This week’s episode of Gotham was all about the good things in life: food, sex, and drugs. And also Lil’ Baby Brucy doing detective work like a real grown-up Batman, plus the kind of drug-addled super-villainy that you expect find with a real grown-up Batman. But mostly it’s about food, sex, and drugs.
Street Buskin’ Man is doing his thang, busking on the streets with some really impressive acoustic guitar pickups, when The Man With The Mangled Ear drops some change into his guitar case. But his change ain’t the metal kind—it’s a little green vial that says “Breathe Me,” which, of course, Street Buskin’ Man does. The drug sends him into a rage not unlike someone on Bath Salts, or possibly someone named Bane, and he ends up robbing a convenience store. First he chugs a gallon of milk, then he steals an ATM. As in, he literally strong-arms the ATM itself and physically carries it out of the convenience store in perhaps the most laughably bad scene this show has done so far.
Fortunately, our Odd Couple Cops are right nearby, chowing down on what Bullock says are the best burgers in Gotham. Needless to say, Bullock is even less happy about giving up his lunch break than he was about Gordon refusing pickles on his hamburger, and bam, they’re on the case. And just as if someone read my complaint last week about Bullock allows “going to talk to a guy” and hitting up his underworld contacts, Bullock and Gordon take to the streets of Gotham with a photograph of Street Buskin’ Man, asking if anyone’s seen him. It’s nice to see them both got out there and do some impact police work in the community, and it’s even better seeing Gordon reluctantly slip a ten dollar bill to a girl for information, like he’s starting to get the hang of it.
They track their guy, who’s going through some serious withdrawal, and just as he’s about to throw the ATM at them…his bones crumble into dust, and he’s crushed to death. Street Buskin’ Man, we hardly knew ye. Turns out the drug was called “Viper,” and it was an earlier and imperfect version of a super-soldier serum known as “Venom” (which astute Bat-fans know as the drug that fuels Bane), which in turn was developed by WellZyn, a pharmaceutical company owned by Wayne Enterprises. Nygma explains some science-y stuff about calcium, which is why the drug users crave milk and cheese, and why their bones ultimately brittle and turn to dust. But WellZyn’s lawyer doesn’t want you to know any of that, because she doesn’t want the company to be held liable for the fact that The Man With The Mangled Ear is actually a disgruntled former employee named Stanley Potolsky, or that he’s been handing out free samples of Viper all over Gotham. WHOOPS.
Concurrently, in subplot land, Bruce Wayne refuses to go on walks with Alfred, committing himself instead to putting together one of those sprawling murder investigation walls and educating himself about the state of corruption and politics in Gotham, particularly as it pertains to his parents and the extant Wayne Enterprises. Fish Mooney, meanwhile, teaches Liza the Singing Girl how to act and sing and generally be her “secret weapon” in taking down Falcone by exploiting his Oedipal Complex. Eek. She also seduces Nikolai, one of Falcone’s other lieutenants who similarly aspires to replace Falcone. Girl’s got plans.
Speaking of Falcone, he’s none too pleased about having to share the Arkham City holdings with Maroni. Maroni thinks this is hilarious and decides that it would be an opportune time to rob one of Falcone’s casinos, too, just to rub it in. Cobblepot insinuates himself into the conversation, this time introducing himself as “Penguin,” a name that Maroni quite likes. Cobblepot offers to help Maroni with his heist, and in a moment of foolish pride, begins to reveal the truth about his past involvement with Fish, Falcone, and Gordon.
Maroni responds to this revelation by smashing Cobblepot’s head into the table. He sends Frankie out to find Gordon and bring him back to the restaurant to confirm Cobblepot’s story, and if their two versions of the story don’t line-up, well, Maroni’s going to turn ‘em both into prosciutto (no, but actually). Maroni sips negroni and listens to the radio, while Jim Gordon sings “Don’t You Remember?” and then relates the events of the pilot episode to the tune of “We Built This City On Rock ’N’ Roll.”
Okay so maybe he didn’t he didn’t actually sing (although the negroni and prosciutto stuff was real), but he did come clean with Maroni, who did say, “You rat! You snitch! You gorgeous turncoat sonuvabitch!” to Cobblepot, which is close enough. Maroni accepts Cobblepot as his new sidekick, and lets Jim Gordon live and get back to work. Of course, now he has Gordon in his pocket, too.
Back at the police station, Bullock and Gordon bond some more as they sort through evidence in the Viper case. Bullock reminds us that Barbara Kean is the name of a character that sometimes appears on the show at or around the half-hour mark to deliver exposition in a fancy dress while sipping on a glass of wine. Instead, the exposition job is given to Stan Potolsky’s former college philosophy professor, who explains that Potolsky lost his job at WellZyn because he was morally opposed to developing pharmaceutical weapons and went over the heads of the company to ask Thomas and Martha Wayne directly to shut the project down. WellZyn began developing the perfected Venom serum again after the Waynes’ death, and Potolsky decided that the best way to stop the development of chemical weapons would be to…hand them out on the street for free in hopes that people would see the damage they could do? Whatever, ‘cause Feeble Old Philosophy Professor is close to death anyway so he pops some Viper and Banes out on Bullock and Gordon.
Potolsky, meanwhile, plans his big public anti-chemical-weapons reveal at a Wayne Enterprises charity event. Young Bruce is there as well, and he sits down with an executive named named Miss Mathis and confronts her with accusations of “irregularities” that he’s discovered regarding the Arkham project. But before they can schedule a formal meeting where a depressed orphaned 12-year-old could lecture the Wayne Board about the state of corruption and shady business dealings that have been going on in the name of his parents, Potolsky interrupts with a big broadcast explaining his evil altruistic plans. Gordon and Bullock find him just as he begins to pump the Viper into the charity event; Gordon puts a bullet through the tank of poisonous gas, which ends up overdosing Potolsky who tells them to look for the truth in Warehouse 39….and then jumps to his death.
On the downside, Miss Mathis had already cleared out Warehouse 39 by the time that Bullock and Gordon get there.
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown” “What’d you expect? It’s Gotham,” Bullock says, as Mathis watches them from a distance. On the upside, the episode ends with a touching moment where Alfred sits down and helps Bruce dig into his detective work and research.
Whereas “Balloonman” gave us our first taste of a gimmicky Gotham villaingilante (you like that word? I made it up), “Viper” introduced the classic Batman villain trope of chemical mutations and madness. In general, I think this episode found a decent balance between the campiness of “Balloonman” and the generic crime drama of “Arkham”; it embraced its comic book roots and tone, but didn’t lose sight of the street level crime story.
Some of you might be saying, “Isn’t ‘villaingilante’ kind of redundant, since most vigilantes operate illegally and/or with a dark streak?” In which case, you’re not wrong. But these vigilante antagonists on Gotham so far are still painted in broad strokes as baddie-of-the-week, hence the emphasis on the “villain” part. It’s not until they get their mustache-twirling-speech at the end of the episode that we learn that Viper Potolsky (or Balloonman, for that matter) is actually altruistically murdering people. These reveals are less about moral ambiguity than they are about an 11th hour “but ARE they evil?” twist. Certainly each successive week has been an improvement on the last when it comes to Gotham’s use of nuance, but I hope to see Bullock and Gordon actually grapple with difficult moral decisions, rather than just be told that everything’s morally grey.
Maybe I’m also just saying that because I love seeing Bullock and Gordon bond more—from Bullock showing concern about Gordon’s lovelife, to Gordon learning how to bribe a witness. What is now a fine show would improve vastly if the drama came from the characters instead, and we got to see both Bullock and Gordon together face their own respective flaws and beliefs, so we could see who they really are inside. We get some of that with Gordon, though it’s mostly only as the plot demands it—but even then, we hardly saw him react to his maybe-breakup with Barbara, except for that one throwaway line. But speaking of—man, do I want to see Donal Logue work his chops some more.
I’d also like to see a little more variety in plot structure and resolution of the week-by-week cases, because five episodes in, it’s been pretty much the same main-action conclusion every time.
David Mazouz as Young Bruce Wayne was the breakout performer of the week by far, and I particularly enjoyed watching him face down Miss Mathis about board room corruption. It’s a common sight in Batman stories to see Wayne Enterprises run off the rails without Grown-Up Bruce actively at the helm, so it’s a nice twist to see how this same situation works out when Bruce is just a kid and therefore has absolutely no pull with the company. The board room politics of Wayne Enterprises already feels like more specific and interesting to me than the general “everything is corrupt” approach that the show has taken so far. Corporations still need make a profit, and it makes it more complicated when Bruce’s own finances are tied up in that as well in ways that might yet be over his head. Again with the bigger moral stakes, a corporation can do very altruistic work, which is funded by some less-than-altruistic ventures. Please keep heading this way, show. Pretty please?
And finally: Go Team Gobblepot! I hope that Gordon uses his new uneasy friendship with Maroni to help clean up the streets. That’s the kind of moral greys I want to see!
- “What’s altruism?” may have been Bullock’s best line yet
- Seriously, what was with the food references?
- Lil’ Brucy is a baller.
So…are we gonna see Bane, or what?!
- Are those Murder Walls actually a thing that get created in real life by criminals and detectives alike? Or is it a thing writers to connect their own plot points, so they all figure it just makes sense for criminals and detectives to do the same?
- I hate the fact that I’m so incredibly annoyed with both Barbara and Fish Mooney, since they’re two of the main female characters on the show. I feel pretty confident that my distaste has less to do with gender than with poor writing (which itself might have to do with gender), but I still feel bad for being so dismissive and eye-roll-y towards them.
- The real upside of Barbara’s absence is that I didn’t accidentally write her name as “Neal” instead of “Kean” and draw further ire from ChristopherLBennett.
- Speaking of typos, however, I do continue to type “Maroni” as “Marconi,” which surprisingly nothing to do with my unnecessary Starship reference in the recap.
- We got our first real glimpse at Evil Eddie Nygma, as he watched with glee while one of the Viper victims went insane and crumbled into dust.
- Like Salvatore Maroni, I, too, love negronis.
- In case you, for some strange reason, actually missed seeing Barbara Gordon this week, I brought you a present:
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.