- by Jeff Beck
Gotham: Season Five: A Disappointing End to a Fascinating Experiment
When “Gotham” first began way back in 2014, it was thought of as a kind of curious experiment. Could a show that takes place in Gotham City and doesn’t focus on Batman actually work? Strangely enough, for the first three seasons, it worked marvelously, boasting some interesting characters, a cavalcade of intriguing villains, and storylines that had you hanging on to see what would happen next. However, the show’s streak came to an end with the fourth season, which represented a major shift in its quality. Where once there had been great villains, there were now uninspired antagonists, and the previously captivating storylines were replaced with directionless and misguided narratives. By some miracle, the show was given a last-minute reprieve for a shortened fifth and final season in which the writers would only have 12 episodes to wrap up the series and deliver what everyone knew had to be its ultimate conclusion. Would they be able to send the show off on a high note, or was it simply too late to save it?
At the end of the previous season, the bridges had been destroyed, leaving Gotham City cut off from the mainland. Season five picks up about three months into the city’s isolation, which has resulted in gangs taking over sections of the city, while the GCPD manages to hold on to the piece that their station is in. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) do their best to protect the refugees left in the city, but criminals like Scarecrow (David W. Thompson) and Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) aren’t making it easy by attempting to steal supplies that Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) has gotten flown in from the mainland. To make things worse, they soon discover that Jeremiah (Cameron Monaghan) is plotting something, leading Bruce and Selina (Camren Bicondova) to hunt him down. Meanwhile, the GCPD has to deal with a direct attack from Penguin, which is immediately followed by a larger attack that none of them were prepared for. With no help coming and criminals around every corner, it becomes a desperate struggle just to stay alive in a city left to fend for itself.
As noted, it’s no secret that the fourth season of “Gotham” had been a sharp decline in quality from what came before. However, with the fifth season being shortened to about half the episode count, there was at least some reason to be optimistic, for the show was moving into interesting territory and the writers would be forced to buckle down to finish up the series by focusing on plot progression and character development. Unfortunately for the viewers, what we got was pretty much more of what season four had been: bland villains and misguided storylines.
Inspired by the comic series called “No Man’s Land,” there seemed to be a large amount of potential as to what could happen in such a scenario. Gotham City is cut off from the rest of the world and has been taken over by various criminals and gangs. The GCPD is the last refuge for those left behind, and are the only ones willing to stand up to those that would see the city fall into total chaos. Throw the slate of well-known villains into the mix, such as The Penguin, The Riddler, and The Joker (or at least this show’s rendition of The Joker), and the sky was the limit as far as the possibilities. So what on Earth happened that made the Writers’ Room deliver something that didn’t take advantage of any of it?
Once again we have a procession of uninspired villains that fail to bring the thrills from seasons past. Notable antagonists like The Penguin and The Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) remain shadows of what they once were, becoming more comic relief than anything else, while Poison Ivy (Peyton List) is once again dredged up for a rather silly subplot. Later on in the season, we have Bane (Shane West) thrown in, but he’s never really utilized in any significant way. Speaking of which, we also have Nyssa al Ghul (daughter of Ra’s) (Jaime Murray) make a random appearance near the end of the season, though she hardly gets any screentime at all. The closest this season actually comes to having a real villain is when they once again try to utilize Jeremiah (aka The Joker), and while the interpretation of the character still seems off, at the very least his subplot in the middle of the season is disturbingly worthy of the character (i.e. it seems exactly like something The Joker would do).
If only any of the other storylines could have been half as interesting. Unfortunately the two main issues of this season end up going hand-in-hand, for the bland villains were the ones with the misguided (and somewhat laughable) storylines, which not only included Poison Ivy using a love potion of sorts to make people do her bidding, but also Eduardo Dorrance (who later becomes Bane) using a mind-control chip (via Hugo Strange) to do the same. Again, after sitting through such ridiculously silly subplots like this, you find yourself forced to ask: “Is this really the best the writers could come up with?”
Now, of course, we must address the series finale, where those who had stuck with the show throughout the full five seasons were hoping it would at least be able to bring it to a satisfying conclusion, even after two subpar seasons. Alas, the final episode is perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. This is the episode in which fans were hoping to see Bruce’s final transformation into The Dark Knight, and while we do see him full-on at the very end, Bruce himself is practically absent from the episode, while parts of The Caped Crusader are glimpsed in shadow throughout. Add on to that a barely-used Joker, scenes of The Penguin and The Riddler that come across as being tacked on, and a half-baked subplot involving Bullock and you end up with a series finale that feels as though it was churned out in about five minutes, with hardly any thought put into it. In short, this was not the finale the show (or the fans) deserved.
“Gotham” was indeed a pretty risky experiment at the start, and even then it was unclear as to how long the folks behind it were going to be able to keep it up. It’s worth mentioning again just how incredible those first three seasons were, and while the show did unfortunately collapse after that, at least we’ll always have those earlier episodes to show how a seemingly wacky idea like this was able to work really well. Even when the show wasn’t working, it was still somewhat intriguing to see what they tried to do with it, though it really does make you wish that they had ultimately taken those last two seasons in another direction. Regardless of the final outcome, it was a fascinating show, and I, for one, am glad they took the risk to put it on the air. 2/4 stars.
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