'Gotham' Episode 3 recap: 'The Balloonman'

For The Baltimore Sun

Bruce Wayne isn't the only one evolving. The villains are becoming more ruthless, the citizens more restless and our hero, James Gordon, less hopeful.

I’d hate to burst your bubble (and dole out bad puns), but “The Balloonman” won’t have you at the edge of your seat. Neither the villain du jour nor his method for murdering corrupt public figures is all that fascinating.

The M.O. is terrifying for anyone with a fear of heights. Otherwise, watching someone slowly float away on a weather balloon seems whimsical in comparison to the typical gruesome on-screen deaths. (I blame the Penguin for desensitizing me with all of his senseless stabbings.)

What is fascinating about the Balloonman is the point he makes: Everyone in Gotham is corrupt. Yup, that includes Gordon by mere association. As long as he’s surrounded by crooked cops, the Balloonman argues, he can’t truly serve and protect the Gotham citizens.

Fish Mooney was onto something when she said Gordon is “a little sinner like the rest of us.” Nobody is truly good, especially not on “Gotham.” That would make for terrible TV.

But it’s far too early in the season to see Gordon break his good boy streak. We need to see him hold it together a few more episodes to make sure that we can trust him as our hero, even as Gotham ails.

“The city’s sick,” Gordon tells Barbara, “sick in a way I hadn’t realized.”

Gotham has long been a cesspool of sin. But since the murder of the Waynes, the only virtuous public figures of Gotham, the city has been teetering on the brink of anarchy.

Carmine Falcone and Mooney are duking it out to see who will be on top while Sal Maroni is waiting in the wings. Oswald Cobblepot sees this revolution in the making and wants in. He’s gone so far as to kill a dishwasher (the person, not the appliance) to steal his shoes just so that he can work at one of Maroni’s haunts.

That’s beyond excessive. He bought a tuna fish sandwich (because of course a guy nicknamed Penguin buys a tuna fish sandwich) from a street vendor with a $100 bill. You can bet he could afford a pair of non-slip shoes.

But Cobblepot’s deranged, and in a city like Gotham what’s another homicide? His crazy plan worked. With his new his job and new connection, he’s just a stepping stone to taking over Gotham’s crime scene.

For a show about Batman, the scenes with the future Dark Knight are generally lackluster. Not that it isn’t interesting to see Bruce fence with Alfred or see him learn the lessons that will mold him into the Caped Crusader — it is. I only wish it could be done with better direction.

“He killed people. That made him a criminal too,” Bruce notes about Balloonman. This is a key moment for Bruce: refusing to kill is what separates Batman from the villains he fights. It’s what also separates Gordon from the corrupt cops like Bullock.

But the line and delivery felt weak. Sure, “Gotham” isn’t a deep show. But why did a pivotal scene like that have to be spoon-fed to the audience?

I did, however, enjoy seeing Bruce eagerly break his days-long fast with a hearty bite of food when the TV reporter asked, “Who will save Gotham now?” He has an appetite to fight crime.

Slow down, Bruce. Gotham and Gordon aren’t ready for Batman. “If the people take the law into their own hands, then there is no law,” Gordon tells Barbara.

Law? What law is there in Gotham? Falcone has every criminal and civil servant in his pocket from the drug dealers to the mayor.

The only person who’s using the law to fight the crooks is Gordon. He dismisses the idea of vigilantes now, but we know that won’t last since he later teams up with Batman. Until then, he still needs help from the outside.

The Balloonman isn’t the vigilante that Gotham needs. And Bruce is too young. How soon until Barbara’s hungry to fight crime?

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM “THE BALLOONMAN”:

BEST ONE LINER: “Danzer was a bum, he got what he deserved. I’m going to get a Danish, that’s what I deserve.” – Harvey Bullock

MOST DISTURBING HOBBY: Solving your parents’ murder. Who keeps pictures of their parents’ crime scene lying around? Yikes.

HOW TO BE THE MOST BADASS CHARACTER: Step 1. Steal a crooked cop’s pen. Step 2. Use that pen to pick the lock of your handcuffs. Step 3. Drop the handcuffs down the sewer to Detective Gordon after you’ve proved him wrong. Step 4. Slink away while climbing more fire escapes and rooftops while giving zero damns. Probably.

HOW TO BE THE WORST CHARACTER: Slug a woman. Just no, Bullock. Like we really needed another reason to hate the guy.

CHANGE YOUR LOCKS: Stalker alert! Detective Montoya illegally entered Barbara’s apartment with the key she never gave her back after they broke up. So. Sketch. I suspected they had a fling with that whole “Does he know you like I know you?” with an implied wink a couple episodes back. I did not suspect that Barbara did, well, does drugs. Seems tame in the grand scheme of “Gotham” crimes, but Montoya did hint she was into other trouble.

Babs, step away from the drugs. Batgirl/Batwoman can’t fight crime high. Who else is going to help Gordon while we’re waiting for Bruce to trade in his fencing sword for his utility belt?

CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS: Gah! It’s Cobblepot at Gordon’s door! Why did you let him in, Babs?! You know what? Don’t move from your apartment just yet. That clock window is too sweet. Just invest in a peephole or barricade your door and never leave your apartment. Going outdoors is overrated anyway.

ARKHAM BLUES: I wonder what Falcone has in store for Arkham Asylum, the notorious psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. I’m guessing he’ll convince the mayor to reopen it, then send his thugs and henchmen there to run an illegal business that’s evil and profitable, of course. Or he could use it as an exile for detectives who aren’t with the program. How else is he going to teach Gordon a lesson for not whacking Cobblepot?

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