It always had to end this way. There was no way around it. When Fox ordered Gotham to series and set out to tell the origin story of Batman, one could guess that the series finale would end with a shot of Batman lurking above the city he’s destined to protect. Along the way, Gotham has had some success, and a lot of failure, when it comes to detailing how rich kid Bruce Wayne became the Dark Knight, but every lackluster or frustrating moment came with the knowledge that at some point Batman would be revealed, and maybe it would all be worth it. “The Beginning” confirms that it wasn’t, and that Gotham can be archived—or more likely, completely forgotten—as a truly baffling addition to the long list of Batman stories.
It’s incredibly corny to begin an analysis by noting how the episode title connotes something interesting, but I can’t help it, because “The Beginning...” feels more like a season premiere than a series finale. It’s not just the final shot of the series, where Batman stands atop a building, and Gordon, Bullock, and Alfred look on in awe, but the entire structure of the episode. After the events of the penultimate episode, which saw the villains and heroes come together to save Gotham—that’s the series finale that would have been most in line with what Gotham has been doing for four seasons, by the way—the show didn’t have many options for moving forward. Bruce left Gotham to save it from his presence, and to train to protect the city in the future, so naturally Gotham had to flash forward. After years of watching Bruce Wayne take small steps towards becoming Batman, the last thing the series finale needs is scenes of him training to become Batman.
But, the flash forward is also the episode’s biggest problem. It’s been ten years since Bruce left Gotham, and that leaves the show with too much plot to cover in a single episode. Bruce is coming back to Gotham; Gordon is retiring from the force, but maybe not, because the city needs him; Penguin is being let out of prison, and Nygma is broken out by a mysterious figure; Barbara is a successful entrepreneur now, and Selina is a true caper and being played by Banshee’s Lili Simmons. Add in Jeremiah faking his mental and physical incapacity, and the construction of a plot to blow up the new Wayne Tower, and you have a series finale that feels like an attempt to cram in every canon character possible rather than something that tells a cohesive story that captures the essence of what Gotham was trying to do along the way, which is show how this city, more than any villain, is essential to the creation of Batman.
“The Beginning...” is basically a paint-by-numbers procedural, a case-of-the-week episode that feels out of place as a series finale. When Gotham is threatened yet again, Gordon must shave his old man mustache and get back to work for the good of the city, and everyone must act like this exact scenario hasn’t happened many times over. You can only roll out these kinds of life and death stakes, with no real consequences, so many times before nothing at all feels meaningful. That’s the case here. Whether it’s Gordon’s attempts to save his daughter from the murderous ploy of Jeremiah, or Nygma and Cobblepot teaming up again, everything here feels devoid of tension and incredibly repetitive. Penguin and Gordon quite literally repeat a scene on the pier, where so many non-deaths have taken place.
The storytelling is an issue, as is the structure of the episode and the apparent need to put Gotham under threat yet again, but there’s a bigger problem here that Gotham has never been able to shake, and that’s the impending presence of Batman. This is a show that’s explicitly designed to tease the appearance of Batman without ever delivering the payoff, and that doesn’t make for the best TV. Or, to be more specific, Batman looms so large over this series that it’s pretty much impossible for the show to be about anything else, but the show needs to be about something else because this isn’t the story of Batman, it’s the story of what created Batman. On paper Gotham is about how a city full of delinquents inspires a kid to use his privilege for good, but in execution the side stories just aren’t all that interesting. They could be, but Gotham has always been too enamored with Batman to really focus on fleshing out its various origin stories.
In other words, Gotham has spent four seasons hoping that the final shot here would make everything worth it, to the detriment of telling compelling stories about why Bruce Wayne chose this life of vigilantism. “The Beginning...” embodies the numerous issues scattered across four seasons of Gotham in a single episode: procedural storytelling where it shouldn’t be; a heavy-handed approach to characterization; an assumption that simply seeing canon characters on screen, with no real motivations or personality, would satisfy both die-hard Batman fans and casual viewers alike. In some ways, “The Beginning...” is metaphorically brilliant. Batman looms large over the entire episode, his presence hinted at with partial shots of capes, gloves, and the occasional whooshing sound as the Dark Knight vanishes, but he isn’t revealed until the very end, when it doesn’t really matter anymore. Gotham has asked its audience to be excited about the mere presence of familiar characters. In the end, and in “The Beginning...”, Gotham never offered up much beyond empty iconography.