Why do “Gotham’s” Female Characters Seem Secondary to the Male Characters?


Gotham is a series that is hardly short on characters; and the list only continues to grow. But as a result, the show’s female characters seem to suffer, from being underdeveloped and neglected. This issue becomes even more glaring when considering how much attention the male characters receive; the difference is almost criminal. Consider how Gotham aims its spotlight on police detectives James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), up-and-coming criminal Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), riddle-loving Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), and gangsters Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas). Their places in the series will undoubtedly be different come next season, but they’re certainly receiving better treatment than their fellow females. The only female who receives a decent amount of screen time and isn’t suffering any character defamation is young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), but she is only a child and not fully immersed in the larger issues that cling to the heels of Gotham City’s adults.

Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a problematic character on Gotham. Problematic because she is actually an important character in the first season, but she is portrayed as a “laughable caricature” (Mike Cecchini, [is she a laugable caricature right from the beginning?? or as the show progresses??]. Initially, her presence draws a good deal of interest and potential promise. She’s a strong antagonist, leading the male-dominated world of organized crime in Gotham City. And she almost seizes power from her rival Falcone, but her sneakier rival Cobblepot always one-ups her. After a while, it seems like her only purpose is to promote Cobblepot, showing how he’s able to rise above all his competitors and finally seize power. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Pinkett Smith even states “[Fish Mooney] was there to service a purpose, as far as helping to tell Penguin’s story. I’m a smart girl. I understood I was there to service Penguin.” But her servicing Cobblepot comes at the expense of her own character and that character’s development. And just killing her off doesn’t exactly help matters either: why bring Fish Mooney into Gotham and give her so much attention if she’s just there to enhance Cobblepot’s story arc and then fall off a rooftop? She’s a tease, falsely promising audiences action that will shake up Gotham City’s power dynamic. Sadly, she wasn’t even given a proper chance to rattle a cage.

Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) could easily be the most unpredictable character on Gotham. She starts off as Jim Gordon’s stable fiancée and morphs into a substance abusing hot mess, falling victim to Falcone and the Ogre (Milo Ventimiglia). Many find that her transformation has rendered her “an odious, offensive character. At various points this season she has been: a one-dimensional love interest, a devious/promiscuous bisexual stereotype, a caricature of someone with addiction issues, and finally…a murderer. And not just any murderer. A murderer who then uses her recent trauma to attempt murder of her ex-boyfriend’s current lover” (Mike Cecchini, These aspects certainly make her character’s decline a fascinating watch, but why must she suffer so many abuses? As Jim Gordon’s initial love interest, why relentlessly drag her character’s potential through such murky water? Perhaps the writers have some redemption in store for Barbara come season two, but here’s hoping she’s treated with a bit more respect and doesn’t end up in Arkham Asylum.

Police detective Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) is almost a non-existent character on Gotham, and that’s unfortunate. Like Gordon, she’s on a quest to rid Gotham City of its ubiquitous corruption and had a romantic relationship with Barbara. Of the few moments she’s entitled to grace the screen, her character does offer moments of intrigue. When she and Barbara were together in the past, it appears they were addicts, each contributing to the other’s self-destruction. Once their romance is fleetingly rekindled, Montoya calls it off as she sees Barbara is reverting to her old ways and doesn’t want to risk doing the same. Of course these details are only mentioned in passing, and it’s difficult for viewers to determine what they’re supposed to do with this information, if anything at all. A little more attention here [to what? character development, plot/story line??] could provide some answers regarding Barbara’s erratic behavior and deliver some much needed substance in Montoya’s direction. But Montoya’s disappearing act will actually have to come to an end for this to happen. [I don’t understand what you mean by this last sentence].

Jim Gordon’s new girlfriend, Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), does offer up some potential for Gotham’s female characters. She has some depth and smarts, and is overall on equal footing with Jim in that they share the same workspace [I’m not sure this is the correct word to use here - do you mean they share the same office or that she is on a par to him in terms of her intellect or that she is doing the same type of job but coming at it from a different angle??]. She’s prying through and investigating the same case files and Gotham City history that Gordon is, both equally contributing to solving cases and apprehending bad guys. This is a vital aspect to her character, since she can’t simply be viewed as a damsel in distress or mere eye candy; she has to keep Jim on his toes while also remaining an equal part of his world. If Gotham continues to keep Dr. Thompkins up to Jim’s speed, keeps Fish Mooney dead, includes Montoya a bit more, and reigns in Barbara, there could be a chance of keeping these women from falling through Gotham’s sidewalk cracks.