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Gotham – “Viper” Recap and Review
Gordon and Bullock search for the source of a new street drug that causes euphoria then death. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot works his way deeper into Maroni’s inner circle and Fish Mooney continues to plot against Falcone.
Gotham finally succeeds in drawing Bruce Wayne into its own plot threads instead of leaving him to make noble reactionary faces at newscasts (well, he still does that here too). The title of the episode, “Viper,” is also the name of a dangerous new street drug that’s suddenly flooded the market and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – is killing anyone that takes it. It’s like the plot of Max Payne only instead of seeing Viking angels the user temporarily gains Hulk-like strength before their bones collapse.
We begin with what is already an overused scene in Gotham – Alfred walking in on Bruce Wayne doing something crazy. Alfred attempts to placate what he naturally sees as obsession with crime and politics, but Bruce remains steadfast in his thirst for knowledge and information, which Alfred begins to grudgingly respect.
It appears this is not the same young master Bruce that was an angsty young man in Batman Begins; Gotham’s Bruce is already past the self-pitying stage and well onto the path of superhero in training. I haven’t decided if I’m annoyed by his quick composure or relieved that we don’t have to see a mopey young Batman every episode. Either way, he’s smart enough to be asking the right questions about Arkham from last episode, and eventually wins Alfred over to help him.
Our inciting Murder of the Week is actually just a simple robbery, perpetrated by a random street musician who’s offered a mysterious drug. ProTip: Just because a bottle has instructions on how to imbibe its contents doesn’t mean you should follow them. The man inhales the green vapors (evil gas is always thick and color-coded) and seemingly undergoes an internal transformation.
What’s the first thing you do when you’ve taken a new drug and feel on top of the world? Right, you head to the nearest convenience store to throw back a gallon of milk. The shopkeep doesn’t take kindly to that and attempts to enact a little bat-laced street justice, which goes badly when our musician goes full Hulk mode on him.
Cut to Bullock and Gordon having a nice lunch, and Gordon suddenly spots Selina Kyle (who’s been largely absent since her adventures in the second episode) picking a man’s pocket. Why she would risk that in front of the only competent cop in the city is beyond me, though to her credit she’s able to escape. Gordon runs after her and then toward the robbed store while Bullock humorously screams that it’s lunch time. Bullock plays his corrupt and lazy cop routine to a T, and every episode his dialogue and actions warm up to me a bit more.
Gordon and Bullock are homicide detectives, but are understandably shocked that one man could pull an entire ATM out of a wall (then run screamingly into the camera before the commercial break). They also have a pretty easy lead with the guitar case, and even evidence of the drug that Edward Nygma can analyze and be suitably creepy-impressed with. Our detectives quickly find the perp hanging out in an alley with the ATM, begging for more of the drug. We’re treated to one of the spiffier bits of special effects in the series as he Hulks out and lifts the ATM, only to have his bones snap and collapse under its weight. Phenomenal cosmic power! Itty bitty bone density.
Meanwhile as the “man with the mangled ear” passes out free samples of his drug on the street, Fish is busy grooming her new lady weapon to use against Falcone. This mainly involves various boring scenes of seduction, singing and social cues, which Liza finds suitably boring as do the rest of us. We get it, you’re using Falcone’s weakness for certain women against him.
Later Fish attends an informal mob meeting between Falcone and the rest of his underlings, and we’re introduced to Typical Asshole Russian Mobster Nikoai (Jeremy Davidson). He and Fish have a tense if entertaining argument while Falcone urges for peace and stability. You poor bastard, if only you know how every single person plots against you.
Maroni and Frankie (Danny Mastrogiorgio) discuss robbing a casino belonging to Falcone; the mob war between Maroni and Falcone is in full swing, though it’s a subtle game of undermining each other’s power rather than full on street warfare. Our power-hungry Penguin can’t help but be involved in the conversation, and he takes a tactical risk in revealing who he is and his past relationship with Flacone’s underling Fish Mooney. Despite Oswlad’s constant flattery to Don Maroni, the Don slams his head to the table. Nothing in Oswald’s rise has been easy, and Maroni is going to need some corroborative evidence in order to prove Penguin’s new-found loyalties.
As bodies are wheeled out of the police station, our detectives are visited by pharmaceutical company Wellzyn’s lawyer and representative, Taylor Reece, played by Margaret Colin (whom I honestly haven’t seen since Independence Day). Reece is able to identify the drug peddler as Stan Potolsky (Daniel London), a brilliant man that was rejected by the company as a bit too extreme and now wants revenge. It’s a typical cliché corrupt corporation plot – the wronged employee that seeks revenge using the brilliant but dangerous device he has knowledge of. Tiresome but not necessarily terrible.
Bullock puts out the APB for Potolsky, but Gordon gets a visit from Frankie regarding their mutual friend Oswald Cobblepot, who’s currently awaiting mob trial back at the restaurant. Gordon is coerced into going along (black bag over the head and all) and gives an honest recount of his relationship with Oswald, essentially giving Maroni a brief summary of what went down in the pilot episode. The story checks out with Oswald’s, which not only saves both their lives but finally ingratiates Oswald with Maroni. Interesting that Gordon appears to play ball with Maroni while still remaining truthful, maybe our boy scout hero is finally learning how to navigate the murky politics of Gotham’s underbelly. More likely he simply doesn’t want to be directly involved, and wants this whole mess with Penguin to go away.
Gordon and Bullock pay a visit to Potolsky’s college professor that they spot in a photograph, Isaac Steiner (Peter Maloney). Steiner is shockingly forthright about Potolsky’s work on weaponized pharmaceuticals before we realize he’s engaged in Evil Gloating, and was working with Potolsky. To cement it, Steiner sniffs a vial of Viper (knowing full well the side effects, I guess he figured it was do or die time) and attacks our heroes. Viper makes you super strong but not impervious to bullets, and Gordon is forced to fatally shoot him before he can choke Bullock to death.
Bullock wins the Laugh out Loud award at the end of this scene. Gordon grills the dying Steiner about Potolsky’s whereabouts and plans, and Steiner drops hints about Wayne enterprises: “empty altruism won’t erase won’t they’ve done,” referencing a Wayne charity drive. Gordon repeatedly yells important questions at Steiner, when Bullock finally chimes in with his own question, “What’s altruism!?” Gordon stares at him, “charity,” he replies like he’s talking to a child. It’s funny and also gives Gordon the clue about Potolsky’s next move – The Wayne Foundation Charity Luncheon.
The luncheon is attended by Bruce Wayne, who finally gets to intersect with the actual plot of the episode in a semi-meaningful way. Bruce isn’t there as a figurehead, he actually grills Wayne chairwoman Molly Mathis (Sharon Washington) on Wayne Enterprises’ involvement in Arkham and Wellzyn, which she denies and evades. They’re interrupted by Potolsky’s own Evil Gloating as he pumps Viper into the ventilation system. Everyone scrambles, Bullock actually proves semi-useful in helping people exit the building and Gordon arrives in time to shoot the canister, spraying Potolsky with his own medicine. In the comic book world this is a great way to create a supervillain, but Potolsky simply spouts some philosophical drivel before hurtling himself off the roof.
Before Potolsky’s suicide he drops one important hint, “Check out Warehouse 39!” Our detectives arrive and find nothing but abandoned lab equipment, but we do see Mathis pull up in a car and reveal her own shady involvement with another mysterious party on the phone. Bruce has already figured as much when he finds a memo tying Mathis as the liaison between Wayne Enterprises and Wellzyn, and we get a touching scene where Alfred sits down and helps Bruce with his mountain of paperwork and investigation. No dialogue, just knowing nods and smiles. That’ll do, Gotham.
We’re not quite done with the episode yet, as our side stories need a bit of wrapping up. Penguin’s contact in the casino pays off, allowing Maroni’s thugs to rob the place. Fish’s previous inconsequential argument with Nikolai in front of Falcone turned out to be a front as the two have passionate sex and talk about screwing Falcone over. Finally Fish’s lady weapon Liza makes contact with Falcone in an annoyingly drawn out build-up to all the training we had to witness. Every side plot was designed to undermine poor lovable Don Falcone, which is a bit strange as he’s still a major player in the Batman world by the time our caped crusader begins his adventure.
Even as a tired plot device, centering the plot of an episode around the prototype of Venom is a neat idea, and a fun way of tying in Batman’s future villains. The actual drug effects are fun excuse to throw people around and show off some creepy special effects, and the newly introduced characters of Mathis and Nikolai look like they could be major players.
Penguin is normally the highlight of the episode but he doesn’t get much to do this time around, acting as more of a pawn and giving Maroni additional screen time. Likewise Fish Mooney’s scenes are largely irrelevant, and her slow build-up to enacting revenge on Falcone is quickly losing my interest, kinky sexcapades notwithstanding.
I was pleasantly surprised with this episode’s treatment of Bruce Wayne, both in his relationship with Alfred and with his resolve in investigation. Having our young hero already act so wise and resourceful might seem a little odd, but I’m enjoying his genuine empathy for the city. So far I can definitely see this young man becoming Batman, and in that regard Gotham certainly hasn’t failed.
Did You Notice?
- Gotham’s time period is purposefully nebulous. Interesting to note that Bruce’s Arkham and Wellzyn research involves stacks and stacks of folders and papers without a single computer in sight.
- “Viper was the first batch, worked out the kinks in the second – called it Venom.” Venom, of course, is the infamous drug used by Batman villain Bane, and gives him similar superhuman strength.