Fox is going back to the beginning of one of the icons of the Batman universe, James Gordon (The O.C and Southland’s Ben McKenzie) to see how the city warped into the rotten petri dish we all know and love.
The pilot begins with a young pick-pocket, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), stalking the streets of Gotham City. After pinching a wallet and a bottle of milk to feed an alley cat, she takes perch in a fire escape to avoid the attention of a family passing by. Here’s where Weller competes with Christopher Nolan about how many Catwoman references you can make without saying the word ‘Catwoman.’ The next scene is one that’s etched into the collective pop-cultural memory. The Wayne family; Thomas (Grayson McCouch), Martha (Brette Taylor) and Bruce (David Mazouz); are confronted in the street by a masked robber and gunned down. Pawing over his parents bodies, as Martha Wayne’s pearls bounce into an encroaching pool of blood; but instead of the silent dread of countless comic book panels, the young Bruce Wayne screams in terror. It’s spine tingling stuff.
The first detectives on the scene are Gordon and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Bullock’s a seasoned cop and immediately wants to leave but it is Gordon that is drawn to the devastated young Bruce reeling from the events. It’s their first encounter and Gordon’s compassion rings through until the young man’s guardian Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) comes on the scene. Gone is the now canonical Michael Caine version of Alfred (the size of a tangerine), he’s tough and forces Bruce to stand tall and remain poised in the face of the unimaginable.
This investigation takes Gordon and Bullock through the entire spectrum of Gotham’s criminality. Now get your shot glass ready, it’s time to drink every time you get introduced to a future Rogue. Firstly to Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney (a new character), a crime boss running her operations out of her strip club, who has Bullock wrapped around her little finger. Her underlings include a young and ambitious Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor) *DRINK* and they give the detectives a hot tip regarding a suspect, Mario Pepper (Daniel Stewart Sherman). When the detectives visit Pepper and his family, including his daughter Ivy (Clare Foley) *DRINK*, he reacts fiercely and sets the police on a chase, which results in Bullock having to shoot him before he mortally wounds Gordon.
Upon ransacking the apartment they find Martha Wayne’s pearls and have their killer gift wrapped. Gordon goes to the huge state funeral for Thomas and Martha Wayne to tell young Bruce that his parents’ killer has been apprehended. While his partner Bullock loves how neat this is, Gordon isn’t happy, and his girlfriend Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) hears from a source that the evidence was planted. When Gordon confronts Bullock you see that there’s a rat within Mooney’s crew, a Penguin shaped rat.
The following confrontation between Mooney and the detectives results in Fish deciding that the best course of action is to ‘end’ her relationship with the cops and forces kingpin Carmine Falcone (John Doman) to intervene to define the boundaries. Gordon gets to see to corrupt fabric of Gotham and must conform or perish.
Finally, Gordon visits Wayne to admit the truth, his parents’ killer is still out there and he’s free to do with that what he will.
It’s clear that show-runner Bruno Heller is throwing absolutely everything into this pilot to get the show picked up and it seems to have worked with Fox giving the series a 16 episode run. It seems as though every single significant character that they could possibly integrate into the first series makes an appearance in this episode. The Penguin, crime lab officer Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), Poison Ivy and Carmine Falcone all appear and result in a rogues gallery traffic jam. One hopes that the mere lip service they’re given in the opening episode is rewarded with entire arcs as the series progresses.
The series potential rests on McKenzie’s capable shoulders. It’s a reimagining of Gordon that sticks to his fervent idealist roots, but adds experience in the armed forces and ties his own history to Gotham’s justice (his father was the city’s District Attorney), which teases the man much later down the line, shackled by the ineffectual justice.
The secret magic of the first episode (and hopefully the series) is in the chemistry between Mazouz’s Bruce and McKenzie’s Gordon. Every scene that they’re together, underscored with tastes of Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight trilogy score, explodes off of the screen. Deciding that young Bruce should form an integral part of the series was a masterstroke by Heller and it calms any worry that a Batman series without Batman is futile.. Gordon tells Bruce, “Fear is good, it tells you where the edge is.” Mazouz flashes McKenzie a look that foreshadows the epic story to come.
Episode one of Gotham opens the door to an exciting unexplored territory of the Bat-universe. Even as a raging Bat fan I can tell you objectively that this is not going to be the best episode of the series, far from it. This is Heller’s sales pitch for the premise, a show about Batman’s world, before Batman. You know where I’ll be next week; same Gordon time, same Gordon channel.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Danny Cannon
Written by: Bruno Heller (based on the characters created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane)
Jada Pinkett Smith … Fish Mooney
Ben McKenzie … Detective James Gordon
Donal Logue … Detective Harvey Bullock
Clare Foley … Ivy Pepper
David Mazouz … Bruce Wayne
Camren Bicondova … Selina Kyle
Sean Pertwee … Alfred Pennyworth
Erin Richards … Barbara Kean
Robin Taylor … Oswald Cobblepot
Cory Michael Smith … Edward Nygma
Zabryna Guevara … Captain Sarah Essen
Victoria Cartagena … Renee Montoya
Drew Powell … Butch Gilzean
Grayson McCouch … Dr. Thomas Wayne
William Andrew Brewer … Perpetrator
Brette Taylor … Martha Wayne
Joseph Urban … The Butcher
Rajeev Pahuja … District Attorney
Daniel Stewart Sherman … Mario Pepper