'Gotham' Boss Explains Why Batman Was Barely in the Series Finale

"When it came down to it, that wasn’t the focus," executive producer John Stephens tells The Hollywood Reporter about why he pulled back on showing Bruce Wayne/Batman in the cinematic series finale. "The focus was the city."
FOX

[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of Fox's Gotham.]

Gotham's ending delivered Batman's beginning. But as epic as the series finale of the Fox Batman prequel was in debuting the fully realized caped crusader, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) was barely in the hour at all.

"The Beginning" took place entirely 10 years in the future, a decade since young Bruce left Gotham to learn how to be able to protect not only himself but also the people he loves and the city he calls home. And while the series finale focused on Bruce's big return to Gotham for the first time in a decade, the character was only hinted at and teased in shadows until the very final moment in which Commissioner Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), standing next to what will eventually become the Bat Signal, look up at a man dressed as a bat on top of a building. When Bullock exclaimed, "Who's that?" Gordon, who had been saved by the Batman earlier in the hour, just replied, "He's a friend." 

A conversation earlier in the episode between an aged up Alfred and Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) alerted viewers to the fact that Bruce had clued in his butler and friend to his plans to become Gotham's Batman, as well as his wishes to keep Gordon and everyone else in the dark. An older, recast Selina (now played by Lili Simmons) seemed to know exactly who was under the mask because of their complicated romantic history, which was clearly only just getting started, as evidenced from their heated exchange. But villains like Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and Riddler (Cory Michael Smith) had no idea they knew the man under the mask; they did know they were already afraid to go against him. And Jeremiah (Cameron Monaghan) had finally become the Joker, giddy that his "BFF" Bruce Wayne was finally returning home, and concocted a plan to blow up the new Wayne Tower in celebration. His plans were foiled by Gordon, Barbara (Erin Richards) and Selina all working together.

As a result of the 10-year flash-forward, Gotham's series finale Thursday felt more like an actual Batman movie than an episode of a Batman origin television series. All the characters were fully realized after five years of build up and teasing, and the stage was finally set for Batman's debut. The Hollywood Reporter connected with Gotham executive producer John Stephens — who was traveling internationally and was only available via email — to break down how he brought the series finale to life, explain why Batman was barely in the episode and more below. 

Why did you decide to make the series finale take place entirely 10 years in the future? How long have you known this would be the ending for the series?

From very early going we knew that the series would end with Gordon looking up and seeing Batman above him. We were telling the story about the city that created Batman, and we were telling it primarily through the eyes of Jim Gordon, the man who was there at the beginning, and without whom, in our eyes, Batman would not have existed. So it felt narratively right that the series would end with Jim looking up and seeing Batman.

The idea to place almost the whole episode 10 years in the future actually came pretty late. For a long time, we were planning that we would just have part of the finale in the future. Perhaps just the last act. But then we came to realize a couple of things. One was that we couldn’t tell the end of the season five story of "No Man’s Land" and the arrival of Batman in the same episode. Both were huge stories that didn’t necessarily fit into each other story wise. So we split them apart. Then once we started looking at the arrival of Batman as a story by itself, we realized how much we required to get us there — how to tell the story that this was the time the Batman had to show up, so that it felt like a necessary part of the story and not just punctuation. So we needed a full episode.

And then there was the fact of the rest of these characters with whom we had spent five years. We wanted to see where Penguin, Nygma, Barbara, Harvey, Alfred, Jim and Lee [Morena Baccarin] all were 10 years on. It took time.

The finale ultimately felt more like a Batman movie than an episode of television — what was the biggest challenge in bringing that expanded scope to life? 

It’s hard to say that there was any one thing — jumping 10 years into the future we had to look at every single character (and we have a lot of them) and say, okay, what’s happened to them over the past 10 years, where have they been, how has it affected them, and then develop and design new looks for them which our hair and make-up and wardrobe team did exceptionally well, but it was a lot of work. Then we had to decide and design what Gotham looked like 10 years on. And then, and this may indeed have been the biggest practical challenge, we had to sell Batman. And the bar for that is extremely high. Audiences are used to the 100 million dollar big screen version of Batman, what he looks like, what he can do. So we had that in mind as the world we were trying to live inside.

You took two different approaches when it came to aging up the two youngest characters — Mazouz still provided the face and voice for Bruce with another, taller actor playing the body but Camren Bicondova was recast with an older actress for Catwoman. Where did the decision come from to cast someone new as Selina? 

Recasting Selina for the finale was really a decision driven by Cam. We talked a lot about what the finale was going to be, who Selina would be 10 years on, and she felt that she had played Selina as a character from 13-18 years old, and she didn’t feel that she wanted to play her at 28. And so we respected her POV and went around looking for someone who both could fill the role and hopefully would bear some similarity to Cam and by a stroke of incredible good fortune we got Lili Simmons who is an incredible actress and looks like she could be Cam’s sister.

What did you want to achieve by pulling back on showing Bruce and instead relying on the other cast of characters for the entire episode?

For us as writers and producers the show had never been about Batman per se, but rather about the city that created Batman, and that city is made up of the people who live in that city — Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Alfred Pennyworth, Penguin, Nygma, Barbara, Lee Thompkins — and so by telling their story and where they are, 10 years on, we would be telling why Batman has to arrive at this specific point in time.

This honestly is key to what made our show our show different from all previous shows and movies about the Batman story. Before it was always the story of Batman, he was front and center. And I do think we managed to tell the story of the creation of Batman, for that matter, and part of that story that hadn’t been told before. But when it came down to it, that wasn’t the focus, the focus was the city — a city of which young Bruce Wayne was a part and player — and so that’s what we tried to bring across.

How much did you pull from the comics and other Batman films that came before to create this new version of Batman canon? 

I would say the biggest single inspiration was [Frank] Miller’s Batman: Year One.

What is the final feeling or message you hope fans are left with by the time the credits roll?

I would hope that viewers who have watched the show, especially viewers who watched it all and lived for five years alongside the characters, that for them, this version of the show and these characters have become part of the canon. That in the future when they imagine the Penguin, they’ll think of Robin Lord Taylor, when they think of the Riddler, they’ll think of Cory Michael Smith, and the same for all our cast. We had this incredible gift of being able to be part of this tradition of this character and this world and I would like to think that we added to that.

Was there anything you wanted to include in the finale that you couldn't fit into the story or had to be cut for any reason?

Honestly no. It’s more that I can’t believe how much we managed to get into the finale. When I watch it, I’m sort of agog, like, "Did we really do that?"

What are you most excited for fans to see from the series finale?

That if they’ve been watching all this time, their five year, one hundred episode investment has been rewarded, that the show, every episode, all the characters have been driving to this moment, that it feels like both an end and a beginning.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)