Gotham and the Origin of the Origin Story

Posted: October 24, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
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[Editor’s Note: We’re committed to illuminating film through the lens of Scripture here at Reel Thinking and as such, this post is a bit outside of our usual repertoire. However, we saw fit to discuss Gotham because it has some bearing on and relationship with the movie universe. We will not be discussing TV shows on a regular basis at Reel Thinking.]

A young police officer is called out on a murder investigation. He arrives on the scene, a dark and dingy alleyway, to find that a couple has been murdered. Ignoring his partner, who is more interested in shirking his responsibilities than solving the case, the young officer makes his way over to the only known witness—a young boy, shocked and frightened, named Bruce Wayne. So begins one of the most-anticipated TV shows of the fall: Gotham.

The premise of Gotham is far from unique: a young Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie)—the future Commissioner for Gotham Police Department—arrives in the iconic, crime-riddled city of Gotham and pledges to undo the corruption therein. Adding to this already difficult challenge is the fact that the Gotham P.D. is corrupt. It’s not so much that local gangs have moles in the police department, either; in Gotham, the mafia runs the town and essentially owns the police department. Gordon, of course, is the exception to this rule, and thus his mission is clear from the outset. Moreover, this setup begs an interesting question: will Gotham, in an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience, end up looking like the stereotypical, solve-a-murder-a-week television cop show, or will there be more of an overarching narrative as Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) attempt to find out who killed Bruce’s parents? The answer to the first side of this question, given the overall feel of the show to this point, appears to be no; for the most prominent feature of the first few episodes of Gotham is that it is packed full—too packed some critics have said—of encounters with Batman’s future enemies. The forensics expert at Gotham P.D. is Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), the Riddler. Working as minion in one the city’s most notorious gangs, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), the Penguin, is set up to play a central role in upcoming episodes. Carmine Falcone (John Doman) is the big baddie, and Poison Ivy (Clare Foley) also makes an appearance. Gotham is, then, clearly set up as an origin story show.

Origin stories are not new, and Batman origin stories are far from rare. Everyone knows how Bruce Wayne—the boy who watched his parents die— became Batman. Everyone knows, and yet an estimated 8 million people watched the first episode of Gotham.[1] Why? Why do we still want to see young Bruce’s story? Why are we curious about the rise of Jim Gordon, and why do we enjoy seeing Batman’s enemies before he’s around to fight them? These questions can be answered in a number of ways. One answer is that people love the Batman universe and are, therefore, naturally interested in anything that gives them more of it. There is some truth to this claim, no doubt, but it doesn’t account for the fact that many people who watched the show are probably not Batman fanatics. [2] It could be that people are intrigued with Gotham because it’s usually Batman who gets the spotlight, and so a show focusing on Gordon is unique. Then again, perhaps the marketing team just did a fantastic job selling the show. There is some truth to each of these responses; however, there is, it seems, an much simpler underlying factor that needs to be considered.

People are drawn to origin stories like Gotham because we are obsessed with origins. That is, people want to know how things began—how things got to be the way they are today. Origin stories meet that need; they promise to answer our why questions. In Gotham, we have the promise of getting to see why Jim Gordon is Jim Gordon, Police Commissioner of Gotham Police Department. What shows like this reveal to us, then, is that there is something in our nature—our design—that compels us to search out stories about beginnings in order that we may better understand life (and our role in it). At its most basic level,Gotham reveals and awakens in us an ancient desire—a desire that goes all the way back to, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

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  2. For instance, I am Superman fan; and although I like the Caped Crusader, I’m not necessarily among those rushing out to see or read everything Batman.  ↩

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