Gotham, Season 1, Episode 5: “Viper”
Written by Rebecca Perry Cutter
Directed by Tim Hunter
Airs Mondays at 8pm ET on FOX
Gotham has done fairly well, so far, at integrating its cases of the week with its overarching storyline, with last week’s “Arkham” being one of the most momentous episodes yet in moving the season narrative forward, but with “Viper”, the tandem plots fail to blend together with the same consistency. The campy concept of the Viper drug, which gives super strength to its victims before destroying their bone density, could’ve worked if only the writers had decided not to display the victims’ feats of strength with such poorly executed and cartoonish special effects. What Gotham has done well in previous episodes is present a campy idea with a truly gritty noir tone, but the way that these super powered victims are realized, they look more like they belong on the set of Smallville rather than the pulp setting that this series embodies.
Aside from that particular gripe, the episode is fairly good at continuing to build up the mythology of the Gotham series. “Viper” seems to have taken a cue from Batman: the Animated Series and how that series dealt with double-talking corporate executives and their mistreatment of their lower staff (this often led to revenge plots against the executives). The episode introduces WellZyn, a pharmaceutical company that has developed a drug that gives superhuman strength to their subjects, with terrible and deadly side effects. These kinds of experiments are commonplace in the Batman universe and are often the source of super villains and it seems like Gotham will be setting up that possibility for this series. This conceit can work but the show has to really be selective in how it presents the material and not go too far in the camp direction.
In this week’s episode, there is some unique development with Bruce Wayne and Alfred, with Bruce showing signs of truly heroic ideology by not studying the Arkham project to seek revenge, but to better understand the system that is corrupting Gotham City. This is a very interesting take on Bruce, having him understand that revenge will not do anything to resolve his loss of parents and instead attempt to honor his parents by trying to restore their positive influence on the city. It’s a better driving force for the character, as so vigilante justice has so far been presented as misguided and damaging; it makes a fine point as to what type of hero Bruce Wayne actually is and will become. The episode brings to light the importance of Wayne’s mission and reinforces it by having Alfred join him in his quest, aiding in his investigation of the Arkham project despite wanting to chuck the documents into the fire earlier in the episode. David Mazouz is doing remarkably well as Bruce, giving a thoughtful performance with likeable exchanges with Alfred. Sean Pertwee’s portrayal is offering a different kind of Alfred than we’ve seen before and it is one that works really well for this series. The dynamic is fun to watch develop, as is following Alfred as he learns how to take care of Bruce.
Although the Penguin plot in the episode feels unnecessarily drawn out, there is some validity in how it brings out a different side of Sal Maroni. David Zayas shines in this episode; previously we saw a tender side to Maroni as he warmed up to Oswald Cobblepot, but here we see how easily he can turn the knife, not just once, but a few times during the episode.
The Fish Mooney plot is broadening as some light is shed on her plan A, which is her partnership with Russian goon Niccolai (Jeremy Davidson), as well as her plan B, sharpening her weapon of Liza (Mackenzie Leigh). Her plan to get Falcone began when she put a hit out on his girlfriend, knocking her out of commission and making an opening for Liza to take advantage of. Fish is playing all her angles and Jada Pinkett Smith is giving a deliberate and concentrated performance that keeps the audience invested in her and the series as a whole.
The Case File: The Viper drug distributor
The case of the week is possibly the weakest part of the episode (as mentioned earlier, the superhuman threat feels out of place). The dynamic between Gordon and Harvey remains the defining pairing of the series and they play off each other well here, particularly in the beginning of the episode as Gordon wants to answer calls of alarm while Bullock just wants to enjoy his lunch hour. The main villain of the episode is Stan Potolsky (Daniel London), another vigilante terrorist with his own idea of how to achieve justice in Gotham City. It can get pretty grating that citizens keep resorting to heinous violent acts in order to get their message across, but that tends to be the thesis of the show: Gotham is a city of desperate souls that are so corrupt that even those fighting against its evils must resort to criminal acts. Daniel London as a villain isn’t given that much depth on screen, as most of his story is told second hand, but he does give a serviceable performance, as do the other super powered victims in the episode.
The real villain of the episode, and most likely one that will continue on, is the WellZyn pharmaceutical company, as well as the Wayne Enterprise board members that have taken control of it since the Waynes’ untimely demise. This brings yet another possible culprit to the Wayne murders. Are these board members in cahoots with Falcone or are they in it for themselves?
The episode is written by another member of The Mentalist writing staff, Rebecca Perry Cutter, who does well enough trying to blend the main mythology story together with the case of the week. It’s not entirely successful- when Gordon enters into the Penguin plot, it feels forced and doesn’t integrate with the Viper plot in any meaningful way. The direction by Tim Hunter is decent and maintains the tone of the series, but it’s in the super powered Viper victim scenes where the episode is weakest. The highlight of the episode is the end, when Carmine Falcone meets Liza and they sit and listen to her iPod together as the camera pans up to a beautiful tree line, followed then by a smoggy cityscape, capturing in an image the dark magnificence of Gotham City.
- Gordon spotting Selina Kyle and exclaiming “YOU!!” is very funny.
- The Viper gas is the same green color of the Joker’s laughing gas in Tim Burton’s Batman.
- The second iteration of the Viper drug, with all the kinks worked out, is called Venom, which is the same drug that Bane is known to use as his source of power. Are they setting up a possible Bane appearance in a future episode?
- Harvey’s delivery of “What did you expect? It’s Gotham!” is reminiscent of “Forget it, Jake! It’s Chinatown,” another purposeful nod to the show’s noir inspiration.
- Donal Logue remains one of the highlights of the series with his great comic delivery of lines like, “What’s altruism!?!”
- Edward Nigma’s fascination with the effects of the Viper drug seems very sinister. Perhaps a foreshadowing things to come.
- According to IMDB, the next episode, “Spirit of the Goat”, is written by fan favorite Ben Edlund, which might mean a lighter and more fun episode, which would be a nice change of pace.