“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.” -Ezekiel 25:17 according to Quentin Tarantino
“Who Balloons the Balloon Man?” -Anonymous
Episode three of Gotham plays like a comic book adaptation of the Ezekiel 25:17 monologue from Pulp Fiction. It concerns the inequities of the selfish, and the tyranny of evil men as the lost children of Gotham await a shepherd to guide them through the valley of darkness that is their city, vulnerably located between two mountainous crime families.
Of course, things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get any better, as “The Balloonman” presents the class of vigilante hero you get when the worst your city can throw at you is a mob war and some corrupt officials: a dude that goes around covertly shackling douchebags to weather balloons.
The cold open kicks off the three-pronged plot with a procedural crime of the week, a visit to Wayne Manor and an update on Penguin’s origin story. The three arcs are mostly self contained, with a weird TV motif running through each one, adding a sort of aesthetic connecting factor.
In “The Balloonman” televisions of all kinds are used for transitioning between scenes and delivering the exposition that this show so desperately feels it needs to deliver to its audience. The cool thing about the visual chorus of screens is that it gives director Dermott Downs a chance to have fun, but even cooler is that their constant presence brings the episode a sense of inter-connectivity. The three plots are linked in a way that the characters don’t understand, but as a whole have a nice thematic unity.
The crime of the week arc bears the brunt of this episode, starting with a white collar criminal getting sent to the stratosphere thanks to the titular concerned citizen. Victim number one is Arnold Danzer, a millionaire who made his big bucks from ponzi schemes and the best litigation dirty money can buy. He’s promptly chained to a weather balloon by a man in a pig mask (a visual nod to Professor Pyg?) and Gotham says goodbye to a Level 5 Lawful Evil scumbag.
Gordon and Bullock are on the scene the next day, and while the more jaded of the buddy cops would just as soon let all the shitty white collar crooks bite the ozone, Jim is of the position that there’s something necessary about due process. In other words, in a city where citizens are jettisoning bad guys into the sky, who balloons the balloonmen?
The short answer is Bullock. The long answer involves a surprisingly nuanced (for Gotham) discussion of the role that law enforcement plays in a city, but it’s still Bullock.
As the Balloonman purposefully works his way down a list of corrupt public personalities that have evaded the law, Jim and Bullock argue about the brighter sides of convicting innocents for murder, the usefulness of vigilantes and the difference between public threats and personal threats.
It all comes to a conclusion (after a Bullock working the pavement for intel montage) with a back streets confrontation in which the more chaotic of the detectives give the Balloonman a taste of his own helium, chaining him to the final weather balloon.
Partially to prove a point, but mostly because his conscience can’t take the possibility of another mishandled case, Gordon grabs the Balloonman and starts to ascend with him, forcing his partner to pop the bubble with a bullet and bring them both back to earth.
The whole time this is happening, little Bruce Wayne is following the Balloonman’s crime spree in the papers and on TV, clearly finding inspiration in the idea of justice doled out by someone fed up with the slow pace and sketchy results of GCPD investigations. Again, Bruce is mostly here for fan service and the obligatory dramatic irony, but at least this week his scenes have a bit more tact when it comes to characterizing his dealing with the death of his parents.
The Wayne Manor story arc puts a nice button on the Bullock-versus-Gordon ethical dilemma, with Bruce concluding that even though Balloonman got results, he was wrong to kill people. In an ideal world, there would be one incorruptible vigilante, probably dressed up as some sort of – I don’t know – let’s say a bat, who just catches criminals for the police to put through the justice system.
Joking aside, it’s refreshing to finally get an episode that strives for something more than 45 minutes of plot, and the thematic unity was very on-bat-brand. We’re also seeing in “The Balloonman” that Gotham doesn’t need Batman yet, which is a pretty fun space to play in. The argument against Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy is that the Caped Crusader enables madmen like the Joker to emerge. Gotham seems to be floating the idea that the situation isn’t so cut and dry. In order to necessitate the proverbial shepherd to guide the lost children through the valley of darkness, there must be adequate tyranny. As of “The Balloonman” all Gotham really has is an abundance of selfishness.
To birth a Batman, a tyrant has to emerge.
The third arc was unsurprisingly the best. Gotham might still have its problems, but Penguin is not one of them. This week, Oswald Cobblepot returns to Gotham City from exile via coach bus, sees the petty crime and poverty in the day lit streets and says goodbye to his homesickness.
The duck-footed crime lord-to-be finds his way into the kitchen of a restaurant under the thumb of mob boss Sal Maroni, the nega-Carmine Falcone played by David Zayas of Dexter fame. Cobblepot’s maneuvering into this choice position is handled with the kind of show-making performance from Robin Lord Taylor that we’ve come to expect by now. Every move, from murdering a dishwasher for his shoes to casually accepting a bribe from Maroni and playing the “you didn’t see nuttin’” game, is handled with a weird, pathetic and grovelling yet violent confidence that actually makes Gotham feel more like Game of Thrones than a network show struggling to keep my attention.
Of course, as a necessity of the Penguin’s prelude macro-arc there were the Falcone and Mooney scenes in “The Baloonman” and they were still pretty insufferable. Mooney killed her boy toy who suffered a beating last week and ordered a reciprocal strike on Falcone’s current lover, all of which felt like an unnecessary reminder that these jabronis are still in the show and one of them isn’t canon (and therefore potential Penguin food).
Penguin’s B-plot still relegates the show’s strongest elements to the wings, but again, it joins the thematic discussion in a very “we’re gonna need a Batman soon” kind of way. As soon as Bruce Wayne solidifies his thoughts on murder, a healthy dose of good old tyranny comes knocking at Jim Gordon’s door.
The final scene of the episode brings Gordon and Barbara together at the condo, and just when the exposition and feeling-sharing couldn’t get any more boring, a knock at the door brings salvation: It’s a fully tuxedoed Oswald Cobblepot, come to breathe life into Jim’s storyline and fear into the hearts of Gotham’s lost children. The valley of darkness is gonna need its shepherd.
Overall, Gotham seems to be getting slightly better each week. Let’s hope this trend continues.
- The Balloonman actually refers to the citizens of Gotham as lost children in his villainous monologue making the Ezekiel 25:17 reference seems pretty overt.
- When Penguin orders a tuna sandwich after killing one of Mooney’s goons he is surprisingly un-bloodstained. What an efficient killer!
- Once again, the previously-on montage at the top of the episode made last week look way better than it actually was. If Gotham doesn’t improve, I’m betting that a supercut of the episode summaries will at least make for a pretty fun viewing experience.
- Barbara and Detective Montoya from major crimes used to live together as lovers before Gordon hit the dating scene. This is one of those details that needlessly over complicates Gotham’s plot in service of padding out an episode. Barbara shouldn’t have to exist solely as an expository device and an artificial stakes-elevator for when the writers would rather tell us about Gordon rather than show us his struggles.