In its latest episode, “Viper”, Gotham introduces another element of the Batman mythos — Venom, the drug that gives the musclebound arch-villain Bane his strength. Here, however, like Bruce Wayne himself, Venom’s merely in its titular beta version, dispensed on the streets of the city by disgruntled scientist Stan Potolsky, who’s been laid off by his employer, a subsidiary division of Wayne Enterprises. (A premise familiar to fans of DC comics-based television.) All of which further fuels young Bruce’s investigation into his parents’ murders. There’s an intriguing suggestion made that perhaps the company has been involved in some shady business practices, and an even more intriguing, and much more subtle, suggestion (visible only for a moment in Alfred’s facial reaction when speaking about the subject with Bruce), that Thomas and Martha Wayne themselves may have been less than perfect role models.
If the show should pursue this notion, it will give a new dimension to the Batman’s war on crime, as the Dark Knight will be motivated by a desire to erase the sins of his father just as much as by any thirst for justice and order. But one of the most frustrating things about Gotham is that we’ll never get to see that story fully explored. Since, even if the show should run eight years, we’ll only be watching a twenty-one-year-old Bruce Wayne in its final season.
Since such lines of reasoning lead to madness, it’s best to focus on what Gotham is rather than what it can never be. And what it is at the moment is still a bit confused. It continues trying to incorporate the tones and subgenres of various periods of Bat history, regardless of whether they fit comfortably on the same shelf. Thus crime bosses Don Falcone and Don Maroni are played as straight as any characters out of The Godfather, while the third point in the show’s core power triangle, Fish Mooney, is a little more Jessica Lange in American Horror Story. She’s a semi-camp character who, to a certain extent, recalls the villains of the 1960s Batman TV show. Gotham tries for some minor titillation by having her pull a Henry Higgins and train tough-as-nails singer Liza (whose name can’t be a coincidence) to be a sweet-talking lady in order to win Falcone’s heart and breach his defenses. Unfortunately, actress Makenzie Leigh, who plays the living “weapon” and aria warbler, is a bit lifeless in what she’s been given to do thus far.
Much better is Dexter‘s David Zayas as Maroni, who strikes just the right note between larger than life and grim reality, threatening both Jim Gordon and Oswald Cobblepot while chowing down on lobster, in an effort to clear the latter so he may continue providing him with information he can use against Falcone.
Gordon, with his partner Harvey “What’s altruism?!” Bullock (their relationship is seen slowly warming up over an aborted lunch), is also hunting villain-of-the-week Potolsky, who’s developed the perfect drug for a forty-three minute TV show: one that grants its users super-strength for a limited time before causing their bones to crumble to dust. It’s another cartoon menace when held up against the ongoing threat of gang warfare, but its Wayne Enterprises connection serves to get Bruce and Alfred out of their mansion and into the bigger continuing story. David Mazouz gives the episode’s best performance. He makes us believe a child could channel all his rage, sadness, and loss into a lifelong crusade against evil — and have a political science major’s understanding of the subtleties of criminal law. Mazous’s controlled, subtle delight at watching Alfred (an almost as good Sean Pertwee) abandon his stance against continuing the murder investigation and join him in a bout of afternoon research is endearing.
Yet the now token appearances by Selina “Catwoman” Kyle and Edward “Riddler” Nygma really do very little to develop Gotham‘s ongoing central story. And I again find myself wishing the show could remove these extraneous characters until a time when their presence is needed. Until then, I’ll find myself half enjoying Gotham and half enduring it. It’s still the craziest comic-book-based quilt on network TV. And if it someday learns to go as deep as it has wide, then Batman fans really will get the TV show they deserve.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).