Okay, so, to make this easier, let me just brief you on the major players… which is anyone who managed to be a credited regular all the way to the end.
Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie)
Newly arrived in the super-corrupt GCPD, Detective Jim Gordon is determined to redeem the force and his new city by holding to a strict moral code, yelling at anyone who disagrees, and never bringing backup when chasing down a villain. Which almost always ends in him walking into a trap and/or getting disarmed, then never learning a thing. Through his stubborn insistence on continuing to live, bouncing back from every demotion and wrongful conviction, and making one or two major arrests per year, he gradually wins over his fellow officers somehow. I’m still not sure how, as he seems like a bit of a tool most episodes. Also, every major villain will eventually want him dead, begrudgingly respect him, and/or try to prove to him who he really is, the last of which gets old so fast.
Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue)
Jim’s partner when he arrives in Gotham. He’s happy to do as little work as possible, accept the occasional payoff, and when a major crime needs solving he just asks minor mob boss Fish Mooney to tell him who did it, then trusts that she fingered the real culprit and not someone convenient. But close proximity to Jim manages to turn him into Gotham’s second best cop, which really isn’t a high bar to clear, as it turns out. The third best cop is Alvarez, whose notable skills are going five seasons as a consistent background character without dying or selling anyone out to a supervillain. That’s where the bar is, people.
Baby Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz)
I think it was Daniel O’Brien… who would often live-tweet his thoughts on Gotham to Cracked After Hours co-star Soren Bowie whether he asked for them or not, which frankly was more entertaining than the show itself… who started referring to young Bruce as Baby Bruce Wayne, and now I can’t stop. I feel like I heard that Bruce wasn’t supposed to be part of the show, but they liked David’s performance so much they made him a main character, but I can find no proof of that in the mild amount of searching I did. Baby Bruce tries to unravel the truth behind his parents’ murder, picking up a few rudimentary crime-fighting skills along the way. He ends up being a target and/or obsession of, minimum, five major villains, despite being a child and in no way a bat-themed vigilante.
Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee)
(Son of Third Doctor Jon Pertwee) Bruce Wayne’s butler and legal guardian*, who does nothing to prevent Bruce from throwing himself into crime solving and other dangerous activities. There’s a first season episode where he and Bullock team up to solve a crime and it’s the best thing ever and I wish it were the entire show. “Bad Detective and Action Butler.” Could have run for a decade.
*In the comics, Bruce has two uncles, one of which is married with a family, and he still ends up raised by the family butler. I think about that a lot these days. How shitty did the relationship between Thomas and Martha Wayne and their respective brothers have to be?
Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova)
The first character we see, although it takes an episode and a half before she gets a line. She’s a street kid and petty thief, who becomes close to Baby Bruce over the course of the first season. Really close. As close as two pre-teens can or should get on network television or frankly anywhere. She’s pretty cool and yes, if you didn’t know, the future Catwoman. They are not subtle about that.
Barbara Kean (Erin Richards)
At first, she’s Jim’s fiancee and is really dull, then she goes crazy and becomes Gotham’s answer to Harley Quinn for a bit, then gets slightly saner and tries to become Gotham’s top crime boss, and wow she’s bad at all of that. The character, I mean. Erin Richards, once she’s given better material than “Jim’s long-suffering fiancee,” acts the hell out of it and usually looks good doing it, but damn Barbara can be insufferable.
Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor)
If Gotham has one shining bright spot, it is Robin Lord Taylor’s performance as Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot. He starts out the series as a low-ranked henchman to Fish Mooney, then spends the first season manipulating the brewing mob war between reigning boss Carmine Falcone and his chief rival, Sal Maroni, in order to make himself the King of Gotham. A position he loses and regains and re-loses and re-takes and man he is never boring. Taylor throws every inch of himself into every line and gesture, and he’s great.
Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith)
Ed Nygma, riddle-obsessed CSI, is not great. Ed Nygma, a man juggling two personalities, one of whom is a would-be criminal mastermind and the other of which tries to be a good person but murders more people than that definition allows? Now he’s more fun. And Ed Nygma in a scene with the Penguin? The best part of the show. Whether they’re friends, enemies, partners, I can’t think of a bad Riddler/Penguin scene. I never thought I might ‘ship Penguin and Riddler. I never knew how badly I wanted a West Wing-style drama about Penguin and Riddler running City Hall until they all-too-briefly gave me one.
Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk)
Introduced late in season one, Lucius Fox (known to fans of the Nolan trilogy as the head of Wayne Enterprises and Batman’s personal one-man Q Branch) starts as Baby Bruce’s only ally within a corrupted Wayne Enterprises… then when they get bored with that plot, he takes a job as a crime tech or whatever at the GCPD.
Leslie “Lee” Thompkins (Morena Baccarin)
Dr. Thompkins joins the show mid-season one as a new love interest for Jim, then they, I don’t know, realize Jim doesn’t deserve love and do other stuff with her. She can, on occasion, be a complete waste of Firefly/Homeland veteran and voice of the Reverse Flash’s computer Morena Baccarin.
Minor Character speed round:
- Butch Gilzean: Henchman to the stars. The right hand to Gotham’s better crime bosses. He’s good.
- Tabitha Galavan: Minor criminal with higher ambitions, and one of the few characters with no comic equivalent. She’s okay. Her brother was part of a one-two punch that almost got me to stop watching the show (the other part is on our next page). Thankfully she outlasted him by many years.
- Fish Mooney: Jada Pinkett Smith was the first to figure out what kind of show this was, meaning her performance has a campiness that sticks out like a sore thumb in season one but is more at home when she comes back for visits later on.
- Victor Zsasz: Barry’s Anthony Carrigan plays the greatest iteration of mass-murderer Victor Zsasz that ever has been, through the sheer joy he takes in his work as Gotham’s premiere assassin/enforcer, and through Carrigan’s natural gift for comedy. Seriously, if you’re not watching Barry yet, you have to get on that.
- Nathaniel Barnes: When Michael Chiklis joined the cast in season two, I had hopes of Gotham becoming The Shield with Batman characters. God bless him, Chiklis did his best, but like so many others, the writing ultimately failed him.
- Ivy Pepper: Ivy Pepper, played by three different actresses, is a perfect case study of Things Gotham Did Wrong. First, she is clearly, from scene one, meant to be a young Poison Ivy, but they changed her name from Pamela Isely (even Joel God Damned Schumacher knows that’s Poison Ivy’s real name) to Ivy Pepper because the writers didn’t trust the audience to know that a redhead obsessed with plants might be Poison Ivy if her name wasn’t Ivy. The same reason Ed Nygma asked… I want to make sure I get the number right… six billion riddles in the first episode. Second… in season three a meta-human ages her ten years, meaning she has a sexy adult body (and from minute one, they make sure we know she’s got gams for days and top-notch zoom-a-zooms) with the mind of a 12-year-old, and that is gross, it is so fucking gross. Magic age-up or not, sexualizing kids is not okay.
And then there’s two characters who need their own entry, and which bring us back to discussing season five.
Next page: Those damn Valeskas