Gotham 1.03: “The Balloonman”

If one thing is clear from three episodes of Gotham, it’s that the show is going to be obvious in its themes. Jim Gordon is always the “boy scout,” Bruce is the brooding youngster interested in crime, and Gotham officials are corrupt, to the point where a drinking game can be made of any character saying “it’s Gotham,” in the same tone as “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”

If the pilot intrigued me and the second episode disappointed, this third outing, “The Balloonman,” showed some promise that the show is finding its tone: wry humor, some over-the-top situations, and a quick pace.

The return of the humor is particularly welcome after the dreary and dull mystery of episode 2. “The Balloonman” even gets mileage out of the ridiculous idea of rounding up all the street kids to ship them off to juvenile prison facilities upstate, as that serves as motivation for this week’s villain.

The show’s writers know that handcuffing corrupt officials to weather balloons and sending them up in the sky is a comic book murder concept. They use that ridiculousness to their advantage, even having one of the dead bodies fall back to earth, squishing an old lady in a scene that reminded me of the old woman with the dogs in A Fish Called Wanda.

Harvey on his way to bash some pimps.

Harvey Bullock supplies more humorous moments, in a wry montage showing him actually working a case, which for Bullock means talking to prostitutes, beating up pimps, and getting a sandwich from a food cart. Jim, too, does some real investigating while checking out Selina Kyle’s story that she saw the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and, even more, that she saw the killer’s face. But all goes down the sewer (literally) when Selina escapes from handcuffs and runs off without describing the killer. (Love Selina.)

But the real fun of the episode is with Penguin, who comes back to Gotham in his newly acquired preppy clothes. (Short vacation there, Oswald) He literally murders his way into a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant run by yet another mob boss, Maroni. If Maroni seems like just another gangster to the casual viewer, comic readers know Maroni is a key figure to Gotham’s mythos. He’s the man that sets up District Attorney Harvey Dent for the acid tossed in his face, triggering Dent’s transformation into the villanous Two-Face. Likely, we won’t get Two-Face this season (or even next) but since Dent has been cast, we’ll see him clash with Maroni.

Still, problems remain, particularly with events being too on-the-nose. For example, Alfred and Bruce have a mock swordfight, which Alfred hopes to use to mellow Bruce out. But then Alfred says his motivations out loud as well. And the Balloonman’s vigilante quest to kill all the corrupt officials in Gotham is, of course, a parallel to Batman’s eventual rise. Though Bruce points out that killing just makes the Balloonman another criminal.

The pacing made up for flaws in this episode. Not only is Oswald back and happily murderous, there’s confirmation that Barbara Kean and Detective Renee Montoya were lovers, that Montoya once had a problem with substance abuse (as in the comics), that Barbara maybe still has a drug problem, and that Montoya is determined to win her lover back by tossing dirt at Jim Gordon.

I was worried that we’d get whole episodes of Barbara doubting Jim while Renee and Det. Allen investigate Jim for Oswald’s apparent murder which would be soap-opera boring.

But then Oswald shows up on Jim’s doorstep to close the episode and vaults us into something new.

Dina Meyer as Oracle. The resemblance is uncanny.
Now Barbara knows Jim’s not a killer. On the bad side, Oswald knows where Barbara lives. Let’s hope he doesn’t covet any of her shoes.

Questions for next week: When will Jim learn that not killing Oswald led to Oswald’s murder spree? Will Montoya put aside her jealousy of Jim long enough to let them work together? Will Fish find a new lover who can tolerate being beat up on a whim? Will that old lover eventually turn into the Joker? When will the constant mentions of Arkham (future home of the criminally insane Batman Rogues Gallery) pay off? And when will Barbara ever get to leave her artist loft/clocktower? She must be getting claustrophic in there.

I do give the Gotham creators bonus points for the scene set with Barbara framed against the backdrop of the clocktower, a clear call-out to another Barbara, her daughter Barbara Gordon, who used the clocktower as her headquarters during her time as Oracle. There’s an uncanny resemblance between Erin Richards’ Barbara Kean and Dina Meyer’s Oracle/Barbara Gordon from the short-lives Birds of Prey television series and I have to wonder if that resemblance played into casting Richards.

Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.

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