I've had some reservations about Gotham, the new Batman prequel show. I loved Detectives Bullock and Gordon, but didn't like Bruce or Barbara, and the young-villain cameos seemed gratuitous. But last night's episode finally clicked for me — and here's the exact moment when I decided I love this show.
There were a lot of things that worked better about last night's episode, "Viper." 1) The subplot where Detective Jim Gordon's fiancee Barbara Kean questions his integrity because of stuff she heard from her ex, Renee Montoya, is absent. 2) Kid billionaire Bruce Wayne actually gets out of the house and starts talking to people and learning stuff, and gets instantly more sympathetic. 3) The Gotham gang war between Falcone and Maroni (and the schemes of Penguin and Fish) had a bunch of entertaining twists and turns, and seemed to heat up. 4) This was the most overtly science-fictional episode of Gotham, featuring a super-drug that's a close cousin of Bane's favorite drug Venom — which is good news for science fiction fans, but also makes the show's "heightened reality" tone feel more earned. 5) It was funny as shit, and at first I wondered if it was written by Ben Edlund, who's on the show's staff but hasn't written an episode yet.
In "Viper," Gordon and Bullock get sucked into investigating a case that's only kinda-sorta a homicide deal. A maniac chemist named Stan Potolsky is going around Gotham handing out free doses of a drug called Viper, which gives you superstrength for a few hours and then kills you. And next, Stan wants to unleash it on the bigwigs of a Wayne Corp. subsidiary that manufactured it as part of the trials that led to the killer drug Venom. (And yes, it's awesome that they namechecked Venom, and let's hope that leads somewhere fun.)
There's nothing especially revolutionary about the "new drug giving street people superpowers and then killing them" storyline — we've all seen it a billion times before, including in a fairly terrible arc of the Steel comic book. But the execution is seriously fun here, including all the scenes of perps throwing people around the GCPD station. And the old Philosophy professor guy snorting some Viper and hulking out, hitting them with his walker. Plus the Bullock-and-Gordon banter is pretty much a finely tuned instrument at this point. High points include Bullock insisting that lunch takes precedence over random crimes, and Bullock demanding to know what altruism means, in the clip above.
The notion of corruption at Wayne Enterprises has been teased in previous episodes, but now we've seen concrete proof — and there's a face on it, as well, the woman named Mathis who tries to sweet-talk Bruce. This raises the stakes for the Thomas-and-Martha Wayne murder, since we learn that the Waynes had shut down development of Viper before being killed. And it also gives Bruce something to do besides sitting in his one room at Wayne Manor staring at the walls — his presence at the charity function puts him in harm's way in this episode, but more importantly lets us see him doing something active and asking real questions about his father's company. And the end of the episode, where a previously recalcitrant Alfred sits down with Bruce and starts looking through folders, feels earned and significant.
Meantime, the Penguin storyline takes a huge leap forward, in a way that ramps up the danger for Jim Gordon. Oswald overhears his new bosses and best friends, Sal Maroni and his lieutenant Frankie, discussing their plans to rob Falcone's casino, and Oswald can't help weighing in. Soon enough, the over-eager Cobblepot reveals his true identity to Maroni — who instantly slams his head into the table, with a nice bit of comic timing.
The next thing you know, Gordon's got a bag over his head and is being dragged to meet Maroni and answer questions about why Cobblepot's alive. The good news? Their stories match up — and this makes Cobblepot a valuable employee, who helps mastermind the casino heist. The bad news? Gordon's secret is leaking out, and Maroni has blackmail material over him. For now, at least.
And meanwhile, the incredibly theatrical and dramatic Fish Mooney got to have a lot of fun this week — she grooms her new "secret weapon" chanteuse to be the ultimate seductress, teaches her to sing Boss Falcone's favorite opera, and then sends her out looking like a sweet clean-cut young thing to catch Falcone's interest. And meanwhile, she pretends to bicker with another one of Falcone's lieutenants, a sexist Eastern European dude, while actually having sexy bondage sex with him while they plot Falcone's downfall.
This show is still incredibly goofy and silly — and a lot probably depends on whether you prefer Nolan's Batman, or Burton's. If you're a Burton fan, this is way more likely to be for you. The good news in last night's episode was that the goofiness was funnier than it's been thus far, with significantly less melodrama in the mix. And with the unabashedly science-fictional plot about superdrugs and feeble professors turning into rampaging monsters, the zany tone felt more like it belonged there.
As long as Barbara Kean takes a long, long vacation away from Gotham, this show definitely seems like it's beginning to fire on all cylinders. Like the proverbial Batmobile, that won't exist for another decade.