Airdate: September 22, 2014
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Showrunner: Bruno Heller
Episode Written by: Bruno Heller, 16 other credits
Tonight saw the premiere of Fall 2014’s most anticipated show, FOX’s Gotham. Telling the story of a young Detective James “Jim” Gordon [Ben McKenzie], Gotham is going to show the origins of the members of one of the comic book world’s most storied rogue’s galleries of villains, not to mention that of a certain caped crusader. Comic book series, traditionally, have been somewhat camp, winking over-broadly at their origins, and the perceived audience for comic books – juveniles with juvenile sensibilities, ignoring completely the actual demographic of comic book readers. Finally, it appears that this is changing. Last year’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. showed that camp can be done with serious themes; tonight’s Gotham, taken from Marvel rival DC Comics, shows that this ante can be taken even higher: a show based on a comic book universe that is just as dark, just as serious, as the source material is. This is the comic book series we deserve. Click through after the break for my complete review.
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of Gotham Season 1, Episode 1 “Pilot” contains a thorough synopsis of the episode, and many spoilers – click through only after you’ve watched the show!>>
The episode begins with a young woman, crouching beside a pair of gargoyles on one of Gotham’s rooftops. She spies her prey, and scampers down to ground level. Using a concealed knife to slice open a shopping bag, she steals a milk jug, sticking it down the front of her jacket just as she passes a well-dressed man, taking his wallet. He notices and gives chase, but she clambers up a fire escape, getting away. Meet Selina Kyle [Camren Bicondova].
She’s giving some of the milk to a stray cat in an alley, when she hears people approaching. She hides, and witnesses the gunning down of Thomas [Grayson McCouch] and Martha [Brette Taylor] Wayne. The look of horror on her face mirrors young Bruce Wayne [David Mazouz]’s utter despair.
Our introduction to Jim Gordon is at the police station, where he uses smarts and distraction to disarm a crazed gunman, much to his partner Harvey Bullock [Donal Logue]’s disgust. He tells his new partner in no uncertain terms that if someone takes a cop’s gun, “you shoot him.” The desk sergeant calls out to them – there’s been a double homicide, and their ticket’s up.
It’s the Wayne murders, and Gordon immediately works with young Bruce, sympathizing with the boy and telling him about his own father’s death, caused by a drunk driver when Gordon was about Bruce’s age. Bullock, realizing who the dead couple is, wants out, asking for the MCU (Major Crimes Unit) to take over – but the fact that Gordon is already interviewing the lone witness (that they know of), means it’s their case. Bruce’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth [Sean Pertwee] shows up to take the boy home. He meets Gordon, who tells him he’s going to solve the case. “New boy, are you?” Alfred asks, and when Gordon replies affirmatively, he adds, “Good luck, mate.” The two cops head to a diner to discuss the situation, and Bullock, again, is mad. He tells Gordon in no uncertain terms that he’s gotten them “into a gigantic flaming ball of crap.” He’s ready to turn the case over to MCU when two of their officers, Renee Montoya [Victoria Cartagena] and Crispus Allen [Andrew Stewart-Jones], show up and offer to take it. However, Montoya is less than gracious, telling Bullock to “Do the right thing. For once.” Her lack of respect makes him decide to keep it – there’s no backing out now.
The episode follows Gordon and Bullock’s investigation, which takes them into the seedy underbelly of Gotham’s criminal element. Not learning anything useful from the usual gang of muggers and street toughs, they get a forensic report on the bullets used in the murder. The tech [Cory Michael Smith] starts to ask Bullock a question, when the cop interrupts him: “I want riddles I’ll look in the funny pages.” Turns out that the bullets used were very rare – and expensive, running $6 a piece. And the tech’s name? Edward Nygma – E. Nygma.
Bullock takes Gordon into the Theater District. There, we meet Fish Mooney [Jada Pinkett Smith], one of Carmine Falcone [John Doman]’s sub-bosses. Our first view of her is as she takes a baseball bat to one of her employees who has been embezzling. As she leaves to meet with Gordon and Bullock, we see one of her underlings, Oswald Cobblepot [Robin Taylor] take over, striking the man with a certain manic glee. One of the other thugs tells him “Take it easy, Penguin” – which angers Cobblepot. Apparently, the thug fails to see the manic gleam in the smaller man’s eyes – this is a dangerous person he’s dealing with.
Mooney and Bullock, much to Gordon’s surprise and concern, appear to have a pretty cozy relationship. Bullock won’t do a thing to stop her from “disciplining” one of her workers, and when Gordon goes outside, he’s stonewalled by the victim.
Gordon goes to his girlfriend, Barbara Kean [Erin Richards]’s, apartment. He begs off heading out for the evening, and we get to see just how exhausted Gordon’s new job is. He’s particularly frustrated that there aren’t any leads – he wants to keep his promise to Bruce.
Out of the blue, Bullock gets a lucky break – he calls Gordon and tells him to meet him. Mooney tipped him off to someone trying to fence a pearl necklace just like the one stolen from Martha Wayne. The two head to Mario Pepper [Daniel Stewart Sherman]’s apartment. A young girl with disheveled red hair named Ivy [Clare Foley] answers the door, warning them that her father is “mean.” Pepper is none too happy to have two cops in his apartment, and when they decide they’re going to have a look around, he bolts. A rooftop chase ensues, with Pepper shooting over his shoulder at Gordon, and Gordon, as established earlier when dealing with a crazed gunman, refuses to return fire, instead relying on quick reflexes to keep clear. The chase moves to the ground, through a sweatshop, and into a restaurant kitchen, where Pepper grabs a large knife. He hides outside, and slices Gordon’s hand, forcing him to drop his gun. They fight, with Pepper getting the upper hand. As he’s about to stab the prone Gordon, a shot rings out – Bullock has arrived in the nick of time. Pepper collapses, dead.
Sure enough, they find a pearl necklace in Pepper’s apartment. Case closed…or is it?
Cut to young Cobblepot, in the back of a police cruiser with Montoya and Allen. He tells them that the whole thing was a set-up, that he saw his boss Mooney with the necklace, and knows it was planted with the help of the police. Montoya uses this information, and approaches Gordon’s girlfriend, Barbara, telling her that “Jim Gordon is not a nice guy.” Barbara disagrees, and Montoya threatens implicitly to reveal – something. It’s not exactly clear, but it appears that the two of them may have had a relationship, one that Barbara does not want Gordon to know about.
At the Wayne funeral, Bruce thanks Gordon for solving the case. As the camera pans back, we see the huge cemetery where his parents are being interred, and it acts a mirror for the city that rises behind it – clearly showing that beneath the gleaming facade, Gotham is a city full of darkness and death.
That night, Barbara asks Gordon if he framed Pepper. He finds out from her that it was Montoya that suggested it, and he confronts her the next day, telling her that he’s going to get to the bottom of it himself. He starts to stir the hornet’s nest, suggesting to Bullock that it might be Falcone who’s behind the frame job. Bullock warns him: “This is very perilous stuff you’re messing with.” Gordon ignores his partner’s advice, ending up at Fish Mooney’s. He fights two of her thugs, only to be knocked out by Mooney herself, who is no slouch in the physical department. He’s taken to a meat packing warehouse, and hung by the feet from a meat-hook.
At the police station, Bullock is interrupted at his favorite pastime – reading the newspaper – by Barbara, who has come asking after Gordon. He stalls her, and we see him showing up at the warehouse. He asks Mooney’s henchman, Butch Gilzean [Drew Powell] to let him speak with Mooney. She agrees to let Gordon go, but as soon as Gilzean is back on the phone, she orders him to kill both officers – Bullock threatened her, and she’s not going to take it.
A massive man in chainmail and a leather mask comes into the room, carefully choosing which butcher’s knife he’s going to use. Suddenly, the warehouse doors open, and men with shotguns come in, guns blazing. All of Mooney’s men, save Gilzean, are taken out in short order. It’s Carmine Falcone and his soldiers, and he’s here to take control of the situation. He says to Gilzean, “Tell Miss Mooney she’s too impetuous. If she wants to kill policemen, she has to ask permission.” He bends down and looks at Gordon and Bullock. “There are rules,” he says, and Bullock echoes, “That’s right! There are rules.”
Falcone takes Gordon aside, and explains the Gotham ground rules to the rookie detective. He tells Gordon that he was friends with Gordon’s dad, and that’s why he didn’t allow him to be killed. There is an implied threat in the conversation, however; the fact that there are rules, as per Falcone’s understanding, means that Gordon needs to play by them as well. We see exactly what this means shortly after, when Bullock drives Gordon out to a cold grey pier, and opens the trunk. Oswald Cobblepot is huddled inside. Bullock tells Gordon that he has to shoot him in the head, so that Falcone knows he’s going to play the game. Else, Bullock’s under orders to shoot both Cobblepot and Gordon, and dump their bodies. Plus, Bullock continues, it probably means that Barbara would be taken care of as well, just in case he’s spoken with her about the case.
Gordon’s pissed – his suspicions about Bullock’s corruption are fully confirmed in this moment – but having no easy options, Gordon marches Cobblepot down to the end of the pier at gunpoint. Cobblepot pleads for his life, telling Gordon the he “sees things,” that he knows “there’s a war coming, a terrible war.” As they reach the end, Gordon whispers sternly into Cobblepot’s ear, “Don’t ever come back to Gotham.” He shoots past Cobblepot’s ear as he shoves him into the water, and Bullock nods at him, thinking he sees Gordon completing the job.
Gordon goes home to Barbara, and hugs her. She asks what’s happened, but he stays silent. He goes on his own to Wayne Manor, only to see Bruce up on the roof, standing at the edge. Alfred comes out, and yells at Bruce to come down. They go inside, where Gordon comes clean: he tells Bruce that Pepper was set-up, and that the real killer is still out there. Gordon offers to resign, but asks Bruce for a second chance to find the killer. Bruce tells him he’s happy, that he wants to meet the killer one day. He pushes Gordon’s badge back to him. And why was he on the roof? “I’m learning to conquer fear,” he tells Gordon. As Gordon drives away, there’s an unseen observer on the wall surrounding the Wayne estate – young Selina Kyle is crouching there, staring at the manor. The look in her eyes is pure empathy for the young orphan housed within.
The episode ends with Cobblepot surfacing, and making his way to the riverbank. Nearby, a fisherman glances nervously over his shoulder, thinking he’s heard a noise. Seeing nothing, he turns back to his task – and Cobblepot appears beside him. He reaches for his tackle box and a knife sitting there, but Cobblepot is quicker, grabbing the knife and slashing the other man in a single motion. He hungrily grabs the man’s sandwich sitting beside where the knife was, scarfing it down as if he hasn’t eaten in days.
This was an intense, well-written opening episode that managed to not only show a great deal of character development for the main character, but to introduce us to several major players that are sure to figure prominently throughout the series. We meet no fewer than four future villains (and a possible fifth): Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin), Edward Nygma (The Riddler), and “Ivy Pepper (Poison Ivy). The fifth? The man who shoots the Waynes who, if they stay true to canon, is likely just a low-level thug – but in other versions has been everything from a hired gun, to The Joker himself. I suspect he’ll be someone important, but I don’t think that showrunner Bruno Heller will go the Tim Burton route and make the killer an early version of The Joker. In fact, I’m willing to bet we don’t see Batman’s arch-nemesis at all this season, unless it’s in the season finale.
Gordon is conflicted, with a strong sense of right and wrong, and a highly developed moral compass. He realizes by the end of this opening hour that he will have to make compromises – at least on the surface. He can’t even trust his own partner, and he has no idea how widespread the corruption is, although he suggests in his conversation with Falcone that it involves most of the police department and goes right up to City Hall and the Mayor [Richard Kind]. McKenzie is a solid choice for the role, acting as much with his eyes as he does with his voice. He’s able to stand toe-to-toe with any of the toughs he faces, and shows that he’s never going to be a pushover, even if he doesn’t get the best of every encounter.
The supporting cast is a delight, with Pinkett Smith being particularly strong, and Donal Logue outstanding as Harvey Bullock. The villains seem perfectly cast, with Robin Taylor’s Cobblepot/The Penguin being perhaps the best iteration of this character yet to see the screen (apologies to Burgess Meredith and Danny Devito). The youngest cast members held up well, with David Mazouz showing the quiet slow burn that will eventually lead to his reification as Batman. Camren Bicondova didn’t have a spoken line, but she moves like a cat, and has an oddly beautiful face, her widely spaced eyes making one think immediately of a young Michelle Pfeiffer, an apparent nod to one of Catwoman’s many earlier actresses.
The pacing of the episode was excellent, as was the writing. Production quality was absolutely topnotch, and there was a surprising amount of graphic violence for a show that airs at 8:00pm. It definitely works – it’s a necessary part of this show if it is going to strive for the level of darkness this episode contained on a consistent basis – but be forewarned that you might want to put the little ones to bed before it airs. If the series continues with this level of quality on every level, it is bound to be not only a success, but a runaway hit. I expect huge numbers for this show.
Steve’s Grade: A
A thoroughly entertaining bow for the season’s most anticipated show. Strong acting across the board married to excellent writing spells a potentially major hit on FOX’s hands. Here’s hoping that Gotham‘s promise continues to be realized moving forward.