With a season so uneven, there was little certainty heading into last night’s finale of Gotham. Fireworks were promised but, given the Fox drama’s proclivity for empty promises in its first season, it wasn’t a stretch to foresee a series of misfires in the final hour. Luckily, Bruno Heller and his team delivered an episode with real consequence and, after a season full of hours that fell apart in the final act, one that refused to let up.
Picking up where last week left off, “All Happy Families Are Alike” centered around the mob war that Penguin initiated with some clever scheming, save for one major difference. After two absent weeks, Fish Mooney returned to Gotham (obviously she survived that bullet in the leg that I guess we’re just not going to mention?) and not long after doing so, she got herself a new look. The pseudo-punk rock facade that Fish and her cronies adopted was confusing and, naturally by Gotham standards, unexplained. None of that really mattered though, as there was business to attend to. Despite doing his best last week to stay out of the fray while Maroni and Falcone tore each other apart, Penguin quickly found himself ensnared thanks to—who else—Jim Gordon. In an attempt to restore order, Gordon rushed to the hospital where Falcone was taken after an attack, knowing that Maroni’s goons would soon arrive to end the Roman’s reign as king of Gotham. What the detective finds instead is Cobblepot and his lackey looking to finish the job on their own. It’s a classic bad guy mistake, to set up a conflict that will ensure your rise to power, and allowing your ego to push you into the frontlines. Once Maroni’s men did arrive at the hospital, a decent and wickedly implausible firefight took place, marking one of the show’s better action sequences, but it wasn’t until Fish got involved that the story really began to move.
Much like Penguin, Fish has long plotted her takeover of Gotham’s underworld. After surviving the Island of Misfit Dolls, she returned with more vigor than ever, even willing to partner with Maroni if it meant the end of Falcone. But, of course, the two mob bosses couldn’t agree on terms and their discord brought a rain of bullets, all starting when Fish lodged one in Maroni’s skull. Maroni’s death opened a window for Gordon, Bullock and Falcone (who had been captured by Fish’s team) to escape and gave Penguin a chance to enact vengeance on his former boss. The showdown between Fish and Penguin, in proper Gotham fashion, stumbled, but was ultimately satisfying. It even contained a bit of humor, though I’m unsure it was intended, when Butch couldn’t decide whom to shoot and gave them both a slug in the leg. But, when Penguin finally flipped Fish over the ledge and sent her body crashing to the water below, it was a relief. Not because the storytelling has been on par all season building up to the moment, but because the bloated cast needed to be trimmed. With both Fish and Maroni out of the picture (it is not impossible that Fish could return sometime in the future, but Jada Pinkett Smith has sounded less than enthused to do so), it should open up some much-needed space. That is, provided Heller and his team take serious notes and don’t try to add any more major characters.
Falcone is also gone, though not dead. He, Gordon and Bullock successfully escaped (twice) and Falcone set his sights on retirement. Early in the season, I found Gotham’s depiction of Batman’s most infamous crime boss to be lacking. He didn’t impose his strength in the way I expected and John Doman’s portrayal overall felt a bit soft. As the season wore on, though, and particularly as Falcone saw less and less screen time, I began to appreciate what Doman was doing. This is not your rough and tough Falcone of comic lore; this is an old, worn down boss that has seen too much and gained too little. Once that became clear, it was apparent that Doman’s nuanced performance (one of the few characters not outlandishly large has always been Falcone) was fitting. In one of the episode’s final scenes, Falcone and Gordon shared a moment on the Roman’s balcony, the now former mob boss telling the intrepid detective about his favorite knife, and the plight of honest men. It was Gordon’s father that gave Falcone the knife, and I wish the writers had given these two more time to develop a relationship this season, and allowed them to explore their connection for more than a few snippets of time. Doman’s presence as a performer will be missed, but there was never much for Falcone to do in this Gotham. From the beginning he was a man with one foot out the door.
While the mob was settling its myriad issues, Gordon’s two ladies found themselves in what I would call an increasingly odd dinner date. Having survived the Ogre, Barbara is urged by Leslie to seek counseling, which Barbara expectedly refuses, unless it is Dr. Thompkins herself who sees to the care. Barbara has been a travesty the entire season, but changing her into a broken trauma victim is somewhat interesting, though Erin Richards’ strength is not in humanity (or acting). The night plays out as you would expect, with Lee suffering from TV stupidity right until it’s almost too late and Barbara attacks her. Lee is able to fend her off, and nothing more comes from the subplot, but it makes for interesting possibilities next season. The show would be best off shipping Barbara to Arkham and leaving her off the call sheet, but I imagine she will continue to be a thorn in the side of viewers until she is killed, or turns into some sort of surprise supervillain.
The final progression of the night came from Bruce, who continued his investigation into his father’s “secret.” Not much happened here, and there were only a few short scenes, but it culminated with Bruce discovering what one would assume to be the Batcave. This is intriguing. Not so much because Bruce will eventually use the space as his secret lair, but because the idea of Thomas Wayne having used it for similar purposes has rarely been considered (forgive me if I’m am woefully wrong in that statement). This is not just a cave beneath Wayne Manor as seen in the Dark Knight films or many other Batman origin stories. This was a lair hidden behind a secret door and, as comics have taught us, what lies behind a hidden door is of the utmost importance.
It was nice to see Gotham end on a high note. “All Happy Families Are Alike” had solid energy throughout, with nice action sequences and numerous plot developments that will affect the show moving into Season Two. The first 22 episodes of Gotham, which was the most highly anticipated new show last fall, were often maddening in their inability to deliver on the potential promised before, and by, the pilot. Over the span of those episodes, we saw numerous villains, ghoulish deaths, poor attempts at humor and even some romance. It primarily fell on the side of mediocre and boring, but the finale showed a glimpse of the kind of action-filled insanity this show could operate under, and would likely thrive in. Next September, Gotham City will be far more wide open than it was in Season One, and all that room will mean far better television. Then again, with Gotham it’s best not to make promises.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.