Gotham – Season 5 – “Legend of the Dark Knight”
“Legend of the Dark Knight” – Gotham’s final season
Gotham season 5 ended the show in what seemed to be a very respectful manner. The two strongest vibes I got were a remembrance of a lost friend and of a child tidying up under the watchful eye of a stern parent. Being honest I didn’t really want either. I understand that this isn’t really important here but I need to declare it, as it’s going to be an obvious foundation to the rest of this piece. Moreover, Kneel Before Blog unashamedly uses a rating system based purely on reviewer enjoyment, meaning if you’re a Gotham lover you’re going to hate my scores, but hear me out? Or better yet, tell me below what I’ve missed? Did you love the farewell season 5 offered?
It’s always felt like someone was standing behind Gotham’s writers with a Batman clipboard, checking off all the necessary boxes such that when Bruce finally donned the cowl all would be in place for him – nothing left to chance, nothing left such that the future would need to bring in anything itself; all would be finished. Now, Gotham moves really quickly, so it’s not that this caused an issue of time: I might have preferred more development of any given idea but that’s not Gotham’s style, so take it or leave it and I’ve kept watching. What I will still challenge though, is the weight this hangs around the characters’ necks that pulls them in directions that feel wrong for them given their in-show histories. Only with soap opera logic could people so quickly forgive so many wrongs and move on from so many tragedies; and whereas Gotham is certainly comic book, is it really good when made a soap opera?
As for remembrance of a Batman long passed, was there not room for Gotham to remain defined by itself in the end? Surely everyone would agree that the only word that could be used to describe Gotham in its later series was “Gotham”? Relative to its own premise I think I could make an easy argument for it rivaling Legends of Tomorrow to take the crown of over-the-top style. Also, though I wanted a show focused to Jim Gordon’s rise – noir style or otherwise – the draw of Batman to centre stage would always be difficult to resist. And even then, though Bruce and Batman would always be popular, four previous seasons moving so quickly through plot couldn’t but give us a huge list of characters that we’d connect with and so for whom we’d want to see satisfying finales. By season 5 then, Gotham wasn’t about Bruce and Jim anymore, it was about everyone in Gotham City. Surely the momentum of such character history should have carried us to a huge, momentous finish – a grand party of shocks and reveals, culminating in a colossal ending that gave us a new Batman that only Gotham could possibly have brought to life?
It’s true that my favourite moments of Gotham were “Son of Gotham” (S2,E10) – showing an intelligent Jim and smooth-operating Bruce – and “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” (S3,E14) – in my view the best piece of origin story for Batman Gotham has offered. However, the second half of season 4 might arguably be Gotham at its best from the perspective of showing off its full range of characters and what they’re capable of. This too is the promise that season 5 is built upon. Even if I put aside my favourites and focus on that promise alone, did season 5 come through?
Go big or go home is certainly a motto worthy of Gotham and what’s bigger than anything the show has tried before? Post-apocalyptic future. I challenge anyone to say convincingly they saw that one coming. I guess it’s Arkham Asylum taken to some ultimate extreme? And we have been promised many times before – possibly without true commitment to it – that the latest catastrophe is going to turn Gotham City into an unstable disaster zone full of monsters or ordinary citizens into maniacs under the influence of one chemical or other. Now we get the payoff perhaps.
Honestly I’m still not sure if think post-apocalyptic was a good way to go. OK, so I didn’t really like it but if I try to step out of myself I can see that it does offer a unique spin on the setting; and it did create common cause to bring all the characters we now know and love together under the same spotlight to make sure they could all get a proper send off together. From that perspective I think I’ve talked myself into it being a good idea.
Certainly, too, we got a good tour of all the characters and all the highlights of the previous four seasons but here I’d argue that this tour felt like a sorrowful goodbye and I think I was expecting Gotham to have a much grander finish – even if only because of the choice of ‘post-apocalyptic!’
I’ve really enjoyed seeing Ed vs. Oswald over the past few seasons but despite a touching enough moment where they decide not to stab each other in the end did they really get to do anything meaningful in season 5? With so much chat about a submarine taking the place of any real scheming and them having to yield the villain stage to Bane and Nyssa Al’Ghul they didn’t seem to get a powerful journey to travel. Wasn’t it just the same old fight taking another spin? I think I’d have preferred their scheming to have threatened Gotham City with perhaps Jim having to find a way to keep the citizens safe in the middle.
Jim arguably gets the best of the plotting even so, as is. I was really glad to see him centre stage for season 5, leading the people, saving the day. I always thought Gotham was his show. But even then I wanted more. I thought we were already on the back foot in episode one when Harvey has to advise Jim to toughen up, resetting Jim’s development clock back to season 1 as if he’d not learned anything in four previous seasons. Plus there was the trial of Jim Gordon: seemingly perfectly fitting for a finale to have the main character reflect on his journey so far and make a choice based on the knowledge gained, in reality hasn’t Jim already been through these reflections before? Once on Scarecrow chemicals, once under the judging gaze of Captain Barnes’s Executioner? Maybe other times too. Homage to previous glory is fine but shouldn’t take the place of a final realisation and character arc conclusion.
It’s a dangerous choice that, referring back to previous plot. There’s one point in “They Did What?” (S5, E11) when Nygma claims his scheme is great because it’s a “call back” to a previous one. He is immediately challenged about it being a little lame, dangerously inviting the audience to think the same. Too often I feel Gotham has risked copying its own ideas.
Which brings us almost back to Bruce. Copying previous Batman plots and characterisations might feel respectful but I’ve always felt Gotham gave up so much of its earned uniqueness in doing so. Breaking skylights, dropping your nemesis into a vat of acid, deepening your voice – this is maybe getting into character. Going off to Tibet with no previous connection to it; upsetting Selina by leaving just so Catwoman can be a villain again, despite all previous attempts to bring Bruce and Selina together; getting all the villains checked off and into the right costumes at the last minute just for a final camera close up… Too far and it’s more about ticking boxes than creating a unique new, powerful story?
Bruce and Selina have really been a highlight of Gotham and in season 5 that only continued. I think one of my favourite of their scenes was in “Penguin, Our Hero” (S5, E3): him quiet and reserved, her happy and realistic; him exhibiting Batman’s group combat skills and gadgets, her with smart quips and showing style and skill against a larger, single enemy; him fearing he’s evil, her fearing she’s good. Ask me what my favourite thing in all of Gotham is and I’d choose their partnership, through all its ups and downs. … Thrown away at the end because Batman.
Gotham City didn’t really even seem to be in any real danger anymore at the end. After they’d come back from even the brink of apocalypse were a couple of schemes from Penguin and Nygma really more of a threat than Commissioner Gordon could handle? False threats implied at the end as a tacked on consideration because Batman.
Plot added in that wasn’t as good as the unique ideas Gotham already had because Batman.
“Because the plot needs it darling”
Oh but how I hate dramatic license… darling.
I loved Gotham when it committed to its characters and didn’t compromise them. The second half of season 4 had such intelligent plotting, exemplified by the battle of wits between Nygma and Lee – character histories and skills used to their best and with real meaning, thoughtfully written. But all too often Gotham has instead bent its character’s choices to serve the need of an episode’s plot, having them make choices they seemingly wouldn’t have normally made in order to service the – false – need.
Tabitha, the amazing ninja, is easily killed by Penguin because Barbara must be angry. Barbara in turn must forget about Tabitha’s death, despite swearing bloody revenge, because she needs to join Penguin’s side against a quickly substituted new villain. Nyssa Al’Ghul then falls in line by forgetting the power of her father’s mission and becomes nothing more than a girl who’s lost her father, seeking all-consuming revenge. Soap opera and trope.
I wanted to be moved by this finale. Sure Gotham is more crazy action than drama but that hasn’t prevented powerful moments – again Nygma and Lee’s season 4 riddle-off if nothing before that. But if the characters aren’t bothered enough by bad things that happen to them, if they can forgive murder of their loved ones so quickly then can I really expect to get invested?
I’ll leave that argument alone though now, as I’ve railed against it all too often in my reviews of other series and I want to end on a high. Just before a final section on the good in Gotham though, I can’t help but make one more cynical comment – ask one more cynical question: Was there a need to create false mystery in calling Ivy “The Witch” and in referring to the “flying mammal species” instead of just saying “bats”? Surely everyone knew who Ivy was by that point? It’s not like the post-apocalyptic setting was generations later and Ivy had become a thing of legend. And we’ve spent so much time getting specifically to Batman, surely saying “bat” isn’t some crazy step too far?
Alright, let’s talk about the good stuff, please
Season 5, just like all the previous, is beautiful. Just because I’ve spoken previously of a fear of Gotham paying more attention to form than substance doesn’t mean I don’t want to see all the pretty – far from it. The shot of Nygma in the mirror in “Year Zero” (S5, E1); every scene in Ivy’s garden in “Tresspassers” (S5, E2); Haven burning; all of these – every shot of Arkham from previous seasons – all were beautiful. I always meant to look up whether the show had won any TV awards for its look but it doesn’t matter; it should have.
And this look is valuable because such things set the feel for the scene that’s about to happen to properly draw you in. Gotham’s plot speed can make it difficult to feel the power of any given event but, for example, it’s much easier to understand people being under Ivy’s thrall when Peyton List is dressed to the nines and given a fairy glow. Admittedly I’ve been wary of Gotham’s need to have every single woman’s cleavage on display in past seasons but fair play to season 5, only those women trying to make such a power play made use of their cleavage – a trick used well then, gives more information about a character or scene and is thus well used.
Gotham more often than not hits the funny bone on target too. Harvey and Zsasz are usually right on the money and I’d say both were so in season 5. A particular favourite moment of mine from this season is Nygma’s however, as his memory loss collides with his interrogation of the Hell’s Angel.
Ultimately I’ve loved Gotham when its creators have taken the time to show us something clever, well thought out. I can’t say that season 5 has equaled the high points of some previous seasons but there were moments. Often they were just small conversations but they were heartfelt and meaningful in a way that a silly pun or hastily constructed threat of attack just can’t match: Bruce and Alfred showing Batman in a dark moment in “Ruin” (S5, E4); Ed and Oswald’s conversation about friendship in “Pena Dura” (S5, S5), Lee and Alfred in “The Trial of Jim Gordon” (S5, E9), everything with Bruce and Selina… I wanted more power, more meaning from season 5 but I’m happy with what I got in this vein nonetheless.
“Legend of the Dark Knight” hits all the right bases for a finale but in a seemingly sorrowful way that commiserates the loss of the show more than celebrates it. We take a tour round the familiar plots that reminded me of one of those looking-back-on-what-was, 50th-anniversary shows you see where famous people are rounded up to discuss what they remember. Ivy loved plants more than people; Jim needed to sacrifice himself for the betterment of others even though it did further harm to people around him; Ed and Oswald could never settle into a real friendship… Bruce is Batman.
Gotham’s highlights for me though, lie in previous seasons, where intelligent people created intelligent characters, soap opera tropes weren’t needed because of well-thought-out plotting and Gotham’s beauty and comedy were made all the more powerful when set against powerful, meaningful character choices and consequences. My favourite episodes then will always be from previous seasons, not from season 5.
Season 5 was still pretty; season 5 was still funny; but season 5 didn’t give me any important villains with any serious threat value. Its problems were created along the lines of tropes and the heroes were able to defeat them by the numbers. For me, too much time was taken ticking off the necessary elements to create the Batman and Gotham City we already knew. And the cost of this was paid by characters having to take actions to create this future rather than actions that would naturally follow from the histories we’ve seen them live.
I would have preferred Gotham embrace its uniqueness at the end and create a Batman and Gotham City matching its style and history. This may have allowed the show to live on as Batman altverse. As it is the show has neatly folded itself away beneath previous versions, without demanding to be remembered. I will remember Gotham but more for episodes like “Son of Gotham” (S2,E10) and “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies” (S3,E14).
- season 5 still being just so pretty
- season 5 still being funny
- Bruce and Selina’s relationship
- a focus on Jim
- the odd heartfelt conversations between pairs of characters
- a sorrowful end instead of a wonderful celebration
- Nyssa as the main villain with a trope motivation – the rarely-seen Ivy’s was much better
- unthreatening threats
- a tick-box path to creating an un-unique Batman
- information forcibly hidden creating false mysteries
- soap-opera character choices and developments
- a general loss of the powerful moments seen in previous seasons
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