I did not go into “All Happy Families Are Alike” with particularly high expectations. By their nature, season finales have an aura of shit’s goin’ down, and all I asked of Gotham’s first season finale was that it live up to that aura; take some shit and make it go down (that sounds gross, but you get what I’m saying here). Whack a couple characters, wrench the plot around with a twist or two and introduce something neat for next season. Standard finale material.
Gotham did exactly that (and did not, as I secretly feared, give everyone the Fish Mooney treatment and warp them to Fantasy Island for an hour of non-sequitur eye-spooning). So call me satisfied, I guess.
Except not really. Honestly I thought “All Happy Families Are Alike” was a complete snooze, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Gotham and everything to do with the fumbling mess Fox made of the finale in the media.
This seems like TV marketing 101. If the giant surprise twist at the end of Gotham’s first season is oh my god, THE BATCAVE, forcing that moment into the end of every Gotham ad for the past month is probably an unwise choice. If you watched the “Next Time on Gotham” preview last week, or two weeks ago, the finale’s biggest twist was flat-out ruined.
The ending twist keeps going for a few seconds after that Wayne Manor fireplaces recedes into the wall; we see little Bruce step into the opening and find a staircase, descending into a cave-like environment. Whatever’s down there (that we don’t actually see Thomas Wayne’s secret gives the distinct impression that Bruno Heller and Team Gotham haven’t figured out what it is yet), Bruce will eventually sweep it aside for a a Batmobile and a big-ass computer when he’s a little older.
But of course, those few extra seconds don’t actually mean anything. The second anyone sees any kind of secret passage in Wayne Freaking Manor, the gut response is “oh, Batcave.” No one needs an extra “Bruce looking into a cave” context clue to figure that out. If Fox was trying to play it coy by only including half of the actual twist, they blew it big time.
Crappy advertising isn’t Gotham’s fault, though. And neither is Jada Pinkett Smith going “yep, no more Gotham for me” on live television two months before the finale. Even though knowing that vacuums every bit of tension from Penguin and Fish’s rooftop scrap. Who’s going to win here? The show’s breakout star, or the actress who already admitted this is her last episode? Come on.
Although that fight wasn’t hot stuff to begin with. Tussling over a shovel got a little slapsticky, and Brainwashed Butch going duhhhhh, better shoot both of ’em, I guess is something Elmer Fudd would do. And yes, I’m obligated to say that dropping someone to a death we don’t actually see (in water, no less) is comic book code for “only dead until the writers decide a date for the surprise return,” but given how badly Gotham mishandled this character (case in point- no explanation given for how Fish went from being gutshot in a crashing helicopter to perfectly healthy with an army of followers), I’d prefer if Fish was actually sleeping with her namesake.
So far it sounds like I couldn’t stand “All Happy Families Are Alike,” but there was a surprising amount of good here. Gordon’s storyline was a cut above- sure, Gotham rearranged everyone’s motivations with no warning (Gordon respects Falcone? Falcone’s perfectly fine with retirement?) but Ben McKenzie and John Doman were strong enough performers last night to make all that begrudging respect feel real.
Falcone’s headed for a sweet southern (southern… what, exactly?) villa and Penguin’s been crowned the official champion of Mafia Wars, but even so I hope there’s still a place for Falcone in here somewhere. Partly because of Doman’s natural gravitas, and partly because Gotham’s handling of his character last night was just about perfect.
All that early Falcone stuff was one big Godfather homage, and in proud Gotham tradition it was bafflingly batshit insane. Vito Corleone buys oranges when targeted by two gunmen? Carmine Falcone strokes his beloved pet chickens (what?) when two gunmen roar in on a motorcycle and blast him with a bazooka (what?). Hitmen stealthily descend on Vito while he’s recovering in the hospital? Penguin and Butch do the same- Butch stealthily yanking out a massive assault rifle, unnoticed, in the middle of a crowded hallway (what)?. As Gotham has demonstrated all season, the line between crazy-awful and crazy-brilliant is a thin one. This definitely the latter.
Also, two-guns Gordon going all John Woo on everybody’s ass? Magnificent.
The rest of the finale just left me with questions. And not the good kind, the what’s happening next season? kind- the what’s with this gaping hole of logic? kind.
- Why did Selina Kyle join up with Fish without a moment’s hesitation? (Also, why did Selina spend all season as a charming child rogue only to become a murdering mob henchman in the last few episodes?).
- Shouldn’t Falcone have called Victor Zsasz for backup once the threats on his life started?
- Why would Maroni spend five straight minutes belittling Fish when she was quite obviously armed to the teeth and backed up by an army of henchmen?
- Is “babes” a real term of endearment? I’ve never heard it used that way before, ever. And there are roughly 50,000 other words- doll, darling, honey, sugar, sweetie, sweetheart, cupcake, etc- that would be just as irritating without sounding so bizarre. Just drop the “s,” even.
- Why did Gotham tease Barb as a supervillain two weeks ago, then turn her into a helpless victim last week, then back into a psycho this week? Was last week’s victimized Barb supposed to be a fakeout, distracting us from her real psycho self? Because there are fakeouts, and there is Ogre lunging towards Barb’s parents while holding a knife… only for Barb to reveal no, it was I who killed my parents! an episode later with zero explanation. That’s not a fakeout so much as a middle finger to the audience.
- Did Heller have any kind of game plan for this season, or was he just throwing characters at a wall a handful at a time and seeing what stuck? Why build up Bunderslaw as a villain if he had zero bearing on the finale? What purpose did Harvey Dent serve, other than Batman name recognition? Why add Lucius Fox if his only purpose was to say the word “stoic,” or Poison Ivy as a glorified extra, or Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen if Gotham was going to forget those characters existed a quarter of the way into the season? What the hell was the point of any of this?
I look at the way the show handled the Riddler (who’s little schizophrenia bit was neat-looking but not particularly necessary after such definitive stuff last week), and wonder what Gotham would be like if all the time and effort spent padding the show’s roster with Batman-related names was spent giving another character or two the Riddler treatment. Maybe this season wouldn’t have been so frustrating. Maybe it would. This show is not the product of sane minds.
Normally, I tie the weekly Batman History Info-Dump into a relevant part of the recap- i.e., talk about Batcave history when picking apart Fox’s mishandling of that Batcave reveal. But Gotham is so maddening (even in an episode I kind of enjoyed), while Bat-history is anything but. So I figured we’d end this season of recaps on a high note.
The Batcave, shockingly enough, didn’t debut in the pages of a Batman comic. It also wasn’t called the Batcave. It was “The Bat’s Cave,” and it was introduced in the very first Batman serial in 1943 (in a chapter also titled “The Bat’s Cave”). Before this, there were quasi-Batcaves in comics, like a barn or a hangar where Batman would store his various Bat-vehicles. But the first-ever Batcave can be seen at 2:24 below.
Wasn’t much to look at- a desk, a couple of swivel chairs and a healthy bat population. But Batman creator Bob Kane was on the set of that serial and he dug the Batcave concept, so he worked it into printed Batman. First in Batman’s newspaper comic strip, then in comic books, starting with “Detective Comics #83” in 1944. It looked a little something like this:
(Comic via nerdbastards.com)
Hordes of different writers, artists, comics, movies and TV shows have given us endless interpretations of the Batcave, but traditionally it’ll hold three key items (besides Batman’s vehicles, and Batman): An animatronic T-Rex, a giant penny and an equally giant Joker card. The card’s origin is a given, but the T-Rex is a keepsake from Dinosaur Island, a theme park Bruce visited in “Batman #35.” And the penny was plundered from the Penny Plunderer in “World’s Finest Comics #30,” but Batman: The Animated Series would retcon it into a memento from a battle with Two-Face. Blame the Penny Plunderer’s lack of popularity, probably.
And this fall, Gotham will present the world with its own interpretation of the Batcave. It will be an eye-rolling cliche. Or off-the-wall insane, depending on how Gotham feels that day. Which just about sums up Gotham, don’t you think? The show had its moments of glory, but it had far more moments of what and huh and goddammit just stop already. I doubt there’ll be much drive for me to turn it on again this fall. But you never know.
How about you?