In some ways, it’s absolutely fitting that the first season finale of Gotham begins with Fish Mooney gliding through the fog on a boat, returning to Gotham in order to make her presence felt in the ongoing war between Maroni, Falcone, Penguin, and all the henchmen and government workers they have at their disposal. Fish’s return, and her first season storyline, represents everything that’s good and bad about this show. Firstly, she’s one of the show’s strongest characters, with Jada Pinkett Smith being one of the few actors who seems to understand the show she’s on, her performance at once campy while also being grounded in character motivation. Secondly, her absence from the narrative for some time, as she toiled away on an island in an inconsequential feud with the Dollmaker, is perfectly representative of Gotham‘s lack of narrative cohesion. The first season of Gotham has largely been a haphazard collection of murder cases and contrived nods to the Batman canon, and while “All Happy Families Are Alike” is a solid finale that manages to tie up many of the season’s loose ends while also suggesting a way forward for the series, that haphazard attitude towards narrative and tonal consistency is still annoyingly present.
There’s a good chance that “All Happy Families Are Alike” mostly succeeds because it’s a finale. Gotham has largely suffered because of how open-ended it has felt due to the case-of-the-week structure that dominated the earliest episodes and the show’s tendency to juggle a plethora of characters and storylines. Throughout its first season, Gotham was often expansive not in a good, Game Of Thrones way, but rather in a way that leaves the show feeling formless and directionless; look no further than Fish Mooney’s disappearance to the Dollmaker’s island for evidence of a storyline that served no real purpose. The conclusive nature of a finale means that Gotham‘s worst tendencies (i.e., storyline sprawl, procedural elements) are mostly put on the backburner in an effort to close out the season’s mob storyline.
The final struggle for mob power in Gotham, which sees Gordon attempt to put Falcone back in power because he trusts him to do what’s best for the city–or, in clunky Gotham exposition speak, he’s “the least worst option”–looks a lot like the series hitting the reset button. Fish Mooney makes her stand by shooting Maroni in the face after he shows some truly horrifying Meninist tendencies, but since Smith won’t be back for a second season, she’s hastily killed by Penguin, who declares himself the new king of Gotham after Falcone decides he wants out of the game. Admittedly, despite all the gunfire and destruction in the episode, the crowning of Penguin as the new criminal overlord is a little too tidy. Having Falcone just up and retire plays like an easy way to get Penguin in a position of power while also making room for Gordon to become Gotham’s newest savior. Still, for a show with a history of jumbled storytelling, this kind of narrative concision is welcome. The mob storyline has been one of the few highlights of the first season, and it’s fitting that it anchors the finale, suggesting that if Gotham shows patience and attention to details like character motivation and relationships, it can tell a solid story.
But when the final power struggle between Mooney, Penguin, Maroni, and Falcone isn’t on screen, “All Happy Families Are Alike” is almost exceedingly dull and frustrating. The show’s inability to treat female characters like people continues with Barbara deciding that if she’s going to agree to trauma therapy then it has to be with Dr. Leslie Thompkins. As if that bit of dramatic tension isn’t contrived enough, Barbara goes full-on crazy, trying to get Dr. Thompkins to talk about her relationship with Jim before she admits to killing her parents then going after Thompkins with a knife. As usual on Gotham, these women aren’t characters with their own motivations and stories to tell; they are objects meant to complicate the life of Jim Gordon. The two spend the entirety of the episode talking about Jim before their fight, with Jim coming in at the last second to comfort Dr. Thompkins, and that’s where the episode leaves the story. There’s no conclusion or even a sense of whether Barbara has always had a sadistic edge or if she’s traumatized by her time with the Ogre. I guess that kind of deeper analysis isn’t necessary if your female characters are there to boost the integrity and complexity of your male protagonist.
As inconsequential and out-of-place as the scenes with Barbara and Thompkins feel, the scenes with Nygma, as well as the few with Alfred and Bruce, represent the show’s most glaring issues. The scenes with these three characters are the kind of hackneyed fan service that Gotham relied too heavily on in its first season. Nygma gets one final scene where, after Mrs. Kringle notices the “clue” in his note from last week’s episode, he essentially morphs into a villain right before our very eyes. He starts talking to himself, conflicted about his intentions towards Mrs. Kringle. The camera cuts and moves in a jarring fashion along with Nygma’s voiceover; it signals the end of Nygma as we know him and hints at the Riddler to come, but as with most of Gotham‘s canon character work, there’s little behind the transition. The same can be said of Bruce’s frantic search for his father’s “secret.” “I’ll know it when I see it,” he says to Alfred. Hours later, he remembers a clue from Lucius Fox and finds a remote with a single button. He pushes it and classical music starts playing and the fireplace in Mr. Wayne’s office moves inside the wall to reveal the steps that lead down to the Batcave. It’s certainly an intriguing setup for the next season, but again, feels more like fan service than a necessity in terms of storytelling., especially considering the reveal is used as a cliffhanger.
The first season of Gotham has been a mess of incomplete or simply terrible ideas, but much of the finale proves that the show does have something to offer when it remains focused. The mob power struggle was dragged out over too many episodes, but the finale boasts a narrative concision that’s promising for the show moving forward. There’s hope that after an auspicious start, Gotham has found a bit of footing in the last half of this season. Then again, maybe Penguin is right: “Hope? It’s for losers.”
- Never Mind The Bullocks: I’m demoting Harvey this week and honoring the fallen Fish Mooney (and Jada Pinkett Smith’s performance) instead. When she surprises Penguin and Falcone at their hideout, Smith reads her line perfectly, all braggadocio and swagger: “Sometimes I astonish myself.”
- It’s a shame Fish Mooney won’t be around anymore, because that new outfit and hairdo was seriously on point.
- I really like the idea of Fish being a mentor of sorts for Selina Kyle. It would have been nice to see that relationship explored over the season and not just randomly thrown into the finale with no explanation at all.
- Maroni’s “it’s a woman’s lib thing” is astonishingly close to “it’s about ethics in games journalism.” Thus, he deserved that swift, brutal death.
- That’s a wrap on the TV Club’s reviews of the first season of Gotham. At best, the first season was inconsistent. At its worst, it was practically unwatchable. It’ll be interesting to see how the show recalibrates for a second season. Thanks for reading along, and maybe we’ll be back here again in the fall talking about how much we miss Fish Mooney.