Episode 3 of Gotham, “The Balloonman,” is a mixed bag. The title character of this episode, the eponymous Balloonman, is Gotham City’s first vigilante, who kills the rich and corrupt of Gotham by tying them to small weather balloons resulting in them flying over the city (presumably since they considered themselves above Gotham and its people) and their frozen corpses eventually crashing to the ground. While the name of the vigilante might sound silly, he doesn’t give himself that name (like how the Red Dragon never wanted to be called the “Tooth Fairy”) and it’s no worse than monikers like “Calendar Man” (who could always be re-imagined as a killer who strikes on holidays–it could work), “Killer Moth” (why not re-imagine him as a killer who places moths in his victims after death, like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs?), or “Kite Man” (who probably shouldn’t be brought back–kites, really?) and it does work in a thematic way.
Batman villains have always had an amount of silliness to them, which doesn’t take away from the darkness and insanity of them–without the whimsy they possess, they wouldn’t fit in with the city. That being said, it seems far too early for a theme villain to appear and it’s hard to make balloons threatening. Last week’s villains, the child abductors, were a good balance of whimsy and scary, being old-fashioned and square, but also cold and remorseless. Gotham also needs to avoid the “freak of the week” syndrome that hurt shows like Smallville. But let’s delve deeper into the episode.
Gordon and Bullock Intrigue Viewers
As mentioned above, the plot for this episode involves the Balloonman killing Gotham’s richest and most corrupt. Gordon and Bullock try to figure out who the vigilante is, with Bullock questioning if he’s really that bad (until he kills a corrupt cop, that is). Certainly this kind of vigilante appearing (and failing) is a good example for what Bruce should NOT do when he becomes Batman. Who the Balloonman is has little bearing on the episode as a whole and he could have easily been replaced by any other vigilante (from the source material or not) with any other reason for his targets.
The best part of their search is the interplay between Gordon and Bullock, the actors having great chemistry with one another. We also see their differences in dealing with criminals: Bullock being willing to kill them in cold-blood if he knows they’re guilty and Gordon resisting this cynical approach, even putting his own life in danger to see that the Balloonman lives to see a fair trial. With the exception of Oswald, Bullock is the character I’m most looking forward to seeing develop. Many TV shows and movies have characters descend into darkness after compromising their morals, but in this case it’s the other way around, with Bullock already starting out as an anti-hero who will eventually “break good” and become the lovable gruff detective who gives “Bats” a hard time but is unquestionably one of the good guys.
We get some more scenes with Oswald as he oozes his way back into a subservient position and starts to formulate how he’ll climb the ranks and accumulate power. Oswald is one of the standout characters of the show, performed by Robin Taylor; just when one starts to feel sorry for Oswald, he always, always, tarnishes our sympathy with his actions. This is a man who will play the part of coward, ally, betrayer, and killer in whichever way suits his needs. The character (so far) has very little redeeming values, which is great for a villain, especially when so many villains these days need to have tragic pasts or think they’re doing good (there’s nothing wrong with these types of villains, they’re just over represented). Oswald is a consistent heel who has no delusion about his motives or goals: he desires power and will do anything to achieve it–it’s that simple.
There’s a noticeable lack of Selina Kyle in this episode, which I’m assuming is due to her prominence in both the pilot and the second episode (named after her.) While I enjoy her character, it’s probably a smart move not to overexpose the character this early. Having her pop in when the plot calls for her and slowly revealing her back story seems to be where the writers are going, in which case I approve. Speaking of young females who will grow up to be criminals, what’s the deal with Ivy Pepper? Her character was featured prominently in promo images but she hasn’t factored into the overall plot of the show since her appearance. Are they saving that for later, I wonder? It’ll be interesting to see what they do with that character, since in her traditional origin, Poison Ivy, starts off as a researcher and essentially a good person before being changed by Jason Woodrue (AKA The Floronic Man), and it’s way too early to introduce a character like that. They’ll have to make her standout in some way, though, or she’ll just be a normal, red-headed little girl.
This episode marks the debut of Boss Maroni, played by David Zayas (previously Batista on Dexter) and he plays the crime boss with gusto. Unlike Falcone, Maroni is more charming and personable, an excellent figure for Oswald to learn from, suck-up to, and eventually betray. Fans of Batman will recognize the Maroni name, as it was Boss Sal Maroni who disfigured the face of Harvey Dent, turning him into the villain Two-Face. Although I’m assuming this is that Maroni, it could actually be ANY member of Maroni’s family who disfigures Dent, assuming that’s how he becomes Two-Face in the first place (there have been many variations of his origin).
Overall, this was an average episode and I doubt it will be looked back on favorably in the future, but it does plant some interesting seeds for what’s to come.