6:02pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Gotham' Central: Five Questions About 'The Balloonman'
Just three weeks in, and Gotham already has introduced the subject of vigilantism, even if Bruce Wayne is still some time away from putting on a cape and cowl. “The Balloonman” was an episode that didn’t just hint at the future path of the series, but placed neon lights pointing in the direction and loudly started construction, just to make it obvious.
It wasn’t just the thematic content of the episode, either; following last week’s child kidnappings, this week had a murderer with an outrageous gimmick who even earned a supervillain-esque name from the press. Admittedly, the Balloonman isn’t a classic Batman villain — and, for the curious, neither Carl Smikers nor Davis Lamond are names with any special resonance from the comic book mythology for the character — but, considering the first episode of this series was about a relatively realistic double homicide, things have definitely taken a turn for Dick Sprang-level subtlety very quickly.
While we’re trying to work out whether or not weather balloons really could lift people into the air and keep them there for a day or two, here are five more pressing questions about “The Balloonman.”
Can we keep Bruce Wayne away from Jim Gordon for awhile?
For the first time in the series, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) was charming in his junior intensity this week, with Sean Pertwee’s Alfred Pennyworth managing to play with him in a way that felt both more believable and less forced than his scenes in the first couple of episodes. It helped that we broke out of the “Bruce tries something dangerous, only to be revealed as his testing his limits and then pouting when asked about it” rhythm of the first couple of episodes, but even more so, giving Bruce a less sympathetic, gruffer character to play against makes the pained sincerity so much more meaningful, while cutting down on the potential for such scenes seeming overly cute.
It helps that keeping Bruce and Alfred out of the main story this week also meant we didn’t have any credibility-busting reason for either character to visit the precinct just to interact with the rest of the cast. Let’s keep Bruce tucked away in Wayne Manor for awhile, please.
What is Don Maroni planning with Arkham?
The name Arkham was dropped twice this episode, following up on last week’s revelation that the asylum of the same name has been closed for 15 years, despite attempts by the murdered Waynes to reopen it: Don Maroni asked Oswald whether he had overheard the names “Arkham” and “Falcone,” and then Fish said to Falcone himself, “You’re talking about Arkham — and I thought you had that locked up.” So, what exactly is going on between the besieged head of Gotham’s crime families and Arkham — and, for that matter, is it Arkham the asylum, or a person who bears the same name?
What is the Penguin up to?
Perhaps sooner than expected, Oswald Cobblepot is back in Gotham City and proving himself to be even more of a sociopath than had already been obvious (That we don’t know what happened to the man in the restaurant with the same size feet was a nice touch; whatever we can imagine is inevitably more effective than anything that could’ve been shown onscreen; Robin Lord Taylor continues to do wonders with the role). His arrival might have been unexpected this early, but it’s also matched by an increase in his obsession with the city. “Gotham is my destiny, it’s my future!” he exclaimed early in the episode — but in what sense, and how does he plan to achieve that destiny? When he showed up at Gordon’s door at the end of the episode, was he planning on blackmailing the cop in order to keep the secret about playing dead, or does he have something else in mind?
What kind of secrets are in Barbara’s past?
As with the first confrontation between Major Crimes Unit’s Renee Montoya and Gordon’s fiancee, this week’s conversation suggested that there’s a lot more to Barbara Kean than meets the eye. With lines like, “I know that doesn’t erase the things that I did” and accusations of drug use, there’s clearly some dramatic history between the two — and it’s history that she doesn’t seem to have shared with Gordon, given that he doesn’t appear aware that Barbara has any relationship with Montoya at all. How long before we get more information about their shared past — and when we do, will Gordon find out as well?
How long before Gordon stops reacting?
The Montoya/Barbara connection isn’t the only thing that Gordon’s seemingly overlooking. In this episode alone, he got hoodwinked by Selina Kyle and ended up feeling sorry for himself about the corruption in the city (“The city’s sick, sick in a way I didn’t realize…”) and the powerlessness that breeds in its citizens. While Gordon’s railing against vigilantes may put him in a place of moral superiority, it nonetheless underscores how out of sync he is with everyone and everything else around him, as well as how little he's actually doing about it other than soliloquizing.
It’s possible that this episode will mark a turning point for Jim Gordon in the same way that it did for Bruce Wayne — this wasn’t just the first time Bruce identified as a detective, it was also the episode in which he defined his moral code: “[The Balloonman] killed people, that made him a criminal too” — that, moving forward, we’ll see a Gordon who is aware of the corruption at all levels of city authority and tries to work around it (or, better yet, expose it) while working to bring justice to the city. To date, Gordon has been a character who means well, but is continually used by others for their own reasons.
If we’re going to continue to root for him as a character — never mind if we’re supposed to believe that he’ll one day become the Commissioner Gordon Batman trusts to have his back on a nightly basis— then we need to see him step up and do the right thing for himself sooner, rather than later. If that doesn’t happen soon, then Gotham City — and Gotham, the television show — might be more doomed than anyone suspects.