Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Those of you who had any question about the tone Gotham is going for may very well have an answer after this week’s episode. That, or you’ll have even more questions than you had to begin with. Yes, this episode features the show’s most dramatic digression into silliness to date – even though we are only three episodes in.
The main plot of episode three concerns Gotham City PD coming face to face with a masked vigilante. But no, this masked man is not dressed as a bat. The “Balloonman”, as the characters call him (while stubbornly refusing to come up with a better moniker) murders corrupt city officials by stringing them up on enormous weather balloons. On the sidelines, the march of the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) back to power continues, while Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) take turns toying with members of Gotham’s Police Force. Like the previous two episodes, this one takes great pride in being as sprawling as possible, creating a sense of community that the film versions of Gotham city could not replicate.
There is only so much one can say about an episode like “The Balloonman” without addressing its critical flaw: The through line of this episode is absolutely ludicrous. And the script seems completely unaware of this fact. James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) scoff at it for a couple seconds, but for the rest of the episode treat the Balloon Man like any ordinary vigilante. It is clear that the Balloon Man has some sort of media profile, but the script never bothers to introduce any reactions besides solemn determination (in Gordon) and casual dismissal (in Bullock). Are the people of Gotham unable to react with an ounce of mirth? Or incredulity? Or even mockery from would-be victims? Not a chance.
The most unfortunate aspect of this episode is how desperately it tries to make cynical statements about societal corruption, but the titular guest character undermines any and all attempts at gravitas. He cuts a menacing figure early in the episode – shrouded by a pig mask in true horror-movie fashion – but the episode is neither well written nor well directed enough to make death by balloon menacing. Gotham is a show that works best when not viewed as “Batman without Batman”, but introducing themes of urban vigilantism through characters like the Balloonman makes his absence painfully obvious.
The side plots of this episode aren’t nearly as baffling as the main one, but also not impressive enough to save this floundering episode. Fish Mooney continues to scheme and menace like she’s auditioning for the role of Lady Macbeth in a production financed by Tony Soprano, but her Machiavellian shenanigans have yet to build to the same level of intensity they had in the Pilot. At this point, she appears to have entered a holding pattern until either Oswald Cobblepot or Carmine Falcone (John Doman) make a move against her. Hopefully that moment is close on the horizon, because the writers have given no sign they know what to do with her character otherwise. Making his first appearance in this episode is David Zayas as Salvatore Maroni, and he has little to do besides give some unwittingly paternal advice to the eager-to-advance Cobblepot.
If Gotham was teetering on a knife’s edge between grit and camp last episode, “The Balloonman” has driven it over the edge into pure pulpy goofiness. This may or may not be the writers’ intention, but if this pattern of escalating silliness holds true, by episode sixteen, vigilantes will be cleaning up the streets of Gotham by running over retirees with cement mixers.
Episode Grade: C