Detective James Gordon is the new guy at the Gotham City Police Department and finds himself contending with rampant corruption and procedural laziness. His partner, Detective Harvey Bullock, tries to show him the ropes but Gordon is staunchly moral and vows to change the system from within. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne’s parents are shot to death in an alley which brings Gordon in contact with the likes of Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot, and Carmine Falcone. Many other famous DC Comics characters make appearances.
The episode starts out with an adolescent Selina Kyle (Catwoman), roaming the streets of Gotham, picking pockets and stealing milk to feed the alley cats. She happens across an alley behind the movie theater where she witnesses the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of their son Bruce. This is James Gordon’s first case. When he asks Bruce about the murder he is extremely detailed about the man who killed his parents – shiny shoes was the main detail that stood out – already displaying the talents that will make Batman the world’s greatest detective. Gordon promises that he will find the man who killed Bruce’s parents. Gordon and Bullock go to see mob queen Fish Mooney to get some inside information. Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin) is one of her henchmen. Mooney provides them with a tip off about a small time crook named Mario Pepper who is trying to sell Martha Wayne’s pearls. When they go to interrogate him he gets killed in the chase, but they find the pearls hidden in his apartment among some drugs.
Gordon and Bullock are commended for finding the murderer, but when Cobblepot snitches to Rene Montoya and Crispus Allen that Mooney worked with Bullock and Gordon to frame Pepper, Gordon vows to get to the bottom of it. When he goes to confront Mooney she has her henchmen knock him out and take him to a meat packing facility to kill him. Bullock finds out and goes to help Gordon but gets strung up himself. Just before the henchmen start their work, Gordon and Bullock are saved by mob boss Carmine Falcone and his henchmen. He tells Gordon that he and his father were good friends and that otherwise he would have let him die. Falcone despairs of Gotham’s decline, saying that organized crime needs a balance of law and order to be profitable. Gordon threatens to reveal everything he knows about the city’s corruption, but Falcone makes him doubt that it would really do any good.
It is still a mystery who killed the Waynes and why – it is only known that it wasn’t Falcone or Mooney. They arranged for Pepper to take the fall to give the city hope and security in order to protect their business. Bullock takes Gordon to the deserted docks by the river and tells him to kill the snitch Cobblepot to prove that he’s playing for the team. Gordon tells Cobblepot never to come back to Gotham and pretends to shoot him as he pushes him in the water. Gordon, determined to clean up the GCPD, goes to tell Bruce Wayne that Pepper was framed for his parents’ murder, but that he will not rest until the culprit is found and corruption weeded out.
The city looks just like you’d want it to, with dark alleys, seedy bars with sensuous red lighting, abandoned factories by the docks, and meat packing facilities where mobsters do their dirty work. It has the same sense of vintage 1940s noir style that the animated series has while all seeming to look completely modern. It’s a real city with real problems, planting the seeds for a world where costumed heroes and villains do battle in the streets. It seems pretty unlikely from the realism of the first episode that the series will stray into any of the mystical themes of the comics, but that doesn’t prevent it from exploring some of the more fantastical or pseudo-scientific plots of the comics (like Joker’s eventual transformation via a chemical soup bath or Bane’s strength serum). There’s not yet any indication of anyone with any special powers or whether this series exists in a reality that could plausibly include the existence of Superman or other Justice League members. Seeing as how Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and Poison Ivy are still very young, it might be some time before we see anything remotely like that. Then again, television plots are not necessarily subject to the conventions of time.
It is Gordon’s misfortune to be the moral compass/normal guy in a corrupt city filled with characters who could easily be more interesting than him. It was a smart move to introduce Gordon by showing the audience that he can think quickly and fight hard, but that he’s not cruel, brutal, or cowardly. He’s a good man in a bad city and he’s going to have to think very quickly and fight very hard indeed if he’s going to turn it around. But Gordon has ties to Gotham – his father having been one of the city’s greatest DAs – and he aims to help it.
We know this takes place very early in Gordon’s life – before he’s even married and before he even has children. It’s difficult to know where the series will take events, how much of it will be based on the comics, and if so, which continuity the writers will choose to employ. Will Gordon’s daughter and future Batgirl Barbara be his biological daughter or adopted? Will James Gordon Jr. end up being a serial killer and inmate of Arkham Asylum? Will Gordon have an affair with his boss Sarah Essen? They’re already playing around with the origin stories of future super criminals like the Riddler, the Penguin, and Poison Ivy.
This first episode already introduces us to a number of Gotham’s future super criminals, some whose journey have already been set in motion by events directly affected by Gordon. Edward Nygma works for the GCPD. Catwoman is still just a parkouring girl on the street. Poison Ivy is a plant loving girl whose abusive father was framed and killed by the GCPD. Oswald Cobblepot is a vicious, sniveling double-crosser. And could that have been the Joker auditioning for Fish Mooney as she disciplined Cobblepot? If so, then he’s still just a regular guy with unreachable dreams of comedy success, maybe broke and unemployed with a wife and unborn child at home. If they go the way of the comics, Joker’s story stands to be the most tragic and compelling of all. Some of this stands to be years in the making, though. We shall have to see how fast events progress.
Overall, Gotham’s pilot episode was incredibly strong and seemed to premiere as a fully formed world with a clearly defined and distinctive style. I have a lot of faith in series runner Bruno Heller. I am a big fan of his Rome series and The Mentalist is pretty good for a CBS procedural. Let’s just say that I’m glad Gotham is on FOX. Despite their track record for cancelling critically acclaimed cult television shows, they also have a reputation for giving new and innovative shows a fighting chance. Gotham seems like a FOX show. The cast also appears to be very strong, with a lot of fresh faces who are already putting in some interesting performances and some old faces putting in reliable ones. I have to put this somewhere, but I’m pretty excited to see what Sean Pertwee does with his Alfred Pennyworth, who already seems to be a bit rougher around the edges, a little brasher and less refined.