Gotham Season 1, Episode 1: ‘Pilot’
Written by Bruno Heller
Directed by Danny Cannon
Airs Mondays at 8pm ET on FOX
Batman is one of the most iconic comic book superheroes of all time and has been amongst the pop culture zeitgeist for, at most, three quarters of a century, being adapted into all kinds of media, from novels to video games and of course, to film and television. Strangely enough, as popular as the hero has been throughout the decades, the character has had very little time on the live action small screen. Even now, in this newest retelling of his origin story, Batman himself is not expected to make a full costumed appearance. Instead we are introduced to all the tangential characters that surround the Batman mythology and formulate Batman’s allies and foes.
There is a fine line to walk when adapting a comic book character for live action television or film. The difficulty comes in knowing which elements of the source material to employ and which details to downplay. For this new series, the creative team have chosen to do away with costumed heroics in favor of gritty film noir action. It’s a decision that works really well for the series, as in the Batman mythology the better stories are those in the noir style. The Gotham pilot is working on two levels, as good adaptions should: On the surface, by taking the familiarity of the property and presenting it in a fresh way, and deeper, with a narrative that tells a genuinely compelling story about crime, corruption, and the struggle for morality.
Gotham‘s unique take on Batman is its protagonist: the series will be telling the superhero’s origin story from the perception of future commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department Jim Gordon. The pilot introduces the world of Gotham from his perspective; he is the moral center through which we will view the ugliness of the City. Gordon returns to Gotham after having served in the military for some time, coming home with his wife, Barbara, to work in the police department. Ben McKenzie is an incredible casting choice for young Jim Gordon, as he captures the essence of the character’s professionalism and skill as a cop perfectly, as well as demonstrates an impressive range of emotional depth in scenes where he is sympathizing with Bruce Wayne or having a stare down with Fish Mooney.
Every great protagonist needs a good foil while facing down the underworld, and for Gordon that foil is Harvey Bullock. Harvey is Gordon’s partner, a veteran cop who has customized his own ethics in order to survive in Gotham City. Most successful TV shows need at least one set of actors with strong dynamic interplay to withstand a long run, and this series surely has that great team in McKenzie and Donal Logue. A proven character actor who can do comedy as well as crime drama, Logue is at the top of his game here with his portrayal of Harvey. He has great charisma despite his sleaze and just enough of a moral compass that he isn’t completely deplorable.
One of the most impressive characters in Gotham‘s pilot is Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. There is a mischievousness that Pinkett Smith brings to the role that is both playful and dangerous that really makes Mooney a fun character to watch. Fish Mooney is actually a new character created for the series in order to add a little surprise for fans whose familiarity with the source material could make the show predictable. She’s a very dynamic character that will surely make an entrance into the comic book universe, in a similar vein to Smallville’s Chloe Sullivan, who made the leap by the end of that series. The character is really that good.
Other notable characters that stand out in the pilot are Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot, David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, Erin Richards as Barbara Keane, Sean Pertwee as Alfred, and John Doman as Carmine Falcone.
The Case File: The Wayne Murders
In the pilot, the first case that Gordon and Bullock are assigned is that of the Wayne Murders. The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne is definitely an important event in the Batman mythology, so needless to say, it’s going to be a significant case in this series. In this Gotham version of the Wayne murders, though, a key element from the mythology is changed by making the murderer appear to have targeted the Wayne parents with intent to kill instead of just being a simple robbery gone wrong. So now the question becomes who placed the hit on the Waynes, and why?
The mystery of who planned the murders is still up in the air. Although they are teasing that Carmine Falcone may be a suspect, as he is the head of the crime bosses, there is a possibility that he did not plan it. Falcone doesn’t seem to be a purely villainous character on this series, judging by his conversation with Gordon. In his own way, he feels he’s maintaining order in a city of chaos. He tells Gordon that ‘there are rules’ and if he didn’t plan the Wayne murders, then someone is breaking those rules.
There seems to be a change coming in Gotham City, and the death of the Waynes is a signifier of that power balance being shifted or challenged, especially if the hit was not placed by Falcone. Already within the episode, there have been power plays put into action by Mooney and Cobblepot separately. There are certainly more players in the game, and this season, they may very well all be coming out of the woodwork.
The pilot, written by Bruno Heller, sets up the world of Gotham very quickly and covers a lot of ground, from Gordon’s home life to the main villain Carmine Falcone, by episode’s end. There is a great film noir vibe to the writing and characters, and it comes off the screen with a tint of dark humor to balance the gritty action. The idea to populate Gotham with characters from the Batman rogues gallery is particularly interesting as it is not just winks to the fans, but nods to the characters’ destinies as villains as well. Each future foe is already essentially the persona they will become, but in the present timeline of the series, rather than having emerged just in time to fight the iconic costumed hero. In this episode, Oswald is already The Penguin, he’s just antagonizing Gordon instead of Batman. There is a good possibility that this series will never reach the point where Batman is actualized as a caped crusader, and it’s more than likely not the writers’ intent to get there. The narrative appears to be playing with the iconography of Batman more than anything, much in the same way that DC comics’ Elseworld series does, where they can change and shift elements of the Batman mythology in order to suit the story the writers want to tell.
The production of the pilot is extraordinarily well done. It is directed by Danny Cannon, who is clearly drawing inspiration from films that are classified as neo noir, such as Blade Runner, Serpico and Manhunter. The colors are moody and dark with splashes of neon for contrast. The cityscape is taken from New York City’s skyline and given depth via computer generated imaging, the two seamlessly blended together to create a presence to the city that is unlike any other presentation of Gotham. The music, composed by Graeme Revell, is another strength, giving the pilot weight without being overwhelming. Overall, the production is outstanding, and it sets a very high standard of quality that hopefully will continue in the next fifteen episodes.
- Cameos in this episode of notable characters to come: The Riddler, The Joker, Poison Ivy and Catwoman.
- Poison Ivy’s name in the comic books is Pamela Isley. There may be a reason why the writers seem to have changed it to Ivy Pepper. Hmm…
- What kind of sick mind does Fish Mooney have that she finds the Joker’s morbid humor to be hilarious? Perhaps in this version, the Joker plots seemingly demented crimes in order to impress or get Fish’s attention. “The Laughing Fish”, anyone?
- Is it just me or in the scene in Gordon’s apartment, Erin Richards as Barbara Keane is made to look just like Nicole Kidman’s character from Batman Forever?
- Speaking of Barbara Keane, they are totally teasing Batwoman plot points with the less than subtle vibe of a romantic history between Babs and Renee Montoya.
- Bruce conquering his fear of heights is very interesting and really falls in line with his character. I’m also really enjoying this new version of Alfred saying ‘Oi!’
- This new Catwoman looks very cool. I’m curious to find out why she’s following Bruce around. More thoughts on this in the next review.