On the D/L – Gotham
Season 1 Episode 5 – “Viper”
Now that’s more like it! After the past two episodes struck me as underwhelming I was concerned that Gotham might already be running out of steam after less than half a dozen episodes but the show was back to form this week. The “New Drug on the Street” plot is nothing new to a police procedural or a superhero show but it was handled really well and tied nicely into the overarching plot.
As per the episode title the drug is called “Viper” and the drug itself induces brief bouts of super strength before causing the body to give in and killing the user. This is a massive boost to the world the show inhabits as it gives our characters some super powered foes to fight (albeit briefly) and sets up the familiar -to comic fans- performance enhancing substance called “Venom”. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the substance that gives Bane his enhanced strength. I liked how the show had the drug in the most rudimentary form possible and it’s clear that if it does return then it will only have token enhancements but still be lethally unstable. It harkens back to what I mentioned in my Pilot review where the references to Batman lore seemed to be too overt for a show with this tone but this was just the right level of referencing to link it to that world without beating the audience over the head with it. It’s good to see these references handled with far more sophistication.
The most interesting part of this episode was the angle that Wayne Enterprises is a pretty corrupt organisation responsible for at least some of the city’s misery. Some really interesting opportunities are created by this idea; for one thing it gives an organic reason for Bruce Wayne to be a prominent feature in this show as it is made clear that he cares deeply for his family’s legacy and doesn’t want to see this sullied by corruption in the company that his family founded. His investigation should give he and Alfred more than enough to do throughout the series without falling back on the “Bruce learns a lesson” subplot each week. It could potentially add an extra layer to his activities as Batman in the future if he feels the need to redeem the wrongs caused by the company bearing his family name. We’ll never see that show but it’s an interesting concept nonetheless.
I really liked the movement on the upcoming gang war, there’s lots of tension in these scenes and there’s a heavy implication that relations are very strained so the turf war is inevitable. There was an interesting twist surrounding Fish and Nikolai and things are beginning to get a little clearer on what plans Fish is hatching. It’s interesting that she’s grooming Liza to exploit Falcone’s weakness in the form of his mother. There was a real transformation in Falcone as a person when he met her so I look forward to seeing how detrimental this distraction will be to how he runs his criminal operations. It also proves Fish as probably the most interesting character on the show who seems to be expertly playing everyone against each other to her own benefit.
It’s not all great though, the “case of the week” formula is still the least interesting aspect of the show. The villain this week was a bit better than in the prior two episodes with a moment where he appears on a big screen blending the noir detective story with comic book villainy quite nicely in a way that sort of works. There needs to be more of this on the show rather than the formulaic investigation to resolution stories that seem to have become the norm. The better scenes are those that stray away from the villain and focus on the sociopolitical aspects of Gotham City and how that plays into the larger story of the Wayne murder.
There seems to be a tendency to include as many characters in the episode as possible whether their appearance is necessary or not. Barbara was missing from this episode but I feel that it could have been a stronger story if it had been more tightly focused on less of the characters. It would give them more time to be developed in a more natural way. For instance Bullock feels more like a cameo this week so that other characters can be thrown into the episode. There are no shortage of interesting characters here so it’d be great to see them explored more fully.
A refreshing return to form for the series that is beginning to capitalise on the potential introduced in the first episode. Comic book references are being included in a more sophisticated way and the Viper/Venom references set up an important part of the Batman lore that can be mined in the future. The Wayne Enterprises corruption subplot gives an organic reason for Bruce Wayne and Alfred to be a prominent feature in the show as well as setting up a potentially interesting corporate villain for the show. Fish Mooney continues to be the most fascinating character in the show manipulating events in a way that benefits her and the upcoming gang war is being developed nicely. The show has a tendency to cram as many of the characters as possible into each episode whether their presence makes sense or not and the case of the week formula still feels underwhelming and mundane. This was a very promising step in the right direction.