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TV Review: Gotham “Viper”

TV Review: Gotham “Viper”
By: Brandon Wolfe

Gotham’ is still a show very much in the throes of trying to figure out just what it is that it wants to be. Up until this point, the series has seemed to exclusively take Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy as its inspiration, with its grounded reality and poker-faced seriousness. But “Viper” throws a wrench in that paradigm by introducing a drug, called Viper, that is surreptitiously distributed on the streets of Gotham and turns anyone who ingests it into a superhuman rage monster. All of a sudden, we are unexpectedly thrown into the deep end of superpowered villainy. It’s not necessarily unwelcome, as Nolan’s insistence on excising the more fantastical elements of the ‘Batman’ universe was often maddening, but it’s something that ‘Gotham’ could have eased us into to make the shift less jarring.

The first instance of Viper-related crime happens at a convenience store just around the corner from where Gordon and Bullock are having lunch (Selina Kyle also attempts to pickpocket a man right across the street from this lunch site, which serves to remind us all that she exists and has the effect of making Gotham City feel like it encompasses about three city blocks in total). The assailant is a street musician who rips an ATM out of the wall with his bare hands and hauls it away. Gordon and Bullock locate the man, who is guzzling milk like there’s no tomorrow and finds that his super-strength has a lifespan of just a few hours, as the ATM machine he now attempts to throw at the cops crushes him in the process. Soon the drug’s distributor, a man with a mangled ear, has spread it all throughout the riffraff of Gotham’s streets, causing violent crime and criminal death to skyrocket, something Bullock wonders aloud if it’s such a bad thing.

Meanwhile, Sal Maroni is still planning to stick it to Carmine Falcone over the fallout from the Arkham deal last week. As Maroni is plotting to hit a local Falcone hotspot to send a message, Cobblepot steps away from his dishes with another overture to curry favor with his new boss. He says that he can assist with this job due to certain connections, which gets Maroni’s attention until Cobblepot decides to come clean about his previous employment under Fish Mooney in the Falcone organization. This is not received well by Maroni, who slams the Penguin’s head on the table. Cobblepot then finds his life hanging by a thread as Maroni sends his men to nab Gordon so that he can independently corroborate Cobblepot’s story, including Gordon’s role in the man’s faux-assassination. Gordon does uneasily back Cobblepot’s claims, essentially recapping the entire series up to this point for new viewers and putting himself in a position to be blackmailed by Maroni in the future. Cobblepot is spared, but told that if his connections can’t come through with the robbery, it’s his head.

Fortunately for Cobblepot, it all works out, but the series isn’t doing a bang-up job at explicating who this character is. For a time, it seemed as though Cobblepot were a shrewd operator, working Maroni and expertly plotting a scheme to rise through the ranks and have vengeance against his enemies. But “Viper” doesn’t make it clear if Cobblepot blew it with Maroni by oversharing moronically and having it blow up in his face or if the way everything transpired was all part of his plan and he’s a Benjamin Linus-esque schemer and manipulator. I suppose we’ll find out eventually, but the fact that the character’s essential nature remains so up in the air doesn’t speak to the skills of those running this show.

Speaking of those skills, or lack thereof, Bruce Wayne continues to be a problem character. He’s still fully in detective mode, parsing out the details and players of the recent Arkham deal and attending a charity event to interrogate high-ranking employees of his family’s company to gain a better understanding of the scrupulousness of their dealings. Perhaps if the show had flashed forward a few years and allowed Bruce to be portrayed as a teen, much of this could have flown better, but a child grilling executives on “irregularities in the Arkham project” just feels absurd. ‘Gotham’ is far too eager to Batman-up this kid entirely too early in the proceedings rather than show some confidence in Gordon to shoulder the show on his own.

On the subject of Gordon, he actually seems to be cultivating a bond with Bullock in spite of their odd-couple disparities. What Gordon isn’t doing is emerging as anything other than a bland, cardboard hero. There is no fire or personality to this character. He’s just an archetype of a good cop, the way that everyone on this show is an archetype of their assigned role. Donal Logue as Bullock isn’t faring any better. Logue is a proven talented actor, but you would never know it from this. He can’t do much to redeem the lousy lines handed to him, as when he bellows “Talk fast, bub!” at a suspect (he does, however, get one fairly funny line, when Gordon is yelling pertinent questions at a suspect and Bullock adds “What’s ‘altruism’?” to the list). And no passage about the acting on this show can go without mention of Jada Pinkett-Smith as Fish Mooney, who this week is found sleeping with a Russian lieutenant in Falcone’s organization and training girls as sleeper agents to send after Falcone. It’s tempting to give Pinkett-Smith a pass, as at least she looks like she’s having a good time attacking every line with over-enunciated gusto, but the character continues to feel like it was beamed in from a completely different show.

“Viper” seems to nod to the ‘Batman’ film franchise a bit more than usual, which is certainly welcome. The Viper drugs effects on people, immediately turning them into ultra-strong, veiny brutes, reminds one of the Bane interpretation found in ‘Batman & Robin,’ and when the drug is piped into the charity event in green gaseous form, it’s hard not to think of the Joker assailing that museum in the 1989 film. But ‘Gotham’ has a host of problems it desperately needs to sort out, and all the fan-baiting nods in the world aren’t enough to paper over them in the meantime.

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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