NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Gotham are present in this review.
Gotham made a bit of a gamble this week, veering farther into comic book territory than it ever has yet with “Viper”, an episode that laid the foundation for yet another Batman villain to come, even if, like the Dollmaker, it was a villain that isn’t actually seen. Fortunately, it was a gamble that paid off very well, resulting in Gotham’s best executed and most interesting episode yet, despite the lead Jim Gordon arc still trying to find its footing a bit.
This week’s case involved ‘Viper’, a new drug that’s found its way around Gotham City’s underbelly. The drug causes extreme euphoria, unnatural strength, and eventually, death from severe calcium deprivation and subsequent skeletal collapse. Sure, it’s nothing that could actually exist, since the actual biological mechanics of Viper don’t make any sense, but it was nice to see Gotham aim high and embrace a bit more of its comic book roots, especially since Gordon’s and Bullock’s cases aren’t providing the necessary appeal to make Gotham a draw to more casual viewers that aren’t Batman fans.
With a rogue chemist apparently on the loose and distributing Viper, it’s not long before Gordon and Bullock deduce that only a major lab could produce a chemical compound of that nature. The evidence then points them to a subsidiary of, rather shockingly, Wayne Enterprises, which just so happened to have fired a disgruntled chemist that has decided to make the city’s less fortunate a little happier. Yes, it was another sly Joker tease, but seeing as the chemist in question inadvertently leaps off a building and kills himself after huffing some Viper himself, we can safely rule out that this is Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime, even though the hint that Batman’s future arch-nemesis may currently be an employee of Wayne Enterprises is a tantalizing one.
Thanks to this twist with Viper’s origins, Bruce Wayne was given his best stint yet on the show, already demonstrating an apt mind for detective work, despite Alfred’s protests of how he spends his time. Seeing the young Bruce affirm that he doesn’t want revenge, and merely wants to understand how Gotham City works, was kind of a stretch, even for a boy who will one day grow up to be Batman, but it was cool to see that the show isn’t aiming to re-tread Bruce’s journey from Batman Begins. He’s already had something awakened in him, and he strives to understand both it, and what he’s up against.
Having the episode end with Alfred capitulating and joining Bruce in trying to discover what has gone rotten at Wayne Enterprises, after the company is targeted by this week’s Viper-dealing villain, was also a satisfying conclusion. It was also a nice foreshadowing of Alfred’s future begrudging assistance of Bruce’s night-time activities as Batman, just as Alfred earlier chastising Bruce for over-sleeping was another fun nod to a long future of waking the adult Bruce up at 4 P.M. after a long night of crime-fighting.
If you’re a Batman/DC fan, you may already be wondering, so I’ll just tell you. Yes, an accomplice to our dealer’s activities outright states that Viper is a prototype compound for a superior and more stable drug, Venom, best known as the fictional DC drug that gives Batman nemesis, Bane his super-strength and increased size in the DC printed pages. The introduction of Venom, and how it originated from Wayne Enterprises, proposed a promising development, where Bruce’s company is potentially as corrupt as the city it was once trying to redeem, now that its former founders are dead. Again, it also nicely teased the similarity to The Joker’s poison, Joker Venom, with its euphoria symptoms, effectively implying that both Bane’s and The Joker’s toxins may in fact come from the same prototype formula, Viper. Very clever!
As Gordon, Bullock and the Wayne household chased around Viper, the established Gotham City mob seemed oblivious to proceedings for the most part, continuing to conspire in the background. Fish Mooney continued to train Liza as a future seducer and likely murderer of Don Falcone, and likewise, Cobblepot continued to listen in on Maroni’s plan, having a clear agenda of his own. Despite Maroni’s initially friendly demeanour towards Cobblepot, the rival don took a heel-turn this week, suddenly threatening both Cobblepot and Gordon with death if Cobblepot’s claimed backstory doesn’t check out, in turn suggesting that Maroni has his bad side, just as Cobblepot and the rest of Gotham’s mob personalities.
Maroni’s threats were nicely tense, and Robin Lord Taylor continues to deliver an outstanding performance as the Proto-Penguin, though it felt like trying to tie Gordon into this conflict was a bit pointless. After narrowly cheating death at Maroni’s restaurant, Gordon just proceeded on as if nothing happened, making the resolution of the conflict feel like a bit of a waste, especially when Maroni didn’t really see any snags this week, and Falcone declared that he didn’t want to push back yet. Still, it’s neat to see the incredible amount of actual strategy that the two mob bosses have to manage. Gotham City may be a pit of scum and villainy, but for better or worse, it does indeed have its own rules, and its own system that keeps everything in order, even if said order comes from the mob more than the cops.
Gotham is still working out some minor kinks, but it’s definitely starting to head in a very good direction. The more outward embracing of comic book elements with the introduction of Viper/Venom was cool, and the previously meandering Bruce Wayne has started to settle into his place in the show for the first time. Gordon and Bullock still don’t stand out as much as the villains do, and that still needs to be fixed, but once again, this series seems to be getting a bit better with every passing week.
"Viper" is a standout episode for Gotham, more proudly embracing the show's comic book roots, and finally setting a proper place on the show for Bruce Wayne.
THE GOOD STUFF
Bruce Wayne is starting to find his role
Wayne Enterprises twist was great
Mob conspiring is still an episode highlight
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
Gordon and Bullock still aren't a draw
Gordon took the whole Maroni threat a little TOO well