NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Gotham are present in this review.
“The Balloonman” was a slightly shakier episode for Gotham this week, but nonetheless continues to demonstrate the strengths of FOX’s hit new show. It wasn’t wanting for style, cool twists and great character work, even if its final product ranged a bit more in terms of plausibility and tone.
The main plot of the episode involves a vigilante murdering especially corrupt citizens of Gotham City by tying them to weather balloons. It’s a great sight to behold, yes, even if it does sort of stretch any boundaries of realism that Gotham has erected at this point. Still, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, so I have to give the showrunners points for creativity.
Speaking of creativity, it felt like the showrunners were oddly trying for a more outward black comedy tone in this week’s episode. It worked sometimes, such as when Gordon meets a lieutenant with a tendency to literally beat criminals with his own success, but at other times, it just felt odd, such as when one of the Balloonman’s victims falls to Earth and flattens an old lady walking her dog. It feels like the showrunners are still trying to find that middle ground between the comic book stylings of the DC printed pages, and the more grounded take on Gotham City contributed by the highly celebrated Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan, and this week, the tweaking was more visible and awkward.
Fortunately, there was still more about this episode that worked than didn’t. Cobblepot stood out nicely this week, particularly when he gets a job at a restaurant (through less than civil means, naturally) that is revealed to be run by the Maroni family, rivals to his former boss’s Falcone family-affiliated outfit. Sal Maroni, another personality that should be recognizable to Batman fans, made his debut this episode, and appears to have taken a liking to Cobblepot. It seems evident that Cobblepot will exploit this situation to exact revenge on Fish Mooney, tricking the Maroni loyalists and Falcone loyalists into all-out war, but this remains to be seen.
Over on Fish Mooney’s end, Fish herself continued to be another standout character, with her obvious desire to overthrow Don Carmine Falcone continuing to simmer to the forefront. Striking back at Falcone by having his new mistress murdered (on top of her unfortunate loverboy that took a beating for Fish last week. Poor bastard.), it appears that Fish may also be looking to exploit the animosity between the Maroni and Falcone camps in a similar power play as Cobblepot. This is exciting, since it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Fish and Cobblepot will be allies or enemies in the long-term.
Bruce’s fiancee, Barbara also got some higher billing this week, particularly when it’s revealed that she once had a lesbian relationship with Renee Montoya, one of the GCPD officers that is probing Gordon, believing him to be responsible for murdering Cobblepot in the pilot episode, which Gordon naturally faked. Barbara’s drug habit also proved to be an interesting revelation, suggesting that Gordon’s better half may not be as squeaky clean as she initially appeared. This is great, as it finally gives her character some depth, beyond just being, “The fiancee.”
Gordon and Bullock continued to execute their same old schtick this week. Gordon is a boy scout. Bullock is a jerk. There were some amusing moments in seeing Bullock exploit his sleazy network of informants to get some news on the Balloonman (and some free food), but ultimately, it just felt like Gordon and Bullock weren’t given interesting material this week. The episode tried to develop Gordon by having Barbara try to convince him that he’s a hero for stopping the Wayne murderer, which Gordon knows he didn’t yet, but it didn’t tap too deeply into just how much this promise is torturing Gordon. It would have been nice if Gordon did more than just sigh and stare into space when he dwells on the fact that the Wayne killer is still at large.
Lastly, the Batman teases were laid on thicker this week, with Bruce Wayne vigorously studying both the news and his parents’ murder case file, and the end of the episode having Bruce finally eat a meal in front of the TV, just as a journalist asks who will defend Gotham City if the police can’t. Hmmm… I wonder. Yeah, it wasn’t subtle. With that said, Alfred did have a nice cheeky line when he sarcastically asked the young Master Bruce if he suddenly fancied himself a detective.
The show is still trying to iron out a few kinks, but there’s no denying that Gotham remains one of this Fall’s most entertaining new shows, even if it slipped a bit in quality from last week. With a mob war set to erupt any moment now though, next week probably won’t be wanting for new levels of drama and excitement.
"The Balloonman" was a slight dip in quality for Gotham, but still served plenty of entertainment, along with the promise of an escalating mob war.