Gotham Episode 1.3 Recap: The Balloonman

Through most of the first half of Episode 1.3, I found myself impatient. Every scene and interaction seemed the same. It felt pretty early in the series’ run for the episode’s themes to be so stale and predictable. I get that in the first couple of episodes of a series a fair amount of repetition is necessary to accommodate the late arrivers,  but Gotham seemed particularly static. I even commented to those watching with me that for the second week in a row Oswald Cobblepot killed somebody and then ate a sandwich.

Part of what I realized during a commercial break was that too many of the scenes were not just not just narratively repetitious but visually and aurally static. Too many scenes were the same length. Everyone at the Gotham City Police Department snaps and snarls. Even Alfred (Sean Petwee), an historic model of aplomb, is louder and more shrill than what we are used to. I don’t mind that character interpretation so much–it is one of the fewer fresh takes on familiar characters–but it does contribute to a pervasive quality of loudness that makes it harder for me to settle in and get comfortable with these characters.

That’s perhaps why I found myself drawn to a few scenes with as yet minor characters. Pretty much any scene with Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) in it was a welcome relief. Even if the confrontation between Barb and Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) trotted out some well worn tropes–love triangle, recovering addict–it played more sad than mad. So, too, oddly, did the confrontation between Falcone (John Doman) and Fish Mooney. Perhaps my judgment is infused with residual good will from The Wire, but Doman is such a pleasure to watch. Most professional actors would know not to bluster in that role, but Doman doesn’t even give Falcone’s speech much edge, even when he is talking about punishing “whoever” attacked his paramour. Neither is he overly, artificially nonchalant. He’s not trying to convince Fish he doesn’t care, he actually feels indifferent towards her threat. One doesn’t try to intimidate a fly, one just brushes it aside.

So there were some quiet moments, but I would like a bit more variety in the length and tone of scenes. Or the look, for that matter. Just how many scenes do we need at Gordon’s or at Wayne Manor that are shot in front of a fireplace? Will there be any humor or oases of warmth? (The domestic scenes are visually warmer but still filled with conflicted emotions.) The most overt attempt at humor was a horrible misfire: a a Balloonman victim falling out of the sky and landing on a random pedestrian. It’s hard to get us to buy into the heroic nature of Gordon’s quest to save Gotham from despair when the show itself dehumanizes the civilian population or treats it (outside of Barbara) with such contempt. (This was a thematic issue that hindered Nolan’s The Dark Knight as well.)

I am still wondering, too, whether the prequel will come up with story lines that can develop or move forward rather than simply wait for Batman to grow up. Many superhero movies are villain origin stories, but there is a difference between the villain’s arc taking up the first hour of a movie and it taking up the first few years of a series.

But…take a breath. This is episode three. Oswald appearing on Gordon’s doorstep at least assures us that we will be spared weeks of Barbara wondering if Gordon really did kill him and Gordon wondering if Barbara believes him.

Did you have a favorite scene in Episode 1.3? Are any characters beginning to emerge from the ensemble as favorites?


4 Replies to “Gotham Episode 1.3 Recap: The Balloonman”

  1. Mike Ward

    I absolutely hated this episode of Gotham. The only scene I liked was the last one between Jim and Barbara. That was partly because it was so much better that what came before it, and partly because I was expecting it to go some place really stupid–having Barbara ask Jim if he was a murderer just because her stalker ex-girlfriend said he was after hearing it from a murderous gangster–and instead it actually gave Barbara a legitimate reason to wonder if Jim was crooked–his statement that almost did sound an attempt to ambiguously confess something–only to have her answer her own question after seeing his innocence just looking at him.

    • kenmorefield

      Mike is that a downward trend from previous two? Or have you been pretty ambivalent about the whole series? I think it was the weakest of the three episodes so far, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the show as a whole might be looking for its stride.

      • Mike Ward

        I thought the first two were a lot better though I can’t say I really liked any of them, but I did like much of the first one and thought it showed potential, and I’m definitely giving it another shot next week.

        If you’re doing a review of episode four, I’ll read it. I enjoyed this one for episode three. You point out some things that I didn’t notice at least not consciously. Of all the things I consciously disliked about it, none of them really explained why I was also just so completely bored watching it. It may have been the result of the repetitivness and staticness.

        BTW, I rarely like new TV shows and almost all the TV shows I watch are reruns of olders shows so if I were grading on a curve, I’d say I enjoyed the first two episodes at least as much as I would have enjoyed the typical new show and maybe more, but by any standard I hated episode three.

  2. Scott

    I like the points you both make, I do think Gotham has an interesting conundrum. If this was a mini-series, characters could develop at a faster-rate into whom we know they become. However, as a series that Fox ultimately wants to get plenty of mileage out of, the characters have to go at a slower pace. Oswald has to spend years working his way to the top of the food chain. Justified comes to mind in the way its taken Boyd Crowder 6 years to develop as much as he has as a character, with success and failure in the criminal underworld. Or even Lex on Smallville. It took him many years into the show’s run before he demonstrated a true Super-Villain persona.

    The trick for Gotham is to quickly show us the potential of these characters towards their inevitable form, but then present a larger arc for these characters to go through that is new to audiences.

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