In this episode, Viper is not a muscle car but a street drug that gives users an incredible sense of euphoria and physical strength. I viewed the whole drug plot as a metaphor for Gotham’s current state. While we’re never given the full backstory, it’s safe to assume that somewhere along the line, criminals, thugs, and mob bosses were given control, inch by inch. Instead of being stopped in their tracks or contained, they were given free reign. And the police force, the entity supposedly on the side of the innocent, law-abiding citizens, becomes infected with corruption, too. Very much like a drug creeping through the human body, crime, chaos, and corruption have seeped into Gotham and it’s caused people to do some pretty crazy stuff – sometimes as a license to do wrong, other times just to survive. But after the first time you sin, it’s always easier to do the same thing the second time and so on.
But one theme that’s being brought up in each episode, directly or indirectly, is redemption. The biggest question is can Gotham be saved (as young Bruce asks Gordon in a previous episode). It’s fitting that Bruce asks this rather than a grown up since he’s the next generation of Gotham. His concern for his home turf isn’t so much for himself, I think, but for his fellow citizens. He knows there are good people in Gotham and he wants to make sure this remnant is either spared the coming bloodshed or takes a stand. To go back to the drug metaphor, an addict can be redeemed, but the first step is to purge the controlling substance from the system. In the same way, Gotham can be saved by eliminating its criminal element.
Speaking of young Bruce, I want to call special attention to him in this episode. At first, I feared his character was going to become either the token kid character or the token young Batman with nothing to do. But thus far, his character is being incorporated little by little in each episode. Here, we see Bruce hone his in-born curiosity, smarts, and budding detective genius. He’s not just a kid character brought into the show for face time: he actually does stuff. Important stuff. Not just eating cookies and bossing Alfred around (probably to fetch him more cookies). If Bruce embodies the next generation of Gotham, then it’s a bright future indeed: his heart is in the right place as he wants to learn the truth about how Gotham works, for better or worse, not seek revenge for his parent’s murder. That revelation in this episode speaks volumes about Bruce’s moral fiber. As future Batman, he seeks justice, not revenge. So kudos to the writers for introducing that element because it plays a huge role in the superhero we all love.
But to justify having a hero, you have to have villains. Enter Gotham’s principle baddies, the mob. Thus far, this element has been well done and takes cues from other fictional mobsters, from gangsters a la The Godfather (the Cannoli Incident from “Arkham” anyone?) to brash Scarface types (the Al Pacino version, not the 1930s movie). The older mobsters of Gotham carry the Corleone vibe – old school, classy, but certainly dangerous. In contrast, the younger mobsters, such as Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot, are more like the Scarface variety – unpredictable, brutal, and flashy. I like the contrast and it definitely works because within Gotham’s criminal underbelly, there’s a movement to chuck out the old and usher in the new. The only question is whose new brand of mobster wins the crown – Mooney’s manipulative, dark, brutal approach or Cobblepot’s cunning, resourceful, ambitious hand. And if you’re familiar with any amount of Batman lore, you already know who wins that battle. Fish Mooney isn’t in any of the comics, I’m just sayin’.
And speaking of Oswald, he sure likes to play with fire, doesn’t he? Though at least he manages to get scarred instead of charred. One wonders if Maroni can’t see past what Cobblepot is doing – digging his heels in deep enough into Maroni’s “family” only to take the don out when the time is right. For now, Maroni seems willing to let Oswald prove himself but at what cost? Is he keeping Oswald close only to cast him out later or is he truly that clueless? Whatever happens, Cobblepot’s take over is imminent.
It’s also interesting to witness the evolving dynamic between Gordon and Oswald. Gordon gets called on by Maroni to corroborate Oswald’s “story” that he was once in the employ of Fish Mooney until Falcone’s attempt to kill him caused some bad blood. (How could it not?) In theory, Gordon could have lied and made Oswald suffer. Instead, he does the right thing and tells the truth, to which even Oswald thanks him for. Gordon didn’t have to spare Oswald’s life a second time but it goes back to Gordon’s moral makeup: he’s an honest man in a dishonest world, and even to an enemy he’s not going to play dirty. That makes Cobblepot in Gordon’s debt for double measure now, so I’m very much interested to see where this relationship goes.
Lastly, there is an intriguing parallel between each major crime families’ “weapons.” Fish has her girl (Liza) whom she’s molding to become the femme fatale to work through the chinks in Falcone’s armor, and Maroni thinks he has Oswald in his pocket as a weapon against Falcone. (Nobody likes Falcone much, do they?) In comparison, both Fish and Maroni think their respective “weapons” will work for them, not against them. But as we all know, weapons can backfire. Fish’s girl is easily manipulated and hasn’t shown any signs that she’s allowing herself to be manipulated for some greater “good” (term used loosely). This is quite unlike Oswald, who, even in situations where someone else is calling the shots, you know he’s putting on the act of being submissive. He allows himself to be used so he can, in turn, use others so that, in the end, he never truly was used but was, actually, the user. If that makes sense.
So overall “Viper” was fairly solid. I’m still waiting to see how some or all of these puzzle pieces from past episodes come together, but we’re still only five episodes in. One thing is for sure though – I’m always left eager for more!
Just as a quick note, the actors here clearly care about making their respective characters realistic within their story’s world. Jim Gordon is more than just a cop – he’s conflicted. Harvey Bullock is more than just Jim’s partner – he’s gruff, rough, tough but has a slice of a heart. Bruce Wayne is more than just a kid character – he’s struggling with his parent’s murder and seeking to make a difference. Oswald Cobblepot is more than just a villain – he’s a criminal mastermind who plays anyone or anything to get what he wants. Even Fish Mooney is fun to watch because she’s quite the two-face (and we haven’t even seen Harvey Dent yet!). Overall, these characters are more than just faces who show up to fill a scene; there is always a reason why they’re present.
Likewise, even though “Gotham” so far has been more akin to a police procedural, at least even this type of plot has a purpose. You want to know what happens and you want your favorite characters to make it through relatively unscathed. Everything fits with an actual story – it’s not just moving from set piece to set piece. Set pieces (like chase scenes and action sequences) are fun but you have to have more.
Until next week, fellow Gothamites!