Episode #1: 'Pilot'
by Dan Tomasik
New police detective James Gordon investigates the mysterious murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Batman is one of those stories that will never die and never know a moment’s peace. The moment one story ends, another is already being written. Why is it the story of the caped crusader never disappears? Is it our connection with its brooding but famously mortal hero? Perhaps it’s the sheer variety of interpretations that have been presented over the years since its first publication? Maybe it’s the fantastic gallery of compelling and often disturbing rogues? Or it could just be an attempt to tap into those billions Marvel has made off its characters. Who can say? The fact remains that Batman is everywhere and its fans have exceedingly high expectations for all of its variations and reboots. Does Gotham hold up to those ludicrous standards?
Yes, and then some. Gotham brings the world of Batman back to its roots as a detective thriller, but then it takes it a step further. One of the draws of Batman is his distinct lack of superpowers. His strength comes not from magic or space, but from his mind, body, and resolve. Not to mention his absurd wealth. That is notably the one element that truly separates us from Batman; no matter how hard we try, we can’t all be billionaires.
And that’s where Gordon comes in. Not only is he not filthy rich, he also doesn’t have the advantages of a secret identity or a vigilante lifestyle. In many ways, Jim Gordon is more Batman than Batman. With such a grounded hero, the trials are far more challenging and the chance of victory far slimmer. Furthermore, as we know from the fact that many of these villains will reappear when Bruce Wayne grows up, we know that Gordon won’t vanquish them. He is fighting a war he won’t win, but he fights it anyway. That’s a true hero.
Best of all, Ben McKenzie is ready to give us that hero as well. Stepping into a role most recently played by the incomparable Gary Oldman is a daunting task to say the least, but McKenzie doesn’t waver for a second. From his first scene, he cements the character as his own. It’s such a strong and compelling performance that it almost removes the need for the Batman mythos. This has the potential to be a great detective series all its own.
The rest of the episode is phenomenal as well. The depiction of the Waynes’ deaths isn’t quite as good as it was in Batman Begins, but it still works. The depiction of Gotham, its citizens, both good & bad, the police, the corruption of justice; all of it is handled expertly. The scariest element of this episode is not a kingpin or a future rogue, but an abusive husband/father whose family is panic stricken to be near him. This is a place where the scariest thing isn’t the freaks, it’s the normals.
The villains. In the pilot alone, we’ve had glimpses of the Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, and even the Joker (pure speculation, but with some strong evidence to back it up). The big question is how well these interpretations balance the characters we know with realistic portrayals of criminals before they were supervillains. The biggest mistake Gotham can make is to dive into the deep end of supervillainy too soon. The best decision the show can make is to explore its own universe and develop its own villains.
Seeing references to Batman of the future is fine, but the show needs to stand up on its own first & foremost. This means getting rid of the training wheels and safety net. Young Bruce Wayne is not an essential ingredient for every episode, he may even be a hindrance. Constantly name-dropping what these characters will become also distracts from who they are now. In many cases, these were ordinary people whose lives suddenly and radically changed for the monstrous. Even setting aside their diabolical futures, there’s also the fact that they may have started one way and changed to another before that radical change eventually came. This is 15-20 years in the past, there are so many possibilities for all of these characters.