Gotham has tip-toed the line between campy self-parody and hard boiled crime drama. Balloonman dipped its toe in those campy waters for a bit before going rated R with Arkham. In Viper, the show labored a little to achieve real resonance with its best assets - the villains.
But first we return to the only room little Bruce Wayne spends his time, the study, as he's in full junior detective mode. The chemistry between he and Alfred is still awkward and unconvincing but David Mazouz as Wayne plays the determined and inquisitive orphan on a mission with intelligence and the necessary dryness. Who needs an X-Box when you have case files to go through?
He's the only one really investigating the possible connections to his parents murder and as a result is also the only one whose character is developing. While the villains are the rockstars of the show their development is growing at a snail's pace. Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney and Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin are the draw here and help elevate the material they're given. Their plot lines should take center stage more than the 'crime of the week'.
Smith has totally sunk her teeth into the Mooney role and it's obvious she relishes each and every line to the delight of most viewers. It's a performance that some find overplayed but it really brings the best of the material she's been given. In less capable hands it could appear campy but what she's doing is wringing every last drop of menace, attitude, and drama out of the script. She's rising above the material not the other way around. It's reasonable to understand that by comparison her 'weapon' of choice, the torch singer turned protege, seems bland and vapid.
While she showed a lot of fight, literally taking out her competition, Liza is whiny and petulant while learning an aria to attract Don Falcone's attention. We know she'll get close to him but the final scene could have been more suspenseful and meaningful. A lost opportunity to heighten the episode from its doldrums.
Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot is the most watchable character because his story is the most compelling. His climb in the mob business has been a bloody one and his maneuvering has made him especially dangerous. He finds himself in some hot water with Sal Maroni after telling him he worked for Fish and Jim Gordon has to corroborate his story to survive. Jim is getting in deeper with in the morass that is this mob war. David Zayas as Maroni puts Gordon on notice that his secrets are now currency to cash in later. In essence both Cobblepot and Gordon are indebted to the mob for survival. A nice turn that complicates things for the 'last honest cop in Gotham.'
Viper drug, a precursor to Bane's Venom, was introduced this week as it hit the streets making people super strong, capable of running away with an ATM machine on their back, but dying horribly a short time later. Little Bruce suspects some conspiracy involving the drug, Arkham gangs and Wayne Enterprises. He seems like the only one who's bothered to connect any of the dots. Bullock and Gordon are a few steps behind.
Gotham has a full season order giving them time to add some dimensions to these characters before its too late. We should care a lot more about them than we do and something like flashbacks or character-centered episodes could work wonders. The stories are there for the taking.
Check out scenes from next week's episode, "Spirit of the Goat"
When a killer begins targeting the first born of Gotham's elite, Bullock is forced to confront traumatic memories from a nearly identical case he worked in the past. Later, Gordon is confronted by past decisions in the all-new 'Spirit of the Goat' episode of GOTHAM airing Monday, Oct. 27th on FOX.