2014-09-26

Gotham – Can Good Survive in a Bad Place?

by Yo Snyder

As Jack Napier once pointed out in Tim Burton’s Batman, when it comes to Gotham City;
“Decent people shouldn’t live here. They’d be happier someplace else.” The
premiere of Fox’s new drama Gotham
goes a long way to show why that’s the case. Gotham city is not a nice place,
and it’s certainly not a place for “nice guys” like Jim Gordon; a fresh new
face on the Gotham police force. He believes in what’s right. He believes in
good. He sees the world in terms of black and white, good guys and bad guys.
Gotham, however, is not a place that makes those kinds of distinctions easy.
Indeed, at times it’s less of an issue of good guys and bad guys than it is of
bad guys and worse guys. Can a genuinely good guy like Jim Gordon survive
uncorrupted in a place like Gotham? Comic fans already know the answer, but
it’s not a story that’s been seen on screen before, and thus far, Gotham makes it look like it might be a
story worth telling.

Of course, it’s always hard to get a feel for where a new
show might go just from the pilot. After all, there’s a lot of introductions
and world building that needs to take place in that first episode, which can
make things rather busy. Gotham
certainly falls prey to this shortcoming as it has lots of characters to
introduce and plenty of work to do in establishing a Gotham City that has yet
to hear of the Batman. It also has a unique problem in that for many of these
characters, fans already know what will happen to them and what their fate will
be, so there’s a difficult balance to maintain in doing unexpected things with
them while still hinting at their future. Unfortunately, Gotham takes the less subtle route, with people making penguin
remarks at Oswald Cobblepot and someone asks Edward Nigma not to speak in
riddles. Yeah, we get it, these are future big-bads that Batman will face
someday, but I don’t need quite so many blatant references to their future
monikers. For fans it’s enough just to hear their names and see these
characters in new situations. For those who aren’t fans, I imagine it would be
fun to later on find out, “Oh, he’s that
guy?!” So why spoil any of that fun by being so obvious?

As for the main characters, Ben Mckienze plays a fine Jim
Gordon. He has a bit more of an edge and he’s somewhat more serious and dour
than other versions of him, but it works for this show. And I do like him being
more physical and smart. Often in the comics and animated shows, Gordon is
always two steps behind the World’s Greatest Detective, which makes him look
not so smart. But since Batman isn’t on the scene yet, it’s fun to see that
Gordon has a pretty keen, sharp, deductive mind of his own. Donal Logue could
steal the show as Detective Harvey Bullock, which is something the character
wouldn’t be above doing; stealing, that is. Bullock is the cop who’s been in
Gotham long enough to know how things work, knows not to rock the boat, and
long ago gave up on the ideal of “doing the right thing.” For now, he just
wants to survive. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), he’s been
saddled with the new guy, do-gooder cop and former war hero idealist Jim Gordon
as his partner. They dynamic between these two is where the core of this show
needs to develop as it’s the pilot’s strongest, most entertaining element. Jada
Pinkett Smith also makes a strong impression as the gang boss Fish Mooney, a
new character made for this show, but one that is strong enough that I can see
her becoming a part of the Batman overall mythos.

Along with all the character introductions, there’s also a
lot happening in this episode. The Wayne’s are murdered, Gordon meets Bruce
Wayne for the first time, we get short glimpses of a very different Alfred
Pennyworth, we learn just how much organized crime and corruption there is in
Gotham, we learn of certain characters motivations, and Jim Gordon discovers
that thriving in Gotham as a “good guy” may not be as easy to do as he thought.
As Bullock explains to him, sometimes you got to do a bad thing in order to do
a good thing. Whew, is that a loaded
statement! Can Gordon kill a man in cold blood at the bequest of a crime lord –
a very bad thing for a good cop – just to protect the ones he loves from a
bunch of very bad things? Plus, taking out a future super-villain (not that
Gordon knows that future) could help save a lot of pain and destruction, so
that’s a good thing, right? But is it true that bad things can help lead to
good things? Can negatives lead to a positive? Can evil beget good? Is doing
the right thing, the good thing, worth doing if it will just lead to a whole
lot of bad coming down on the one who does what is right? These are tough,
morally complex questions; ones that I hope are explored in-depth as Jim
Gordon’s journey through Gotham evolves.

However, in the meantime, I can’t help but think of Jesus in
Garden of Gethsemane when it comes to finding an answer to these questions.
Jesus knew that doing the right thing, the good thing, was going to lead to a
whole lot of bad for him; suffering, pain, beating, torture and eventually
death. But he also knew that the right thing would lead to a whole lot of good
for rest of the world. And when he was offered a chance to do the bad thing,
and perhaps take a different path in doing a good thing when he was tempted in
the desert, he knew that although that bad thing might have given him a chance
to do some good, that good wouldn’t ever have been good enough, and certainly
not as good as doing the right thing. And so, Jesus chose to suffer, die, and
rise from the grave in order to save the world. He could have avoided that. He
could have taken the Devil’s offer to rule the world, and perhaps do a lot of
good that way. But that wouldn’t have been enough to save this world from sin,
and so Jesus did the right thing, because only that could lead to true good. It
wasn’t an easy choice, and sometimes in the real world, just like in Gotham,
that choice never is.

All in all, it’s not a bad start for Gotham, but while I enjoyed the debut, it never fully pulled me in
quite the way I was expecting. It’s off to a better start than Agents of Shield, but there’s still a
lot of work left for this show to do in order to prove it’s worth coming back
to week after week once the initial curiosity factor has faded. How thing will
balance between Jim Gordon’s adventure’s in Gotham, the development of the
future super-villains, and the development of one Bruce Wayne into a future
vigilante is going to be tough to carry forward, but if the characters are
engaging enough, like with Gordon and Bullock, this could be a really good show
despite basically being Batman Begins…Again.

Score: 5 of 7 – Just a
note, this is a pretty gritty show, and dark. It doesn’t shy away from brutal violence,
implied and shown, and done have some sensuality, implied and shown. Definitely
not for the younger crowd.