New shows often need to start out strong in order to cement themselves in the viewers’ consciousnesses, and to prove that they indeed have some staying power. Of late, that task has fallen to one of television’s biggest gambles, Gotham, a show about the city of Gotham before Bruce Wayne became Batman, when guys like Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock were still simple detectives or when mob bosses like Sal Maroni and Carmine Falcone were at the top of their game. Fortunately, Gotham has started out fairly strong and seems intent to stay that way, if last week’s episode Arkham is any indication.
In the new week, “Viper” is quite the traditional “new drug on the streets” police procedural episode but it still stands a fairly good episode on its own. It doesn’t quite match the fantasticness of last week’s Arkham, but it still moves the larger story forward while also providing a reference to one of the most iconic Batman villains ever and gives Penguin and Jim both some really great moments together. I’m really getting into the groove of the show now and having a blast as well. This is a very different take on these characters than I’m used to, but that’s exactly why I’m enjoying the show so much, this week’s episode no exception.
One of the most striking facts about this episode is that positions Sal Maroni as a really great mob boss and shows just why he is so much more put together than Carmine Falcone. Falcone relies on his reputation alone to keep everyone in line, though he is starting to lose his grip on his men and women. Sal Maroni on the other hand is the young blood, able to sense an opportunity and go straight for the jugular. They are very different men to each other and “Viper” highlights that to great effect. In a scene involving both Oswald Cobblepot and Jim Gordon, Sal is absolutely brilliant in a way that Carmine could never be. And I love that. Two mob bosses, both similar to each other, would have been just boring but the reality on the ground is different, and that’s works extremely well for me.
We’ve also seen recently that following a rather extreme state of mind in the wake of his parents’ murder, young Bruce Wayne is now bouncing back and taking an interest in the people around him and in Gotham itself. Last week, we saw that the division of the Arkham district had really shaken him out of his torpor, and now we see how he channels his energies into finding out the truth. It is still very early years for Bruce to become Batman, entirely too much in fact, but I love that we are slowly starting to see him develop into a detective, to do the tough job of researching everything everywhere in order to suss out how the mobs have real control of the city.
Gotta love that, really, because in addition to giving young Bruce Wayne a solid reason to be on this show, it also provides some really great scenes between him and Alfred, who is just amazing on the show, in a very unexpected kind of way. Watching Sean Pertwee and David Masouz interact on-screen reminds me very strongly of the easy relationship the more adult versions have with each other, and it is a nice and subtle callback to the comic origins of the show.
However, that’s not the main focus of this week’s episode, for that honour goes to Stan Topolski and his viper drug. It is a rather interesting angle for the show to take since it even goes on to reference the classic, iconic villain called Bane when we learn that a more refined and developed version of the super-strength drug is called Venom. It is small things that really make the experience a pleasurable one, and this one has it in spades.
The motivations for the main villain or his one ally aren’t all that convincing unfortunately, but going by how everything else is so good, something like this is easy to overlook. Stan Topolski isn’t particularly memorable either, for that honour will undoubtedly go to his drug, which creates a godly euphoria in the user for a few hours, during which the user finds himself or herself with increased strength, but which ultimately kills its user regardless of anything else. It is a particularly dangerous drug since it isn’t being sold via the usual channels but is instead distributed for free to a significant number of people, creating “evidence” in the process, the reference to which doesn’t become apparent until later.
Taken as a whole, this is a fairly good episode, but other than the lack of a memorable villain, it also suffers in some other areas, such as the fact that Selina Kyle makes a rather weird cameo for a few seconds before disappearing. I get the point of that scene, that it is intend to remind the viewers that Selina Kyle is indeed on the show and that she also often stalks Jim Gordon when he is out of the precinct. Or the fact that Stan’s ally is even less convincing than he is.
But at the same time, in Sal Maroni I’ve found a really good villain, someone who is going to cause some big waves in the city’s criminal seas in the future weeks, even as Fish Mooney plots her takeover of all of Carmine Falcone’s loyal families at one end and Oswald works his way up Maroni’s gang bit by bit. As always, Robin Lord Taylor is absolutely one of my favourite actors on the show and this episode gives him a lot to work on, none of which is bad in any way, not even remotely so.
It is characters like Fish, Sal Maroni and Oswald that make this show really worth watching, even as the good guys do their own thing and start stumbling along to find their own footing in a city changed by the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and everything that emerges as a result.
Pretty decent, solid episode this one.