Gotham: Viper Review

Gotham starts to find its feet this week, with an episode that finally starts to balance its different elements. Here's our review...

This Gotham review contains spoilers.

Before we get into this week’s episode of Gotham, “Viper,” I should be clear, as a number of you have asked why I “hate” it. I do not hate this show. I knew early on that it would be an at times potentially awkward hybrid of a comic book show and a procedural. All I ask is that it do one (or better yet, both) of these things effectively.

For the vast majority of its previous four episodes, it simply didn’t. Despite a great cast and some eye-catching production design, it was all too uneven. That being said, as anyone who reads my (generally excitable and positive) Arrow reviews can attest, I know quite well that it sometimes takes a show a while to find its feet. There’s still time for Gotham to do it. Arrow‘s first season was no prize, and it took Agents of SHIELD nearly all of its first season to work the bugs out. It happens.

I’m pleased to report that “Viper” is a major step in the right direction for this show. While the cracks are still showing, if Gotham can accentuate everything it did right this week, then I’ll be back in the fold in no time. Hell, I’m even willing to admit that some of the things it did right this week are only possible because of those awkward earlier episodes.

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Before I get carried away, though, there are still the usual problems on display. The main thread of “Viper,” that of a disgruntled scientist distributing a drug that gives people super strength at the cost of their lives and/or sanity is pretty thin. It’s played a little too broadly, and the ultimate villain of the week is completely forgettable. During the episode’s stronger moments (I’ll get to those in a minute), I found myself completely engrossed, and then when we got back into the business of the superdrug mystery, it felt like an obligation being fulfilled, not anything worth really pursuing.

But it did open the door for a genuine story for young Bruce Wayne that can play out during the season. Well, one beyond the obvious Bruce Wayne story, of course. I can’t stress enough how pleasantly surprised I’ve been by the Bruce/Alfred stuff, which has, for the most part, played quite naturally. His detective work in this episode felt a little TOO canny and precocious (for a minute or two it’s almost Bruce Wayne by way of Wes Anderson), but I’m looking forward to his coming battle with the Wayne Enterprises board. I don’t imagine it’s one he’s going to win. Right now, though, Bruce is a solid blend of boyish earnestness and directness, mixed with the right shades of what we all know he’s going to become. 

They’d better be careful, though. Don’t overexpose all of this. It could get old really quick. That being said, the whole bit with workaholic young Bruce blowing off Alfred’s repeated suggestions that maybe they should actually go outside was cute, and I’m sure there’s more than one DoG writer who can identity with that.

Overall, the very best thing that Gotham has done, even in its weaker episodes, has been to build the coming war between Falcone/Maroni/Mooney, with the Penguin angling for his share. Honestly, this show could lose the case of the week stuff, stop trying to give us proto-villains like this week’s and the Balloonman, and just dig deeper into the city’s crime families, and I think it would serve everyone better. It might get a little less colorful, but it’s a chance worth taking.

The two sit downs with Maroni/Cobblepot and then Maroni/Cobblepot/Gordon felt right. It didn’t feel forced. I do have to question why they bothered sticking a bag on Gordon’s head if all they were gonna do was take him to a restaurant and either whack him out or let him walk. It’s not like they were taking him to some secret hideout.

Either way, I’m buying the Maroni/Cobblepot relationship, and with Gordon in the mix, Gotham has managed to create the first genuine piece of dramatic tension we’ve seen all year. Look, we all know that Jim Gordon is eventually going to become the Commissioner and for that to happen he has to live through all of this without getting his hands too dirty. The fun is going to be seeing how the hell he gets out of this. Penguin and Maroni are the ones in control of his life right now, however subtle it might be. We know the Penguin has to live on beyond this show, too, so how the hell do these two eventually end up untangling their lives from each other?

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As for the ending, I’ve found this whole recent bit with Mooney grooming this young lady to take out Falcone to be just short of insufferable, and nothing this week really dispelled that. I thoroughly enjoyed Mooney’s “I bet your mother was a lousy cook” crack, though.

Also, I will forgive Bullock’s rather obvious Chinatown riff (“What did you expect? It’s Gotham.” Which may become my tagline if this show starts to slip again), because of the solid comic timing of his “What’s altruism?” during Gordon’s frantic questioning of a Viper-ed up perp.

“Viper” still doesn’t really deliver on its main story, but I can forgive it this time. This episode struck the best balance between the procedural tone, seeding the Batman mythology, and actually (and this is by FAR the most important part of this formula), telling a story that matters on its own terms. It took them five episodes to get us here, but I now genuinely give a damn about THIS Jim Gordon, not just because he happens to share a name with Batman’s oldest and most important supporting character. Smart writing by Rebecca Perry Cutter made all the difference, and this week’s director, Tim Hunter scaled back on the more out-there stylistic elements. I hope we get more from this pair.

There might just be hope for Gotham…and it doesn’t even have to wear a cape.

Gotham Central

– I thought the convenience store owner’s smartass remark about “Suit yourself, Zeus” was maybe a reference to Maxi Zeus, but no such luck. It was amusing, though.

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– I dug the Wayne Enterprises infomercial thing, although I wouldn’t call that an easter egg or anything like that.

– Another sure sign of things possibly starting to inch in the right direction: Edward “Riddler” Nygma wasn’t thoroughly irritating this week. He didn’t speak in riddles. Hell, he didn’t even ask a question. That’s progress, right there. Let this character just be a nerdy CSI who takes a little too much interest in the big crimes for now, instead of beating us over the head with his green-suited future. 

– Viper is, of course, the precursor to Venom, the drug which gives Bat-villain Bane his impressive strength, and which has caused Batman all kinds of headaches (and hangovers) over the last twenty years or so. Those hoping for an Arrow crossover with mirakuru were surely disappointed.

– I believe Taylor Reese is a name that has popped up in Batman comics in a fairly low-level, loosely connected Wayne Enterprises way. I can’t remember where, and I won’t swear to it, and it’s probably not even all that important.

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3 out of 5