Before a man dressed up as a bat and went out to terrorize the criminal scum of Gotham City, there was another vigilante. A man who used balloons to deal with corruption and crime. They called him... Balloonman. And we got to know him pretty well last night on Gotham. Spoilers ahead...
This was another fun episode of Gotham, in which the buddy-cop hijinks between Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock continue to be pure gold. And yet, it was also another episode that seemed to be trying awfully hard to give us giant hints and winks at the Bat-shaped future of this world.
The actual plot of the episode is pretty neat, and reveals just how fed up ordinary people are with the corruption and nastiness in Gotham — in a nutshell, a guy has gotten four weather balloons and is chaining them to some of the city's leading scumbags, causing them to float up until they die in the stratosphere. As methods of committing murder, it's pretty goofy. But it allows the show to talk about the city's scummy ethos and include a lot of conversations about whether a vigilante is needed in Gotham.
And then... the show has to keep winking at the audience. All of the scenes involving Bruce Wayne in this episode are completely pointless, and mostly are there so that we can see Young Bruce contemplating the work of another vigilante, and realizing that Balloonman is going about it the wrong way. Bruce also pores over the case files about his parents' murder, looking for a clue that he doesn't see. But Bruce's arc in this episode consists of not eating, and then eating at the end when he realizes that people do need a vigilante.
Also, when Balloonman gets caught, he gives a big speech about how there will be others like him, and maybe one of them will be some kind of flying creature of the night... yes, wait... some kind of flying marsupial perhaps.
It's a little bit silly, and the show really, really does not need to spoonfeed us this stuff.
Because like I said, the stuff with Bullock and Gordon is great — Bullock doesn't care about the Balloonman as long as he's killing Ponzi-scheming bastards and pedophile priests, but as soon as he takes down Detective Cranston (who beats people with his community service award) then Bullock is all over it.
In the end, Gordon catches the Balloonman, through pure luck (the Balloonman was a juvenile detention officer who happened to have Gordon's paperwork in his pocket when he attacked a dirty cop, and the cop grabbed it before he was chained to a balloon. It makes total sense. Why are you looking like that?) and Bullock basically wants to let the Balloonman die at the hands (um, the strings) of his own balloon. But Gordon believes in justice for everyone — so he risks his own life to bring the Balloon Man in alive.
Gordon is pretty anti-vigilante in this episode, which means we're going to get to see his attitudes change as things get worse. He says at one point, "Everyone has to matter or nobody matters. Otherwise people lose faith. That's when you get vigilantes."
The hilarious part, though, is all the "man on the street" interviews where everybody is like, "Yeahhhhhhhh Balloonman! There's a new sheriff in town, and he's got a balloon for every crook!" And at the end of the episode, when the Balloonman has been caught, the TV reporter starts editorializing into the camera about how sad it is that this murdering vigilante has been nabbed, because who will save the people of Gotham now?
Gordon also keeps needling Bullock about the fact that they got the wrong guy for the Wayne murder, and the fact that they're generally pretty terrible at being cops. What's great about all those scenes is that Bullock is kind of annoyed at having his ethical lapses pointed out like that, but he's not particularly angry — he's sort of laid-back and mellow in his lack of ethical standards.
Also, Selina Kyle tells Gordon she saw the face of the man who shot the Waynes... but doesn't actually describe that face, because Gordon is too busy climbing down into a sewer to look for the wallet she snatched right before the murder, proving she was at the scene. And then she makes her escape while he's down there.
Meanwhile, the Penguin comes back to Gotham and witnesses like ten muggings and assaults in a 20 second period. He kills a guy who recognizes him and threatens to rat him out to Fish Mooney, and then he kills another guy for his shoes, so he can take that guy's job at a restaurant frequented by mobsters. (That's a job-seeking strategy that probably never occurs to most people, but apparently it works great.) And then the Penguin finds himself face to face with Sal Maroni, the rival crime boss who's coming up and challenging Carmine Falcone. (Most of us know Maroni as the guy who turned Harvey Dent into Two-Face.)
And speaking of which, Fish Mooney apparently sends someone to rough up Falcone's girlfriend, as payback for Falcone roughing up her boyfriend. And then she insinuates to Allen and Montoya, the Two Honest Cops in Gotham, that Jim Gordon killed the Penguin for Falcone. (This leads to Allen and Montoya ineffectually confronting Gordon, and then Montoya having another one of her ex-lovers coversations with Gordon's girlfriend Barbara, who later gets Gordon to swear that he hasn't murdered anyone lately — or no drink for Gordon.)
And then just as Barbara has gotten reassured that Jim Gordon is a good guy after all, his old friend the Penguin turns up at their front door.
All in all, this show continues to be as two-sided as Two-Face's infamous coin — the ridiculously blatant hints about "but one day maybe there will be another vigilante in town, who doesn't kill and has pointy ears" are just bonkers. But I could watch the Bullock-and-Gordon hour, with a campy mob war simmering in the background, for hours.
Oh, and check out the set designs — Barbara's place has a ginormous clockface which I didn't notice before, and Fish Mooney's club has a ginormous fish skeleton sign: