Review: Gotham: ‘The Balloonman’

This week presents an interesting question regarding how this series is going to proceed. To be honest, I imagine it’s one the show’s going to be mulling over for quite some time, at least as far as this first season is concerned.

There’s always that challenge that comes with adapting comics – especially when you do it with a television show budget – of just how much you want to own up to those comic book roots. Movies don’t have that problem anywhere near as much, thanks to audiences coming around at the box office and studios offering some creative freedom, but shows still need to balance that with what they can afford on a week to week basis.

Which is part of why Gotham has some solid footing to start with, but it also places some tricky expectations on the show that this week touches on.

GothamTitle
As big comic properties go, Batman has always been a tough one to bring to the screen. Arguably more than a lot of other heroes, Batman‘s a story and setting that has been constantly invented and reinvented over the past eighty-five years since the character was first conceived, with styles running anywhere from light-hearted and campy, to gothically stylized stories, to gritty noir dramas that just happen to involved costumed vigilantes.

Gotham is a show that’s still trying to figure out where it wants its tone to land. Given the pitch it sold itself on-as well as the first few episodes-the show has given the impression it’s trying to sell itself more in the vein of a stylized police procedural. Taking its cue from the Gotham Central comic series, it moves the wilder, more comic book style villains off into the margins and instead decides to focus on the men and women in blue in Gotham’s police department.

Also, Bruce Wayne, but that’s partially because they know if they don’t, people will ask questions.

Like I said, the first weeks actually fit that procedural tone pretty well: the pilot gave us the murder of two of Gotham’s elite, which lead the way into Gordon learning the hard way just how crooked the workings of his city really are. Likewise, the followup episode built on that – though they do make mention of the villain known as The Dollmaker, the story is focused on a fairly grounded crime – kidnapping children to ship off for various questionable acts (anyone familiar with the character in question already has a good idea of what those kids would be in for.)

"This is much less whimsical than I was lead to believe!"

“This is much less whimsical than I was led to believe!”

Then we have this week. This week’s titular antagonist is a step by the show more towards the comic book style of villainy they’ve been kind of keeping off to the side for the most part. Part of it actually fits the show’s mold – the character in question is a vigilante targeting various well-known, but corrupt members of Gotham’s upper echelons. Then comes his method of disposal – lashing them to a weather balloon and sending them flying in the middle of the streets of Gotham.

I’m not gonna lie, with a show that’s still trying to find its footing, this is kind of an odd leap to take.

It’s actually kind of a shame since at the core of this episode there are some pretty interesting things going on. After how the first two episodes, as well as the start of this one, drive home the idea of just how riddled with crime and corruption Gotham is, the idea of a vigilante brought into it yields interesting reactions from the cast. The media, and Bullock, are actually happy with what the man’s doing (at least until he targets a crooked police officer, anyway), the powers that be see him as an embarrassment, and Gordon and Bruce both feel that he’s a murderer, regardless of the victims. While the execution is bizarre, it’s an idea that could be interesting to see play out in future episodes.

"We'll start it light enough here. Next week I'll take you out to beat up your first pursesnatcher!"

“We’ll start it light enough here. Next week I’ll take you out to beat up your first pursesnatcher!”

Meanwhile, the other storylines the show is juggling are inspiring a lot more confidence. Once again, Oswald’s story remains a high point, as his murderous road trip finally brings him back to Gotham, attempting to worm his way into the good graces of Falcone’s number one rival, Sal Maroni (David Zayas). Bruce’s story, while still not meshing as well with the rest of the series, is at least creating an interesting arc with Alfred finally starting to get him to open up again (in a surprisingly nice little scene of the two play-fighting that shows Pertwee has a softer side) and the vigilante angle is there to at least confirm we’ll be seeing some of the mindset that lead to Batman come into play.

Not all of the stories are doing as well here, though. After the “I know who killed the Waynes” cliffhanger last week, the Selina Kyle story turns out to be a giant red herring to get her back on the streets. It leads to some fun banter with Gordon, but that’s about it. We get a better look at Mooney’s operation, but she’s largely in a holding pattern this week. Finally, the show is attempting to do something more with Allen and Montoya, though their amateur Internal Affairs act really doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The show does at least try to flesh out Montoya’s character a bit,care of confirming one thing hinted at in the pilot – yes, she and Barbara were a couple back in the day, and given her suspicion of Gordon, she is concerned about the fact her ex is now with a suspected dirty cop. It’s an idea that actually could work well, but as it is now, the show is phoning in the drama. We’re told its there, but the performances aren’t really selling it. I’d like to believe if the show takes more time to build up the characters, they can make something of this, but at this point, they’re only fairing slightly better than Allen in terms of worthwhile writing.

"...I officially take back everything I said before about protecting children."

“…I officially take back everything I said before about protecting children.”

All in all, this week’s kind of an odd experiment for the show. In some ways, it’s probably better they ran this one early on rather than having it come up mid-season and feeling even more out of place. It’s got some good ideas going for it, and what’s been working so far continues to work. I’m finally starting to warm up to Bruce and Alfred, and the ending has me curious about what’s happening with next week. Maybe once the show’s more established, I’ll be a bit more apt to run with some of these outlandish case-of-the-week scenarios. The fact next week concerns the reopening of Arkham definitely suggests there will be more crazy down the line. As it is now though, it was kind of a long jump to make after the first two cases, and one they probably could have eased into better.

Still, it’s a first season, and early on at that. Most shows don’t get it right completely out of the gate. I’ll go easy on it for now, but in the future guys, this is a kind of stretch you’re gonna have to work towards.

In the meantime, between the reopening and Oswald’s visit to Gordon, I’m actually pretty on board for Arkham next week.

"Hey Jim! It's your favorite neighbor!" *applause/laugh track*

“Hey Jim! It’s your favorite neighbor!”
*applause/laugh track*

Till then.

Pros:

-After what’s been established of the city, the vigilante idea is an interesting topic to open up

-The show’s finally getting me to warm up to Bruce and Alfred

Cons:

-While the vigilante angle is interesting, his methods still feel a bit too out there for the show’s style

-They’re at least trying, but Montoya, Barbara, and Allen are all still pretty bland as supporting cast go.

Rating: 3/5

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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