By all accounts, Gotham season 4 is going to have an awful lot of villains. Naturally, usual suspects Penguin and The Riddler will continue to be central figures in the show but there are also a number of long-running characters who have recently upped their villain game. Poison Ivy is a genuine threat now thanks to her miracle-gro transformation, Catwoman seems to be taking a big step towards serious criminality alongside Tabitha and the season three finale teased that Butch Gilzean would be reincarnated as Solomon Grundy. Butch won't be the only revived baddie either, as Erin Richards has been confirmed to return as Barbara Kean. There are also the peripheral villains to consider, the ones always lurking in the background: Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, The Executioner, and Hugo Strange.
Then you have the new faces who'll be appearing next season. It has already been announced that Gotham season 4 will heavily feature The Scarecrow, as well as Sofia Falcone and Professor Pyg. Ra's al Ghul (Alexander Siddig) also debuted towards the end of season 3; there's undoubtedly more to come from him. Lastly, there are numerous rumors doing the rounds that Jerome Valeska's is-he-or-isn't-he Joker (Cameron Monaghan) will return and series stalwart Fish Mooney will probably find her way back somehow too.
However you look at it, that's a lot of characters to explore in one season and as anyone who watched Spider-Man 3 will know, too many villains can be the undoing of any superhero story. With such a packed roster of villains, is Gotham season 4 running the risk of overloading on the villain front or is there some way the show can strike a balance that does justice to each of these much-loved baddies?
Arguably one of the biggest problems Gotham has right now is a staunch refusal to do away with characters once their narrative purpose has been fulfilled. Although the likes of Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler will always remain core characters, villains such as Hugo Strange and Fish Mooney have long completed their character arcs but remain on the show as little more than glorified plot devices. Even the few characters who do bite the dust don't seem to stay dead for long and because of this, there is little room for new villains to really show what they can do.
Jervis Tetch is a case in point. Before season three kicked off, the Mad Hatter was touted as the big new threat in town but after a promising first few episodes, quickly found himself in Arkham Asylum dishing out leads to Jim Gordon whenever a story needed advancing. Similarly, Nathaniel Barnes' transformation into The Executioner was initially fresh and exciting but it didn't take long for the villain to become little more than muscle for the Court of Owls, with no real characterization other than screaming "JUSTICE!!!" while a bulging vein pops out of his head.
While these two villains could have been arch antagonists for the entirety of season three, the quality of the characters was sacrificed for the quantity of story-lines, with Penguin vs. Riddler, Barbara vs. Tabitha, Leslie vs. Jim, Jerome vs. Bruce, Bruce vs. Bruce, and The Court of Owls vs. just about everyone all jostling with the Tetch and Barnes stories for screen time. There was a lot going on and whilst this did help the season to feel pacy and intense, it also meant that not every character was given their dues, the newer cast members in particular.
And since the list of villains in Gotham has only grown in the time between seasons, this could be an even bigger problem come season four. With big name Batman baddies such as Grundy, Ghul, and Scarecrow now firmly on the board, other characters will surely need to make way in order for Gotham to effectively explore the newbies, as the aforementioned trio could easily provide a season's worth of evil between them.
Thankfully, there is one incoming element of Gotham season 4 that may help offset the glut of villains and provide balance to the cast: Bruce Wayne's transformation into Batman. It has already been confirmed that the new season will see an early version of The Dark Knight and for the first time in Gotham's history, this means the show will have two active protagonists, instead of just James Gordon and his various assistants.
Of course, Bruce has been involved in heroism previously - he helped to uncover the Court of Owls after all - but his spindly little child arms meant that when all was said and done, Jim Gordon needed to be called in to save the day. Now that Master Bruce is a bona fide vigilante, Gotham could take its massive list of villains and split them right down the middle, with Bruce taking on one group (a Solomon Grundy-led underworld for instance) and Gordon's GCPD tackling another (investigating a Scarecrow murder-spree, perhaps). Meanwhile, Ra's al Ghul's group could happily plot away in the background, getting something nice ready in time for an explosive season finale.
For a while now, Gotham has regularly introduced new villains only to sideline them and return the spotlight to the old favorites. Season 4 would benefit hugely from reversing this approach and putting the newer faces to the fore, with the show's veterans taking a more supporting role. This approach would mean that the focus is fully on the newer villains, instead of rehashing the same old Riddler and Penguin rivalry or Barbara Kean power play. After all, viewers are already familiar with the goals and motivations of characters that have been around since day one and what they want now are fresh, fully fleshed-out enemies with strong backstories and masterplans that aren't just evil for evil's sake. Only the Joker can get away with that.
Cleaning Up The City
However Gotham chooses to approach its array of villains in season 4, the list of bad guys can't keep growing indefinitely and at some point, names are going to have to be scratched off. Obviously, key figures in the Batman mythos can't simply be killed before Bruce has even put on a cowl and cape but Gotham would definitely benefit from giving some of its longer-running characters a break, as opposed to keep having to find new story-lines and uses for villains whose arcs came to a natural conclusion a long time ago.
Clearly, the practicalities of having a set of actors contracted to a television show make this easier said than done but there's no denying that the best superhero stories in any medium are the ones that take a limited number of villains and explore them in depth, rather than throwing a bevy of names into the mix and only featuring each one superficially. Balancing the large amount of villains in Gotham season 4 is going to be a tricky task but with the right story-lines, certainly isn't impossible.
Gotham season 4 premieres September 21st on Fox.