‘Gotham’ Series Finale Review: Fox’s Gonzo Cop Show Enlivens its Inevitable End

Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, as the everyday police officers of "Gotham" finally get some help against extraordinary opposition.
GOTHAM:  L-R:  Erin Richards and Ben Mckenzie in the "The Beginning..." series finale episode of GOTHAM airing Thursday, April 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2019 Fox Media LLC Cr:  FOX
Erin Richards and Ben Mckenzie in the "Gotham" series finale

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Gotham” Season 5, Episode 12, “The Beginning…”]

Like the dutiful detective-turned-commissioner leading the cast, “Gotham” did exactly what it needed to do — in the series finale and final season overall. Charged with setting up the era of Batman (without ever saying his name), Fox’s crime drama took a bit of glee going through the motions, and even if the wild minds behind it couldn’t go full-tilt crazy in its waning hours, they did ensure a respectable legacy for an overtly beautiful and sneakily ambitious broadcast drama.

“The Beginnings…” — an apt finale title for a series always steaming toward its Bat-predecessors’ timelines — checked off box after box: The 10-year time jump sets up a return for Gotham’s favorite son, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), who’s been overseas becoming the hero the city needs. Before his new Wayne Tower can open, a devious plot to blow it up emerges courtesy of a mysterious new villain. Of course, given Jeremiah Valeska’s early appearance in the episode (played by Cameron Monaghan), as well as the long-awaited unveiling of “Gotham’s” very own Joker, it’s pretty obvious who said villain might be.

Nevertheless, there’s fun to be had. Fans get to see Robin Lord Taylor don the Penguin’s iconic top hat and Cory Michael Smith don the emerald green suit of The Riddler. Barbara Keane (Erin Richards) busts out the bright red hair for her swan song, and the finale’s one “mistake” is a matter of taste, as I, for one, think Ben McKenzie totally pulled off Commissioner Gordon’s signature mustache; he tried something, and it did work, gosh darn it!

It all builds up to a showdown between Gordon and Jeremiah Joker whatever copyright laws dictate he calls himself, where the veteran officer’s heroics are aided by a masked figure throwing bat-a-rangs from a dark corner. It’s the first face-off between Batman and the Joker, even if neither officially go by that name, and Gordon’s new ally edges him out of retirement and back to the field. (As if he would really call it quits at the age of… 40? 45?) The final shot completes the hand-off from city to protector, transitioning through one big camera swoop from the rooftop of police headquarters to a skyscraper where Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is perched among the gargoyles.

GOTHAM: L-R: Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith in the "The Beginning..." series finale episode of GOTHAM airing Thursday, April 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2019 Fox Media LLC Cr: FOX
Robin Lord Taylor and Cory Michael Smith in the “Gotham” series finaleFox

This stylish final shot wasn’t the only bit of flair brought to the finale — from the vivid costumes to the non-Joker Joker’s makeup, to the always-dazzling production design, the series finale yet again proved “Gotham” is one of the most beautiful series on television. Just look at one of the more forgettable scenes from the final hour: Edward Nygma awakens uncaged and sitting in front of him is a bomb. He thinks it’s a present from the Penguin (when it’s actually part of the daughter Al Ghul’s master plan), but it’s not the plot points that matter. It’s the look bolstering them.

Just behind Nygma are flickering green lights. If you’re not really paying attention, it may just appear that Ed’s stuck in an ugly sewer of some sort, but the extra neon in those lights tells us so much more: After 10 years behind bars, dressed in an outfit as drab as his daily routine, Edward is awakening. His inner Riddler is re-emerging. And even though his signature suit isn’t waiting inside his giftbox, it’s clear from his cackles that everyone’s favorite brain-teaser is back at it.

These kind of smart, additive touches sprang up consistently over the show’s five-year run, but even though “Gotham” was repeatedly recognized at the Emmys for its crew’s stellar below-the-line contributions, I always felt it was a series of sneaky ambitions. Despite always knowing it was going to end up here, at this moment, with Batman taking the lead and Jim Gordon relegated to assistant duties, Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon, and John Stephens stretched their characters to their fullest potential.

Arcs ballooned as big as their story structure would allow, and when that proved too limiting, “Gotham” flipped from a police procedural to more serialized seasons. Gordon deals with the ramifications of murder with real pathos. Barbara broke very, very bad and came back all the way back around to good. Oswald fell from and rose to power so many times, his madness became endearing.

“Gotham” always worked as a series you could tune in and out of; it held fast to its purpose as a broadcast drama. But for those who stuck with it, week after week, year after year, the end result is a spellbinding blend of genres, tropes, and characters. It’s the story of a metropolitan police force overwhelmed with corruption on both sides of the bars. As they whittle away at their internal affairs, the rise of villains creates an unprecedented (and unbelievable) crime spree. How they put all that madness back in the bottle is a question unique to the time we live in, even if “Gotham” never pretended to be anything so relevant. This ending ensures a legacy alongside the other prominent Bat-stories, but it’s the series’ gonzo approach to a cop drama that distinguishes it altogether.

Grade: B

“Gotham” aired five seasons on the Fox network. Recent episodes are available to stream on Hulu.

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