Fall finales have become an important staple in the life of a network drama. It is what placates the viewer during the holiday hiatus, a time when television goes quiet, perhaps when it is needed most. More importantly though, it is the hinge on which the door to the second-half of the season will swing open—the welcome mat that signals what is to come once you pass through the doorframe.
There is a lot riding on the fall finale. Unless you’re like me, and are paid to watch a particular show, the fall finale could determine whether you decide to tune in come January. For many people, especially those not invested in the world of Gotham (i.e. those without pre-existing love for the comic book world and its characters), I imagine last night’s “LoveCraft” will be the final episode of Gotham they see. It’s a fair choice. The show has been an uneven and, at times, simply laughable attempt at a Batman prequel. But, it has also shown flashes of sincere promise, and proven a decent understanding of the long game, which can only pay off with time. Nevertheless, the fall finale is as good a time as any to ask the question, “Should I stay tuned?”
The answer? Eh.
Right now, Gotham is a show still finding its legs, which it can’t be blamed for, but you can’t be blamed for waiting to tune in until it’s walking steadily.
“LoveCraft” felt less like a “finale” than “Penguin’s Umbrella,” the show’s seventh episode. It shared positive similarities to that hour, the show’s best, but failed to progress the story as far forward as I would have liked from a finale-like installment. The episode was tight, the plot not as meandering as it often is, instead staying focused on the assassination attempt on Selina and Bruce, as well as a few mob war bits thrown in for flavor. I had expected a bombastic hour, though, and while there were certainly plenty of action sequences (most of which felt improved over the bumbling attempts of past episodes), the overall story didn’t move with the sense of urgency that I expected. It peaked and lulled, dragging at times. The storyline did raise interesting questions about how far up the Wayne murders go, who is really in control of Gotham (previously I’s thought all the lines pointing to higher powers controlling the city were in reference to the mob, but my certainty has waned after last night), and ended with Gordon being reassigned to Arkham Asylum. “LoveCraft” lacked the big moment that will have fans stewing for the next month, however, and that’s a critical mistake. Still, despite lacking the big shock, the episode was one of Gotham’s stronger efforts, providing another tightly controlled story, which is how this show thrives.
Another boon for “LoveCraft” was the continuation of Bruce and Selina’s pairing. The two proved to be quite a bit of fun last week, and this week was no different. Selina finally has something to do, and giving Bruce another person to interact with (other than Alfred) is a positive step. The inclusion of Gotham’s underground in this episode was also a plus, lending a background to Selina that I’m amazed hasn’t been shown until now. Hopefully the dingy establishments that Cat frequents will become more commonplace as they provide a well of interesting, offbeat characters, and also give Selina a viable playground. Something about David Mazouz’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne still doesn’t sit right with me, but the way the character opens up around his street smart counterpart is promising.
The rest of the cast faired as well as its youngest members, particularly Sean Pertwee. I have not spoken enough about Pertwee’s take on Aflred, partly because I knew my thinking on the subject was flawed. My personal opinion on how the character of Alfred should be put forth is nearly the opposite of how the London-born actor approaches the role. I didn’t want my pre-existing thoughts to cloud the work that Pertwee has done, and so I stayed quiet. The truth is, he’s been phenomenal in nearly every step, and he completely owned the first half of last night’s episode. Pertwee was able to show off much of his range, as well as the considerable talents of his character in “LoveCraft,” and it was incredibly fun to watch unfold. I am grateful to report that much of the characters feel formed, and the actors embodying them feel comfortable after ten episodes, though there are still bits of awkwardness (McKenzie seems to have issue with the larger moments, when Gordon is furious and trying to display a raw masculinity, and I may never accept Richard Kind as the mayor).
All the pieces are there. The actors, the writing, all the nuts and bolts that make a good hour of television are in place for Gotham. What’s lacking is execution. Yet again, the show fell victim to its inability to create tension, or any sort of meaningful storyline in “LoveCraft.” While the plots haven’t been particularly bad, they’ve also not been particularly interesting. Last night did have a small level of intrigue, given the aforementioned higher powers in Gotham (who sent the assassins after Selina), but that angle was subdued for the most part in favor of a generic character-on-the-run scenario. I have no idea if much will change in the second half of the season, but I would love for the show to move away from trying to make singular storylines that exist for no more than an hour. Cable dramas, and shows like NBC’s Hannibal have proven that the progression of a larger story with each successive episode can be a fruitful model, and, once again, with the aspirations Gotham seems to have, moving in that direction could be beneficial.
?And so we put Gotham to bed until the new year. At this moment, questions abound as to the future of the show (in terms of quality), with both positives and negatives making themselves dutifully apparent. If you choose not to come back in 2015, I can’t blame you. If you’re invested, you have numerous reasons to be. But, for the sake of us all, let’s hope that the “light” Detective Gordon referred to nine episodes ago will only brighten as the Christmas bulbs go dark.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.