Gotham Season 1, Episode 3: ‘The Balloonman’
Written by John Stephens
Directed by Dermott Downs
Airs Mondays at 8pm ET on FOX
Last week, Gotham explored the crime and corruption of the Gotham City government. On this week’s episode, “The Balloonman,” we are presented with the first signs of retaliation against that rising corruption, in the form of a homicidal vigilante. The vigilante hero is an important aspect of the Batman mythology, and it’s surprising that the show would address it so early on in the series without Wayne behind the mask, but the show does add its own twist by making this vigilante hero more like a villain than a savior. This episode also continues to dole out plot threads from last week’s episode without really adding too much, other than more tension. The building tension continues to rise up until the end of the episode, wherein things appear to finally be coming to a head, with Oswald Cobblepot making Gordon aware of his return to Gotham City.
The slow paced overarching storyline within a “case of the week” narrative structure is working well for the series so far. Although notably drawn out, there is promise of a satisfying boiling point that is sure to be worthwhile. The episode offers fine performances by Mooney and Falcone, as well as from the Gordon and Bullock partner dynamic. Ben McKenzie’s facial expressions alone are particularly fun to watch; all that is needed now is that he grow out that trademark Gordon mustache and don his glasses. Gordon’s moral dilemma against the Police Department’s corruption remains the soul of the series, as we are following Gordon’s example and integrity. The hard part is getting the Gotham City Police Department on his side, because even the clean cops in Major Crimes, Montoya and Allen, don’t like or trust Gordon. But Gordon is making leeway and affecting the system to some small degree, and it appears that the more successful he is, the further he will have to fall when he inevitably is overtaken by the corruption of Gotham City himself, which is where one suspects the series may be heading by season’s end.
Gotham has been taking many liberties with the Batman mythology, and one of the series’ least commended use of its creative license is in their interpretation of Gordon’s wife, Barbara Kean, who in the comic books is simply named Barbara Eileen Gordon. The direction the show has decided to take her character in is mildly interesting, as they have decided to incorporate a lesbian history that is normally linked to another Batman character, Katherine Kane (who in the comic book universe fights crime as Batwoman). It was hinted in earlier episodes that Kean had a romantic history with Renee Montoya of the Major Crimes Unit, and in this episode it is made clear that their relationship is made to simulate that of Kane and Montoya’s. The uneven chemistry between the two actresses may be the main reason why this plot hasn’t worked as well as the show would’ve wanted, as both Erin Richards and Victoria Cartagena give very soapy and overstated performances, which reflects poorly on both of them. Despite those particular scenes, Erin Richards shows some range as Barbara Kean, and her performance tends to improve noticeably when she is playing against Gordon, as opposed to Montoya.
This Gotham incarnation of Oswald Cobblepot (AKA the Penguin) colors the character with pale meekness in his appearance, but with the capability of being on the edge of a violent act, which brings to mind the characterization of the Penguin from the film Batman Returns. Robin Lord Taylor really makes the character his own when he is allowed to break away from the clichés of the Penguin elements, as the choices he makes to the character are more interesting than when the show has him play into the Penguin role. For example, watching him in the opening of “The Balloonman”, looking around at the crime and sleaze of Gotham City and smiling, glad to be home again, is much more of a compelling character moment than just watching him waddle around like a pasty penguin. Hopefully, as the season progresses, the show will tone down the homage aspects to allow the character to grow unto itself.
The Case File: The Balloonman Vigilante
At the core of The Balloonman case is the ideology of justice and the complexity of whether the ends justify the means. The motivation behind The Balloonman character Davis Lamand (Dan Bakkadahl) symbolizes the Gotham citizens’ weariness of the corruption in the law system that plagues Gotham, and his response is to punish the guilty with a creative and colorfully heightened form of death. Although The Balloonman’s actions are meant to combat the corruption, he realizes by the episode’s end that his tactic will not solve the issue, because his targets were all symptoms, and the cause is impossible to solve. The murder spree that The Balloonman presents in this episode may fall a little too far over into the side of campy-ness with its theatrical and gimmicky means of death, but nevertheless, the execution of the murders still fall close enough to the gritty realism of the show that it is still acceptable as part of the show’s aesthetic. This may very well be the series’ way of testing the waters of where it wants to takes it villainy in future episodes, as Davis Lamand warns Gordon that there will be others like him.
As for ongoing questions, Selina Kyle’s eyewitness testimony proves to be true enough, with potential to identify the murderer. At least, it may have, if Kyle hadn’t escaped Gordon’s custody. Arkham comes up again, and this time from the mouth of Sal Maroni, who Falcone claims is trying to make a power play as the new Crime boss. Could Arkham be the key to Maroni’s plan to take control of Gotham City?
There is a distinct shift in the writing with this episode, as it is not as sharp as previous ones had been. That could be due to the episode having a different writer, John Stephens, who tends more towards declarative statements rather than working subtly in dialogue. He really hits messages home, like having Wayne state his assessment of The Balloonman aloud, that because he killed criminals it made him into one as well; having The Balloonman become a victim of his own weather balloon death trap had made that clear already.
The filming is notably different as well, but still able to maintain the integrity of the show’s production. The grimy city still looks gritty, although appearing sleeker than it did under Danny Cannon’s eye. There are scenes in Gordon’s apartment that seem brighter than usual, but that may have been because there were more scenes set during the daytime in this episode. The strengths of Dermott Downs’ direction is in the composition of action sequences, which are particularly dynamic when shown in montage scenes, like Bullock beating up a guy under a bridge. The growing cast of characters that make up the peripheral of Gotham community are impressively colorful. The world of Gotham has many great faces, from the news reporter to the balloon seller eyewitness and local goons. Lieutenant Bill Cranston, even as short lived a character as he was, still had a strong presence that left as hefty impression on the screen as it did on the sidewalks of Gotham City.
- Could Lt. Bill Cranston have been named as a nod to Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Gordon in the DC Animated film Batman: Year One?
- The Balloonman’s mask during his first kill is strangely similar to that of Grant Morrison’s Professor Pyg character, from his run on the Batman comic books.
- Some headlines on the Gotham Gazette: “Transit Strike Imminent” and “Arkham Vote Neck and Neck”
- In the Montoya and Kean scene, Montoya hit the word “Question” pretty hard in the dialogue. One wonders if this is in reference to her taking up the mantle of The Question in DC’s New 52 continuity. I may be reading too much into that one.
- Next week, it looks like Gordon’s chickens have finally come home to roost. What does Cobblepot have in store for Gordon, and who let him into the high-rise building anyway?