‘Gotham’ Season Five: A Disappointing Dip In Quality From A Team That Can Do Much Better

I love Gotham. It’s genuinely awesome, I love watching every episode, and for the most part, I think the general trend in its quality was upwards. That’s both why I’ve been a bit disappointed in season five and why I’m posting this now instead of after the finale: I know these are people that can do much better than they are now; I’m holding out hope that they kill it with the last two episodes; and even if they don’t, I still want to end the show on a positive note, thinking about what’s good about it, not what’s disappointing. So let’s talk about season five.

One of the things that was awesome about about the show was that it felt like it was constantly improving. Even at its messiest, it was still enjoyable. It’s not that season five has been terrible. The writers didn’t drop the ball as much or as obviously as the Titans writers did with their season one finale…but it sure wasn’t as awesome as different parts of the show has been. As much as I enjoyed certain parts of it, the entirety of the season has made me think, oh. Huh.

Use Of Characters

It started from the very beginning. Season four ended in a spectacular fashion. That finale was amazing. The bridges were blown; the Rogues were carving up territory; Alfred and Selina were about to leave Gotham while Bruce stayed to be completely on his own for the first time; Bruce declared that he was making Gotham his responsibility, effortlessly beat up criminals to find out where Jeremiah was, and stood by Gordon on the roof of the GCPD as an equal. It completely upended the status quo of the show…except 5×01 walked back on Alfred and Selina leaving, so we didn’t get to see how Bruce handles himself alone.

I love Selina and Alfred. They have a great dynamic with each other, they each have a great relationship with Bruce, and the interactions between the three of them is fantastic, because character development is traditionally something this show has done a great job with. But I’d have really appreciated even just an episode or two of Bruce working solo before they got back to the island! An episode of Alfred and Selina on their own! Batman isn’t a solitary hero. He needs his allies. And it would be nice to have that demonstrated definitively in this specific universe by taking away the two people that have served as his primary supports.

Season five Lee is basically season two Lee again. I’ve seen other people complaining about that on Tumblr only to be met with the condescending response that we just don’t appreciate that an ordinary woman can be just as interesting as the Queen of the Narrows. That’s an inaccurate assessment of why we find it annoying. It’s not about Lee’s role in the story or position, it’s about character growth. While where she ended up in season five could have been interesting and earned…we missed a few steps. And honestly? Missed steps or no, I also think season four Lee was closer to being like the Leslie Thompkins of the comics than season five Lee could ever be. She was harder, she was tougher, she’d stopped worrying about anything other than the people of the Narrows and how she could help them. Season five Lee isn’t a result of growth past her dark phase. It’s just her regressing in the most boring way. Which brings us to the next way in which the season has been a bit of a disappointment – the lack of regard for continuity.

Continuity And Timelines

The way continuity used to work in Gotham is that everyone did so many terrible things to each other, that they eventually had to start prioritizing. They’d set aside grudges and feuds, sometimes forever, because they needed the help of whoever they were feuding with to handle something else. There would be nods to past feuds or events, but there would always be something driving them forward so that while past events happened, the focus remained on what was to come. But in season five, it just feels like they’re ignoring all those past events.

Arguably the longest lasting grudge was Lee and Barbara’s – Lee was still mad at Barbara until literally the most recent episode. Unlike most others grudges, this one didn’t fade. Even when Lee had other priorities, she never let go of the fact Barbara tried to kill her. This extended to her being upset at Jim for sleeping with her. Which would have been fine and consistent and logical…except no one brought up Ed.

It’s not that I expected Lee – or even Jim – to point out that it’s hypocritical for Lee to be mad about Jim sleeping with the woman that tried to kill her when she herself had been involved with the man that framed Jim for murder and got him tossed in Arkham. But the fact that no one did, not Harvey or Barbara or any of the people that knew about Lee and Ed’s relationship felt more like a dismissal of continuity and everything that happened in season four than it did an intentional characterization decision. Doubly so in that there was pretty much no conclusion to what happened between those two.

Season four could have been a solid ending for Lee and Ed. They literally stabbed each other! If that’s not a send off for their relationship, I don’t know what is. Problem is, they came back. And not just as minor characters, as characters with pretty substantive plots going on. Had they just not appeared in the season and we were left knowing Hugo Strange had brought them back or had they been in smaller roles that didn’t explore any of their thoughts, feelings, and histories, it would have definitely felt like a cop out…but it also wouldn’t have left us with this awkward situation we got the briefest mention of what happened between them – via Ed telling Lee that she stabbed him first – without it affecting them in any lasting way. The way Lee and Jim left things in season four also felt like a very definitive ending. They weren’t angry with each other anymore, but they weren’t about to get back together, either. Cue season five, where they decided, screw that! They should get married!

The idea of reunification has been a Yo-Yo Plot Point all season. As a result, episodes that are probably good out of context feel like they’re just taking up space and time because they don’t have lasting consequences. Like, what does it matter that Jeremiah dumped chemicals into the river and stopped reunification? The river was cleaned up off screen by the next episode and reunification was on the table again anyway. It’s been going on all season, and it’s getting stale. That kind of back and forth plot with no resolution is fine when it comes to things like relationships and feuds because we’re talking about villains doing bad things, and it’s not like they’re always getting mad about the same thing. But when it comes to the overarching story rather than the characters…it’s just not fun.

All this lack of regard for continuity is even more apparent when you think about how the season four finale ended – the Rogues were all dividing up territory! As I brought up earlier, Selina and Alfred were about to leave the island! But then in season five, Alfred and Selina turned out to have not gone anywhere, and some of the Rogues that were carving up the city, like Firefly and Mr. Freeze, haven’t been seen at all. Even disregarding how the events of this season fit in with the previous seasons, the timeline is a mess! It’s all over the place! Some episodes take place over the span of a few hours or days, either immediately before or after the events of a different episode. Others take place over weeks or months, well after whatever happened in the previous episode. At the end of one episode, Barbara announced she was pregnant. The episode after that was about the couple days after that announcement, and the one immediately after that was her giving birth. The GCPD took back the rest of the city from the gangs and cleaned up the river and whatever else they were doing all off screen! Between episodes! Do I know why they’ve been doing that? Sure. They only had ten episodes to work with, then got two added after the fact. They had a plan as to how they wanted to end the show, and ultimately had to cram it into fewer episodes than they wanted to, with the additional two episodes not being helpful as more than filler because they weren’t told they had them until late in the game. But my understanding doesn’t make it any less messy.

The Newfound Obsession With Elements Of The Mythos

What’s great about Gotham is how it’s an amalgamation of different DC canons. Throughout all the seasons, the creators have taken bits and pieces from comics and movies, blended them with the familiar notes that everyone knows, and put their own unique spin on it to make something that, while very recognizably Batman, is still something we haven’t seen before. Which is why the way this season has handled the Joker and Bane isn’t particularly appealing to me.

I love Jeremiah. And that’s honestly surprising to me because I almost never care about the Joker. The Dark Knight, while a movie I have complicated feelings about, is one where pretty much everyone, regardless of their feelings towards the movie as a whole, adores Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. For me…he was very good, but I think Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face was better! (Actually, I have complicated feelings about that, too, but more in terms of the writing than the acting, and either way, this isn’t the place. But if anyone wants to talk about that…I could talk all day. With dramatic gestures.) I wasn’t left in awe of the Joker! I don’t consider that the greatest villain performance ever or anything. Similarly, Gotham viewers loved Jerome. But Jerome always kind of bored me. He didn’t come across as particularly threatening. He was overshadowed by many of the other villains. Not the case with Jeremiah. But the writers were so fixated on the idea of the Joker and creating this rivalry with Bruce, it felt as if they started buying into the idea that’s been propagated lately about the Joker as the single most important Batman villain, with the biggest role in Bruce’s life, and decided that it’s essential they bring that part of the mythos into the show. The thing is…that’s been so shoehorned in, it falls a bit flat.

In the comics, if we accept it as true that Bruce has any more focus on the Joker than any of his other villains, the only reason for that is that the Joker has hurt his family more directly. Since that family doesn’t exist here, we’re getting Jeremiah pushed in some really awkward ways. It’s not solely a season five problem – the origins of this awkward pushing go back all the way to season two with Jerome. Selina getting shot in season four was very clearly a shout out to The Killing Joke, which I didn’t love that for a lot of reasons. But it’s a problem that’s most glaring here. The allusions to the mythos didn’t feel nearly as much there for the sake of the checkbox as the Ace Chemicals thing or Ecco as a stand in for Harley. Those weren’t necessary, there was no build up. Jeremiah learning about Bruce’s parents and fixating on him so much as his best friend ended up feeling like they were adding more elements of Harvey Dent – who we haven’t seen in forever and who wasn’t much like his comics counterpart – to Jeremiah and making him some strange composite character than actually giving us organic growth to increase Jeremiah’s importance.

On top of all that, neither Bane nor the introduction of Nyssa has done anything for me. For a start, they were both whitewashed, which sucks. Especially because Ra’s wasn’t.  That was great casting, and the first time that the role hasn’t been whitewashed, which made it all the more disappointing to see Bane and Nyssa whitewashed. Even outside of the casting issue, everything about the two of them comes across as derivative of something else. They marked off the checkbox of “Bane breaks Bruce’s back” with a forced, awkwardly crammed in visual of him tossing Alfred to the side. It’s empty. Is Knightfall a good story? Sure. But trying to tie it in here is trite and unnecessary. And a lot of the rest of it comes across as a ripoff of The Dark Knight Rises, just with Nyssa replacing Talia, from the general “Ra’s’s daughter wants revenge” to the specific quotes they use. That’s unfortunate, because Gotham hasn’t actually done that before. Not that directly. It’s always putting unique spins on whatever they’re homaging in a given instant. But this season has just been painfully lazy.  It means that they really have to land the last two episodes to ensure that the show gets a good send off. Unfortunately, some of what we know about them is making me very nervous.

The Finale

From what I understand, Camren Bicondova won’t be playing Selina Kyle in the flash forward. This was a surprise to learn, and I’m still kind of crossing my fingers and hoping it isn’t true. But if it is…yikes.

I had my reservations when I learned that the finale will be set in the future. I discussed that a little here. After we found out how it was going to go in regards to Bruce – David Mazouz’s head imposed on a double’s body – those reservations were mostly centred around whether it would look weird or if Mazouz looks too young to convincingly pass as someone a decade older. But now we’re going back to my original concern: they’re really giving us a finale without all the characters we’ve spent five seasons with. By the time the finale airs, we’ll have spent ninety nine episodes with Bicondova as Selina. We’ve spent so many episodes with them

And what’s worse is there’s no actual reason for the recasting.

It can’t be about age, because they’re using Mazouz for Bruce. It can’t be about “looking like the character” because not only does Lili Simmons, who will apparently be playing older Selina, not bear much more resemblance to the comics version of the character than Bicondova does, they made a decision when they cast Bicondova to begin with that it would be absurd to walk back on now. It can’t be about ability to play the character because Bicondova has owned the role for years, has the athletic skills necessarily to pull off whatever she needs to, and besides, there’s no reason they can’t impose her face on a double as they’re doing with Mazouz if there were major stunts involved. There is absolutely no legitimate reason that Bicondova can’t play adult Selina.

Related image

Simmons doesn’t look dissimilar to Bicondova. But the ways in which she looks different aren’t exactly ways that are believable changes with age. When you consider the fact that she is a few years older, considerably taller, and has a narrower face…it ends up feeling like a rehash of what they did with Ivy. It feels like they’re saying that Bicondova was good enough to play teenage Selina, but they have a rigid image of an adult Catwoman that they’re not willing to budge on, no matter how perfectly Bicondova played the role. And as unpleasant as it is, the rigid image is a very specific “sexiness”,  regardless how little sense that makes for this version of the character. The creators can’t envision a Catwoman that’s not tall and slender and sultry. It doesn’t matter to them that Camren Bicondova is both gorgeous and a great Selina because they apparently care more about their ideal Catwoman aesthetic than they do all the fantastic quirks and nuances to her performance that can’t just be duplicated.

I have nothing against Simmons. I don’t even know who she is. But if this is really happening, it’s gross. Bicondova deserves better than being tossed aside after spending five seasons developing this character. Selina deserves better than to be diminished to just the way she looks. And the audience deserves better than this kind of ending.


Now, look. Gotham is almost always an enjoyable time. Even though I haven’t loved this season, it’s had many good moments. It’s been fun to watch. And perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high going into this season just because of how much I loved season four. But I can’t help but be disappointed anyway. Final seasons should be a culmination of the best parts of a show. They should involve the writers learning from what worked in the previous seasons and learning from their missteps to come up with something amazing. They should remind the audience of why they love the show at all. Gotham‘s season five hasn’t done any of that. After the last two episodes air, I’ll be much more positive and focusing on everything I love about the show, because it’s a lot. But I just had to make note of what I found frustrating first.

Advertisements

DC’s Weird Joker Obsession

It’s no secret that I love Batman. I mean, of course I do, who doesn’t? Batman v Superman is my favourite movie ever made. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my favourite cartoons. And Gotham is absolutely delightful in its over the top black comedy brilliance. Where I differ from many Batman fans, and it seems DC itself, is that I don’t give a damn about the Joker.

It’s not about him being abusive to Harley or killing a lot of people or anything like that, because there’s a difference between being a bad person and being a bad character. The Joker is a bad person, which would be fine, except I just don’t find him interesting. In a world with criminals like the Riddler, Two Face, and Mr. Freeze, I find his “crazy” schtick played out and tiresome (Not to mention ableist in a way that the other villains simply aren’t).

In the last episode of Gotham, once the villains broke out of Arkham, Jim said that something “this big, this insane” had to be the work of Jerome Valeska, and I don’t get that at all. It seems to me like a sign of DC buying into their own idea that the Joker is the scariest Batman villain and not going to the effort to actually show us how that’s true. The evidence doesn’t support it, because their versions of Penguin, Professor Pyg, the Riddler, and Mad Hatter have all had many more moments of being absolutely terrifying than Jerome h as. With Jerome, it feels like they’re doing something you can’t often accuse Gotham of doing, and that’s relying on the comics to make us care.

What’s the worst thing Jerome has done? Shot up a few places? Killed someone with a bomb? Sure, whatever. That would be scary in our world, but this is Gotham City! That’s what they call Tuesday! He’s been defeated by a teenage Bruce, and the only reason he didn’t die again is that Bruce stopped two people from killing him – three if we count  Bruce himself. He once came back to life and stapled his face back on, which was both a mythology gag and gruesome, but even that pales in comparison to what other characters have done. And yet he’s still pushed as soooooo scary, as if Penguin hasn’t spent four seasons doing way worse things.

Fish Mooney has gouged out her own eye out of sheer spite. The Riddler dismembered his girlfriend’s corpse and hid the parts all over the police station. Penguin’s revenge scheme culminated in him freezing Nygma, putting him on display, and claiming that he was doing it because his dear friend had a deadly disease and he’d unfreeze him once there was a cure. Jervis hypnotizes people into killing themselves. If I was a Gothamite, I’d rather not meet Jerome, but if I had a choice between him and just about any other villain in the city? I’d take my chances with him, because most of what he has going for him is hype and informed scariness.

Arrow writers have complained about Green Arrow’s lack of iconic villains. Their solution to that wasn’t to work really hard to make new or existing villains interesting and intimidating, it was to instead use other characters’ enemies. Deathstroke, traditionally a Nightwing villain. Ra’s al Ghul, traditionally a Batman villain, coupled with the storyline that’s traditionally Batman’s. Gotham has demonstrated that they don’t need that, and not just because Batman’s Rogues Gallery is iconic. Some of their best work occurs when they take a comic villain – one that’s easy to laugh at when in print – and make them much, much scarier. Mad Hatter isn’t intimidating or iconic in the comics, but in the show? He’s downright terrifying.

I, like a lot of people, was skeptical in the early days of the show because I didn’t know how they were going to handle the villains. Season one was a pretty straightforward mob drama/police procedural with a lot of call forwards. But season two turned up the intensity on everything – more subplots, more camp, characters going full on themed supervillain – and demonstrated that this is basically an Elseworlds tale with its own continuity where they’ll do whatever they feel like doing, proving that, for all the show is absurd and filled with characters that have weird gimmicks, the show itself doesn’t rely upon the gimmick of being “Gotham before Batman” with constant winks and nudges to where the characters will be in fifteen years.

But when it comes to Jerome, what they do is similar to what Arrow does: take a character from elsewhere in DC and rely upon the source material. It’s less blatant with Gotham because the Joker belongs to the Batman universe and the actor does a good job with what he’s given, but so far, we’ve mostly been told why we should be scared of him while every other villain has shown us. It’s a similar issue to Barbara – he’s the centre of a lot of storylines, and he’s entertaining enough to watch, but there’s not much substance in those stories and they’re only there because the writers are attached to him.

This extends far beyond Gotham. I’ve seen a lot of people say that the Joker should have been the main villain in Suicide Squad, and I’m pretty sure I remember David Ayer agreeing. I disagree completely. Enchantress wasn’t a great villain, and there would have been ways to make her better, but the Joker wasn’t the answer. An expanded role to aid in Harley’s development? Sure, I’d have been here for that. But I think the reason why the character works in relation to Batman is that he is representative of what Batman’s no-kill rule really means. It’s not because he’s interesting on his own, it’s because of how he impacts Bruce. Bruce can justify his vigilantism to himself and see it as morally right if he doesn’t kill. He can’t appoint himself judge, jury, and executioner – he’s supposed to stop crime, not mete out punishment. And that means the Joker will continue to do bad things, because he can’t kill him for what he did to Jason or to Barbara or to any number of civilians.

None of that applies to the squad, because they’re all killers. None of them would have any qualms about (or any difficulty) killing the Joker, save for El Diablo, so he wouldn’t have made a good antagonist. Not unless the entire concept of the movie was changed from a Suicide Squad action film to a character piece centred around the members of the squad while they’re not going on a mission that Waller doesn’t want to risk other people on.

The Joker is a fine character. But I don’t think he’s as versatile as a lot of others. He has a specific purpose, and trying to make him fit in other stories is more likely to fail than it is to succeed.