Gotham's penultimate episode could have easily stepped in and acted as this series' final episode. With that in mind, I came into "The Beginning..." with the dread that this would be an epilogue along the lines of that infamous Harry Potter ending: excessive and indulgent.
The Batman mythology is varied and vast. While there are essential beats that any incarnation needs to hit, there isn't really a definitive Batman.
Gotham was conceived as the Batman-without-Batman show. It's had varying degrees of success in that pursuit. It's a series that I don't believe was truly comfortable with itself until well into its run, until it decided that it can't be a Batman show without a Batman. I didn't love this decision. I wanted Gotham to be a TV adaption of the GCPD series. I wanted Law & Order with domino masks. I did not want baby Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) doing baby Batman stuff. Since the very first Batman comic I picked up, I've always held that the most interesting things about Batman are the things that are not Batman.
So what I'm saying is, I adored No Man's Land when it was first published.
I still adore No Man's Land. It's my most favorite Batman storyline. It turned the city itself into an enduring character.
And so, for as much as I have raged at Gotham's terrible narrative decisions, I couldn't help but be delighted by Gotham's take on No Man's Land this season. I returned to Gotham this season after stepping away for a while and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this final season.
Then the finale happened.
I'm not going to debate what that was, because we know what that was: excessive and indulgent.
Ten years after the events of "They Did What?" finds Gotham City buzzing with anticipation of the return of the prodigal son, Bruce Wayne. A sleek new Wayne Tower crowns a rebuilt skyline and the wounds inflicted by Jeremiah Valeska's (Cameron Monaghan) terror are healing. Everyone apparently forgot about Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) being a psychotic murdering criminal and now she's a real estate tycoon and the beloved "Queen of Gotham," co-raising the future Batgirl with Jim (Ben McKenzie) and Lee (Morena Baccarin). I know parenthood changes people but really? REALLY?
While Barbara was off playing house, Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) were doing time. Penguin and Nygma have been the primary source of camp on this show for several seasons now, but antics in "The Beginning..." reached the point of becoming grotesque. Gone, it seems, are the brilliant and demented Edward and Oswald. The Penguin and the Nygma of the series finale are utter dips.
Camren Bicondova was replaced by Lilli Simmons in the role of Selina Kyle for Gotham's finale, allegedly due to Bicondova's concern that she could not do an adult Selina justice. Meanwhile, the series couldn't be bothered to even try to age anyone else up. I was fooled, initially, but the quick shots of Batman — a shadow here, a cape swoosh there — OH, I SEE, THEY'RE BEING ARTISTIC AND EMPHASIZING BATMAN'S PLACE IN THE SHADOWS.
I have since come around on the idea that maybe David Mazouz, at 18, and still quite precious and baby-faced, just didn't have the sort of tormented, brooding, broken man who decides that dressing up like a flying rodent to exact vigilante justice on an entire city in him. Was that a smirk in that final scene? Bruce/Batman looked pleased, like he had found his place and his destiny. While being Batman is Bruce Wayne's place and his destiny, no matter what Earth we're on or age we're in... he's not supposed to be pleased with it. Batman's heroism is born out of obligation and trauma.
Sometimes, the best stories are the ones with the most holes. Sometimes, the best endings leave the most questions. There was never any question that Bruce Wayne would one day become Batman, but that doesn't mean we needed to see it.
After a season of brutality and heartbreak, devastating defeat, and a hard-won victory, this finale just felt too neat. Jeremiah breaks out of his (pretend!) coma just in time to ruin Bruce Wayne's homecoming. A villain so terrifying as to drive men to suicide at the thought of enduring another round of his cruelty was put down with the ease of a Season 1 psycho-of-the-week. Batman catches Nygma and Penguin, hoisting them on a lamp post for the GCPD to retrieve. They're free by the end of the episode, and all is well because they're goofy cartoon bad guys now and not an actual real danger to anyone. Selina's pain and betrayal at Bruce's self-imposed exile is poof! gone after one rooftop encounter because we were getting too near the end of the episode and this series really wanted to end with the Bat and the Cat being frenemies with benefits and emotional baggage is inconvenient. Alfred (Sean Pertwee) doesn't seem particularly conflicted about his surrogate son flinging himself into mortal peril every night, or concerned that now a grown-ass man, Bruce still doesn't have a handle on healthy coping mechanisms.
The finale is neat and clean. There are no lingering questions in Gotham, no regrets or what-ifs or complicated debates about right and wrong, sane and insane. Everyone lives happily ever after and I can't accept that. There's no happily ever after in Batman.