On Fox’s pre-Batman drama “Gotham,” Gotham City has become a breeding ground for power-hungry, deranged and corrupt individuals. So far, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has contended with the likes of Oswald Cobblepot, Fish Mooney, Carmine Falcone, Victor Zsasz, Jack Gruber, Dr. Crane and Jerome. When Gordon begins to investigate serial killer Jason Lennon, nicknamed the Ogre, things hit a little too close to home. Could someone Jim loves become the Ogre’s next target?
During a conference call to promote “Beasts of Prey,” the new episode of “Gotham” airing Monday April 13, McKenzie spoke about the upcoming Ogre arc guest-starring Milo Ventimiglia, Jim’s struggle to do what is right, Harvey Bullock’s influence on him and his bond with Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). In addition, McKenzie assessed Season One and teased how the finale will change Gotham City forever.
Can you talk about Jim Gordon’s relationship with his partner Harvey Bullock? How has Bullock influenced the way Jim acts and who he is becoming as a person?
Ben McKenzie: Overall, perhaps the best word I can use to describe the evolution of their relationship is maturation. It’s been kind of a maturation process. Initially, Jim and Harvey were polar opposites. Jim is the wet-behind-the-ears, almost rookie cop. Harvey is the jaded, cynical veteran. As the season progresses, they learn from each other. Harvey is inspired a bit by Jim’s do-gooderism. But, Jim is also educated in the ways of Gotham and becomes more sophisticated in the ways that he approaches cases and the way that he uses the power that he gains in relationships, say with Oswald Cobblepot [Robin Lord Taylor], in order to get what he wants. So, there’s give and take.
In the last episode we saw on screen [“Everyone Has a Cobblepot”], Harvey betrayed Jim by testifying against him in the case of Arnold Flass [Dash Mihok] and getting the case dismissed. He did that because Commissioner Loeb [Peter Scolari] had evidence on Harvey. He had dirt on him. Harvey and Jim team up to find that stash of evidence, only to find Loeb’s daughter, who is mentally handicapped. Jim then ends up using the existence of that daughter against Loeb to get what he wants.
You’re seeing a real evolution in Jim’s character in that he is not afraid to do something that’s morally or ethically borderline, if not over the line, in order to get what he wants, get what he needs, and to serve the greater good. He’s doing it in part for Harvey and he gives Harvey back the dirt, so Harvey is in the clear. However, they are in a detente as we leave the last episode.
Do you think Jim is consciously aware of how close he is to that line? Is that a decision he makes or is he being sucked in?
I think he’s being sucked in. He’s aware on some level, but the overwhelming nature of Gotham tends to beat you down. Even if you are aware on some level of what’s going on, you are really focused on what’s right ahead of you. You can’t really see the full picture. You’re just in it. So, I think he’s a little unaware.
Can you introduce us to the Ogre and how he really puts Gordon to the test beginning in the upcoming episode, “Beasts of Prey?”
The Ogre is a serial killer who seduces, kidnaps, tortures and kills women in the never-ending pursuit for a partner. He finds these women and let’s just say they don’t meet to his exacting standards. He’s a true psychopath. He’s remained at large for years because he protects himself. Any cop who takes on his case, the Ogre targets the loved ones of that cop. The cop will end up with his wife’s throat cut, his girlfriend dead and things like that. So, no cop touches it. It’s basically become a dirty little secret of the GCPD.
Jim, when he ends up in contact with the case, and he ends up with it in an interesting way, he’s a hero and can’t put it down. For him, not to pursue the case would be to have the blood of future victims on his hands. So, he’s put in a perilous position where he knows that the women in his life could be targets. It creates a strain in his relationship with Tompkins [Morena Baccarin]. It will have dire consequences moving forward.
How do these episodes and the finale propel Gordon into Season Two?
The arc takes us down an incredibly dark path, probably the darkest of the season. Then, after a three-episode arc involving the Ogre, there is an epic season finale that really pushes us strongly into a Season Two that is extremely chaotic. The best way I can describe it without giving too much away is you are really starting to see the downward spiral of Gotham as a city, toward the ultimate anarchy that will manifest and result in all these masked vigilantes roaming the streets. You’re at the tipping point in the season finale and I think it’s going to take us into Season Two with a literal bang.
Jim’s relationship with Bruce Wayne is like this young surrogate father-and-son dynamic. Can you talk about them in these four final episodes and where this partnership is going?
The core relationship of the show, in many ways, is the relationship between Jim and Bruce. That’s how we kicked off the pilot and that’s the central conceit in this conception of the story that we all know. The central change is to put a rookie detective in contact with Bruce Wayne at 13, at the scene of his parent’s murder, and to task our hero. In the story, Jim Gordon was solving the case. That’s the emotional undercurrent of the entire series. Right now, their relationship is a bit on rocky ground.
Jim has been unable to solve the case, obviously. Bruce is frustrated by that. He’s been investigating the case. And Alfred [Sean Pertwee] has been injured. Jim goes to console Bruce and basically realizes they are both lying to him. They refuse to reveal what’s going on and what’s happening. At this point, it’s very complicated. While Bruce and Jim have a bond of sorts, Bruce is a little distrustful of the detective and he’s hiding secrets from him already, a trend which will only continue. Ultimately, it results in Bruce trying to hide the biggest secret.
It’s an interesting relationship. It’s a mentor/mentoree. It’s a surrogate father/son. There’s also peer-to-peer because Bruce is so otherworldly intelligent. It’s quite interesting and it’s a joy to work with David [Mazouz]. I think as we go forward in the series, the bond will grow stronger. At the same time, they will keep more and more secrets from each other.
Jim Gordon has always possessed a certain hope and optimism. In the “Gotham” version of the character, what is it that keeps him holding on to that light? What is it that keeps him going and not completely falling into that path of darkness?
It isn’t even a person in his life. I think it’s a core value that simply springs from his genetic makeup. Particularly in this conception, he is a true believer and a soldier. He’s a veteran coming back from the front to take care of the enemy at home. He believes very sincerely in that cause. The evolution of the character will be from a true believer believing that he can fix everything by doing everything correctly, into a veteran who understands how to get things done and how to serve the greater good. To get a good outcome, perhaps you have to do a bad thing. It’s something he will be struggling with throughout the entire series, keeping his morals roughly intact, while working his way up the food chain in Gotham. It’s an interesting journey.
You knew going into “Gotham” that it was going to be a Batman show based in the past, with no Batman. With the first season almost over, have things gone as you anticipated they would in terms of the reaction to the show and its success?
I think the thing that’s true of all first-year shows, at least every first year show that I’ve ever been on — and I’ve done three now — is it’s impossible to predict almost anything in terms of the reaction to the show by the public at large, but also the evolution of the show itself. This show in particular has had an interesting first year. I’m very proud of it. I’ve grown a lot. I believe in the first year. I think we’ve learned from some mistakes that we made in the first year.
After we made what I consider a very strong pilot, we ended up on a detour where we became a little too procedural. We became a little too focused on the crime of the week and we were using villains that were not really from the mythology. That did a disservice to the mythology that we were trying to serve, and to the fans. We’ve adjusted. We’ve introduced villains with multi-episode arcs. They are from the mythology by-and-large and the grandeur of Gotham is more fully exposed. We’re learning as you learn on the first year of a show. You can only learn by making mistakes and correcting them.
As far as the reaction to the show, it’s been incredible. I honestly expected a little more flak. Any time you enter into a universe that is beloved, people have strong opinions. By and large, it’s been incredibly positive. Obviously, the show is a hit and watched all over the world. I know that we can do better and will continue to do better in Season Two in terms of the stories we’re telling and how we tell them. But, I’m very proud of the show. So far, so good. I’m particularly relieved that the primary criticism of the show — a Batman show without a Batman — at this point, I believe has been shown to be a misunderstood complaint. If one is really a fan of Batman and the world of Batman, I would think discovering how Batman came to be and how the villains came to be, is fascinating to me. At this point, we dodged that bullet for the most part, but need to live up to the expectations of the fans.
“Gotham” airs Mondays at 8pm on Fox.
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