to stop him. The Court (with the help of Dr. Hugo Strange) infects someone else, who apparently kills a person in a lab (we see his bloodied body on the floor, and the man’s garments are also covered in blood). He then attacks two police officers—nearly strangling one before he’s overcome.
Gordon fights a would-be assassin: They trade blows, and the assassin nearly knifes him but instead is set on fire and falls out a window. (He dies, and we see his flaming torso in several later camera shots.)
Somewhere in the Himalayas, a young Bruce Wayne trains under the tutelage of a mysterious master. “Gotham needs a protector, and you need a purpose,” Wayne’s mentor says. “I’m only showing you the way.” The way involves a great deal of martial arts-like combat, where Bruce and his nameless sparring partner trade blows and wounds. We also see a flashback to when Bruce’s parents were shot and killed. The subsequent rage he feels, the tutor says, keeps Bruce from reaching his potential.
With the help of Ivy, Selena Kyle wakes up from a coma (that she suffered in a previous episode when Bruce pushed her out of a window). When she wakes up, she says she’s going to Wayne Manor to “kill someone.” There are references to previous murders and killings. Characters say “b–tard” once and “h—” twice.
Brilliant scientist Dr. Victor Fries tries to save his terminally ill wife, Nora, while killing a bevy of people who stand in his way. “He believes the good of saving me outweighs the bad of his actions,” Nora says regretfully. And when Fries tells her that as long as there’s life, there’s hope (and that he won’t stop as long as she’s alive), she arranges for her own death. Then Fries (unsuccessfully) tries to follow her.
Fries’ victims are seen as frozen corpses. Some still stand. Some have fallen, icicles jutting out from their bloody bodies. One man lies on a sidewalk, some of his limbs having broken off. Another, still alive, has his arms frozen to a steering wheel. Penguin, in the care of Dr. Strange, is subjected to “mental torture” as he screams and writhes. Gordon does his level best to stop Fries, but we also hear how he killed someone and then lied about it. Bruce plots to kill his parents’ killer, asking Selina to bring him a gun. His butler, Alfred, insists that he should be the one to kill the murderer.
We hear about Gordon’s sexual relationship with his fiancée, Lee, and about the child they’re having together. Characters say “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—” and “bloody” once or twice each. God is sometimes thanked, but His name is also misused.
Amid the evident corruption of the police force he’s a part of, James Gordon begins to work the streets with lackadaisical (and decidedly dirty) partner Harvey. First case? Solving the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Gotham’s most important philanthropists.
We see the murder: A goon fires point-blank, blood soaking his victim’s clothes. A baddie slashes Gordon’s hand with a knife before Harvey guns the guy down. Another man is brutally cut down with a fish knife. (Blood paints the tackle box.) A shootout causes more casualties. Two men are strung up with frozen meat, awaiting torture and/or death. A man is beaten severely in an alleyway, one of his assailants taking sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain. People punch, kick and get knocked out.
Strippers in backside-baring lingerie walk around on a stage. Gordon and Barbara smooch on a sofa—an obvious prelude to sex. We’re left to wonder whether Barbara had a lesbian fling in the past. We hear a crude reference to masturbation. Harvey drinks from a flask and pours the liquor into his coffee. A bad guy goes crazy without his “pills.” We hear “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “a–,” “d–n” and “h—” three or four times each, “bloody” once. God’s name is misused a few times.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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