Top 5 Characters in “Gotham”

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       With “Gotham” now at an end, I was thinking at how I best wanted to explore my thoughts on the series. First, I think it is a solid show well worth your time if you are a Batman fan, though it’s flaws kept it from being great. One thing that kept it good, even with the flaws was how memorable so many of the characters were. I’m a huge fan of Batman and his rogues gallery and this series brought some amazing interpretations of his allies and rogues to the screen. “Gotham” is a show that tells the story of Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. It is here we see one version of how his enemies came to be and what motivates Gordon and defines the city of Gotham. The series was created by Bruno Heller, and the fact that this list exists shows that at the end of the day, I did like this show.

The show wasn’t always the best, there were a few times I took a break during it’s run and to me the final was serviceable but nothing I’d praise. It just established what the show had been leading up to the entire time and didn’t do it in a unique way. I’m avoiding details for those who haven’t watched the finale yet. I want to avoid Final Season spoilers as this show makes it easy to talk about the broad strokes of what worked or didn’t.

For the weak characters, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bruce and Selina for a long time. They eventually became okay. Ra’s al Ghul was wasted and given he is played by one of my favorite actors (Alexander Siddig) I held that against the show. The Al Ghul’s in general were wasted as was the League of Shadows. They were supposed to be this apocalyptic force but they never did much to the heroes of the story in big picture scheme of the show. For the few who did do something they almost always end up dead or useless by the end of their arcs. The gangsters like Carmine and Sofia Falcone stayed compelling during their runs but they also didn’t have the unique feel of the characters I’m going to give an honorary mentions too. Same goes for Theo / Azrael and his sister Tabitha / Tigress. They were interesting but weren’t fascinating enough for an honorary mention.

For my honorary mentions. Those go to Barbara and Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Lee Thompkins to start. These were are complicated characters who often times fell on the side of the good. Also honorary mentions to Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter for being fascinating villains whose twisted mentality added to the show. None of these folks made the list but were a joy to watch and what kept the show interesting when my favorite characters weren’t getting exciting moments. Fish Mooney was also great and I enjoyed what they did with her over her run on the show. Zsasz also deserves a mention too. Whether he was working for a crime boss or on his own, he always had fun and was threatening in any situation they put him in.

How without further ado, here are my Top 5 Characters on “Gotham.”:

 

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5th Place – Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred is a character I wish we had gotten more time to know. I’m not the only one apparently since he is getting his own show in Fox called “Pennyworth.” This goes to show just how powerful Sean Pertwee’s performance was. Pertwee gave a hardness and empathy that I have rarely seen in how Alfred is written or potrayed on film. This was a man who was taking care of Bruce and fighting rogues throughout the entire season. Sometimes it would break him physically or emotionally, but he always came back. He had the compassion that Jim sometimes lost and he’d been through so much more with his time in the Special Forces of Great Britain. He also wasn’t a doormat for Bruce, when Bruce was a selfish teenager, he left. He left Bruce sort out himself but was always there to help, when Bruce was ready. The little scenes we get related to that past crystallize this Alfred as a wonderfully compelling badass. This Alfred understood the choice when Bruce was going vigilante, and even though he questioned he still supported him in the end. Some of the best scenes in this entire show came from Pertwee and I’m curious what “Pennyworth” is going to bring to the Lore of this show and the compelling character of Alfred Pennyworth.

 

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4th Place – Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska / The Jokers

“Gotham” took an approach to “The Joker” I haven’t seen before. For the character two brothers played by the same actor inhabited the role. We got Jerome Valeska’s origin in Season 1 with Jim Gordon and he was one of the main antagonists until he made his brother Jerome crazy later. Each them inhabits parts of the Joker lore. Jerome is more “New 52” (who had his face taken off and sewed back on) and is insanity who acted more on instinct and big events while his brother Jeremiah was more of the thinker. His brother Jeremiah thought big and is the one who we end up following until the end. This Joke has a a friendship with Bruce before Jerome drives him crazy and this gives depth to the craziness that comes later. As you can see I could not choose between the two and as they are both played by Cameron Monaghan. I feel that they deserve the tie. Each brings a different part of the lore to this character that is so essential to Batman’s lore. I also thought that the writer’s could have gone deeper, which is why neither of them are further up on the list. Cameron’s acting is great but at times they didn’t know what to do with this character and he rarely had season running arcs.

 

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3rd Place – Edward Nygma / The Riddler

Edward Nygma was a character I hated initially. He was all the aspects of the toxic creep and was presented as potentially redeemable for the longest time. It took him going full “Riddler” that really changed my perspective on him. It was in his role as the manipulator who wanted to make a name from it that made him compelling. “The Riddler” and Nygma contrast and them agreeing on being bad and devoting themselves to it is what made him a great villain. He had to go through Arkham to get there but when he came out it was his relationship with Penguin that added complexity, especially as his old toxic evil habits came back again. Cory Michael Smith brought so much nuance to this role and dual personalities that exist between Nygma and “The Riddler.” Even given this dichotomy though, he is always the villain and never does anything that doesn’t logically serve his own ends, but he will put his neck out for others and take risks for that core goal. We see this with Lee Thompkins and even Penguin a few brief times. His frenemy relationship with Penguin was one of my favorite things and whenever they found a working relationship, things were gold as “The Riddler” was the strategist while Penguin was willing to ruthlessly fight and kill for anything he desired. They were a dangerous duo and it was out of that relationship that “The Riddler” became one of my favorite characters.

 

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2nd Place – Doctor Hugo Strange

B.D. Wong’s version of Doctor Hugo Strange is the best version of this character I have seen thus far. The first time I appreciated Hugo Strange as a character was Gotham City as he was a manipulator pulling on the strings and winning through most of the story. He manages to trap Bruce Wayne in Arkham City in the game, which is a huge feat in and of itself. It was making him a minion in that story, which was the problem. Here is is often times serving people, but he always has a larger agenda at play or at least some level of survival to be himself beyond another’s aims. Throughout the entire series Strange was always one step ahead of foes and I can’t think of a time where he truly lost. Whomever was around would never kill him because he was far to useful and he’d use that to eventually outdo them or escape. This is the character who out of the 5 here has the least connection to Bruce Wayne, which makes me curious about what his relationship will be later to Batman, later in the lore post “Gotham.” “Regardless, “Gotham” is worth watching if only for the Doctor Hugo Strange episodes and B.D. Wong’s masterful performance. He brings in the insane mad scientist who has a familial bond with his creations and resurrections, as well as a ruthlessness of someone who in the end is doing everything to some greater unknown end.

 

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1st Place – Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin

Robin Lord Taylor truly created the best version of “The Penguin” I have seen in any of the DC Lore. This is a Penguin who has been Mayor, been through Arkham, Blackgate and risen and fallen multiple times. Even with the rise and fall of this character, with those rises and falls over seasons came to define the best of “Gotham” for me. In this show we get to learn about Penguin’s father born of money who he ended up re-establishing a relationship with, only for his step-family to kill his father and further drive him to madness. This combined with betrayals throughout his many rises lead to Penguin becoming paranoid. This paranoia became one his defining traits along with his selfish petulant nature. How did this end up being appealing? Because those aspects of the character are always there but oftentimes he would choose courage or take a risk with an enemy and make them an ally. He does this with Ed after Ed tries to kill him and easily found compromises with the Mob and gangs when he wasn’t taking them over. For how obvious Cobblepot’s flaws are he knew how to use them. This is why he is my favorite character. Along with him being smart enough to know his foes, Robin Lord Taylor granted this character limited moments of empathy and sorrow that gave depth to the character that I have not seen in any show or movie for Penguin, nor read in any comic. This is why he is 1st Place on my Top 5 Character of “Gotham.”

For any fan of DC Comics this is a show worth checking out. I’d put it far above “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin.” There are better properties like Burton and Nolan, but this is an example of good adaptation. This series is better than “The New 52” animated Batman films that I reviewed years ago aren’t nearly as good at making their heroes as compelling or deep and their rogues are forgettable. This series is in no way perfect. Characters are brought back to life, plot lines are abandoned and sometimes there are arcs that only exist for the sake of love triangle dramas. Some of these choices worked and some didn’t, but at the end of the day I stuck around for the characters. These are the five characters who made the show worth watching in the end, and the reason I’d recommend this show to any Batman fan.

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Bird Box (2018): A Fantastic Post-Apocalyptic Horror Thriller

I loved “Bird Box.” This is a movie that has become a meme due to the sheer popularity it seems to have taken on, which given how Netflix turned “Stranger Things” into a cultural artifact it is no surprise that this movie would do the same. In both cases the emphasis is on character and fear of the unknown, which is executed beautifully in how the story is told. This is a film built on characters and tension and from there executes a beautiful masterpiece. Susanne Bier did a great job directing this film. I’m definitely interested in seeing what she makes next after this.

The story follows Malorie (Sandra Bullok) in the past as she groups up with a bunch of survivors in a home trying to make sense of the strange event that has occured that is driving people outside to kill themselves and in present day where she guides two children down the river, with each of them blindfolded to some how stave-off this unknown threat. From here the two timelines converge as we learn about what happened to our world.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and does a great job of making everything vibrant. Even the house covered in paper to keep people from looking out has a sickly glow to it. Whether it is night or day you are given a reason to fear what is outside. This works well too in action scenes where characters have to act without seeing, whether it is Malorie with the kids on the river or the drive in a covered car to the supermarket. The visuals keep the threat alive, even though they never show you the demons outside of what a character perceives them to look like through pictures. The visuals and I should also mention the sound design here, keep the tension alive.

The Ensemble Cast – The cast is fantastic. BD Wong appears as a minor character who is on the empathetic side of the surivors contrasted with Malkovich’s Douglas who doesn’t care about anyone outside of himself for the longest time and the characters who are on different sides of this. United in fear they slowly open up to one another and there is just the right amount of characters from a cop in training, an ex-druggie, a grandma, a writer who works at a supermarket, Olympia the idealistic mom contrasted with Malorie’s cynicism and Rhodes’s Tom who is largely the protector and semi-leader of the group.

Creating Family – One of the running themes of the film is the creating of family. We see this in the literal sense of Malorie and the other mother Olympia about to have kids. The survivors are an expression of this too as Malkovich’s Douglas goes from someone who only cares about himself after his 3rd wife is killed in the event but is willing to risk his life for the others when the survivors are all at risk in the end. We also witness it in love that forms between Rhodes’s Tom and Bullok’s Malorie as they come to love each other and become a couple and Malorie raising the two kids and opening up to them. This is one thing the film excels at and my guess is why it is so loved, outside of how well the terror is executed. I cared about the characters and seeing how they became invested in one another was the reason why.

The Unknown Fear – We never learn what the event is. It seems to be implied it might be Lovecraftian demons (the whole looking at them would drive you crazy fits with Lovecraft lore as well as their consuming the populace in metaphorical way) it works and is my kind of horror. We only see the implication it could be these demons based off drawings from one of the men who is let into the survivors home and tries to force them all to see. The drawings are dark, tentacles and hidden terror. This is what gives me the biggest implication that they are the ones responsible but given we never see that first hand, only the impact it could also be some virus or disease that spreads through the eyes when one is outside. Either one works for me and in this case I like not knowing, the consequence of whatever it is, is enough. You fear for the characters because the moment they look they’ll hurt those around them or kill themselves.

The Cons:

Characters Not Learning – At one point the characters should know not to let anyone on the outside in. One of them does and they stand by her doing this. After this everything goes to crap. I can understand why it happened, it was empathy, but at that point the characters should have known something was up with the guy. Things had been silent for so long and some of the group had died from experiments of watching what the outside. Of course this wouldn’t be a horror movie without at least one character making a stupid mistake so I won’t hold this too much against the film, but it is still a con.

“Bird Box” is worth the hype is if you love character stories or horror films. This is a film that excels at both and manages to have less stupid mistakes on the part of the character choices than “A Quiet Place,” which is also a great film. I just think “Bird Box” does horror and tension ever so slightly better. There is power in not seeing the monster but seeing what it does and not knowing the answer in this case pays off. The story isn’t about the mystery, it is about the survival of the characters and their individual arcs and this is what the film does really well. If you have Netflix definitely check it out. This like “Infinity War” lived up to the hype.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

“Gotham” Season 2 – A Slow Start, Great Villains and the Ending Doesn’t Work

Gotham Season 2

    “Gotham” Season 2 has moments that really stand out and could have made this season great overall if what we’d been shown and had been consistent and if the story had been more focused. There are so many threads that are brought out and I felt the end of the season didn’t really resolve many of them and only left us with more questions, which I hope Season 3 can answer but it hurts the overall performance of Season 2. There are some great characters though and those are the ones that keep this show good rather than okay or bad.

This review will contain SPOILERS

       This season’s arc involves the continuing mystery of who killed the Waynes and finding out who set up the killer to kill the Waynes along with Theo Galavan’s attempt to destroy Gotham and the plots of Hugo Strange in Arkham Asylum.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography continues to be great on this show. Certain shots are presented like a comic book panel and it gives it a great feel and makes the world feel lived in.

The World – The world is fantastic, the story doesn’t really work all the time…but the conspiracies, the crazy people and the characters who make this world possible is great to see. I like this world and it is really what keeps me coming back.

Blackgate Prison – At one point in the story Jim is sent to Blackgate Prison for a murder Nygma framed him for. It is really cool seeing him make friends with another innocent trapped in there and how dangerous it feels. There is a reason this is high security while Arkham is technically a hospital.

Arkham Asylum – Arkham is awesome in this. Whether is Hugo Strange (the best villain in this series so far) or the different people in Arkham being transformed into their later Batman counterparts…this is a place where so much is always happening, and Thomas Wayne was tied to it all. Even if he didn’t know about Indian Hill he must have known about Strange’s experiments.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this series, even though there are more characters I’d only consider okay or cons than last season, the stronger characters really make up for it.

The Maniax – These are 7 Crazies that Theo Galavan breaks out of Arkham to cause chaos in Gotham so he’ll be elected Mayor. The most memorable one is the Jokeresque one who starts a movement when he dies as his laughter and Joker like look become a symbol of resistance in Gotham in the underground…the Maniax’s influence stays long after they are all defeated.

Nathaniel Barnes – Barnes is the new Commissioner after the Maniax kill the old one. He’s all business and militarizes the GPD. He also doesn’t trust Gordon but grows to respect him over time. Michael Chiklis really puts in an amazing performance.

Leslie Thompkins – Leslie is the stability for Gordon that he can’t accept because of his guilt. She is a fantastic character and it is sad when she eventually leaves to escape the war against Galavan. We learn she was pregnant but the child died. Baccerin continues to put some of the best performances in all she is in. I like how she is the clear headed one in the relationship  and a fighter in her own right.

Butch – Butch is back and hooks with one of the Galavan’s and breaks free of the mind control Penguin put on him. No idea where he is at the end of the season though after Fish Mooney is resurrected by Strange as he runs away after she knocks out Penguin.

Elijah van Dahl – Elijah is Penguin’s father and the actor who played him (Paul Reubens) played Penguin’s father in “Batman Returns.” He is a great character and he is there to help Penguin after Penguin’s reconditioning in Gotham and point him on a path to goodness. He is killed by his wife though when she tries to poison Penguin.

Miss Peabody – Miss Peabody is amazing! She is Strange’s second in command and is a threat, we see her take out people much larger or unhinger then herself and strike fear in them. She is the one who reminds Strange that maybe he shouldn’t take things so far as it could back to bite them…she is the calm to his recklessness.

Edward Nygma / The Riddler – Nygma becomes the Riddler this season as he kills his girlfriend when she finds out he killed her ex and becomes paranoid. This leads to him framing Gordon for her murder, though after Gordon breaks out of Blackgate he forces Nygma’s hand with Bullock to reveal the truth. After Nygma is in Arkham his intelligence is on full display as he manipulates the inmates into calmness. It is implied he escapes at the end when Mooney escapes in the bus carrying all the inmates. He also helps put Penguin back together after Galavan kills Mrs. Cobblepot in the first half of the season. I didn’t like Nygma all that much last season but I’m sold on the character after this season.

Oswald Cobblepot / Penguin – Penguin goes through the ringer this season. He is the King of Gotham, loses it all to Galavan including his mother and sanity. Riddler puts him back together, he gets sent to Arkham where he again loses his mind and has the violence conditioned out of him and ends up with his father and step-family…his step-family kills his father and he goes bad again. He then gets revenge on Galavan when Galavan is resurrected into Azrael and Fish Mooney gets revenge on him, leaving his future up in the air. This was his season, even more so than last season and his rise.

Hugo Strange – BD Wong’s Hugo Strange is the best character to come out of this show! From his mad scientist bent of messing with people’s minds to turn them into characters, to his outsmarting the Riddler and GPD and his insistence in releasing unstable people out into Gotham for the kicks. He’s mad but has empathy too as we see he cared about Thomas Wayne even though he called in the hit. This is a character with depth who I hope we see more of. He blows all the other villains out of the water and the full extent of what he knows will hopefully come to light next season. I’d love it if he takes out the Court of Owls as they make him look like a Saint.

Alfred – Sean Pertwee continues to be one of the best parts of the show! In this season we see him further teach Bruce Wayne as well as search for him at different points and see some of his former military skill in action. Seriously, I want to learn more about this character and his backstory.

Harvey Bullock – Bullock becomes Commissioner in this! His arc goes from working with Jim even when it is against the law Jim’s a fugitive…to leading the police after Azrael mortally wounds the Police Commissioner. This character really is fantastic and seeing him become responsible is a lot of fun.

Jim Gordon – Gordon continues to show why the show is based around him. He’s conflicted, corrupt (kills Galavan and goes rogue) and is the heart of the show as he’s very much a proto-Batman as guilt runs everything he does and it is getting through that guilt that brings us to the end of the Season so he can have a life outside of Gotham with Leslie (before getting pulled back in).

Okay: Mr. Freeze – When he puts on the suit he is good but before that and his resurrection he has too much of the crazy already. He is killing, which makes him unsympathetic. He should have stole not killed. He makes a great minion for Strange at least.

The Galavans – Theo is great when he becomes Azrael, but as the Mayor I just got tired of his plots. In regards to his sister and adopted daughter, I never got what they wanted so they were just kind of there.

Barbara Kean – She is okay, I thought I’d hate them bringing her back but her going from one of the Maniax to a somewhat ally is actually handled really well. I also like that she figures out Clayface is Gordon because she knows Gordon love Leslie.

Selena Kyle – Selena Kyle is okay but suffers from the same problem as Bruce. She like Bruce would work as “Batman: Year One” versions of themselves. Them being kids makes it so there aren’t any real stakes.

Bruce Wayne – Bruce Wayne is okay, he isn’t as bad as last season, but little kids solving mysteries doesn’t work well in anything not directed by Spielberg. He does alright with what he’s given but he’s Bruce Wayne and has to become Batman so lots of plot armor so no real stakes.

Okay/Con: The Ending – Fish is back which was a terrible narrative decision unless they do something interesting with it, Penguin is dead or knocked out and Strange is in prison. Seriously the most interesting villain is gone. Also a Bruce Wayne clone? gets out of the bus too.

The Cons: The van Dahls – I wish they hadn’t been blatant villains. There is nothing good about them. They are pointless violence and stupidity.

Firefly – This character is annoying. I hated the episodes and her family and nothing that is done with feels real. Her friendship with Selena feels contrived and her fighting Mr. Freeze at the end feels corny in all the wrong ways.

Fish Mooney – Fish is back and I wish she’d stayed dead. If she was going to be brought back it should have been related to Penguin and a civil war to take control of the gang. When she’s back the city is going back into chaos with all the inmates of Arkham freed and now her wants role seem moot. Did she kill Penguin, if she didn’t…why? Minus character popularity, bringing her back at the end serves zero purpose.

Cluttered Narrative – The narrative in both the first and second half of this season is really cluttered. First season had the Barbara, Galavan and Maniax storylines going on along with everything related to the Penguin and the Riddler…while the second season had Azrael, Hugo Strange, the hidden Council, Penguin, Riddler and bringing back Fish Mooney…where last season felt like it was leading to something…this narrative felt cluttered and unfocused.

  Hugo Strange is the biggest reason to watch this season. The Maniax are great in the first half and help make up for the sometimes weak Galavan narrative while Strange makes up for how uninteresting some of his minions are and how uninteresting the Council of Owls so far appears to be. Seriously, watch this show for the villains. Most of the heroes are okay, with the exception of Bullock and Alfred whose performances I’d consider great. The rest are either good or okay. I hated that this season ended with a cliffhanger and Strange in prison, but there isn’t much to be done along those lines. I plan to keep on watching as there is enough here to keep me coming back and this show is overall good. If you like the world of Batman and enjoyed the first season of “Gotham,” you will probably enjoy this season.

Final Score: 8 / 10 (would be rated lower if not for BD Wong as Hugo Strange).

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