GOTHAM Recap: “The Balloonman”

     October 6, 2014

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Gotham’s got a long way to go before infamous villains like the Penguin, Two-Face, and the Riddler step into the spotlight.  So where do we start instead?  We start with “The Balloonman,” a moniker which is both the title of tonight’s episode and the nickname of the series’ first vigilante.  This hour was a big test for the Batman prequel series since it’s still trying to figure out whether or not it’s a hard-boiled noir drama or a heightened, comicbook version of the real world.  I’m happy to say that I think Gotham is starting to find its tone, as this episode featured some much-needed laugh-out-loud moments amongst the doom and gloom, and began to fully embrace its cartoonish qualities.  There are still some glitches to be sure, but Gotham is … more than just hot air.

Hit the jump for my Gotham recap.

Honestly, “The Balloonman” could have easily gone very, very wrong.  When your “Case of the Week” revolves around a disgruntled man who ties corrupt citizens to weather balloons in order to lift (and eventually drop) them to their deaths, playing it straight as a razor would bring the whole thing to a screeching halt.  Instead, Gotham fully commits to this zany premise and even becomes self-referential about it.  Let’s break it down a bit.

gotham-balloonman-ben-mckenzieGordon’s Quest

Ben McKenzie still needs a bit more time to warm up to playing Jim Gordon, but this hour helped him a little further along that road.  He starts off stilted and wooden, grinding his teeth through exposition-filled dialogue with a seeming inability to unfurrow his brow.  His best scenes are opposite Donal Logue, which should come without a surprise since they share the most screen time together and are diametrically opposed characters by design.  McKenzie also brings a softer side to Jim Gordon in his scenes with Barbara (Erin Richards), who gets him to calm down, take a breath, and act like a human being.  Here’s hoping he continues to fill out his version of Gordon in the weeks to come.

As far as the episode’s plot goes, Gordon finds it a little harder to stick to his honor this time around since the pain-in-the-ass detectives of the MCU have been tipped off that Gordon was the one who offed Cobblepot.  This puts Gordon in the unenviable position of being under Bullock’s protective (and dirty) wing.  Still, Gordon refuses to budge, even as his antagonists are starting to build walls around him.  His steadfast crimefighting nature goes further than (literally) taking down the Balloonman, as in decrying any similar vigilantes (nice wink toward the future here).  McKenzie also has a nice moment at the episode’s end in which he realizes why the citizens of Gotham embraced the Balloonman so easily: they were desperate for someone, anyone, who stood up for the weak and the innocent, believing all of the city’s authorities to be 100% corrupt.  If nothing else, this case served to further strengthen Gordon’s resolve.

gotham-balloonman-donal-logue-ben-mckenzieBullock’s Path to Redemption (or Not)

Luckily, Boy Scout Gordon has the down-and-dirty Bullock as a partner.  Logue has some fantastic scenes that really upped the entertainment value of this particular episode.  He gets a great montage that features Bullock flirting with prostitutes, roughing up thugs, chowing down on street food, and even fighting a brawny lady of the night (I literally laughed out loud at this part, so good for them).  This Odd Couple shtick is just getting better each week and it’s easily the best part of the show.

I actually find myself more sympathetic towards Bullock than I thought I’d be.  Can you blame the guy for being a little scummy?  Gotham, as a city, lacks the resources to rescue its citizens from balloons … BALLOONS!  Instead, they’re happy to just let the frozen corpses smash into old ladies in the streets.  Bullock is just a product of his environment, and he’s doing whatever he needs to do to survive.  There’s no more telling moment of this trait than when Bullock actually shows a bit of favor toward the vigilante who’s doing the crimefighting for him, yet another interesting contrast between him and Gordon.  Though I wouldn’t expect Bullock to walk the straight and narrow any time soon.

Wayne’s Coming-of-Age

We get a nice scene or two between Bruce and Alfred in this episode, a pair that sorely needed some on-screen chemistry building.  The best moment was a bit of cane fencing between the two.  Sure it felt a bit off at times, but it was both sweet and telling of their future together.  David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee are still figuring each other out, but they’re coming along slowly but surely.

There’s nothing slow about the seeding of the psyche of young Bruce, however.  This vigilante business has surely made an impression on the hero-to-be.  Whether it was the possibility of being a vigilante or the popularity of the Balloonman with the common citizens that had more of an effect on Bruce, there’s clearly some foreshadowing going on.  Thankfully, Gotham will (eventually) boast a better class of vigilante than a middle-aged caseworker who ties folks to weather balloons.

gotham-balloonman-robin-lord-taylorPenguin’s Rise to Power

This was a fun hour for Penguin, wasn’t it?  The episode opens with Cobblepot stepping off a bus and witnessing a number of petty crimes on the city streets, to which he grins and says, “Home.”  Penguin’s got himself a little Scarface arc going on, as he takes out a local thug who recognizes him and wants to turn him in for some cash, then cuts down a dishwasher just for a pair of shoes and a steady job.  He’s ruthless and psychotic (and a fan of tuna fish), and these traits lead him to making acquaintances with rival mob boss, Don Maroni (David Zayas).  This relationship has just begun, but I’m sure it’s got a long way to go.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Penguin, who was supposedly executed by Gordon, shows up on Gordon’s doorstep! (Though it was technically Barbara’s, but that’s okay I guess. Have we even seen Gordon’s place yet?)  Nice to see him more Penguiny this time around.  It was way too early in the series to expect a reunion between these two, so props to the writers on the cliffhanger.  I only hope they know how to continue the arc from here on out.

Rating: B

Miscellanea:

  • Ah, perhaps the Balloonman’s pig mask was the promo that had people wondering if Professor Pyg would be making an appearance…
  • Gordon is … not so great at looking after kids. I’m glad Cat is free to roam the streets again though.
  • Alfred on the Balloonman: “I can think of an easier way to kill someone.” Indeed.
  • The noir cinematography remains strong in this series, even if it gets a bit washed out in CG effects on occasion.
  • I don’t know what this show is trying to do with Montoya and Barbara.  It’s bad enough that they only talk about Gordon (who also suggests some mystery in her past), but now it’s out in the open that they were in a lesbian relationship in the past.  Seems like either they don’t know what to do with them, or I’m ignorant of some comicbook storylines.
  • Gordon’s flashes of inspiration or deus ex machina are already tired.  It’s fine for now, but if they want to continue the Case of the Week format, they’ll need some stronger crime writing.  This level of detective work won’t fly when the Riddler comes to power.

How are you feeling about Gotham so far?  Be sure to let us know in the comments!

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GOTHAM Recap

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