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TV Review: Gotham “The Balloonman”

TV Review: Gotham “The Balloonman”
By: Brandon Wolfe

Gotham’ has pitched itself on the premise of showing us what Gotham City was like in the years before the Batman came into being, allowing a young Jim Gordon a shot at the spotlight. This is a sound idea, as far as Batman projects without Batman go, but the problem shaping up with ‘Gotham’ is that it’s not willing to commit to the idea. Rather than letting Gordon have a go at it, the show still wants us thinking about Batman in a story where that shouldn’t be the most pressing impulse.



The very premise of “The Balloonman” is designed to press the Batman button as often as possible. The story centers around a vigilante who, weary of the crime and police corruption infecting Gotham, takes it upon himself to deliver an off-the-books measure of justice to shady public figures that would otherwise never be held accountable for their crimes. The method of his vengeance? Handcuffing weather balloons to the targets’ hands and sentencing them to death above the clouds. No, for serious.


For a show as stone-faced as ‘Gotham’ often is, the images of criminals flying up to the sky via balloons are so goofy as to be completely at odds with the greater context. The episode very much wants to tell the story of vigilantism and the favorable public reaction to it, but that objective could have been reached through means far less absurd than what we’re given here. And then there’s the question of why the show wants us to have Batman on our minds this early in the game. “Balloonman” is full of self-consciously loaded dialogue about the pros and cons of a mystery man taking the law into his own hands, but Batman isn’t going to be around for quite some time, so why allude to the notion of him so strongly at this stage?



The show also continues to weave young Bruce Wayne into completely disconnected weekly tangents into Wayne Manor. Here, just in case we somehow didn’t grasp that the Balloonman was a test balloon (I’m sorry) for the eventual Batman, we have Bruce watching the news reports about the Balloonman with deep interest, noting only that he disapproves of the man’s willingness to kill people to achieve his goals. Again, this kid isn’t going to be of Batman age for several years, so planting seeds like this when the show has barely even gotten off the ground is far too premature.

The other big news in “The Balloonman” is the return to Gotham of the Penguin. The criminal is left with nowhere to go since crossing Fish Mooney (whom Jada Pinkett-Smith is still inexplicably playing as if she thinks she’s making one of the Joel Schumacher ‘Batman’ films) and being exiled by Gordon. Penguin gets a job at an Italian restaurant and his true scheme finally emerges when we learn that second-string crime boss Sal Maroni frequents this establishment. Penguin is looking to get in good with Maroni, which he does by literally doing nothing and having Maroni take a shine to him out of nowhere. You have to love it when a plan comes together without logic, reason or effort applied. Step 2 of Penguin’s plan involves showing up at Gordon’s front door, the meaning of which we must tune in next week for, same Fox time, same Fox channel.

The oddest ongoing thread thus far in ‘Gotham’ is the relationship between Gordon’s fiancée Barbara and his professional adversary, Renee Montoya of the GCPD Major Crimes Unit. The show has previously hinted at a preexisting romantic relationship between the two women that it makes explicit this week. I suppose you could call it progressive to some extent, but it’s also a deeply strange development that is difficult to grasp what the show feels it adds to the proceedings. It feels as though they couldn’t figure out what else to do with the Barbara character, so they conjured this up out of thin air. Like the Bruce Wayne segments, these scenes stop the show dead in its tracks for no beneficial reason, and it isn’t helped by the fact that these two actresses aren’t especially gifted at their craft.

‘Gotham’ still has many kinks to work out. The dialogue is extremely tin-eared and the characters still feel like archetypes more than people. If the show can loosen up and find a strong voice soon, it could become something. But baby steps for now. In the meantime, it should be what it set out to be and stop trying to work Batman into a story where he fundamentally does not belong.


Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe on Twitter at @BrandonTheWolfe

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