8:15am PT by Sydney Bucksbaum
DC TV Watch: How 'Gotham's' Final Season Sets Up Batman's Beginning
Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly DC TV Watch, a rundown of all things DC Comics on the small screen. Every Saturday, we round up the major twists, epic fights, new mysteries and anything else that goes down on The CW's Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl and Black Lightning and Fox's Gotham. This week, THR visits the New York set of Gotham to get the inside scoop on the final season from the cast and producers.
Gotham's final season
Five years of comic book-inspired villains, noir gang power struggles and vigilante hero training has all led to this: the final season of Gotham.
With only 12 episodes of the series remaining (bringing its final count to 100), Fox's Batman prequel has a lot of loose ends to tie up before the young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) can wear the cape and cowl for which he's destined. And with the season four cliffhanger of Jeremiah (Cameron Monaghan) blowing up all the bridges and cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world, bringing the "No Man's Land" arc from the comics to life, the series couldn't be any further from that end goal. All the core characters are separated from each other as the city falls into total anarchy. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is stuck in Gotham with only a small contingency of police as Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and the other criminals start dividing up land and resources.
With so much ground to cover in a limited amount of time, executive producer John Stephens tells The Hollywood Reporter that viewers should expect "a velocity to the story that we've never had before."
"We move really quickly," Stephens says, standing on the Wayne Manor kitchen set in between takes in filming one of the most critical moments of the series to date. "We tried to build out the character moments as well. Sometimes we've had so much plot that we had to squeeze out some of the character stuff and now that it's the last chance we have to be with these characters, we're letting them live in these moments. And we're letting the comedy really play again, which comes from the characters."
But Stephens also admits that this final run of episodes will be more emotional than ever before. "There are really moving moments throughout the entire season," he says. "For all the action and gore and violence, I actually feel it's quite a moving season. We put Gordon through the ringer emotionally."
And it's all leading up to the series finale, which Stephens reveals is "slightly modified but it's essentially the same ending" that's been planned from the beginning of the show five years ago. "When I came on the show in season one, [creator] Bruno [Heller] pitched me what he saw the ending as and it's very close to that, his initial idea," Stephens adds.
Feeling a "sense of responsibility" for the fans "so that everybody feels satisfied when they come to the end," Stephens reveals the main priority of the series finale was getting viewers to "now understand why this is the time that Batman chose to arrive in the city and what Jim's journey was through the course of this series."
"We're telling the long-term story of the city that created Batman so we want to feel like that story came to a satisfying end," Stephens says. That means the end of Gotham is officially the beginning of Batman.
Bringing "No Man's Land" to life
But before fans can see how it all ends, the last chapter of the series must begin. The season five premiere kicks off with a title card of "No Man's Land, Day 391," representing a significant time jump from the season four finale. The "No Man's Land" arc was a highly popular crossover published across all the Batman titles in 1999, where the city falls into complete criminal anarchy, and season five begins right in the middle of the worst of it.
"We've been planning [this arc] for about three years now," Stephens says. "It's a cataclysmic event in the history of the city, so we had to save it for the end. Once we knew that we were only going to do one more season, it was like, now's the time!"
Bringing "No Man's Land" to life on the show was something that Stephens always planned on doing, but he stresses that because the show has taken liberties with each individual's specific evolution and journey, this is going to be an adaptation and not a straight retelling of the comic book source material.
"We can't be religious about it because there are such obvious differences but we follow it in terms of inspiration," Stephens says. "The city is divided up into fiefdoms. Jim and the GCPD have their area, Penguin is the most powerful person in No Man's Land."
Sitting in one of the new sets for the season, McKenzie tells The Hollywood Reporter that while they're not following all the iconic story beats from the comics, the way that Gotham is interpreting the "No Man's Land" arc is right for the final season.
"We are certainly going out of our way with the end of our show, the final season, to pepper the season with lots of answers to questions fans have posed over the course of the series, like, 'When are we going to see this? When are we going to see this?'" McKenzie says. "We definitely are trying to satisfy a lot of those demands, those requests for certain specific characters to appear, specific interactions to occur, things like that. We're leaning into that pretty hard."
And knowing that this was the final season in advance means they're not holding back on all the epic moments fans have been waiting to see. "It frees us up to finally embrace that total anarchy this season," McKenzie says. "What we didn't want to do is in our final season have that feel like all the rest. We wanted it to have a looseness and grandeur so it felt like it would really culminate in something that would pay off all of what we've been building towards."
The Blue Boys
In the comic book version of "No Man's Land," the GCPD becomes fractured as different factions of the good guys go to war with each other as the Blue Boys v. the Strong Men. But McKenzie reveals that on the show, the GCPD "largely keeps a united front."
"The fact of the matter is, there are so many other competing hostile factions outside that the GCPD has this siege mentality and has to hunker down to protect each other," McKenzie says. "We will see when Eduardo Dorrance [aka Bane played by Shane West] comes in with his military contingent later this season and that will create a new dynamic within the good guys where it becomes a little more factionalized, a little more conflict with the good guys."
As for that highly anticipated Bane appearance, Stephens stayed tight-lipped. "Shane comes in and plays a strong, angry man," he says with a laugh. "I'll leave it at that. He's great, and he's going to crush it. He crushes some people and it's really wonderful."
Thankfully, Gordon will have his best friend Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) back at his side after a few seasons of conflict between the two former partners previously kept them apart.
"Harvey is backing whatever Jim's play is," Logue says of Harvey's final season story. "We're in survivalist mode. We've created this green zone around the GCPD that we control and Harvey is hanging on, surviving, and doesn't necessarily want to take the extra measures required to be these incredibly philanthropic superheroes who are trying to save everybody in No Man's Land. He thinks it's a futile task but it's something that Jim is obsessed with, and Harvey, more than anything, will back any play of Jim's at this point. Jim is his true north."
Batman's final training
With the city under siege, it makes for the perfect final training experience for Bruce Wayne to become Batman. But will fans see Mazouz put on the iconic Batman costume before the series finale is over? "The training of Batman takes a back seat a lot this season because there is so much going on, so much action – we really do fit 22 episodes' worth of action and story into these last episodes," Mazouz teases. "But you will see a fully formed Batman, I just can't tell you how or when or why. You will see one."
While THR can't reveal any details about the scene Mazouz was filming that day on set, the costumes, characters and makeup promise that it will be one of the most epic Batman moments of the series. "This season is filled with hints to canonical moments in the story," Mazouz says. "This episode in particular is very reminiscent to the most famous Batman comic book and there are moments all fans will recognize."
Something that can be revealed about what's coming for Bruce in the finale season? Bats. "We have bats this season," Stephens teases. "Bruce has his first big, real encounter with a bunch of bats, a storm of bats."
And the way the series finale ends is something that Mazouz doesn't think anyone will see coming as he was blown away by it himself. "The way we end it, it really gives fans everything they've been asking for since the beginning," Mazouz adds.
Batman v. Joker
Throughout four seasons and counting, Gotham has never come out and directly called either one of Cameron Monaghan's multiple characters of Jerome and then his twin Jeremiah as the Joker. But both Monaghan and Mazouz tease that the final season will feature some very recognizable Batman v. Joker storylines, so fans can interpret that however they want. Does that mean that Jeremiah is actually the Joker?
"We're seeing a development in Jeremiah's personality and temperament," Monaghan teases when asked once more if he's playing the Joker. "At the end of last season, he did something really weird for a villain in which he basically succeeded. Now he has spent a few months between seasons enjoying it and growing more of an ego from it. He has developed this hubris and sense of comfort in himself which he didn't have before. That's causing a certain level of instability within him."
He pauses, then adds, "He's still very intelligent, a genius, but his genius is now obsessive in weird places. He's slipping in his sanity. The majority of his plot line this season is his strange in his mind 'friendship' with Bruce. It's this last little glimpse of his vulnerability and humanity within his relationship with Bruce."
Certainly sounds like the Joker, doesn't it? And Mazouz's description of Bruce and Jeremiah's relationship in the final season only further cements that idea. "Bruce and Jeremiah this season is very reminiscent of the Joker/Batman relationship," Mazouz says. "The Joker lives for the game of toying with Batman but he never wants to defeat Batman because then his joy would be gone. He thrives off of escaping from Arkham and creating problems for Batman and this is no different – Jeremiah thinks he's best friends with Bruce and he doesn't want to kill or hurt his best friend. He just wants to hurt everyone around his best friend."
As for how that relationship works the other way around, Mazouz just laughs. "Bruce hates him but he can't end the cycle because he's vowed not to kill him," he adds. "But it's very exciting how Bruce takes him down and there is one of the most iconic fights which is the moment I'm most excited for this season. It has a lot of hints to a couple of very famous Joker storylines between Bruce and Jeremiah."
Penguin's in power
Years of planning finally paid off for Penguin in the season four finale. He played the long game and got his revenge on Butch (Drew Powell) and Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) for killing his mother way back in season two. And with Gotham falling into criminal anarchy, he couldn't be more perfectly positioned to grab power. Out of everyone, Penguin's actually starting season five in the best place.
"He achieved his revenge at the same time Gotham falls into Armageddon so immediately Oswald sees an opportunity," Taylor tells The Hollywood Reporter sitting on the set of the Sirens bar. "It was the opportunity for Oswald to come in an establish his version of order and rebuild Gotham in his image. He now has his eyes solely on being the king of Gotham again after successfully bringing years of planning of revenge to fruition. This breakdown of control gives him that chance."
And for once, his place is actually foolproof. "He goes right for the big prize which is City Hall," Taylor says with a laugh. "He's now in control of some of the biggest resources in Gotham. Things have to filter through him in the seat of government. Having been mayor before, he knows how the system works so it's sort of appropriate in this twisted Gotham sort of way. This season, he's a war profiteer. He's in control of all the ammunition in Gotham. It's crazy. Season five, we're going for it!"
Back from the dead ... again
Lee (Morena Baccarin) and Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) ended season four on a pretty ominous note, having just stabbed each other (seemingly to death). But Hugo Strange (BD Wong) got his hands on their bodies, meaning they're not only coming back from the dead, but they're also definitely about to undergo some serious changes.
Baccarin confirms that she's playing a much different version of Lee in the final season. "She's definitely changed, he's definitely been messing with her," she says. "But in a weird way what has happened has also brought the old Lee back a little bit. There's a crazy switch that's going back and forth."
While the main goal of all the characters this season is directly tied to the anarchy of "No Man's Land" and either escaping it or helping the chaos thrive, Baccarin reveals that Lee's arc helps the character come full circle. "Repair is a word that is pretty relevant right now to Lee's character for herself and Gotham and Jim and how everything can move forward given everything that's happened?" she says. "And is there a way forward? Those are the big questions for the season."
The holiday hiatus of new DC TV episodes ends next week as Gotham's final season premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox. With only 12 episodes left, you won't want to miss a single one.
Note: Supergirl, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, The Flash and Gotham did not air new episodes this week.
The Flash returns Jan. 15, Supergirl returns Jan. 20, Arrow and Black Lightning return Jan. 21 and Legends of Tomorrow returns in April, all on The CW; Gotham returns Jan. 3 on Fox.