Even just a few episodes in, it’s getting harder to believe that Gotham will keep its word and not ever be about Batman.
“Balloonman,” the third installment of the Fox prequel series that aired Monday night, was all about foreshadowing the rise of the Dark Knight — or at least the reason for him to exist.
“Everybody has to matter or nobody matters,” says detective James Gordon, rationalizing why he and his partner should go after the killer of a widely loathed Bernie Madoff-type ponzi schemer. “Otherwise people lose faith. And that’s when we get vigilantes.”
With Bruce Wayne still awaiting puberty in his mansion, the vigilante in question is a shadowy figure who targets high-profile criminals in the street, handcuffs them to a weather balloon and sends them to a cold, airless death in the sky.
Pretty grim stuff, even moreso when the balloon pops days later and the body is sent crashing to Earth. But no one is in the mood to mourn for a guy who steals little old ladies’ retirement funds; or a dirty cop; or a Catholic priest known around the street as “the Diddler” (not one of the better known Batman villains, we’re sure of that).
In fact, the public seems to be rather enamored of this vigilante, especially in a city where anyone in power is suspected of being corrupt — and probably rightly so.
This is not lost on young master Wayne, who is paying close attention to the unfolding story. But he has an issue with the balloon man that no one else (except Gordon) seems to: “He killed people,” says the pre-Caped Crusader preteen. “That made him a criminal, too.”
And so we have the roots of Batman’s moral code, thanks to a man so disgruntled with corruption that he chose to send a few prime examples of it floating into space. Though he turns out to be a relative nobody — at least we don’t think he’s going to be around again — he knows full well that the way things are going in Gotham City, he’s inspired something bigger.
“There will be more like me, detective. You know there will be,” he says as he’s taken away on a stretcher following a final showdown.
That showdown was a pretty great action sequence, too: Confronted by Gordon and Bullock, the Balloonman tries to get away, and in the scuffle Bullock manages to slap the cuffs attached to his last balloon on the perp. But Gordon being Gordon, he grabs hold of the man and starts drifting upward with him, forcing Bullock to shoot the balloon to bring his true-hearted partner back down to Earth.
Detectives Gordon and Bullock argue ethics in the “The Balloonman.”
Rather than being praised for their heroics — they not only caught Balloonman, but Gordon saved his life, too — the police are suddenly being looked at in a different, much darker light.
“Now that the balloon man is gone, who will be left to defend the people of Gotham?” a TV reporter asks.
The answer to that question, we know, is Back at Wayne Manor — where a little boy has been looking at grisly crime scene photos of his parents’ murder. Alfred is aghast when he finds what Master Bruce has been obsessing over.
“What, so you’re a detective now are you?”
“If I find a clue I am,” he says.
If you find a clue, a utility belt and a really cool car, that is.
Other bat-signals from “The Balloonman”:
Don Meroni, the rival to Don Falcone, has finally arrived on the scene, and he’s operating out of a restaurant where Oswald Cobblepot gets a job as a busboy. That’s right – Cobblepot has returned to Gotham City, he’s killed again (might be time to start keeping a kill-count for the soon-to-be Penguin, who is making a weekly habit of this) and not only has he defied Gordon’s order not to come back, he shows up at his door in the final scene. What is he scheming? We’ll find out next week.
It’s official: Barbara Kean (Gordon’s fiancée) and Detective Renee Montoya were an item once – something we’d suspected from the pilot episode. The detective waltzes into Kean’s apartment (“I still have a key”) to tell her former lover straight up that Gordon killed Cobblepot as part of a mob-ordered hit. Barbara doesn’t believe Renee, a belief that’s vindicated in that final shot.
Something’s going on at Arkham Asylum. The world’s most notorious looney bin has been dormant for 15 years now, and though the Waynes had some kind of designs on it before they were cut down in the street, now members of the crime syndicate are saying cryptic things about it: “People are acting crazy, and crazy is bad for business,” Don Falcone tells Fish Mooney, who responds, “You’re talking abou Arkham. I thought you had that locked up.” Could the Waynes have been killed because of what they had in mind for Arkham? And we know the Joker is going to play a role in this — but what could it be? And have we laid eyes on him yet?
All in good time. Just don’t believe for a second that this show ain’t about Batman.