The Three Best Characters in Gotham Season Two
Halfway through another intense, fast-moving season of Gotham is a good time to assess how it’s going, especially in the character development department. Centered around Gotham City Police detective Jim Gordon and a young, still grieving Bruce Wayne, Gotham is classic pulp police drama meets world of superheroes through a stylish (and sometimes silly) film noir lens.
Gotham has a ton of source material to draw from and often recasts familiar DC Universe characters with completely new and novel backstories. At the same time, it is not afraid to stray far from the conventional Batman canon by introducing brand new storylines & villains such as gangster Fish Mooney & the murderous Theo Galavan.
The single best example of this syncretic approach, and one perfected by great acting, is Robin Lorde Taylor’s Penguin. His portrayal of a shifty and occasionally savage underworld schemer exorcised memories of a mascara-faced Danny Devito leading an army of penguin commandos in Batman Returns.
With season 2, several other established characters have had an opportunity to grow. So with the fall finale on tonight, let’s review the 3 best depictions thus far:
Alfred Pennyworth: Loyal butler Alfred is always depicted as the aging father-figure to orphan billionaire Bruce Wayne and later, as a reluctant aide-de-camp to Batman in his relentless war on crime. Beyond that, his own fictional history is quite rich and varied. Sometimes he’s the descendant of a long line of Wayne family servants, as shown in theCourt of Owls comic book story arc. Other times he’s an ex-thespian from London’s Royal Shakespeare Company who helps Bruce become a master of disguise. Fittingly, he has been portrayed by esteemed Brit actors Michael Gough (in the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher films), Michael Caine (during the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale run) and soon, Jeremy Irons in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But in Gotham Sean Pertwee‘s Alfred is different. For one thing, he’s got a full head of hair. For another, he’s a lot like the Alfred we see in Geoff Johns’ Batman Earth One: an ex-military man who learned to fight as a Royal Marine with battlefield medic training to boot. He’s not at all afraid to take on anyone who threatens Bruce’s chances at a normal life, including Bruce himself. Tack on an unrelentingly raspy voice and this Alfred is one not to be missed with.
Edward Nygma: If the Penguin stole the show last year, halfway through this season it’s his equally-disturbed roommate Edward Nygma (portrayed by Cory Michael Smith) who’s in the spotlight. His development from geeky forensic scientist into the Riddler is deliberately paced: after wrestling with an external tormentor in the form of the corrupt & thuggish Det. Arnold Flass and then accidentally eliminating the one character who could redeem him, Kristen Kringle (played by Chelsea Spack), he has fully embraced his dark side. More broadly, Smith has taken an outdated, unintentionally comical villain who’s best known for using obscure puzzles to outwit Batman (and worst known as a stretchy faced Jim Carrey in the woeful Batman Forever) and replaced him with a split-personality sociopath turned evil from the actions of others. In a show premised on beginnings & transformations, Edward Nygma’s descent into a cunning, murdering mastermind who will one day challenge Batman intellectually in ways that none of his arch-villains can is nothing short of great.
Barbara Kean: Gotham’s visual appeal is undeniable, as numerous technical Emmy nominations can attest to. But whenever the storytelling gets criticized for being a bit too over-the-top for a comic book adaption, look no further than the (d)evolution of Barbara Keane on the show. The writers took this character, played by an excellent Erin Richards, to an almost ridiculous direction early into the series as a way of setting up a tentpole tension in the love triangle between her, Gordon & Lee Thompkins. It’s also a big step out of the canon, which usually has Babs as Gordon’s world-weary wife, as seen in Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli’s seminal classic Batman Year One. In the comics we know little about Barbara, aside from the fact that she’s both the mother of Batgirl/Oracle, and the new-ish character of James Gordon Junior (who may have become the calculating creep that he is from the final events of Batman Year One). As Gordon is usually portrayed as a widower in contemporary stories, it makes sense that Barbara would figure heavily in a series about his early years. However in a character arc that extends from clueless debutante with bisexual tendencies to trauma victim to wild-eyed, psychopathic accomplice to the soap opera-clichéd coma survivor, the writers may have been a bit too ambitious. If nothing else though, Babs bring a whirlwind of chaos from an unexpected angle into Jim Gordon’s already difficult life.
Comic book television adaptions have to strike a balance between loyalty to the source material and fresh, new interpretations that appeal to new audiences on an altogether different medium. These three characters—Alfred, Riddler and Barbara Gordon—give us some of the best reasons to watch Gotham create a future Batman’s world.