Batman’s a bit like Jesus (hear me out on this). We don’t know much about exactly what occurred when either of them were children, other than for a few key events; otherwise, it seems to be a total mystery as to how they became the men that they ultimately grew up to be. These ‘missing years’ give us lots of room for speculation and filling in the blanks ourselves.
Certain aspects of the Batman story seem reasonably immutable and set in stone, no matter how many iterations there are over the years. However, the gap which exists between boy and (Bat)man seems pretty much up for grabs, as there hasn’t really been a definitive account of what young Bruce Wayne did in the wilderness. All we know for certain is that he watched his parents get murdered, fell into a cave filled with bats, and the legend was born.
A recent attempt to chronicle this part of Bruce’s life came with DC’s ‘The New 52’, and part of the ‘Zero Year’ storyline was used in the arc for Season 5 of Gotham. In fact, Gotham has probably been the most detailed attempt to cover the journey that takes Bruce from victim to vigilante, over half a decade, while also showing how his Rogues’ Gallery came into being. It seems to have started a trend for prequel origin tales, with SyFy’s Krypton now embarked upon its second term, and Pennyworth from Epix about to go even further back and show us a younger (and Bruce-less) Alfred.
With such fertile ground, Gotham could easily have run for longer, but the plug was pulled and a drastically curtailed last outing was planned to wrap up the story. Despite having run for half the length of Smallville, the end goal was always the same – give the audience the payoff after loyally following the show, by building up to the big reveal, where the hero dons his cape (and, in this case, cowl), signifying the end of one chapter, and the start of a new one, where we get into more familiar territory. And then exeunt, Gotham.
It was always going to be interesting to see how the makers of Gotham would address the elephant (or, maybe, bat) in the room, as there seems to have been an aversion on the part of DC to allow there to be any more than one Batman – and, even then, only to allow him on the big screen. Animated series aside, the only time we’ve seen Batman on TV is in the 1960s Adam West series; even Titans in its first season only showed him briefly (and then only played by a stuntman), but Season 2 has cast Iain Glen as an older Bruce Wayne, so things may have turned a corner as far as television depictions are concerned.
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Having only a dozen episodes in which to try and wrap up the four previous years of storylines is no mean feat, and by doing so, Season 5 of Gotham has managed to simultaneously feel both too short and too long; not enough time to breathe, and yet somehow drawn out at the same time. It’s actually quite an achievement when you think about it. The storytelling’s suffered as a result, as you have to cram so much in, but some continuing strands haven’t been handled especially well, and some of the plotting has felt circuitous or circular at times.
That’s not to say this last hurrah has been a failure, or there hasn’t been anything to shout about, as it’s still hugely enjoyable. One thing that’s become painfully clear, however, is that things seem to sag when Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) isn’t on screen – he’s come close to being one of the definitive versions of the Joker, and been a welcome breath of fresh air, after the appalling Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. However, he’s so good that when he isn’t around, you’re waiting for him to turn up again, so he’s actually made the show a victim of his own success.
The next best villain on the show, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), has been a joy to watch, with his manic, calculating glee, and his combative and – sometimes – homoerotic relationship with Penguin, a.k.a. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), has lifted and carried the series through some weaker patches. However, he’s mostly wasted here, spending much of his time investigating the blackouts he’s been having, and then discovering that he’s been turned into a mind-controlled puppet. Riddle me this: why on Earth did they choose to squander Nygma, and wait until the finale to let him find form once again?
Considering the tale’s been told through the eyes of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), he’s hardly been the most compelling or sympathetic of characters, making some truly questionable moral decisions, and a lot of effort is put into positioning him to become the Commissioner Gordon who we all know; one of these dodgy choices comes with him having a torrid one-night stand with his ex – and gangland crime boss – Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), just so she can get pregnant and give us the future Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. I really won’t miss McKenzie’s irritating growling voice, nor his jutting jaw, all of which he seems to think passes for actual acting.
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Through it all, the natural core of Gotham has understandably been the pairing of Alfred Pennyworth (the inimitable Sean Pertwee) and young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). It’s actually turned out to be an incredibly intelligent piece of casting by picking Mazouz, as you’d have to have a lot of confidence that he could actually play Bruce on his trajectory from boy to young man, and then credibly setting up his transformation into Batman; Mazouz has managed to grow beyond the rather wet and feeble Bruce who we first met, turning into the proto-Dark Knight who started to emerge in Season 4.
Gotham has certainly done a creditable job in working in so much of the whole Batman mythos, setting up the genesis of so many adversaries, including – in this latest season – Bane (Shane West), who thankfully erred more toward Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, rather than the embarrassing cartoon henchman we saw in Batman & Robin. However, the money shot we’ve all been waiting for comes at the end of the final episode, bringing us our newest Batman. The fact it leaves us wanting more means it really is mission accomplished, and is pretty much the best ending they could have aimed for.
Holy withdrawal symptoms, Batman.