While the series took a serious and encouraging step forward with last week’s “Selina Kyle,” Gotham stumbled a bit in week three, and like the victims of tonight’s vigilante The Balloonman, it failed to find its footing. The writers seemed to be struggling most with deciding what kind of show they want Gotham to be. At times, it is a perfect blend of dark humor, crime drama, and superhero serial, while at others it falls a bit too closely in line with the bygone Joel Schumacher Batman era.
While Gotham found a delicate but enjoyable balance last week, things got muddier in “The Balloonman,” thanks in no small part to how the episode dealt with the villain-of-the-week. The name alone is enough to raise one’s eyebrows, and on paper the premise is so laughable that it puts the Balloonman in the same league as comic book foes like Cluemaster, Humpty Dumpty, Kite Man or Crazy Quilt. He’s a vigilante who ties people to weather balloons, causing them to float away helplessly and later fall back down to Earth.
That description alone sounds ridiculous and like something you’d see on Batman the Brave and the Bold (a show I loved, by the way), but on screen it was handled rather nicely so that it came off as more of a ghoulish treat than an eye-roll-inducing bit of camp. How the show handled Gotham City’s reaction to the ridiculous murderer, however, is what I took issue with.
Rather than approach the Balloonman from a black comedy angle or truly play up how viciously twisted his methods are, Gotham turned him into the city’s first vigilante and a harbinger for what’s yet to come. Bruce is inspired by the man’s quest to clean up the streets of Gotham by sending the corrupt floating to their deaths, citizens begin embracing him as a hero (and even ask that he target their landlords) and the police force treat him like any other psycho that they’ve crossed paths with.
Thematically, it works and I think that, for the most part, Gotham handles it well. I liked seeing Bruce enamored by the vigilante, and you could really see the pieces of his future begin to fall into place in his mind. Jim Gordon’s speech to his fiancé at the end of the episode, about his complete disgust in taking the law into your own hands, presents an obvious and intriguing series-long arc for the character, as Jim will one day not only come around to the idea, but condone it and light up a Batsignal whenever he needs to see justice served.
I just don’t think that the Balloonman was a proper focus for a story like this. One second we’re seeing a victim literally fall from the sky and crush an old lady, and the next we see Bruce enamored by the news reports calling the man a hero and putting him up on a pedestal as the savior of the city. The man ties people to balloons! If Arkham Asylum was still operational, he’d be sitting there in his own cell at this very moment.