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cbr.com
Gotham: Showrunner Talks Batman Rising, Solomon Grundy & More
Showrunner John Stephens discusses Gotham's villainous rebirths, Bruce's destiny, Nigma's setback and Harley Quinn.

Evil seems to thrive in Gotham City. No matter what Jim Gordon or the GCPD sacrifice, the villains keep plotting and scheming to take over Gotham City – and take out the competition. In the Season 3 finale, Barbara executed Butch, so in retaliation, Tabitha electrocuted Barbara. Oswald commanded Mr. Freeze to put Edward on ice; a brain-washed Bruce stabbed Alfred in the chest; and Selina turned to Tabitha for guidance and an ally. Now, more than ever, the people of Gotham City need a Dark Knight to champion them – and they may finally get one in Season Four.

Ahead of the season premiere, Gotham showrunner John Stephens recently spoke with CBR about Bruce’s destiny, the Scarecrow’s fearful return and the coming of Solomon Grundy. And, he addresses once and for all, whether Barbara is actually Harley Quinn — and whether the popular character will even arrive in Gotham at all.

CBR: Last year ended with plenty of cliffhangers and various characters at crossroads in their lives. What was your mandate or main objective that you wanted to achieve in Season 4?

John Stephens: It’s a couple of things. One, we wanted to continue to deepen Jim Gordon’s character and find new complexities, sides and angles to him – and have him continue to compromise himself ethically. Then, we wanted to have Bruce take a couple bigger steps towards becoming Batman. We’re not going to get there, obviously, in this season, or probably the show. But, we wanted him to do things where the audience could look at him and say, “Oh, I see that’s where that piece of the Batman myth came from.” I think we do that over the course of this year. A couple of big pieces of that personality get put into place. And, also, you want to do it an unexpected way.

Bruce adopts a secret identity. What motivates him as he moves forward?

A couple of different things — the biggest thing motivating him at the beginning of the year is the knowledge of Ra’s al Ghul being out there, perhaps in Gotham. Bruce feels he needs to prepare himself for the day that Ra’s actually makes a move against him. That motivates him into taking a more active “vigilante” position in Gotham. While Bruce is doing that, he actually starts to see he physically has an effect on the city itself, apart from whatever Ra’s might be doing, and that it feels to him like he’s somehow making up for the murder of his parents. It starts to make Bruce think, “Hey, maybe this is the right course for me to follow.”

In the finale, Jim Gordon lost Lee and was infected by the Tetch Virus. Now, Gotham is once again under siege by supervillains. Where is Jim’s head these days?

When we find Jim at the beginning of the year, he’s in a particular position because at the end of last season, Oswald took advantage of all the chaos to seize power like never before in Gotham, where he wasn’t just the King of the Underworld. He made it in the legitimate world as well. What we’re saying is, he’s trying to unionize and legitimize crime. In a way, the GCPD is more on Oswald’s side than on Jim’s side. Jim, once again, finds himself fighting a battle for law and order in a city that doesn’t seem to care that much about law and order.

Oswald is no longer the man in charge. How does that sit with him? What’s his game plan?

At the end of last season, Oswald had the epiphany that it was his emotions that had weakened him. He took all of those emotions and pushed them down. He decided he wasn’t going to be that emotional soft person anymore. Part of that desire for everyone’s love, he felt was driving him to be the mayor. Now, he says, “I’m just going to be the person who has all the power and be in charge. I’m not going to let anybody get close to me ever again.” He’s doing that at the beginning of this year, becoming the most powerful person in Gotham, until somebody comes in who, once again, finds a way to pry open the manhole cover of his emotions and starts to let them out again.

Oswald’s emotional Achilles’ heel, Edward Nigma, is literally on ice. Once Edward defrosts, what becomes his top priority?

Vengeance is the number one thing on his mind. But what Edward quickly finds out is his time on ice had a negative impact upon his intellect. So, then, before he can get his vengeance on Oswald, he has to get smart again. That becomes his trajectory for a while as you have someone who knows he is the smartest person in the room, but just can’t think of any good answers.

Barbara experiences a rebirth. In what way does life after death change her?

It changed her in the sense that the passage through the Lazarus Pit changes anybody. Historically, it affects different people in different ways. With Barbara, it’s given her a connection to Ra’s al Ghul that is going to play forward throughout the entire season. It’s also given her a new sense of calmness that she didn’t have last year. There are hints of madness still buried inside of her, and we see Barbara far more in control of herself than she was in Season 3.

Viewers keep speculating that Barbara will transform into Harley Quinn. What kind of conversations have you had about that development?

It’s not going to happen. Let’s put it out there. The discussions we’ve been having is – Look, we know Harley Quinn is never going to be on our show. However, there are elements of that Harley Quinn personality that we have liked, that sense of fun and anarchy, that we said, “Well, we can actually have those qualities embodied in Barbara without actually having to do Harley herself.” I think Erin Richards carried it off really well.

How does Tabitha impact Selina now that the two are BFFs?

Again, this is also like the Bruce model. Because we always know where Bruce is going to end up, part our story is tracking a voyage towards that. We all know that Selina, in our show, is this street kid who is really tough. But, the Selina of the comic books is the Selina who is the world’s greatest burglar and has a taste for the finer things in life. Part of her evolution this year is surrounding herself with a woman who is physically able in terms of martial arts, like Tabitha. Then, there is Selina’s taste for the finer things. Both of those personalities start to get infused into Selina as we see her moving towards the Selina Kyle of the comic books.

Butch also gets resurrected. What is Gotham’s take on Solomon Grundy?

He rises from Slaughter Swamp. We’re saying his real name is Cyrus Gold. There have been various iterations of Grundy throughout the years. He has the same mental capabilities as the most well-known version of Grundy. The way certain things will change is there are moments when elements of Butch’s personality and memories will come back into the fore of Grundy. One of the themes for the show has always been the idea of the fluidity of identity, and the creation of identity. So, even when he gets reborn as Grundy, we’re asking the question of, “Is this Butch’s new personality?” Or, “How does he create a third personality that is part Grundy and part Butch?”

The Scarecrow is back. What is he doing to strike fear into the city?

At first, he gets co-opted by a gang who want to use his abilities to get back at Penguin. Unwittingly, they create a monster. They create Scarecrow. So, initially, he wants to get revenge for the death of his dad. But deeper down, he wants to deal with his own sense of fear. By doing that, he sort of highlights the fear that Jim Gordon is carrying around.

Every season, we’ve seen these characters grow and progress. How closely do you feel they are to becoming those iconic heroes and villains that audiences know and love?

It depends what you mean by close. Bruce is not going to be wearing the costume. Selina is always going to be steps away from becoming Catwoman. But, I do hope by the end of the season, you’ll be able to look at Gordon or Bruce or Selina and say, “Oh, now I can totally track the next three or four or five steps that will take them to the person they are.” There are enough building blocks that are there that you can do the math problem yourself, and see that it equals Batman at the end of the day.