SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Gotham series finale.
“I just think the DC Universe is so incredibly deep and vivid, and I’m a big fan of it all,” says Gotham executive producer Danny Cannon of the world that spawned the inspiration for the Fox series that came to a Dark Knight conclusion tonight. “I don’t think there’s any limitations for what DC can do right now. I really don’t.”
In that vein, “The Beginning …” episode penned by showrunner John Stephens on Thursday brought the Bruno Heller-developed Batman backstory show to its logical end with a 10-year time jump from last week and bumping right up against the canon of the Caped Crusader.
Bruce Wayne is back in town, a collection of villains have broken out of the dreaded Arkham Asylum including a certain killer clown and Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) has been framed for murder in tonight’s almost stand-alone ender. Add Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) pledging retirement as his family are under threat and you’ve got yourself an episode that either ends the Gotham tale or sets it up for a whole new run.
To that end, I spoke with Cannon and Stephens about the Rob Bailey-directed finale, how they got to this end after five seasons and whether it was part of the original plan. Currently working on another Batman story, the July 28-debuting Pennyworth for Epix, Cannon also revealed what reaching 100 episodes tonight with the Gotham finale means to him in the Peak TV era.
DEADLINE: So we’ve finally seen Batman in Gotham, literally and figuratively. Was how it all played out in the series finale how you envisioned it all those years ago?
CANNON: When we pitched the pilot, we very much pitched that the show will end when we see Batman, that’s it. We always knew this was the show in which Gotham the city was the star. Early on, we were talking about what would a city have to do to deserve a vigilante such as Batman? So when he arrived, we’ve told our story.
DEADLINE: Fox has been marketing the end of Gotham as a two-part finale, and yet coming off last week’s conclusion of the Bane story in “They Did What?” which felt like a season finale, this “The Beginning…” episode that you wrote John was something very different …
STEPHENS: Well, we had told all these stories, Bruce had left the city, so it actually felt in a good way, for a while we were like, “Oh boy, what have we done?” But then it really gives us the chance to almost like, not reboot the show but tell a whole different chapter in the life of the city. That gave us the freedom and the courage to jump forward 10 years in the finale. You’re right in that last week also feels like a finale — but to the season, not to the show, I’d say.
DEADLINE: Was the time jump of a decade in the series finale the only way to bring Batman to the screen for Gotham?
STEPHENS: I’ll say that we initially had talked about the last act of the show might be 10 years in the future. But I would also note what Danny said about why does this city need a vigilante?
DEADLINE: How so?
STEPHENS: That you cannot actually tell that whole story in four minutes at the end of the episode.
So the reason it’s a full 10-year time jump for the entire episode is so that we can actually see where the characters are and also why the city in this point in time needs Batman to arrive. Also, we wanted to fully touch base with all those characters that we’ve known for all this time. We’ve become attached to them; the audience, we know, has become attached to them, so we wanted to follow them through.
DEADLINE: Danny, you and I had spoken a number of times about Gotham’s trajectory, about the ideas that Bruno and yourself had, and the way you guys planned to carry it forward. So did this pan out the way you envisioned?
CANNON: Yes, but it took on a life of its own, and that was always due to the stellar cast we had.
We just kept writing for them because their talent was just exceptional. It kept stretching the writing, and we kept giving them more things to do.
So, I’d say, yes, things grew, for the better, but we always from the beginning of every year, had a plan. That plan was always fulfilled, I think, and always played out. I’m glad that you said that this last episode is a reboot, because it is. If you wanted to start a Batman series, you could do it right now.
DEADLINE: That something you’re thinking of doing?
CANNON: (laughs) I never do just one thing at a time, you know that. And there’s only 10 episodes of Pennyworth, for now. But no, I’m not saying there is going to be another Batman show. I think the movies have that market cornered, for him and the Joker, as they should. I just think the DC Universe is so incredibly deep and vivid, and I’m a big fan of it all. I don’t think there’s any limitations for what DC can do right now. I really don’t.
That said, I’m incredibly proud of the 100 episodes that we did. I mean 100 episodes of television — which, quite honestly, is some of the best-looking, cinematic television around, with some of the best actors and some of the best-written stuff I have ever been a part of. It’s been great.
DEADLINE: Certainly, the way you left it with Batman now in town, the Joker in the game and Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon staying on the job, there is more story hanging there …
CANNON: Perhaps, but I think Donal Logue put this best, when Fox picked us up for 22 episodes, when he said this may be one of the last aircraft carriers leaving the harbor. On network television and big dramas like this, I think we’re going to see less and less of them now
CANNON: Yes, I do believe we were on the end of the big network drama. If this were to go again, would it be a Netflix show, or an Amazon show, or a HBO show? I often wonder what we would have done differently or how the story telling would have unfolded differently. It’s a good question to ponder. However, we don’t get to really ponder that now, as we are both on to other things.
DEADLINE: John, you were the showrunner, and you wrote this final episode. Was there any part of the Batman story, the Batman canon, or even the greater DC canon, that you didn’t explore that you wished you had?
STEPHENS: You know, I’ll be honest with you, not really.
To me, if I had more time I would have liked to follow those characters more, to follow Donal’s Harvey Bullock or to follow Oswald and Laura on their journeys, to find out what they’re doing, when there’s times when we didn’t see them. I didn’t feel like there are any parts of the Batman story that we weren’t able to tell. To me the only parts that I missed overall are the stories that we weren’t able to tell with the characters that we did have, just because we didn’t have all the time in the world.
DEADLINE: You did spend a lot of time over the seasons with Cameron Monaghan and his Joker-ish Jerome Valeska character. In the series finale it looks like the Joker has come to town after a breakout at Arkham Asylum …
STEPHENS: (laughs) Well, I wouldn’t say that he’s the Joker, I still wouldn’t go on record saying that, even though he sure looks like the Joker, I have to admit (laughs again)
DEADLINE: Yes, he does.
STEPHENS: I think when we first started talking about it, and we wanted to do what we were calling the Proto-Jokers, the idea was if we can’t do the Joker, maybe there’s a character who existed before him. A character that seeded those ideas, like in the subconscious of Gotham.
So what we started to do was to parse out all of the qualities of the Joker, and just dole them out, one by one, through various iterations of Cameron’s character.
DEADLINE: Of which, there were, up until the finale, a number of iterations.
STEPHENS: Well, yes, because you want to give him the anarchy that the Joker sometimes had. Once he played that out, you want to give him the funhouse-like ringleader that he would sometimes be. Then you would want to make the character simply terrifying, the way the Joker is sometimes terrifying. So it was singling out various qualities, and then when he’s reborn, we take all those characteristics together. Cameron brings them forward. Also with his performance, which is really just transcendent — he took it and went to an entirely different level.
You know, with Valeska and with all of our characters, we were playing with the idea that a character can exist on a spectrum. That people can move along that spectrum to be good or bad, to be dark or light.
DEADLINE: So Danny, is this the end of Gotham you wanted?
CANNON: That’s an interesting question. I mean, I wanted to direct it like I did the pilot, but I didn’t get a chance. But Rob Bailey did a great job. But yes, there was disappointment in me that I couldn’t direct it. Beyond that, yes, this is the Gotham finale I wanted.
STEPHENS: It’s very bittersweet for me watching the show end. I’m incredibly proud of it. It is the best version for the ending of the show, but also, I’m always going to look at and go well that was it, that was the last one. So, yes, there’s that but I’m a little sad about it being over.