The Dark Knight is rising.
If the night is darkest before dawn, then Gotham City is darkest before the Knight. At least, that is the case with the Batman prequel series “Gotham”, which returns to FOX for its fifth and final season Thursday.
The season, which has received the subtitle “Legend of the Dark Knight,” will end in a 10-year jump into the future with a reveal of Batman (and a portly Penguin). But before the Caped Crusader arrives, audiences will see the story picking up a year into No Man’s Land then cycling back to Day 87 after Gotham City has been isolated by the U.S. government. Referencing the year-long 1999 DC Comics event of the same name, this No Man’s Land has Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) of the GCPD establishing a safe “green zone,” and attempting to hold the city together as villains divide it up into multiple territories.
There are “elevated stakes” in Season 5, McKenzie said on a recent visit to “Gotham’s” Brooklyn, New York set where he and other cast members teased the show’s conclusion.
“Gordon is literally and figuratively on an island, on an island inside an island, surrounded by hostile forces,” he added. “It’s a strong starting off point, and he’s not in a great place when you first see him — and then it gets worse.”
Showrunner John Stephens agreed that Gordon is put through the wringer this season, but so is the entire city. He said that there is a “velocity” to the storytelling of the show’s final outing, which flows from a cataclysmic event at the start of No Man’s Land.
Whereas an earthquake separated Gotham City from the rest of the nation in the comics, this iteration of the metropolis has been closed off following explosions courtesy of proto-Joker Jeremiah. “Gotham’s” colorful rogues gallery of Penguin, Barbara Kean’s Sirens, Ivy, Freeze, Scarecrow, Firefly, Zsasz – and a couple other factions, such as Low Boyz and Street Demons – each rule their own evil fiefdoms when a new player arrives in town in the form of Eduardo Dorrance aka Bane (Shane West).
While there is a lot going on at the top of Season 5, Stephens said the chaos of No Man’s Land, and the divvied-up territories, has allowed “Gotham” to focus on core characters.
“Once you get into the final season, what you want more than anything else is your core characters interacting with one another,” he said. “What you want are more Penguin/Nygma scenes, more Barbara and Penguin, Selina and Bruce. Let’s really tell a full Nygma story that is going to drive him through Penguin, through Barbara. Let’s tell the story of Barbara and the whatever the next version of her is going to be.”
“We are, in a weird way, right back to that pier scene in the pilot,” said Robin Lord Taylor, who portrays Oswald Cobblepot (aka Penguin), of his character’s endgame with Gordon. The pier scene is the one in which Gordon chose not to kill Cobblepot, a decision that has continued to come back and haunt him.
During No Man’s Land, Penguin selects City Hall (and the largest controlled zone) as his territory, and begins operating as a war profiteer, controlling ammunition in Gotham, and serving “almost as a dictator in a tiny country,” said Taylor.
“Gordon wants to re-establish traditional order, and re-connect the city to the rest of the world, but it’s the entire opposite for Penguin. It is the dark and light coming together, trying to control what’s left of Gotham City.”
Beyond Penguin, Gordon must also contend with Bane. The “Gotham” version of the character is an old buddy of Gordon’s from the military who arrives in the sequestered city on a mission. Stephens said this special ops government agent Bane is “integral” to the resolution of No Man’s Land. But McKenzie revealed that while Gordon is initially happy to see his comrade, their history is complicated.
“As much as they saw hard times together, you reveal through action that the story is not quite as simple as that they served together,” he said. “It reveals rather quickly that is a little more sinister.”
McKenzie also teased that when Gordon feels the weight of the world on his shoulders in this fight to save Gotham City, he ends up making a big decision mid-season in the heat of passion that has major ramifications.
Though Bane is appearing on “Gotham” as a big bad, h’es not the “main big bad,” according to Stephens. Plus, the show is at its core about Gordon, his relationship to Bruce Wayne, and the rise of Batman. So, with 10 episodes in the final season, “Gotham” will lean into “iconic moments,” according to McKenzie, that presage Batman and Gordon’s partnership.
Bruce Wayne actor David Mazouz confirmed this, and said that the Season 4 rooftop scene between his character and McKenzie’s leads straight into a strong alliance between them in Season 5 as Bruce battles within No Man’s Land.
“That is where we pick up,” said Mazouz. “He is part of the GCPD essentially – but there is not official GCPD anymore.” The actor also said he’ll have plenty of Batman moments in the season, and will introduce a “very Batman tool” in Episode 3.
Stephens said the series’ approach has been to tell the long-term story of the city that created Batman, and through Gordon, present a character who fought a war to save the city, and “in the process, ends up losing the war but training the war hero.” So, at the end of the day, and season, Gotham City is still broken, but Batman will carry on Gordon’s torch. Narratively, the showrunner said there is likewise a responsibility by the series’ end to move all the pieces to a place that resembles Batman lore.
For instance, Bruce’s relationship with the “Gotham” version of the Joker, Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) will dial closer to the classic Batman/Joker relationship.
“Jeremiah wants to be best friends with Bruce, Bruce hates Jeremiah, but in Jeremiah’s world, Bruce is playing hard to get,” said Mazouz. “He does awful things that he thinks will eventually make Bruce come around to him, but neither can end this cycle since Bruce cannot kill, and Jeremiah doesn’t want to hurt Bruce.”
Monaghan added his Joker-esque character, who has undergone multiple transformations during the series, has more changes in store. Jeremiah could not bring Bruce over to his way of thinking, so he continues to descend further into madness. Monaghan said his character’s love of Bruce is his final element of humanity, and vulnerability.
“He is enjoying himself more, but he is also more emotional, and caring, about his relationship with Bruce,” he said. “By the end of the season, boy, we have a whole new evolution with him. And we get to see him change in an extremely significant way.”
As Bruce Wayne’s relationship takes shape with his archnemesis, the relationship with his father-figure/manservant Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) also begins to resemble its comic book counterpart. Mazouz said the top of Season 5 does not see a lot of Bruce and Alfred together. Bruce is off fighting villains in No Man’s Land while Alfred is taking care of an injured Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). And when the two do interact, Alfred chooses to let his young charge make his own mistakes instead of prohibiting him.
Said Mazouz, “There is one particularly great scene, I think in Episode 5, where Bruce says, ‘I need to do this,’ and Alfred says, ‘It’s really stupid, and you’re letting emotions getting in the way…’ And Alfred is right.”
“Alfred kind of does let him go,” said Pertwee. “Bruce goes, ‘And don’t try and stop me,’ and I go, ‘I’m not. Go on then.’ You can see the confusion in Bruce’s face, but he means it because he’s not going to listen to me anyway.”
Pertwee said the final season momentum puts the two in a situation people know and love, and “we get the ending fans deserve.”
As “Gotham” seeks to root itself in familiar Dark Knight territory by its end – it was revealed at New York Comic Con that Batman would indeed appear by season’s end in a flash-forward – the series has thrived with twists on classic mythologies, and with surprising pairings.
For instance, Alfred, who will be the focus of his own prequel series, has been a brawling badass butler who has teamed up with both Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and future Catwoman Selina. Pertwee said in Episode 8 of the season it becomes evident how much of himself he sees in Selina, which is why he has allowed her to stick around. Plus, Alfred is at the end of a tragic turn by having his back broken by Bane following a “big altercation,” as teased at NYCC.
And Taylor said there is more to come from Penguin’s relationship with Cory Michael Smith’s Ed Nygma/Riddler, especially in a scene later in the season which is one of his favorites.
“Penguin is responsible for bringing him back to life,” said Taylor. “So, for the Riddler to really learn what happened to him, he needs to come to Oswald at some point because Oswald does have that power of information over him.”
Meanwhile, “Gotham” has a handful of other characters such as Bullock, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk), Lee Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), Tabitha Galavan (Jessica Lucas), Zsasz (Anthony Carrigan), and Hugo Strange (BD Wong) to put in place by the finale – while also introducing a Harley Quinn-esque character, other familiar comic book villains (Magpie, Mother and Orphan), as well as the aforementioned mysterious big bad, and a man-versus-state conflict between the city and the government.
But Stephens said he understands the sense of responsibility to let all these characters “live in their moments” despite a final batch of episodes that move “very, very quickly.”
As for McKenzie, the actor said it is a blessing to know the end of “Gotham” is coming because so often shows get canceled without being able to write to a conclusion.
He said loyal fans are going to get the moments they’ve been waiting for, thrown in with abandon. And it’s all happening “right damn now, because we don’t have any more time.”