First episode impressions: ‘Gotham’ Season 5 (TV review)

“Gotham” (8 p.m. Eastern Thursdays on Fox) starts its fifth and final season in bats**t-crazy fashion (pun intended). In a way, that’s par for the course with this show, but it intends to go out in an especially big way. It’s doing the same risky thing “iZombie” did last year: expanding the scope beyond the city to a national scale (even though the events are contained in the city).

Gotham is essentially the island of anarchy from “Escape from New York” now. The bridges are out, blown up by Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) in last season’s finale, and the U.S. government actively works to keep Gotham’s remaining citizens from escaping.

The government’s position doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the military could save these people with similar expenditure of resources as it is using to stop rescue operations and keep people from crossing the river to safety. The only vague clue is that Jeremiah (the latest proto-Joker, following his twin brother Jerome) has been unaccounted for in recent months. Maybe he has something to do with it.

Or maybe not. “Gotham” has often been a good show, but it’s an almost-bad show enough of the time that I can’t be sure the writers have thought this through.

In this episode, “Year Zero,” we don’t know the details of the outside world, but we do see that Gotham is in its first year of a being post-apocalyptic state. The city has always been an exaggerated version of major U.S. cities (namely New York), and Season 5’s Gotham is an exaggerated version of the typical Gotham.

It’s kind of refreshing: There’s no need for subtle corruption by the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and his ilk anymore; the battle lines are drawn and the factions are delineated. When Captain Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) accuses Penguin of shooting down a Wayne Enterprises supply helicopter (which sneaks past the government’s blockade just this once), Penguin denies it, but also points out “It’s not like you can arrest me.”

Gordon heads up the GCPD, the headquarters of which now doubles as a refugee center. Barbara Keene’s (Erin Richards) club trades in information, and has a more robust supply of food and drink than other factions. Edward Nygma’s (Cory Michael Smith) split personality is in full force; his sane half keeps waking up in odd places, and he’s trying to put the pieces together. The Scarecrow, Firefly and Victor Fries control various territories. The Penguin, based out of city hall, heads a munitions factory.

The scene where Penguin kills Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) – thus triggering Barbara’s promise to kill him – is a variation on something we’ve seen dozens of times before on “Gotham”: the latest go-around in the cycle of violence. I’d need a scorecard to remember who killed whom through the first four seasons. It’s still somewhat entertaining to watch Richards and Lord Taylor chew scenery, but not in a way where we really care about any of these people. On this show, we can’t even be sure Tabitha is dead.

The closest to a character who triggers me to care is Selena (Camren Bicondova, whom the writers seem hesitant to utilize), who wants to kill herself upon being rendered a paraplegic. (She is shot by Jeremiah at the end of last year.) It’s hard to be too concerned, though, since the previews for Season 5 show her up and about, in Catwoman mode. One of the nurses hints to Bruce that “the witch” can cure Selena.

“The witch’s” identity is an intriguing mystery, and I also want to know about the woman who is hanging around Jim’s office before he arrives to answer a call on his ham radio. Does she mean to help, or to harm?

Some of the mystery has already been squandered, because this episode opens with a flash-forward showing the Penguin and the Riddler teamed up with the GCPD. I’m not sure what “Gotham” gains from revealing that.

There’s no question I’m going to see “Gotham” to the end of this final 12-episode season. The show has arguably run off its roller-coaster rails already, but it remains to be seen if it’s in a good way or a bad way. “Year Zero” isn’t the most promising of starts, but there are so many potential-laden elements in play that “Gotham” could become great again next week.

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