Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gotham: The Balloonman Review



GOTHAM: THE BALLOONMAN

The Balloonman is the first Gotham episode that I felt brought together the police procedural we have and the Batman story we are leading up to in a perfectly balanced way.  This is due to having two stories going on simultaneously: the investigation of crimes that are pretty bizarre (fitting in this comic book-based world) and the slow rise of a prime Batman villain, The Penguin.  It also helps that nearly everyone's performances in The Balloonman are top-notch, with two or three standing out in a sea of altogether strong performances.

Gotham has a mysterious avenging angel.  He finds disreputable members of society (an embezzler, a dirty cop, a very dirty cardinal) and executes them by latching them onto a weather balloon and have them float up into the air.  As we know, what goes up...

Put on the case is Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue).  Bullock is generally unconcerned that these figures are going up, up, and away, but Gordon, being Gordon, believes no one can take the law into their own hands.  As they continue to investigate, a clue finds that the case is tied to Gordon via the caseworker for Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who now has both provided information about the Wayne murders and managed to run off.


Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) has slithered back to Gotham, taking the first steps to become a master criminal.  He finds the grime and corruption of the city beautiful.  With his mind still on revenge against Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith), he gets a job at the restaurant of Sal Maroni (David Zayas), the rival to Mooney's patron Falcone (John Doman).   Mooney, even if she were aware of Cobblepot's return, is too concerned with striking at Falcone, which involves having his girl go through an off-screen 'accident' and even getting rid of her faithful and loyal lover, Lazlo (Michelangelo Milano).  Gotham is coming closer to a crime war, but there are other players that have yet to make their presence known.

Meanwhile, Barbara Kean (Erin Richards), whose drug and lesbian history is slowly being revealed to us (but not Gordon) keeps having doubts about James placed by her former lover, Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena), who thinks Gordon is dirty.  She is convinced Gordon killed Cobblepot on Falcone's orders, so when Oswald shows up at Barbara and James' flat, it comes as a shock to both of them (and imagine if Montoya knew about this).

In all of this, young Master Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), becoming obsessed with the investigation of his parent's death and the actions of the now-captured Balloonman, he wonders whether someone may be willing to break the law in order to save it.  Who will defend the people of Gotham, a reporter asks, now that the vigilante Balloonman has been taken.  Young Bruce ponders such a query...

The Balloonman works so well because of three things: story, visuals, and performances.  In regards to the first, we see that the cases Bullock and Gordon are getting are not tied to the general Batman mythos.  They may be as I am not well-versed enough to know every detail of it.  However, the crimes of the Balloonman are bizarre enough to take place in this comic book-based world and yet be grounded (no pun intended) in that world's reality.  The actual revelation of the Balloonman was both logical in terms of investigative work (albeit with a touch too happy coincidence) and plausible.


The Balloonman himself is in some ways a more twisted version of Gordon.  James Gordon is someone who will fight to protect all, both guilty and innocent.  The Balloonman has similar goals, but he has decided to work outside the law to enact justice on those the law is unable to touch.  Despite the call for him to do the same, James Gordon is not prepared to slip into the darkness of justice.  Bullock, for his part, has no problem giving the Balloonman a taste of his own medicine, but while the shady Bullock and the moral Gordon have reached d├ętente with their worldviews and are forming a solid team, Gordon will not slip into Bullock's darkness either.  Throwing himself onto a floating Balloonman, it is now Bullock who is faced with a moral dilemma: let the scum go up with his partner or bring both of them down to safety. 

Seeing the interaction between Logue (whom I'm starting to like as Bullock) and McKenzie (whom I'm also liking and identifying with) is one of the great treats of Gotham.  They even bring a touch of comedy, as when an irate Gordon asks what information Bullock got from a hotdog vendor.  None, Harvey replies.  He just wanted a hotdog.  Seeing Gordon save Bullock from having a large woman almost smash his head in with a television screen is tense.  Seeing Bullock punch said woman out is funny in a very creepy way.

Still, I'm getting ahead of myself.  The storylines of the Balloonman and Penguin's rise are balance with neither overwhelming the other.  We also continue to keep getting simply amazing visuals in Gotham, from the shocking rise and fall of Gotham's best and brightest to when Jimmy the balloon company head whose balloons were stolen.  Gotham has captured the noir atmosphere of a city crumbling all around us so well, again...Outstanding Cinematography Emmy consideration here.



It's a longer shot given how snobbish and at times idiotic the Television Academy can be, but there would be no justice if Robin Lord Taylor isn't already showing up on potential Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series lists for his pitch-perfect performance as Oswald Cobblepot.  Taylor shows Cobblepot to seemingly be weak, almost frightened (as when a low-level thug for Mooney recognizes him and is dragging him off to her club) to completely turn it around and show Cobblepot to be a dangerous and deadly enemy.  Very same scene, Cobblepot seems to gather his senses and violently kills this thug off.  Being network television there is only so much they can show, but the visuals and what we ARE shown are enough to leave their impression.  When Cobblepot is told he doesn't have the right kind of shoes to work at Maroni's restaurant, Oswald sees someone who does, and instantly we see the wheels turning.

In turns chilling and almost sympathetic, RLT is slowly creating what I think may be the most iconic interpretation of The Penguin.  As he once was in awe of Danny DeVito's Penguin in Batman Returns, so many Gotham viewers will be in awe of Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin. 

Pinkett Smith continues to have fun as the deliciously evil Fish Mooney, and while she had a small role Bicondova does great work as Selina.  However, for me the second standout (RLT being the first) is David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne.  Again, his role is small (understandably), but he so commands the screen with that mix of despair and innocence.  While watching the television report on the Balloonman, we can see that Master Bruce is pondering seriously who can be in a position to save Gotham from itself.  All the ideas of who Bruce Wayne will grow up to be appear to be entering his mind, and Mazouz continues to rise and rise in his interpretation. 

The Balloonman manages to tell two stories well, has strong visual elements, and really strong performances all around (Taylor and Mazouz being my favorites and I believe the strongest).  I'm so pleased that Gotham is finding its rhythm and that if it keeps producing episodes like The Balloonman, it will not only be a hit but will be a great addition to the Batman Canon.

          

8/10

Next Episode: Arkham

15 comments:

  1. This was definitely the best episode so far. The acting, plotting all came together nicely.

    Robin Taylor and Jada Smith are my favorites as well. I also liked the fact that Bruce and Alfred are beginning to show some humor. Hopefully, Gordon would do the same too.

    B2B.

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    1. I know people are split on JPS: some find her refreshing, some campy. I fall in the former. However, RLT as Oswald/Penguin is simply astonishing and I think pushing to being the best version of the character.

      I don't know if Gordon will lighten up, at least in the foreseeable future. Someone's got to be the brooding not-so-young man. Still, Gotham is impressing me greatly.

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    2. I think the people who find JPS campy are just not into DC Comics. They tend to be Marvel fans and desperately need reasons to not like DC adaptations.

      Just my two cents.

      B2B.

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    3. As someone who doesn't know the difference between DC and Marvel, I have no opinion on any 'rivalry'. I think it's just as silly as the war between Sherlockians (fans of "Sherlock") and Elementarians (fans of "Elementary"). I have strong issues w/Sherlock and personally prefer Elementary, but I think Cumberbatch certainly has done wonders in making SH his own.

      However, I do hear those who love Agents of SHIELD trash-talk Gotham, so there may be some truth to the idea (however, they similarly love Arrow, but is that DC or Marvel...I have no idea).

      Finally, as for JPS, I think she knows Fish Mooney is EVIL with all caps, and plays it as such. So long as we have Robin Lord Taylor as Penguin, I frankly don't care...he alone is worth watching.

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    4. I too like Benedict's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. His is a refreshing take on an iconic character of the Victorian era. The show does tend to get quite melodramatic sometimes. Still I watch the show for Cumberbatch and the nods to the Canon.

      Just as a FYI - Arrow is a DC character based show.

      B2B.


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    5. Thanks for letting me know. I'm not big on any DC/Marvel fight, but w/Arrow as DC as is Gotham, it looks like DC is doing great shows and lousy movies while Marvel might be the reverse (not having seen SHIELD I can't say for sure).

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    6. I too like both DC and Marvel adaptations, as long as they are well made and enjoyable.

      DC has had a good run with the Chris Reeve Superman movies (1 and 2), Batman movies (from Michael Keaton to Christian Bale). DC's animated adaptations have always been among the best (Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: TAS among many others). Somehow, they have not been able to score a home run with Man of Steel..

      Some Marvel fans tend to ignore DC's long successful run and seem to focus only on post-2000 entries and love to bash DC as a whole for their presumed inability to make hits (excluding Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy).

      In addition to these aforementioned DC shows/movies, I have enjoyed Marvel based Spiderman movies (Sam Raimi), X-Men, Blade and The Incredible Hulk. I have seen couple of episodes of SHIELD and found them boring.

      B2B.

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    7. I think I'm at an advantage since I can't distinguish between DC and Marvel. Therefore, I go in w/o prejudice for or against a film/series.

      MOS divides people: I found it ponderous, slow, and really a waste (not to mention, no Jimmy Olsen, who is a personal favorite). I gave it the mildest of recommendations I think because it wasn't AS BAD as I thought, but this one still troubles me.

      Personally, I think Marvel hasn't always scored (no one I know defends the Ang Lee/Eric Bana Hulk film or Spider-Man III). How soon they forget...

      As for SHIELD, while I love Agent Coulson I have yet to see an episode, but for all the Gotham-bashers who go on about how since this isn't about Batman, it isn't any good, note that SHIELD has to spin its own legends w/few if any Marvel superstars. Apart from Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury (which I think might have been a mere cameo), have we seen any 'big names' on the show?

      BTW, how will they tie in SHIELD w/Winter Soldier? Doesn't Coulson know what happened to SHIELD HQ?

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    8. The worst thing about MOS was the casting of Supes himself. Tom Welling would have been such a great choice, since he spent almost a decade playing Clark.

      I think they just went for a handsome chap to fill the tights, rather than one with the acting chops to pull off an invulnerable alien with a heart of gold.

      I guess it is too late now to recast the role. Hopefully, they will get it right the next time, whenever that happens....

      Another problem is the hiring of Zack Snyder. He is more style than substance. Interestingly, the special effects in MOS was one of the worst I have seen in summer blockbusters. In many scenes, the CGI was obvious. If only he had got those right, at least the movie would have passed off as a typical action blockbuster (like Transformers movies).

      Well, we always have the Chris Reeve movies....

      B2B.

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    9. Yes, Henry Cavill is a beautiful-looking man, but apart from a respectable job in "The Tudors", Cavill has been blank and wooden in every project he's been in (the British version of Channing Tatum).

      I wrote that Snyder would be a bad choice given his love for visuals over story and I think was proved correct.

      It's interesting that despite Cavill, Routh, and Welling, when people think 'Superman', only one face emerges, and that is as it should be, for Reeve kept the balance between the Man of Steel and the mild-mannered reporter. He could do both and do them well.

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    10. I remember seeing the trailer for Immortals which came out before MOS. Cavill was as blank in that trailer as he is in MOS. Guy probably never looks at his work and try to take some acting classes to improve himself.

      Since he, Snyder and Goyer are not going to go away anytime soon, I don't have much hopes for any good rendition of Supes in the near future.

      Not sure how much Chris Terrio will improve on the script for the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

      As you correctly pointed out, Chris Reeve will remain the definitive Supes.

      B2B.

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    11. Everything I read about Batman v. Superman worries me, in particular the overloading of so many superheroes (Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg). I worry that the film will collapse under its own weight.

      W/The Avengers, at least they all had their own films before joining forces. Here, it looks like they are throwing everything to match Marvel.

      One of the issues w/the Gotham pilot was in having so many villains appear at once (Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and possibly Joker). They've wisely spread them out a bit more, w/Penguin the primary villain and Edward Nygma & Selina Kyle not as prominent but still visible. DOJ is not doing this.

      That and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, who is as one-note as Cavill is, doing the same schtick and thinking it's 'acting'.

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    12. In addition, the movie also has Aquaman (to be played by Jason Momoa) and if rumors are correct, a female Robin (to be played by Jena Malone).

      Agree with you about Jesse Eisenberg. He always plays a slightly varying version of a genius who is also a jerk.

      B2B.

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    13. I reserve all judgment until the film's release, but sometimes you get a sixth sense that something is about to crash about your ears.

      My question is, 'how will all these characters be integrated into a plot where they are going to be introduced?'

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    14. It will be quite a herculean task to pull this off. Let us hope for the best.

      B2B.

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