(WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Gotham Seasons 1–3 below)
Now that #Gotham has hit its winter finale, I felt that now is the most apt time to reflect on what we've seen from the last two and a half seasons. I've been watching since the pilot and I believe I've slowly witnessed the maturation of a show that started in a good place and has striven to achieve its potential. Clearly the writers are doing something right because the show has been on Fox for two and a half years without a cancellation. That's definitely more than can be said about some shows that had potential once upon a time (Terra Nova, Alcatraz, Almost Human). So with that in mind, let's look at how far Gotham has come and try to infer where it's going:
A Show That Supports Multiple Audiences
In a world of True Detective and Arrow, Gotham stands tall in its attempt to garner both halves of major television genres: Crime Dramas and Comic Book Adaptations. I would argue that the show does this quite well given I'm an avid fan of #DC comics. This balance is quite important to this show because crime dramas need a certain characteristic that allows people to differentiate between shows. For Gotham, that characteristic is the source material they draw from to develop narratives that are already familiar to some members of the audience or will become familiar for their audience if they come across a comic character later. Within the first few episodes of the early seasons this is how I described the show:
This is a cop show, but with an extra layer for Batman fans. You meet characters that you know are villains and you'll watch them become those villains. An audience member may have never heard of "Edward Nigma," yet a Batman fan will likely instantly recognize the character's personality as that of "The Riddler." Even if you don't recognize the villain, you get to watch that transformation and connect with that character as they transform into their rightful villainous role.
An Anachronistic Aesthetic
From the first episode, Gotham had me enthralled by the aesthetic it presents for its version of Gotham City. "Timeless" would be an appropriate term to describe Gotham City given its Gothic architecture mixed in with modern skyscrapers and vintage stores and landmarks in one half of the city (sometimes referred to as "Old Gotham"). The show takes this in stride as it creates a GCPD set that looks like you're walking into a police station in the early 20th Century, characters consistently use cell phones (flip phones from the early 2000s), and cars that are more suitable for the mid-1960s. This creates a timeless setting for the show and echoes the aesthetic Gotham City maintains in the comics.
Powerful Character Development
The advantage of having Batman comics as source material is the rich characters you can pull from his long list of rogues. One of my personal favorites is that of Mr. Freeze. The story of a man who will do anything to keep his terminally-ill wife alive is both heart wrenching and extremely relatable. I can honestly see myself in that position and imagine what it would be like to lose someone that important to you. Unfortunately his reality is far worse than even that - he has to spend every day knowing that he can't save her. He has to live with a condition borne unto him by his desire to save his wife. The amount of agony he must go through every day is unimaginable . . . and that's what makes him such a compelling character.
In a previous article, I had a segment discussing how important it is to have relatable villains - Mr. Freeze being one of said villains that came to mind. While Gotham did not create an exact origin story for this character, I found the episode that introduced him to be difficult to watch. I'm not the type of person to normally get emotional, so to have found myself feeling the weight of his world on my shoulders says a lot about the tone that Gotham emanates as well as the maturity brought about by powerful character histories like that of Mr. Freeze.
This clip does not give the full effect of his transformation, but Season 2 Episode 12 is where this clip comes from if you're interested in the build-up to this emotional climax:
The Story Of Jim Gordon (And Then Some)
Coming back to that idea that you get to see characters develop into their natural villainous roles, Gotham isn't just about Jim Gordon, nor was it ever supposed to be. This poster from the first season is a perfect example of that. I honestly walked in thinking this show would be following Jim Gordon battling the rogues of Gotham City and slowly working his way to the point where he was capable of being considered "Commissioner." He's not reached that point yet. He's still growing and along with his growth is the growth of others throughout Gotham City.
This is where I think the show really strives with its maturity: The show has several narratives shown across one forty-four minute episode. You don't just watch Jim battle his inner demons and the GCPD's various regimes, you see Bruce Wayne grapple with the loss of his parents and move in the direction of becoming #Batman. Even though we'll never see Bruce become Batman, we still see the hell he goes through in the years immediately following his parents' deaths. We watch him develop and we watch Gordon develop, but it doesn't stop there.
We also get to see the "villains" of the show develop. I use the term "villain" lightly because Gotham makes a point of blurring the line of morality that determines what most would consider "heroes" and "villains." It's not often you see a show do that, especially not with the current shows available on the CW (the exception here being Legends of Tomorrow, but I feel that's not in the same vein as Gotham). Yes, they do act as antagonists periodically, yet we see the lead "hero" taking time out of his journey to be the epitome of Gotham's Finest to ask for their help — compromising his own morals for their aid. That also doesn't stop the existence of an overarching villain for all of Gotham City to struggle under — Fish Mooney, Hugo Strange, The Mad Hatter, etc.
Gotham sets the stage for a world where the "right" choice isn't as black and white as we want it to be. It shows us the real world through the lens of comic books and that's a level of maturity you won't find very often, at least in terms of comic book shows. I look forward to watching the next half of Season 3 along with however many more seasons Fox grants it.