Let's keep this week's review for GOTHAM short and sweet. I'll be doing bullet points this time around to save both of us the trouble in exploring my thoughts and insights. Besides, the entirety of Viper was pretty fucking fantastic, actually. This was almost as exciting and enchanting as the pilot episode had been, if not more so. I want to use this opportunity then to deliver a review that's more compact yet still very substantial as this episode has pleasantly been. This might be my favorite of the season so far. The plot was very comic book-y in the most delightful way; the characterizations and performances were engaging (the actors are more at home with their roles at this point); and the pacing and tonality were just superb. Let's do a rundown, shall we?
- I'm quite okay that Gotham as a show set in a pre-Batman era wants to set itself apart by applying 'gritty' 'realism' in their stories but even Nolan's own cinematic trilogy allowed for some of the more pronounced comic-book elements to seep in, and finally the show has started to walk near that territory. The resulting effect is a rather thrilling one. I sincerely believe that this show could benefit in the long run if they meet a balance between the Nolan grit and grim and that Burtonesque appeal that's both somber and campy while still becoming its own unique animal in the process. This week's episode showed that they can go down that path and still stick its landing. The formulaic freak-of-the-week installment so far had brought us villains that are as conflicted as the tonality of the episodes themselves and Viper gave us one who may even have stepped out of a comic book page himself, considering the method in which he infects his victims with a serum that gives them superhuman strength. The Bane connection is instant (especially with the few "venom" name-dropping here and there) and the imagery of a green-colored airborne substance people inhale which then turns them berserk is reminiscent of the laugh gas employed by no other than the Joker. Gotham shouldn't be afraid to do more of this, considering their source material. Sure, Batverse is a dark and scary world but it's also filled with an array of colorful, dizzyingly maniacal and otherworldly rogues that personify cartoonish awesomeness; Gotham is a city of 'freaks' where the imagination and utter insanity can run wild, producing bold strokes of entertaining stories. Personally, an episode like Viper gives me hope that the writers will take more fearless measures from now on to incorporate more elements found in the Batman comic books that made their appeal so timeless and universal in the first place. So carry on, please. We need more villains with nefarious grand schemes and bizarre methods of crime.
- I think this is also the first time in the series where Ben McKenzie's James Gordon is becoming the moustached commish I know and love from the comics. The broody, self-righteous and morally upright portrayal of a young Jimmy in this show is something I can get on board still, but it does get a little played-out whenever he always has to make some sort of moral argument as he goes about solving cases. This episode toned down that aspect of his personality and that's probably because Gordon himself for once can't offer any justification for the acts of the criminal they're trying to apprehend. This is also the first time I buy his deductive reasoning as he pursues the investigation with partner Harvey Bullock. There is just something refreshingly pleasant about Gordon in this episode and that's probably because he had stopped trying to impose a higher set of standards about everything by this point; for himself, his partner, his line of work, his encounters with other people. I hope this continues because it's his gratingly constant moralizing that often makes Gordon less entertaining and enjoyable. I really think viewers have to like him first (and I honestly don't know if I do even if I acknowledge the pivotal role he plays in the show). This episode finally put him in circumstances where he can't moralize or judge too harshly. If this keeps up, we might even get a different development for this character, one that is more true to who Commissioner Gordon has been in the comics' canon for decades now.
- Harvey Bullock, I believe, is becoming rather fond of Gordon by now. He even expresses unexpected interest and concern about his partner's relationship with Barbara. I am really enjoying the natural progression of their relationship and they definitely have a better grip of things as they solve crimes together. How awesome was that scene when the elderly college professor inhaled some venom and threw Bullock against the door then tries to choke him? Actor Donal Logue has been splendid all throughout, especially the way he reacts to things (the expression on his face when a venomed-up guy lifts up an ATM machine before him was priceless!). He also has the best one-liners of the episode: ("We're Homicide but it's our lunch time"; "I will help you die faster, you terrorist!" and, let's not forget the amusing quip: "What's altruism?" which I thought was really funny, considering he knows what 'lackadaisical' means episodes ago but not 'altruism'). Like Gordon, he stopped counter-arguing with Gordon's moralizing which is healthy for these partners because now they're helping each other out. However, Gordon needs to make sure Bullock doesn't find out about the fact that he didn't kill Cobblepot in the pilot episode just as Falcone ordered. But how long could that secret stay buried anyway? I'm really excited to see how Bullock reacts to this.
- Speaking of Penguin, Robin Lord Taylor continues to be the show's best asset but this episode has done a great job of slowing him down on his tracks by making him commit quite a misstep when he revealed to Salvatore Maroni so easily who he really is. I was doubtful of Maroni's ready acceptance of Oswald last episode but now it made more sense, considering how he was characterized at this point. One moment he was congenial with Oswald, spoiling him and taking him into his confidence and the next he's beating his face against the table and ordering his henchmen to put Oswald's face in the slicer in case his story doesn't check out. I thought that was quite a lovely paradox, enhancing Maroni's volatile and unpredictable personality. Actor David Zayas has finally stepped up to the plate and he was such a joy to watch on screen the entire time with his perfect mixture of glibness and bluntness. The confrontation between him and Gordon as he casually interviews him to validate Oswald's story was played just right. It was intense yet light-hearted especially once Maroni got the confirmation that he needs and he's back to patting Oswald like a master would do to a good pet. Now that Maroni knows Gordon's secret, he has placed himself in a formidable position against the other man and Gordon may be forced to walk on eggshells around Maroni to appease him while ensuring that Bullock and Falcone still believes that Gordon is still one of their own. I bet Gordon wishes he did kill Oswald Cobblepot, and now he's getting further into messy situations that could have been avoided if he only pulled the trigger.
- The villain of this week's episode is Stan Potolski, a disgruntled scientist who used to design pharmaceutical weapons and has now decided to expose the citizens of the city to the evils of WellZyn corporation, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, by giving away the custom-designed drug known as Viper. When he doesn't get the attention he needs for the radical awakening he was expecting, he targets the most influential and wealthiest of Gotham during a charity event hosted by Wayne Enterprises. In the previous episode, I was disappointed of how the Arkham storyline was introduced into the show and I was hoping that we'll be getting a more nuanced exploration of that in the succeeding episodes. But, for now, I was quite surprised yet pleased that it looks like Wayne Enterprises may be portrayed as a villainous entity for this show as I have theorized during my review of the second episode. It's a fascinating angle for the very legacy of Thomas and Martha Wayne to be exploited by the corporation, where certain people inside that circle are using the Wayne family's power and resources to fund dangerous and illegal experiments and activities. Falcone did hint that the death of Thomas and Martha was a continental shift in the power struggle for the city's soul and this may have something to do with that. All that's left to figure out is if Thomas and Martha are completely unaware of this before OR they may be the perpetrators themselves. I personally do not want the latter because that would ruin what was established in the canon for Batman, but I would still be open to that distressing possibility and how Bruce himself would react if he uncovers such an ugly truth. I'll be watching this plot thread very closely now.
- David Mazouz as the young Bruce Wayne was finally given more material to justify his continued appearances in every episode. Here we see him taking more action with a hard-edged assertiveness, obsessing not just about his parents' murder but the implications and conspiracies that may have led to it. He's asking questions and he's connecting events through research. Yes, all this detective work is familiar and canonical for his character. Mazouz's Bruce is also showing maturity beyond his years which was unexpected yet beautiful to witness because it sort of speeds up the character's transformation which meant that we may get to see at least more indications in the next episode that this is the boy is truly going to become Gotham's savior one day. Meanwhile, Sean Pertwee's Alfred continues to shine because underneath all that gruff and dismissive outer shell is a caring and nurturing man who will support his young master every step of the way, and the deftness of such loving devotion was spectacularly magnified in this week's episode. I teared up in their last scene, I'm not going to lie. I admit that their relationship has to be the brightest corner of the show.
- Fish Mooney trains her secret weapon in shape of a woman named Liza who is the blank slate that Mooney is hoping to accomplish great things from. Their scenes together in the episode are juicy snippets that are memorable enough to sustain the interest and curiosity of viewers. The revelation that she's also working with another one of Falcone's men is not surprising. As a woman who desires to seize power in organized crime, sex must be used as a reliable weapon. I know for a fact that she seduced this other man by making him believe that she will be servicing him both as his consort and right hand once Falcone is out of the game. I also know that Mooney will dispose of him once he outlived his usefulness and then crown herself as the sole queen in the end. On the other side of the chessboard, Maroni steals from Falcone with the help of Cobblepot. Sooner or later a clash will happen and both sides will reveal their cards. I can't wait until Mooney figures out that Cobblepot lives. That piece of information is a ticking bomb. Gordon will be thrown into that mix and will further complicate his relationship with Barbara.
- Said girlfriend doesn't appear in this episode which was okay. Selina Kyle being in here didn't have an impact on the plot at all which was wasteful for the young actress. The Major Crimes Unit is also a no-show and, again, this was okay. Hell, Edward Nygma felt a more realistic character now rather than an easter egg. The actor is not just creeping in the background for the sake of it. That scene where he watches one of the Venom's victims die as he mutters "fascinating" repeatedly was great, actually, and I wonder if we'll be getting scenes of him taking a more active role in bizarre cases because his dormant trickster nature is going to be emerging soon. I just hope they utilize this character better and his appearance in this episode is the first step towards the right direction.
- Ah, that last scene with Carmine Falcone. It's notable to see that he may be getting old and soft after all. In his earlier scenes with Fish Mooney and the other mobsters, he emphasized that they are a "family" which is a usual mobspeak, sure, but now the viewers understand that the man also has severe mommy issues and Liza is supposed to be the surrogate representation of that. Perhaps the chaos in his professional life is becoming too much to handle, and he now seeks serenity in the form of a nurturing woman who happens to emulate his mother. I have to applaud Mooney for coming up with such a wicked plan to destroy Falcone by going for the heart with such frightening precision. Every man, no matter how evil and crooked after all, loves his mother. This was a great twist and also explains why Mooney's training of Liza was composed of her learning to sing opera and saying non-sexual affectionate things. She is supposed to ensnare Falcone by becoming his mother figure. Whether or not there's still going to be a sexual element to that relationship (because Falcone could just as easily treat her as some sort of pure maiden he wouldn't want to soil but will keep by his side as his special friend and confidant) remains to be seen.
- Where is Harvey Dent? Are we getting him next episode? Please say yes, Gotham.
FINAL VERDICT: 4 STARS
A well-paced and well-acted tantalizing episode that defined upcoming plot threads while deftly developing its character motivations in preparation for the next stage of the story.