Gotham seemed to be improving with ‘Selina Kyle’ and I was willing to give the series the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this week’s episode, ‘The Balloonman’ returned the series to its lackluster form. While there are still some good moments interspersed through the episode, these are overshadowed by the mediocre writing and poor episode structure.
This episode’s crime of the week involves a vigilante killer and the murder of a corrupt banker. The man has an interesting method: he ties his victims to a weather balloon and lets them fly. Named the ‘Balloonman’ by Gotham’s media, the killer has the support of the general Gotham public. Gordon, being the only good guy on the entire police force, wants to hunt down the murderous vigilante. Bullock wants to let him clean up the streets a little bit. For some reason, Bullock gets to decide which cases he does and does not want to investigate. This causes tension as he purposefully avoids working on the case. Once again, the series overdoes how corrupt the police force is in Gotham. Why are the lead detectives on a case allowed to just not investigate the murders if they don’t feel like it? It makes it really hard to care about any of the cases or characters with such over-the-top corruption.
The writing in the episode generally falls flat, with some absolutely abysmal lines of dialogue. At one point in the investigation Gordon has to enter a sewer. When he is confronted by the Major Crimes Unit, Crispus Allen (played by Andrew Stewart-Jones) tells him “Here’s a tip: take a shower. You stink like a sewer.” This is just one example of the groan-inducing dialogue permeating the series. Another issue I have with the series is that it tries to link everything back to Bruce Wayne and his future war on crime. There are some pretty obvious parallels here with the introduction of Gotham’s first vigilante hero. However, the show seems intent on beating viewers over the head with the fact Bruce Wayne will one day become Batman. The news asks who the next vigilante will be. The Balloonman says there will be more vigilantes like him. We get it.
Once again, the saving grace for the show is Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot and the promise of greater things to come. Cobblepot is evolving as a criminal and decides to make his return to Gotham City. He’s shown as a ruthless killer, a begging coward, and a conniving genius throughout the episode and Taylor brings plenty of depth to the multifaceted character. After stiff performances from Mckenzie and Bicondova, Taylor’s perfect execution is a much needed relief.
Cobblepot brings up the upcoming war for Gotham that only he can see coming again and I found this to be the most interesting part of the episode. Who are the sides? Why does the name Arkham keep showing up? These mysteries are subtly presented throughout the episode and the subtlety is greatly appreciated. When a show repeatedly points out its own references, any subtlety is a breath of fresh air.
Gotham is a series that’s struggling to come into its own. It’s being weighed down by the Batman legacy rather than benefiting from it. At this point, even the most avid Batman fans would be forgiven for dropping this series.