Review: ‘Gotham’ – ‘The Balloonman’

Senior Television Writer
10.06.14 41 Comments

FOX

A review of tonight's “Gotham” coming up just as soon as I'm hoisted by my own petard…

Though the show's narrative continues to sprawl all across Gotham's underworld, “The Balloonman” was in many ways the most focused episode of the show so far. It hasn't turned into a Crime of the Week procedural with superhero trappings yet – though if a version of that existed and could feature lengthier “Harvey Bullock, man about town” montages, I don't know that I would mind – but the hunt for the eponymous vigilante linked a number of stories thematically, even when characters in one subplot weren't interacting with those in another.

The Balloonman (played, in Narrative of Recognizable Guest Star Economy fashion, by Dan Bakkedahl) turns out to be a harbinger of things to come in Gotham, and his brief reign of terror is greeted very differently in different parts of the city. Upright law-and-order man Jim Gordon is horrified by the idea – and his speech at the end to Barbara suggests a clear character arc for him in the series, from the man he is now to the one who will eventually be desperate for the Batman's invervention. Carmine Falcone's rival Sal Maroni (played by a clean-shaven David Zayas) is dismayed mainly because this isn't how things should be done in this town (and also because even pedophile priests should be left alone). And young master Wayne(*) looks at the rise and fall of the Balloonman as a case study for vigilante etiquette when it's time to launch the career in that field he's clearly already planning.

(*) Good or bad idea to start referring to him as Lil Wayne?

Between the Balloonman's m.o. this week and the strange and arch nature of the Lili Taylor/Frank Whaley henchpeople last week, it feels like Heller, Cannon and company are looking more to the Tim Burton Bat-movies as a stylistic template than to the Nolan ones(**), which is an unexpected choice, but not necessarily a bad one. It's going to make the tones more difficult to balance over the long haul, but we've seen in the performances by Jada Pinkett Smith and Robin Lord Taylor that the show has room for bigger and stranger characterizations, and the whimsical menace of a killer who floats his victims to death fits in with that while probably keeping the show from drifting into pure Adam West camp.

(**) Or, given Heller's talk about the show being set in an unspecific time period in the past that can incorporate all fashions, technology and automobile design trends as needed, is the appropriate model “Batman: The Animated Series”? That was a (great) show that juggled a very dark tone with occasional moments of strangeness.  

That said, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out, particularly in the way the show tries to juggle all its characters. Now that we've got two episodes (or, at least 10 minutes combined) of her talking, Camren Bicondova is shaping up nicely as our young Catwoman. On the other hand, Oswald committing at least one murder per episode (this week suggests two, given that he not only took the busboy's shoes but got a job at a restaurant that had no openings) continues to be a problem, though we'll see how Jim reacts to his return to Gotham – and possibly to learning about all the people Oswald killed after Jim spared his life – in the next episode. And the attempt to give almost every character a moment in each episode (no shoehorned Nygma cameo this week, at least) at times leaves stories feeling rushed and/or undercooked. There was probably more mileage in the Balloonman case itself – and certainly the episode's liveliest scene was the fight Jim and Harvey got into in the ratty apartment as they followed the trail – but the show has a big ensemble to service, and that's going to take time to figure out.

What did everybody else think? How are you feeling about the many pieces of “Gotham” three weeks in?

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