It’s a long way from the bleak nighttime cityscape of Gotham City to the bright, Disney-fied world of Orange County, but “Gotham” Executive Producer John Stephens made the trek to WonderCon 2015 in Anaheim, CA bearing news of what’s ahead for the world that will ultimately unleash a Batman on its criminal underbelly.
Behind the scenes at a roundtable prior to “Gotham’s” public panel presentation, Stephens shared some of the secrets ahead for Fox’s hit pre-superhero series, including a serious test of character for squeaky-clean cop Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), potential reveals of major locals prominent in the Bat-mythology, the bloody path toward the ultimate triumph of Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin and the startling information that DC Comics has given permission for some characters the audience assumes to be fated for a future fighting the Dark Knight to prove far more expendable than expected.
How did you decide when and how to start introducing all the various villain characters, on a pacing level?
John Stephens: I mean, really it was kind of an instinct thing. A lot of it is when we map out the season in the writers’ room. We have people kind of like, you want people — their storylines to climax and then have a denouement. Penguin’s had a really huge story for this period, and he’s going to be kind of like resting for a while. So then they took a great two-episode arc to bring in Scarecrow. So you took all these intersecting sine curves and cosine curves that are going through — that’s math — through the season.
So it was really just trying to balance everything out. And you kind of get those feelings, too, where we’ll tell like a real Falcone/Maroni story for two episodes which can feel very like mob-y-mob-y. So then you’re saying, “Oh, well, now I really want a story that’s going to feel more supervillain-y,” so we’ll do Jonathan Crane or Red Hood episode, something like that. So it really is like a feel… yeah, just feel. [Laughs] That’s pretty specific, huh?
Can you give us an overview of what we can look forward to as we head into the finale?
Sure. There’s a three-episode arc that’s going to begin in [Episode] 19 that goes to, like, 21 which Gordon’s investigating the serial killer that’s going to impact him in a really personal way that’s going to have repercussions all through Season Two. It’s really damaging.
The Penguin story that he’s been running up against, his kind of rise — this season we kind of thought was the “Rise of the Penguin.” Everything was sort of pumped to a really bloody and dark conclusion in the finale as we see all his plans and machinations kind of erupt and start to rip Gotham apart. And we see Gordon’s kind of butting heads against the establishment inside the GCPD as well kind of coming apart.
And you see other characters who are coming forward and really doing things — you see sides of them, how they take those evolutionary steps forward to becoming the people they’re going to become. Selina and Nygma, all those characters take those big jumps forward. You’re going, “Oh, I see…” You actually are on the path to becoming the person you’re going to be, that we all know they’re going to be.
It’s got to be hard to pace out knowing how young our Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is. And how much fun it will be to get to these villains when they’re their full-fledged selves.
How do you handle that in the writers’ room, the instinct to go to the most fun place but know that you’ve got to draw it out a little?
I think a lot of times telling the origin story, we’ve taken a lot of steps further back. Like telling the Jonathan Crane origin story: we focused on the father and not on Crane himself. We tried to take a lot of lateral steps through those things, too. Everybody knows the Red Hood story — the Alan Moore story — so we just took a different Red Hood story and tried to say, “Let’s take all these and go even further back in time and try to tell an interesting way of doing it.” I mean, honestly, it’s one of these things we we always go, “We know we can’t go there, so what’s the most interesting version that we can tell here that will make the journey there.” As if we all know we’re driving to Chicago, but on the way to Chicago, you’re like, “Hey, let’s stop in Reno. This is actually going to be a lot of fun. Oh my God. We got shot in Reno,” or whatever.
So many of the characters you have to keep because you know they have a future. But Jada Pinkett Smith announced that she wasn’t coming back as Fish Mooney. So is there a potential for her to come back, or are you happy to have a character you can actually kill off?
I don’t know if she’s going to come back or not. I feel like you have to watch the finale and see what happens. I also live in a world where characters can come back frequently. And also DC has been really flexible about characters who we in the canon know, “Oh, they survive because they have to do X later.” Those characters, as we’ll see, going forward — even in this season — they are not invulnerable. Some of those characters who everyone will expect to survive will not survive, which I think will make things exciting. Because when you see those characters that have a target on their back, you know that nobody’s safe. And you can watch that name or whatever gets reinvented later on in another fashion.
Are there any major locations — like the Batcave — that we might be seeing in the near future?
Possibly. Yes, there are some major locations in the lore that we’ll see in the season, that you’ll watch in the season. I’m not really going to say more than that, but you will see in the next couple episodes. Again, it’s going to be part of those big character steps forward.
You got an order for extra episodes. Can you talk about how that changed your writing process?
Sure. We originally thought that we were doing 16 episodes. We had arced out the season in its 16 episodes, so we had to kind of start building things out again. Like we actually weren’t going to do Jonathan Crane this year. When we got those extra six episodes, we did that. We built in the Fish getting kidnapped by the Dollmaker storyline. That had not existed before. We weren’t going to do a Red Hood story. We had not planned on doing the Flying Graysons. So we brought in some of the characters that we were planning on saving for later, frankly.
But this next year, the way the early pick-up has affected our storytelling now is that we’re arcing the whole 22 [episode] season now. So we actually know where we’re going and ending up. So hopefully, it will feel a little less panicked. [Laughs] I doubt that, but…
You’re also bringing in Lucius Fox?
We are bringing in Lucius Fox. He’s played by Chris Chalk, who’s a great actor and also a fan of the material, too, which is great to have on the show. And he has a small appearance this year, but he’s going to play a much larger role next season. So as we’ve seen young Bruce investigating what’s going on in his family’s company, that mystery will deepen next year. And Lucius starts to play a role. Bruce doesn’t know who he is yet and doesn’t know what his intentions really are as they kind of on their way towards a relationship next year. And he helps him uncover the mystery.
What can you say about Fish’s trajectory in the last few episodes because obviously, she is set apart from everything that’s going on?
We will see her with all the other characters by the end of the season. And obviously, Penguin’s final rise couldn’t happen without Fish being a part of it, so we’ll see the two of them kind of come back together in a really — hopefully — satisfying way.
“Gotham” airs Mondays at 8pm on Fox.
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