When the news regarding the release of “Gotham Knights,” yet another CW-made DC comics-oriented series based on the extended Bat family comprised of a mostly teenage cast, started making the rounds, seasoned fans understandably feared the worst. Except for the brilliant “Superman and Lois,” the recent track record of CW has been below average, and the abrupt cancellations of a majority of the series during the last couple of years prove that. To add to the confusion, it was also clarified that the series would not be linked with the video game of the same name, Bruce Wayne will die pretty early on in the series, and none of the top-tier Bat family members will make an appearance. Despite all our reservations, the pilot episode of “Gotham Knights” managed to provide a decent kick-off to the series, at least one that will make viewers stick around for the next episode. Also, despite the earlier claims, the series shares some similar elements in its narrative with the videogame of the same name, which we will explore while discussing the first episode.
What Happens In ‘Gotham Knights’ Episode 1?
As the opening scene showcases the familiar sprawling cityscape of Gotham from the skyline, we hear the narration of Turner Hayes, the adopted son of billionaire Bruce Wayne, in the background. Bruce adopted Turner from the slums of Burnside after Turner’s parents were murdered, and Turner questions, in a city full of orphans, why he was chosen. He also adds that, aside from the reason, Bruce also kept his alias a secret from his son, we see Bruce Wayne standing in his penthouse in Wayne Tower, looking at the city he has sworn to protect. After taking a look at an owl-motif coin in his hand, Bruce opens a secret vault containing the Bat-mask and gadgets as he prepares for a mission. The scene shifts to a high school fencing contest, where Turner beats his opponent, Brody, with relative ease. As Turner and his best friend Stephanie Brown discuss Bruce’s absence at the fencing contest, Turner decides to throw a house party at Wayne Manor. At the party, we are introduced to some key characters. Cressida, the Wayne housekeeper who tends to the manor in the absence of Alfred, and Carrie Kelley, Turner’s introverted batchmate
Back at Bruce’s penthouse in Wayne Tower, we see three teenagers breaking in. Their leader, Duela, has been contracted by an unknown group to steal something of great importance from Bruce’s personal vault, for which they will get paid a hundred thousand dollars. As they manage to unlock the vault, they only find a .38 Colt lying there, which, according to Duela, is important as it was used by Joe Chill to murder Bruce’s parents. Upon finding the barrel warm and smelling of sulfur, they realize that it has been fired recently. Their suspicion gets validated when they see a “Your Bat is Dead” sign in the broken windows, from where someone had been thrown down the streets to die. Harvey Dent, the DA of Gotham City, leads the police force and identifies the body as Bruce Wayne’s, with the Bat mask forced upon his corpse as a sadistic reminder of his secret identity; the teenage trio barely escapes from the forces after realizing that they have been framed based on circumstantial evidence.
As Wayne’s family friend, Harvey takes it upon himself to inform Turner of his father’s demise, and Turner also learns from him for the first time about Bruce’s vigilante career as Batman. In denial after hearing this, Turner discusses with Stephanie what might be the reason for Bruce to keep the truth from him and accidentally unlocks the entrance to the Batcave.
As the city mourns the loss of its protector, the trio of crooks gets nabbed by the police from their hideout with the money that they were paid for the heist. In police custody, Duela and the Row siblings Harper, Cullen get interrogated by Detective Ford and Harvey Dent, and they are incriminated for the murder of Bruce Wayne. Born in Arkham Asylum, Duela is the Joker’s daughter and a highly unpredictable, skilled, and seasoned criminal. Harper Row, a bright student, dropped out of college to stand by the side of her transgender brother, who was abandoned by their abusive, bigoted father. The Row siblings decided to join in on one of Duela’s heists to get a score big enough to escape Gotham. Detective Ford acts way out of line while insulting Cullen using his dead name, which prompts Harvey to ask him to get out of the interrogation, and he tries to engage with the teenagers in a friendlier manner. However, he is unable to get the name of the person (or persons) who hired the group to steal or to murder, as the forces speculate. During Bruce’s funeral, Harvey informs Turner that the presumed perps were caught with the money they were given to murder Bruce.
Meanwhile, Turner and Stephanie go through the advanced surveillance systems of Bat-Computer and discover that the banking details make it look like Turner had paid the perps in the first place. Turner is taken into police custody, and as a motive, it is discovered that, before his death, Bruce apparently made some changes to his will. Even though Turner didn’t have any idea about this, just like in the case of the crooked teenagers, someone framed him as the suspect in the murder. Harvey confides in him that he is sure of Turner’s innocence, but the circumstances have made it impossible to convince the rest of the world. After learning from Harvey that Cressida had said that even Bruce’s law firms are unwilling to step in for Turner, he calls Stephanie for help. After a brief argument and blame-shifting, Turner gets into a fight with Duela and the Row Siblings, and the authorities decide to put them in Blackgate. Viewers are also informed that Harvey is contesting to become a mayoral candidate and is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to help Turner as a consequence, as allying with a supposed perp might give him a bad rep.
En route to Blackgate, to Turner’s utter confusion, the rest of the group frees themselves and engages in a fight inside the van with Ford and the rest of the guards. The vehicle turns over, and Duela holds Ford hostage to escape the scene. All of a sudden, Turner stands in front of Duela to stop her from taking his life, as he is willing to respect Bruce’s moral code. This gives Ford a chance to take matters into his own hands, and just as Duela suspected, it is revealed that the cops are in cahoots with the conspirators, and they only wanted to transport them in order to kill them in seclusion. Just when it seems like the forces will open fire on the teenagers, Robin arrives as a savior and knocks out the cops. It turns out Carrie Kelley was the Robin to Bruce Wayne’s Caped Crusader. She conveys her trust in Turner by saying that she knows he didn’t murder Bruce. Later, as Turner and Carrie go to pay their respects at Bruce’s grave, she informs Turner that Bruce took her under his wing since Carrie treated him to recovery during a mission and that Turner was Bruce’s inspiration in the sense he didn’t give in to darkness even though he was the victim of similar circumstances.
In front of the press, Harvey announces a full-scale hunt for the escaped fugitives. Back at Wayne Manor, Cressida burns the rewritten will of Bruce Wayne. The team heads back to Turner’s secret hideout, a clocktower, where they discuss their future course of action. Cullen reveals that he had stolen Ford’s expensive watch, and Duela notices the engravings of an owl motif on the back of the watch, similar to the coin earlier shown in Bruce’s possession. Horrified, she remarks that death would have been a better escape for them, and as she utters the ominous rhyme related to a certain ‘Court of Owls,’ a masked assassin beheads Ford in a parking lot.
From the very beginning, “Gotham Knights” exuded a familiar vibe that it has common with other Bat mythos-related series, such as Fox’s “Gotham” or Epix’s “Pennyworth,” and that’s probably because the pilot episode is directed by none other than Danny Cannon, the creator of both of these aforementioned shows. The first episode wasted no time establishing the key players and the stakes and surprisingly managed to keep the teenage drama part to a minimum while retaining the suspense. Thanks to decent performances by the cast, some of the glaring CGI problems or choppy fight choreography can be overlooked.
The series also positions the infamously corrupt secret society the ‘Court of Owls’ as an antagonistic force by the end. In comics, this secret society, which was composed of the elite-most people of the city, governed and dictated every major authoritative and legislative decision, orchestrated the most nefarious and pathetic crimes in Gotham City, and basically acted as the puppeteer. Batman was unaware of them for the longest time and confronted them only when Talons, the undead assassins who acted as the enforcers of the court, (the assassin we see at the end of this episode) arrived to take him out. Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder’s acclaimed run introduced this faction of the villainous group, and in the same run, characters like Harper Row and Cullen Row made their first appearances. Also, the noteworthy point is that the plot with the Court of Owls and Batman’s death is closely linked with the “Gotham Knights” game, where in a similar scenario, the Court of Owls rose after Bruce Wayne’s death. Duela, being born and brought up in a place like Arkham Asylum, knows the urban legend of Court of Owls, and even a crafty crook like her seemed terrified at the thought of their presence. It will be interesting to see how a team of amateur crime fighters even survive this deadly faction if the rest of Gotham doesn’t wipe them out already.