The awkward clash between Gotham’s gritty realism and its cartoonish elements becomes yet more glaring in The Balloonman, easily the weakest episode of the series thus far.
The title refers to Gotham’s first vigilante, who bumps off criminals by tying them to weather balloons and sending them flying into the air. Introducing vigilantism into Gotham is an interesting idea, but even in a world with future vigilante schticks such as umbrellas and laughing gas, the gimmick – aside from being physically impossible – feels very silly, when it should be terrifying. That it is seemingly an inspiration for Batman is downright galling.
The foreshadowing of Bruce’s destiny continues to be just as unsubtle as in previous episodes. With that said, though, the best scenes in week three of Gotham are between him and Alfred. A swordfight in the opening minutes gives the episode some welcome levity, while the dramatic elements are handled equally well. The swordfight is particularly enjoyable in that it’s a rare, fleeting moment of happiness for kid Bruce and Alfred, who is trying so desperately to lift his young charge out of the darkness in the wake of his parents’ death. Both Sean Pertwee and David Masouz play it perfectly. It helps that the screenplay doesn’t try to force Gordon into interacting with Bruce, allowing the Brufred relationship to develop. Hopefully, we’ll get more scenes between the two that really highlight how important that partnership is going to be once Bruce dons the cape and cowl.
Away from Wayne mansion, the GCPD are even more incompetent than usual. Bullock’s humour is always fun to watch and this week’s rock montage is entertaining, but the character’s undesirable traits outshine his redeeming qualities, with Gordon’s partner only starting to work the case once a crooked cop is killed. And he isn’t the only unlikable law enforcer in this episode; as currently written, detective Montoya is the show’s most annoying character. Her behaviour is not befitting the smart, driven cop comic book readers know her to be. Indeed, Gordon seems to be the only cop doing the job right, and even he displays his fair share of ineptitude, as he chases up a supposed lead with Selina Cat on the Wayne murders.
A new player is added to the crime war this episode, in the form of Sal Maroni (David Zayas), a major threat to Carmine Falcone and a name Bat-fans will doubtless be familiar with. Elsewhere, Robin Lord Taylor continues to make interesting decisions with Oswald Cobblepot – though his dialogue is extremely heavy-handed (“Gotham needs me! I am its future!”) – and the episode ends with an intriguing cliffhanger.
Even still, The Balloonman represents a backwards step for Gotham, which is still not a show we’re especially excited to tune into every week. Three episodes in and there’s still work to be done in making us care about many supporting characters, in addition to settling on a tone.
Gotham is broadcast in the UK at 10pm every Monday on Channel 5. You can watch Gotham online on Demand 5, Channel 5’s catch-up service.
Want to keep Gotham for good? You can download Gotham on blinkbox, Amazon and iTunes.