Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
What is wrong with Gotham? The series itself may share a problem with its own subject city: deep societal corruption. By all reckoning, everything in Gotham should be working fine – the principal actors are competent to good, the visuals are stunning, and the direction generally hits all the right notes efficiently and without pretense. But there is a structural flaw within this show, and it has been evident since the pilot: The writers don’t know what type of animal they want their show to be.
This problem is very evident in “Viper”, an episode that spectacularly manages to incorporate all the series flaws into one blob of an episode that whips back and forth between gravitas and goofiness with the regularity of a metronome. It is impossible to discuss a show like Gotham without entertaining the contrivances of its writing. At this point we expect Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) to be cartoonishly corrupt – this time in a sequence where he prioritizes a burger over a burglary – we expect the GCPD to be massively incompetent, to the point where a known member of a crime syndicate can kidnap a police officer right in front of their Precinct, and we expect the mobsters to argue in abandoned warehouses like a series of Godfather cosplayers who got lost on the way to the nearest Cannoli joint. All these are concessions the series seems content to leave us with, and it begs the question: How much do the writers really pay attention to what they write?
Take the pre-credits scene with James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock: we open with them sharing burgers from a food truck where Gordon is inexplicably interrupted by both a Selina Kyle cameo (her only appearance since she ditched Gordon in the sewer episode 3) and the aftermath of a robbery. The man who committed this robbery stole an ATM machine right off the wall, because a super-drug made him extremely strong (and also makes him talk like Thor, apparently – “Tremble Mortal!”, et cetera). After all this is established through dialogue, we cut to a shot of the perpetrator carrying the ATM machine on his back as he charges down the sidewalk. The cut was almost like something out of a Looney Tunes sketch, and another example of Gotham’s struggles with tonal consistency (see also, “The Balloonman”).
The more we slog through this season, the more it becomes apparent that Bruno Heller and his fellow writers don’t care as much about the episode to episode plots so much as the character arcs. And by “character arcs”, I am referring to the two interesting characters thus far: Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). Their dynamic is the first (and so far only) new thing that the show brings to the Batman mythos that doesn’t fundamentally suffer from a lack of Batman.
In this episode, Gordon is called by Maroni (David Zayas) to answer for his relationship to Cobblepot. And while this sequence doesn’t have the same kind of tension it should, it is well played by all parties involved and skates by fairly harmlessly. The casting of David Zayas, a friendly a comforting presence, as a mob boss becomes much clearer in this sequence – he really feels like a father to his henchmen.
Aside from another cascade of distractions, such as every single minor actor being particularly awful (the store owner and creepy old man in particular lacked any sort of conviction in their lines, it was truly off-putting), this episode of Gotham did little but reinforce a touch of the show’s inherent potential, while highlighting the endemic flaws.
Episode Grade: C+