Is Batman a hero? The honest gut reaction would be “yes, of course. He punishes the wicked, protects the innocent—100 percent hero material.” But in the eyes of the law, the answer has always been a moral gray area. Yes, he protects the innocent but under his own authority. In a way, any vigilante is an affront to justice, even if it brings about greater good.
Gotham’s third episode, “Balloonman,” deals with these issues of morality and lawfulness behind vigilantism. But instead of the caped crusader, Gotham’s new pseudo-hero is known as “Balloonman.” Although not quite as threatening a name, the two vigilantes share a similar modus operandi. For one, they only target the guilty and the corrupt. Batman with a flurry of martial art moves and the Balloonman by handcuffing his crooked quarry to a weather balloon. Both have the same desired effect: less criminals, safer streets. But where Batman keeps Gotham’s prisons in business, the Balloonman’s bodies take up residence in morgues.
Of all unsuspecting people, the rough-edged Harvey Bullock kicks off this episode’s main philosophical musing with four words: “public service or murder?” This question comes right after Balloonman has just claimed his first victim, a con man masquerading as a philanthropist responsible for ruining the lives of an untold number of Gotham residents. Bullock is quick to brush off the case as a bad guy meeting a just end, but Jim Gordon, being the good cop to Bullock’s very bad cop, thinks otherwise.
Before following leads and hunting down Gotham’s newest vigilante, the shows takes a moment to address lingering questions from last week. First, Oswald Cobblepot is back in town after only a one-episode hiatus. Despite Cobblepot, once again, being great in almost every scene he’s in, his return to Gotham feels premature. The Penguin’s wake of carnage outside the city felt like it was building up to something more sinister. But despite a hasty return, Cobblepot appears to have something sinister planned all the same.
Second, Allen and Montoya are still trying to track down Cobblepot’s killer, who of course doesn’t really exist because Cobblepot is very much alive and very much killing people. The duo makes a stop at Fish Mooney’s, Cobblepot’s most recent employer. For being seasoned cops and part of Gotham’s major crimes unit, Allen and Montoya must not have taken Cop Training 101—they trust the words of known crime bosses as undisputed fact and seem content enough to call Gordon out in the middle of the police station on murder charges that lack tons of actual evidence. Not to say that Gotham is known for its sterling police force, but squandering these potentially compelling characters on, what the audience knows, is a complete wild goose chase leaves their scenes pretty boring and lacking any real drama.
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