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Gotham S1.03 The Balloonman Review

So, those hints of ’60 Batman silliness evident in the villains in the second episode weren’t a one-off. This bizarre hybrid of Dark Knight trilogy grimness and and “Holy Floating Cardinals!” campiness is here to stay. Whether the show has the skill to maintain this balancing act for the long run remains to be seen. The tonal gear changes this time are not as smooth as in the previous episode, and occasionally, as in big climax with Gordon dangling from the legs of the stratosphere-bound Balloonman, the combination of both tips over from quirky into downright embarrassing. On the other hand, you can’t help but grin at the brazen absurdity of an old lady being crushed by a plummeting pontiff.

The main problem with this approach is still the man at the heart of it all; Ben McKenzie as James Gordon remains uncomfortably stiff and vapid at the centre of the show. There are, though, tiny signs of improvement. During the scene with Selina before he goes down to the sewer he expresses a hint of an emotion other than mildly pissed off. And later in the episode he manages very pissed off. There’s even an occasional suggestion of “How can you stand in the corner of a round room?” crossing his brow every now and again.

But generally, he’s still a charm-free zone, and this Gordon feels like completely wrong for this Gotham, if the show is going where it looks like it’s going. Gordon doesn’t need to be as crazy as his surroundings; in fact, the contrast should be the core of the show. But McKenzie doesn’t provide a contrast, just a kind of beige nothingness.

Hooded Woman

Who wears a dressing gown with a hood? A character performing a bit of foreshadowing, clearly.

Bruce, who’s only in a couple of scenes, is far more interesting, as he watches the public’s reaction to the Balloonman with interest. Ultimately he can see the benefits of the anonymity of the mask, but rejects the Balloonman’s MO because he kills. It’s not exactly subtle foreshadowing, but it’s more engaging than Gordon’s story so far.

Likewise Oswald’s development. Once again he nearly steals the episode; severely creepy but fascinating to watch at the same time. He also discovers that the secret of getting a job in Gotham is making sure you have the right shoes; if only it were that easy in real life. But we’re suspicious that he has the same size feet as that kitchen porter he kills; Oswald’s feet look virtually clown-like.

Elsewhere, Jada Pinkett Smith continues to act like she’s being animated by Ray Harryhausen; the lesbian lover sub-plot between Montoya and Barbara Kean (soon to be Barbara Gordon, presumably) continues to feel as titillating as a Liberal Party Political Broadcast; and the police procedural plot of the week lumbers along with little evidence of clever twists or original plotting. There’s a very odd “suiting up scene” for Gordon – complete with dramatic editing and music – just before he swings into action by… going downstairs for breakfast. And Harvey Bullock still gets all the best lines (and a great, tongue-in-cheek interrogation montage).

The show’s definitely moving in a positive direction from its unprepossessing pilot, but episode three is a slight backwards step from the far more promising episode two. But this is show still finding its feet, and there’s plenty to suggest this early experimenting will pay dividends. They just need to work on making Gordon himself a more dynamic character.

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Best Moment

The fact that we only get to see the Cardinal floating into the sky on a TV screen somehow made it all the funnier. It was damned near Monty Python-esque. And did you notice that the Cardinal was called Quinn? Although Harley Quinn’s real name is Harleen Quinzel, so therefore presumably isn’t related to the creepy Cardinal, maybe she changed her name out of shame? After all, the Cardinal in shot is wearing Harley Quinn colours.

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Worst (Head)Line Of The Episode

The most groan-worthy gag of the episode isn’t even a line of dialogue, it’s a headline in the Gotham Gazette.

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Penguin Food

Oswald once again goes for a snack after he kills. He has a tuna sandwich, of course.

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Gotham Skyline

There seems to be a lot more establishing shots of Gotham in this episode, which may have been a consequence of the balloon-kidnapping plot, but is also helping to make the city itself more of a character within the show (even if some of the CGI enhancements are a little ropey).

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It's Wossisname

Wondering where you’ve seen the guy who had his balloons nicked before? Probably from Fringe where where played bookshop owner and informant Edward Markham. He’s actor Clark Middleton and he’s also been seen in Kill Bill 2 and Sin City. He looks like he’d make a good future villain in Gotham, but his credit, “Jimmy”, isn’t giving much away.

Gotham airs on Monday nights on Channel 5 in the UK, and on Fox in the US.

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