Gotham: The Balloonman review

In the third episode, Gotham City gets a taste of its first vigilante. You can probably see where this is going. Here's our review...

This Gotham review contains spoilers.

The alarm bells start ringing right with the opening shot of Gotham episode 3, which looks like an awkward composite of New York City’s Lower East Side with other landmarks that don’t quite seem to fit with the rest of the surroundings. A sequence of various acts of crime and depravity, followed by Oswald Cobblepot’s satisfied smile as he looks around and then to the camera and utters the word “home,” is awfully on the nose. Unfortunately, this sets the tone for the rest of the episode, and “The Balloonman” never really recovers.

In short: Gotham City gets its first vigilante. In this case, a man who ties prominent corrupt individuals to weather balloons so that they fly up into the sky and freeze to death and their corpses then plummet to the ground at inopportune times. I am not making that up. This, of course, makes Jim Gordon realize just how deep the “sickness” in Gotham runs, and it’s all awkwardly interwoven with Oswald Cobblepot’s less than triumphant return to the city, where he begins the process of rebuilding his criminal empire from his shoes up. Literally.

The biggest actual development of the episode is probably that we get to meet Sal Maroni (David Zayas), who is played as the polar opposite of John Doman’s Carmine Falcone. There’s a clear difference in their personalities, and Maroni is clearly the younger, hungrier, more flamboyant criminal. That’s fine. But just as I praised Doman last week for not playing Falcone like a cartoon stereotype, I’m afraid that David Zayas is a little over the top, and I don’t mean this in some oversensitive Italian Defamation League takes on The Sopranos kind of way. I mean, he seriously needs to chill with the mannerisms.

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Still, there are now four clear power players in Gotham‘s underworld, and they’re all quite distinct from one another. Falcone is the relatively conservative, old world way of doing things. Maroni is the flashier, hungrier (and I would imagine more overtly violent), younger badass. Fish Mooney bridges the gap between the more “traditional” thuggery of Maroni and Falcone. And then, of course, there’s her successor, the increasingly cold-blooded and vicious Oswald Cobblepot. Now that we’ve clearly established everyone, maybe Gotham can stop beating us all over the head with their personality quirks and get into some actual crime drama.

The idea of the Balloonman as Gotham City’s first vigilante, and the public embracing of him was just entirely too much, though. Then again, this was also an episode where a guy straight up says that he doesn’t care how many old ladies lost their pensions before he’s lifted into the sky to die via weather balloon. It’s also an episode where an old lady is crushed to death by a falling corpse from yet another weather balloon (luckily, her adorable shaggy dog is unscathed). Make of all this what you will.

I also think we’ve gotten enough mileage out of the “they beat confessions out of people here” trope to last us the rest of the season. And yes, Harvey Bullock even utters the words, “leave him in a room with me and he’ll be guilty.” Subtlety, thy name is not Gotham.

A little time is spent with Alfred and Bruce Wayne in this episode, and again, it’s not enough time to feel like anything other than a throw-in to remind everyone that this is a show about Batman. That being said, Sean Pertwee’s Alfred is growing on me considerably, and I absolutely think that David Mazouz is bringing the necessary intensity (without being a howling piece of ridiculousness) to young Bruce. But none of this, other than Bruce’s rather obvious observations about the effect of vigilante justice on Gotham City, feel at all essential to the plot, and instead it all feels like mandated by outside forces.

All in all, this was not great television. “The Balloonman” is full of painful dialogue, and a terribly uneven pace. It’s easily the weakest Gotham installment to date. I’d be lying, though, if I said that last shot wasn’t intriguing. 

Gotham Central

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– The Balloonman shares a name with a Metal Men villain, but nothing else. He also shares a name with this nutso Robyn Hitchcock song, but that really has nothing whatsoever to do with Batman or comics or whatever else.

– Sal Maroni is the man who will ultimately be responsible for the hideous disfigurement of Harvey Dent, turning the DA into the supervillain known as Two-Face.

– They hint at Renee Montoya’s troubled history with addiction in another painfully obvious scene with her and Barbara this week. Kinda interesting that Jim Gordon’s future wife is just flagrantly blazing a joint in her apartment while he’s at work. Maybe Gotham City has some progressive marijuana laws…

– I was sorta hoping that with the pig mask at the beginning that Balloonman would turn out to be bonkers Batman villain Professor Pyg. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

You can read all our Gotham coverage and reviews right here.

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2 out of 5