Sometimes you can win the battle but still lose the war. For the moment the world is yours but only a moment later, the hollowness sets in as the inescapable reality dawns that this day alone was not enough. As a single episode, Gotham’s season finale is an undeniable victory. Its many excellent plot twists spin things about more than a remote controlled Batarang and delivers some very fun and rewarding conclusions for several characters. However, as a full season culmination it can’t help but feel wanting. Despite some sketchy moments and episodes, Gotham may not have lost the war but its summer farewell feels heavily like a last minute change in direction bringing the relevance of many prior events into question.
All Happy Families are Alike – After 2 weeks of shooting the odds, (and corrupt officials) things tip in Maroni’s favour, leaving Jim alone to save Falcone and avoid an all out mob civil war for dominance. Meanwhile, Barbara works through her trauma with Leslie as a reluctant councillor, and Bruce makes a discovery about his father that could change everything.
Right from his impressive performance in the pilot episode, Carmine Falcone has presented as a likeable antagonist so having the episode transition him to a protagonist isn’t a leap that requires super strength to make. Not only that, but this unlikely pairing with Jim yields very enjoyable chemistry as Jim becomes the hero unwilling saving the villain's life. The biggest problem is that (save last week’s ending cameo) Falcone has been completely absent for 7 episodes (and 3 months due to series break), undoing much of his earlier character building work. His scenes of the almighty man made powerless just don’t carry the impact they really should, which is such a shame. Even the whole mob war takes place almost entirely off screen, getting the Star Wars prequels “skip to the end” treatment. Considering how much build up was put into teasing such a conflict in the first half of the season surely such a big event should have stretched over a few episodes rather than being crammed into this one? That aside, it’s all still enjoyable and the mob war story serves its purpose to dispatch the old, and place a certain beloved face on top of the mountain. Falcone’s end sentiments with Jim make a nice touch with a very literal torch handing over Gotham’s future. This adds a nice dimension to Jim’s character for next season as he searches between the black and white for the shade of grey Gotham will always need to be. The family values idea doesn’t hurt either, “Your father was the most honest man I ever met... but he carried a knife”.
Fish Mooney’s long awaited return to Gotham produces mixed results. Like Falcone’s centre stage return, its biggest problem is happening too late. It’s great to see her playing the opportunist and her new punk look is wonderfully badass but we barely get a chance to savour her return and meet her new gang before descending into chaos. Her big showdown with Penguin might just be the most comics sequence all season complete with its Burton-esque fall. Its fun to see this pair of crazy water dwellers going at it kitchen sink style and Butch’s mental programming becomes a nice wild card element. The big win here is working in Selina Kyle as a “Minnow Mooney” protégé. It’s a completely unexpected but highly welcome turn on her character into a more straight out villain capacity. You have to love her uncaring sarcasm when Jim plays the friend card. Hopefully, her character will continue in this direction next season including a conflict of friendship over interests with Bruce. As for the young billionaire, his scenes are little more than setup for the ending, which while adding an excellent classic Batman element to the show felt a bit too obvious as soon as boy and butler started looking. Bruce’s deductive reasoning did back up their search well and the result does make exciting promises for next season.
Oddly, it’s the smaller characters that deliver the best moments this episode, both by embracing their inner madness. Last week’s clue drop from Edward Nygma would have made a fair season ending for his character in itself but the snap debate witnessed here is even sweeter. This is Cory Michael Smith’s best moment of the season, helped emphatically by the schizophrenic visuals (hopefully becoming a regular “Riddler vision” technique) as the darker and crazier parts of his mind take more control than ever. Then, of course there’s Barbara Kean. The woman that has spend most of the season as Gotham’s most unpopular character (primarily through her poorly handled stories not Erin Richards performance) suddenly pulls one out of nowhere! With the possible exception of the infamous “Fish Eye” WTF, her sudden reveal and all the frantic moments that follow may actually be Gotham’s best moment of the season for a perfect medley of fun, craziness and thrills. It gives much needed justification for Barbara’s presence both in the show and Jim’s life next season. Just please let her actually play this change out rather than wiping it out after half an episode this time!
Gotham’s finale is an all round good affair. The multiple shoot outs (most notably Jim’s hospital sequence) provide good action. The usual comedic sources deliver (yet again Penguin has moments of genius talking himself out of a fatal situation) and the whole unpredictable twist-centric nature of the episode turns it into a rollercoaster of entertainment. On any other week you’d give it full marks but as the end of an act it leaves too much hanging or discarded. Commissioner Loeb has gone from sinister intellectual to completely one-dimensional. Bullock is left feeling like a passenger (not even a real reaction to Fish’s return). The much talked up significance of Arkham being the key to Gotham ultimately went nowhere and although the Wayne murder investigations offered some returns they didn’t justify their heavy early focus. Gotham had a lot of things going for it this year, when it embraced the weirdness it was brilliant, when it successfully balanced darker and comedy elements it was superb and when Robin Lord Taylor did anything we loved him for it. Yet all through the season it’s always felt like something was out of place. Like the pieces of the puzzle couldn’t quite fit together. Despite inducing doubts with its final run of episodes, Gotham has finished by showing that it deserves a new season. It has problems but they’re all fixable. It has a great cast that we want to see return. Plenty of great shows don’t find their magic in their first season (including one of my all time favourites, Buffy) so there’s no reason that, like it’s young Bruce Wayne, Gotham can’t achieve great things in time.