I'm not well-versed enough in Batman lore to know every little intricacy woven into Gotham, so some bits of Viper went over my head. That, however, allowed me to go into Viper with a cleaner slate and found myself enjoying the ability of the series to both grow in its own universe while including the Batman mythos that must have intrigued, even thrilled Batman fans. It wasn't until Viper wrapped that I saw that we get foreshadowing of yet another Batman villain. As it stands, however, Viper does a good enough job spinning its own tale that the connection, while present, isn't hampering another excellent Gotham episode.
A new drug has hit the streets. It's called Viper, and it gives its users virtual super-strength but also depletes them of calcium. Eventually, the need for calcium becomes so great that they literally crumble into nothing. Detectives James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) are on the case, the latter most reluctantly as it interrupts his lunch hour. As they continue investigating, they find a link to of all things, Wayne Enterprises. Out of the loop is Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), but that doesn't mean Master Bruce isn't aware that something fishy is going on. Putting his mind to work, he at first wonders how the Arkham deal managed to go down, and in his hunt for the truth he comes up against Wayne Enterprises' middle-management, which may be doing something a bit crooked.
The investigations are unwittingly tied, for in fact Viper is indeed the offspring of WellZyne Labs, a W.E. subsidiary that had been stopped by Thomas and Martha Wayne from continuing, but now with them nicely dead it was started up again. The drug's creator, Stan Potolsky (Daniel London) has attempted to bring Venom to the world's attention by passing it out free to the lowest members of society. However, that hasn't helped, so now he decides the only way to get the world's attention is to strike at the 1 Percent. Among those who fit the bill is a young orphan asking too many questions...
In the subplot, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), who clearly dislikes his nickname of "Penguin", confesses all to mob boss Maroni. This promptly gets him smacked down as Maroni wants to be sure this wild story about Cobblepot having worked for Fish Mooney and coming back from the dead is true. With that he 'invites' Gordon for a chat, where Jim in a calm voice confirms everything by telling the truth (a Gotham City novelty). Maroni, satisfied, lets them both live, but now thinks that Gordon may be beholden to Maroni.
Penguin is playing a very long game, and now Maroni has taken Oswald under his wing with the successful raid on Falcone's casino. That isn't to say all is going well for Mr. Cobblepot: one of Maroni's henchmen, Frankie (Danny Mastrogiorgio) clearly dislikes Penguin and doesn't trust him. For the moment though, Maroni is not Falcone's biggest problem. There is dissention in the ranks after the Arkham deal, with Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Nikolai (Jeremy Davidson) battling it out as to the right course of action. We find though, that this is all for show, as Fish and Nikolai are literally in bed together, Mooney pledging to help Nikolai push Falcone out as she goes all Fifty Shades on our Russian mobster.
As for the main investigation, thanks to forensics expert Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), the drug is as I mentioned traced to WellZyne, and Gordon finds Potolsky's mentor Isaac Steiner (Peter Maloney), a philosophy professor who encourages his protégé to strike at those wreaking havoc with their poison. Gordon realizes where Potolsky will strike as does Bruce's valet Alfred (Sean Pertwee), who quickly saves his charge and now has a softening in Bruce's fixation on investigating what is going on.
From the moment we see the street musician Benny (Kett Turton) call out the shopkeeper with the warning, "Do not vex me, mortal", right down to the rapid rescue of the Wayne Enterprises' mid-management, Viper doesn't flag in the tension and excitement department. We get a great many pieces with almost all the cast.
Of particular note is McKenzie as Gordon. His monologue detailing the truth about what happened on the docks with Maroni was simply McKenzie's best moment in Gotham so far, his calmness under extreme pressure mixed with the threat of death and Gordon's own honesty a great performance. In fact, Viper may be McKenzie's finest hour on Gotham. The open contempt he has for Taylor Reese (Margaret Collin) the WellZyne Public Relations director/general counsel who has no interest in the victims of her mad drug but only in protecting her company is brilliant. McKenzie's Gordon is clearly irritated and dismissive of Reese's lack of cooperation but hides it behind an obviously fake smile and words that drip with open disdain.
Logue even manages to bring a touch of comedy to Bullock. Steiner (who took Viper to try and kill them both), makes grand pronouncements to them. "Empty altruism will not erase what they've done. They must pay!" After he and Gordon are forced to gun down Steiner, Gordon keeps trying to find out where Potolsky was going. Bullock, meanwhile, shouts out to the corpse, "What's altruism?" Gordon's rather puzzled reply to his partner, "Charity", lent the scene some much-needed lightness, but it wasn't a throwaway line. It actually helped Gordon put things together.
Later on, when Potolsky jumps to his death, Bullock takes a swig from his flask and offers a quip. "You really can have too much of a good thing". Somehow, it fits.
One of Viper's highlights is in giving Mazouz's Bruce both something to do (his growing obsession with investigation showing that Batman is lurking in him somewhere) but it also does what I have wanted for some time: get him out of Wayne Manor. His scene with Sharon Washington's Molly Mathis (the Wayne Enterprises' middle manager up to her neck in duplicity) is again excellent. Mazouz is clearly all business but also shows that Bruce is still a little boy, one who is growing in his confidence about discovering the truth while not fully aware of how Mathis is being slightly patronizing to this child. She is, however, taken aback when Bruce continues to push the issue, his chutzpah amazing her.
I also was so happy to see Smith's Nygma get a slightly more expanded role to play. He's still the investigator working for the Gotham City Police Department, but his fear and fascination with Viper's effects shows that perhaps the seeds to him becoming a master criminal of Riddler proportions are being planted. Smith makes the most of his brief time, but for me, any Nygma is good Nygma.
As good as Smith is and as much as his Ed is growing, RLT continues to surprise and delight as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin. Part of RLT's brilliance is that Oswald is still feeling his way to being a master criminal. When he is beaten and threatened by Maroni one almost feels for Taylor's weepy, frightened Cobblepot, but make no mistake: behind the fearful kid is a monster slowly emerging. Cobblepot is not going to let a little thing like a mobster's smack-down take him down. RLT is simply Gotham's best performer, which given the caliber he's working with (McKenzie, Logue, and Mazouz in particular giving excellent performances, and Smith coming fast on their heels) is saying a lot.
As for the crime-of-the-week, again it sticks close to Batman mythos without having to be overt on it. Once I figured Viper had been perfected as Venom, I figured this could be reintroduced in the future. For now, it worked without having to know much if anything about the 'bane' of Gotham's future.
If there was a flaw, it was with Pinkett Smith's Mooney. No, I still won't accept that her take on the character is camp (though I know quite a few people who dislike this character as being 'over-the-top). It's that the whole "people who are fighting in public are sex partners in private" story isn't all that original. Granted, her wild scheme to get at Falcone by bringing a classy potential mistress his way is something I wasn't fully expecting, but like her former protégé Penguin, Mooney is playing a long game herself. Gotham Season One I think will be a battle between the two to see who can outlast and outwit the other.
My money's on the bird...
With great performances by so many (McKenzie, Taylor, Mazouz, Logue in particular), storylines growing within the text of the episode itself (O Mio Babbino Caro was never so dangerous) and the mythos expanding (is it a good thing that Edward Nygma is so thrilled with Viper), Viper is another excellent episode in a series that has already found its place in the Batman story. Perhaps not strictly Canon, but certainly a fresh and intelligent take on Batman.
All Hail Kiri the Kiwi Diva...
Next Episode: Spirit of the Goat