Episode 3: “The Balloonman”
by Dan Tomasik
A mysterious vigilante begins targeting corrupt public officials.
There isn’t much precedence for “The Balloonman” in the DC mythos. While free-wheeling vigilantes with odd calling cards are pretty normal around Gotham, this one’s been created exclusively for the show. There are, however, references to other obscure characters hidden within his mystery. The pig mask references Professor Pyg (an obscure DC villain) and the names “Lamont” and “Cranston” (killer and victim, respectively), as well as the shadowy outfit, is a send up to pulp vigilante Lamont Cranston, The Shadow. These are not the kind of references most people will pick up on, which makes including them seem questionable. Still, given the many more heavy-handed examples in the series so far, the obscurity is a nice change of pace.
Harvey Bullock, on the other hand, has a detailed history in the Batman Mythos. Depictions may vary, but he’s always been a bit rough around the edges. Sometimes he’s Gotham’s most corrupt law enforcement officer, sometimes he’s a fat oaf looking out for himself, sometimes he’s just trying to survive a tough job in a tougher city. He’s never been a villain outright, but neither has he been a good guy outright either. But no matter the medium, he’s always been by Gordon’s side. Literally, he’s always been Gordon’s partner and character foil. Even when not included by name, his conflicting views of the law and how to practice it are always presented in contrast to Gordon’s. Bullock has always been the voice telling Gordon not to try and change things.
This version of Bullock definitely veers more towards “Gotham’s Most Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer”. His connections with Falcone are firmly established, as are his dirty ways. Whether he’s good at his job is questionable, but his understanding of Gotham is unparalleled. Not to mention depressing at times. His and Gordon’s relationship is rocky, on the verge of incompatible. It’s uncertain how long the boy scout can play well with the dirtiest kid on the playground, especially if he’s beating up other kids in front of him.
Last character for discussion is Alfred, who has been getting some serious flack since the show began. Alfred has always been a caring and compassionate mentor-type for Bruce, the one person he trusts with his secret, and the one person who would never betray him. That is not the Alfred we see here, and it’s probably the most daring move the show has made. Alfred’s position is so firmly rooted in every depiction that the character almost never has any room for development. This time is different. This Alfred Pennyworth is strict and often scolding. One might almost think he was mean, if it weren’t for the moments when he shows just how deeply he cares. Alfred doesn’t wear his affections for his charge on his sleeves the way we’re used to, but buries them deep inside. What Bruce needs right now isn’t a yes man who tells him everything will be all right, but someone who can shake him out of his depression and teach him to stand on his own. Long, dark times are ahead, and Bruce will need all the strength he can muster. Bravo for making such a bold choice with a character.
It’s clear the show’s creators have been listening to my advice to keep Bruce Wayne and Gordon separate. That, or it was their plan all along. I like to think it was my words that steered them that direction though. Helps my self-esteem. This week brings another ego boost by continuing to improve with each episode. There may still be some flaws and weak points, but the good far outweighs the bad. If only the same could be said for the city itself.
Alfred’s growing affections for the boy were on full display this week, teaching the young master to fight and again warning him (as he will for the next 30 years) to take better care of himself. Bruce is also growing out of his depression, becoming more interesting and Batman-like with each episode. He has a long way to go, but they really nailed it this week. The fruits of tough love are starting to bloom.
Then there’s the Penguin- sorry, Oswald Cobblepot. Such an interesting take on the character. While certain elements of him are consistent (his name, his umbrella, his fixation on birds), there’s been a lot of variation in his many depictions. Sometimes he’s an upper-class mob boss with nasty toys, other times he’s a deformed freak hanging onto his family’s once great name. This version is about halfway in either direction; charming and polite with a level of understanding in high-class affairs and business, and a disheveled murderer with a loose grip on his sanity. Robin Lord Taylor does a great job balancing out the two in every scene.
The Balloonman doesn’t quite have the same scare factor as the kid-napping couple from last week, but that may stem from a feeling of having nothing to fear from this vigilante. After all, he only goes after the corrupt and the powerful, not the innocent and the weak. Why would we be scared of him if we have nothing to hide? Same time, if you are one of his targets, the idea of being carried off into the stratosphere by a balloon is rightly terrifying whether you’re afraid of heights or not. It’s a very public and very chilling method of execution. Bad people go up, dead bodies come down.
The problem comes when they try naming him as Gotham’s first “good” vigilante, instead of what he is, a murderer. Whether they deserve it or not, killing people isn’t the way to make a better world. If anything, it only asserts how rotten and irredeemable Gotham is. The people applaud the mass-murder, the officials run in fear of being next. The Balloonman’s last words paint a gruesome image. When asked who his final target was, he simply replies “it doesn’t matter”. When murder doesn’t matter, it’s time to move to a new neighborhood.
As for that last cliffhanger, let’s just say next week promises to be extremely interesting.
Showdowns are on the horizon. Mooney and Falcone, Gordon and Penguin, Mooney and Penguin, Gordon and Bullock, Gordon and Barbara, etc. It’s a great time to start getting into Gotham.
Episode Score: 8.3