A common theme among critics of FOX’s Gotham TV show has been that the show’s protagonist, Detective James Gordon, will never succeed. By virtue of knowing Gotham’s future, we know that Gordon and the GCPD will fail to make any sort of serious dent in the city’s crime problem, and that the city will eventually give rise to a certain cowled vigilante.
However, that’s not the point of the show.
Let’s be clear on one thing: No one can save Gotham. Not even Batman.
Virtually every depiction of the city in the modern, post-Crisis era, has shown that Gotham is a city beyond rescue. This point is even brought up by Ra’s Al Ghul in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. No matter what future we see, whether the conservative-fantasy-liberal-dystopia of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or the science-fiction labyrinth of neon and glass that is Batman Beyond, one thing is always the same: Gotham is a terrible place to live. What’s more, it can very easily be argued that the presence of Batman actually makes the city worse.
Whether Gotham is saved or not is irrelevant. It is an impossible end-state which would create a narrative vacuum and thus, will never happen. The point of the Batman mythos and, by extension the Gotham show, is the struggle of good people against impossible odds. It is about how they manage to continue on in the face of ever-mounting failures and seemingly unbeatable challenges. Even more than the Superman mythos, whose protagonist is lucky enough to live in a city of good people like Metropolis, the struggle of those who attempt to keep Gotham from sliding completely into the abyss is a never-ending battle.
There is merit in stories like this. Far more than the tied-up-neatly-in-a-bow sort of narrative which is featured far too much in comics and other popular entertainment, the idea of a struggle which will never see conclusion mirrors reality. All of us face challenges. Many of which defeat us. We are constantly falling victim to life’s trials, just as the city of Gotham is under endless siege by the nefarious forces which torment it.
The story of Gotham, like the story of its absent superhero, is one of perseverance. It is a story of weathering the tempest, even when we know another is coming, somewhere over the horizon. It is about finding reasons to go on, reasons to fight, and ways to achieve small victories in an eternal war whose end is only a fantasy. Gotham is about life, and we watch because we enjoy, at some level, the reminder that the only way we lose is to give up.