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Gotham – “The Balloonman” Recap and Review
Detectives Gordon and Bullock track down a vigilante who is killing corrupt Gotham citizens by attaching them to weather balloons. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot returns to Gotham and gets a new job close to an influential figure in the underworld.
I mentioned in last week’s review that I was growing fond of the focus on Penguin’s rise to power and the intriguing manner in which he’s portrayed – a sycophantic, underestimated sniveler who nonetheless squeezes out of dangerous situations and resorts to gruesome violence at the drop of a hat. It’s fun to watch this character from a “what the hell is he going to do next” point of view, and “The Balloonman” opens with his darkly humorous return to the city he loves.
Alas the actual titular villain is as lame as you imagine and much of the main structure of the episode is so heavy-handed in introducing a proto-vigilante that I worry about Gotham’s extreme dumbing down for the broader audience it’s trying to reach. I think going for that larger, non-comic book audience is great, but there shouldn’t have to be a compromise for heavy-handed dialogue and eye-rolling repeating themes.
After Penguin steps off the bus and becomes refreshed upon witnessing numerous petty crimes happening around him, we cut to what is apparently going to be our Murder of the Week. This one is a bit unusual, even for a comic world, as a crooked business man (we know he’s crooked because he’s literally on the phone telling his lawyer to pay off judges and jury members) gets accosted by a street vendor before he’s handcuffed to a weather balloon and sent soaring. It’s inventive, theatrical and silly, and it also means our poor detectives have no body to work with when they arrive on the scene.
Back at the station Gordon means Lt. Cranston, a hard-nosed thug of a cop (played by James Colby) that our hero instantly dislikes, though to be fair he seems to hate everyone in Gotham. Gordon and Bullock briefly discuss the moral implications of vigilante justice (Bullock is fine with it, less work for him; Gordon is Mr. Law & Order) before Gordon leaves with Selina Kyle, still in police custody from the previous episode. They return to the scene of the Waynes’ murder from the pilot episode, and she’s willing to trade her freedom for information on the killer. Our crafty heroine has other plans, however (though she does seem to like both Gordon and Bruce) and gives Gordon the painfully obvious slip after he handcuffs her to go searching in the sewers.
Back to Penguin, he get’s recognized by a random street thug (an issue I’m glad the show addresses) who’s happy to return him to Fish for the bounty. Penguin unleashes his full arsenal of disarmingly pitiful whining before slicing the man’s Achilles and murdering him. Before he was staring at a few coins and a knife, longingly staring at a sandwich truck. Now he has a bundle of $100s and walks right up. We’re witnessing the hard-working, blue-collar return of Penguin, and it’s pretty great.
Penguin’s scenes are always great, but next we move to one of my favorite scenes of the episode – Alfred and Bruce sword-fighting with canes. Alfred taunts and cajoles in his fantastic British manner until Bruce screams and strikes at him with a flurry of blows. Lesson over! Alfred then discovers that Bruce’s been pouring over the police report, including pictures of his dead parents. “I’m looking for clues.” “So you’re a detective now are you?” “Not yet…” Now see Fox, that’s a great little exchange and one that should bring a childish grin to any Batman fan. The whole scene worked really well and this gruff, tough love Alfred is already growing on me.
Detectives Allen and Montoya, meanwhile, are getting on my nerves. After visiting and getting manipulated by Fish Mooney, they grill Gordon right in the middle of the police station about Oswald’s supposed murder. For once I found myself sympathizing with Jim Gordon. “Since when did Major Crimes become IA,” he lashes back at them. It’s aggravating as Allen and Montoya’s sole existence seems to be bringing down Gordon, which makes them instantly detestable, and they’re easily manipulated by all the villains in the show. From a narrative point of view they’re always two steps behind and spend most of their screen time trying to catch up, which is immensely annoying.
Montoya does have the strange side plot of a past romantic relationship with Jim’s fiance Barbara (both who are apparently former drug addicts or something) but thus far it’s had little purpose other than maybe some odd titillation or misplaced progressive attitude. I’m all for former interracial lesbian lover entanglements but it needs to go somewhere, and both characters are horribly under-developed. Barbara’s character in general has nothing to do outside of Jim and Montoya.
As Penguin murders a random kitchen worker (to get his shoes) to gain access to a certain mob-friendly Italian restaurant and Gordon and Bullock interrogate the owner of the weather balloons, our villain strikes again, this time focusing on that one asshole cop we met earlier and had nearly forgotten about. In a funny twist of events, Cranston beats the crap out of the Balloonman before he can handcuff him. As our villain lies on the ground, Cranston frisks him looking for loot (the crooked cop modus operandi) and finds his name and face on a list. This is just enough distraction for the Balloonman to attach his helium-filled vessel of justice to Cranston’s ankle, sending another of Gotham’s corrupt assholes screaming into the sky. This time, however it’s a cop and corrupt or no that finally motivates Bullock (“killing a cop is a job safety issue”) and he promises Captain Essen that they’ll catch him.
Meanwhile Oswald Cobblepot is now working in the back of a restaraunt, one that he can conveniently eavesdrop on any shady dealings going on with some of the higher-up criminals, including the much talked about but never before seen Don Maroni (David Zayas). He and Oswald get a nice little scene where once again our villain-in-training gets to flex his awkward social muscles and immediately gets on Maroni’s good side. Penguin seems like every villain’s perfect henchman – dutiful, hard-working and full of traitorous ambition. Once again I’m thankful that he receives a significant portion of screen time as his scenes are always some of the best.
Gordon and Bullock move on a tenuous lead that Bullock quickly explains on the way there in typical serialized cop drama fashion. If Bullock is good for anything it’s having connections to just about everyone in Gotham. We get one of our few brief action scenes in the episode as the amazon that answers the door kicks Bullock’s ass as Gordon grapples with the suspect. Seeing Bullock get thrown around by a woman is fantastic, and equally in character for him to deliver a knock out sucker punch after Gordon pulls a gun on her. The money launderer drops a funny bit of important information for our grasping cops, “Do you gets not know how weather balloons work?” And in a humorous turn that it’s even a bit dark for Gotham, the body of Cranston falls to the ground right on top of some old lady. “Where do you think they find shovels that big,” Bullock quips as they scrape the bodies off the sidewalk. Searching the pockets of Cranston reveals the list of names he had snatched from The Balloonman, and his identity to Gordon.
The identity is Davis Lamond (Dan Bakkedahl), a juvenile services worker that we later find out finally snapped after last week’s revelation that all the rescued homeless kids would be sent to juvenile detention centers. Lamond took out a molesting priest and has only one balloon left (as we were informed by the balloon owner earlier). Thanks to another quick bit of police investigation (more like an additional realization) Gordon finds exactly where Lamond is holed up – the former child services building. The Balloonman gets the drop on Bullock but in the ensuing struggle he’s attached to his own weather balloon, “hoisted by your own petard,” as Bullock so elegantly yells. I admit it, I’m starting to enjoy Bullock’s snarky one-liners.
The heavy-handed approach rears its ugly head throughout this scene between the exchange between Lamond and Gordon. Lamond defends his vigilantism as the only thing making a difference, while Gordon is steadfast in his desire for law and order. Yes, we get it, every single crime questions Gordon’s resolve and reveals the thorough and complete corruption of the entire city. As Lamond begins to soar Gordon grabs on, because he’s one of the few people in the city that believes killing is wrong. Finally Bullock shoots them both down while the fall is still merely painful instead of fatal.
Later with Lamond on his way to the hospital he tells Gordon that there will be more like him, and Gordon’s confidence in being a one-man pillar of light is beginning to falter. Just in case you don’t quite yet understand the painful amounts of future foreshadowing this prequel series loves to layer in, we cut to Bruce Wayne watching the news report, as the reporter literally says “Who now will defend the people of Gotham?” Cue young impressionable Bruce’s eyes lighting up. Gordon gets a brief scene with Barbara where his outer shell begins to crack, and for once the man who only has the law to hang onto begins to question if this city can be saved. Those hands you feel around your neck is the show throttling you with its themes.
I’m enjoying Penguin’s perspective on the world and him slowly ingratiating himself in the criminal underworld. He’s turning into a fun character and Robin Lord Taylor’s performance is worthy to carry any scene he’s in. Unfortunately the Balloonman himself is a silly villain, and a dumb excuse to bring up the moral quandaries of vigilantism. It annoys me to no end that the show treats its audience so stupidly most of the time, and bangs you over the head with setting the stage for Batman. How long does this series plan to go on? I fail to see Gotham being poised on a knife edge for several years while we watch Bruce go through teenage angst and Jim rise through the ranks while also alienating everyone around him and being beaten down by the system. After last week’s strong follow-up, it’s a shame that the third episode is such a faltering step backward.
Did You Notice?
- More teases and hints about Arkham Asylum by two of our major crime bosses.
- You may have to re-watch the episode to catch it, but ‘The Balloonman’ aka Davis Lamond is the CPS representative that brings Selina Kyle to Gordon in the beginning of the episode. Hiding in plain sight.
- The newscast’s subtitle near the end: “GCPD Pops Balloonman.”