Gotham recap: 'Viper'
A deranged scientist unleashes a deadly drug upon Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne is his next target.
Gotham isn’t a superhero show. It’s established that much. If anything, the past four episodes have been a nice reprieve from the superpowered antics and campiness that can crop up in this type of television. But in the massive pool of superhero potential, Gotham’s fifth episode dips its toe into the water of comic book logic, which often isn’t very logical at all.
With a little bit of Batman knowledge and some mild Googling, a lot of information can be gleaned just from the episode’s title, “Viper.” Here’s a comprehensive flowchart to help explain.
Viper ->Venom ->Bane
But the big bad muscle-y man known as Bane, often depicted with an absurd breathing apparatus or a luchador mask, doesn’t make an appearance in “Viper,” but the drug cocktail that powers his roided out destruction does. In fact, that insidious green liquid is the main focus of the entire episode.
But before getting to Gotham’s drug problem, Bruce Wayne has a problem. He can’t seem to shake the feeling of a secret connection between Wayne Enterprises and the shady Arkham deal in last week’s episode, and Alfred continues to struggle against Bruce’s growing obsession. Files and pictures lay about the eternally fire-lit study and Bruce is anything but a 13-year-old boy. So far David Mazouz has done an admirable job portraying the pint-sized Dark Knight. Child actors of well-beloved icons often have a lot of work cut out for them. (Remember Jake Lloyd’s Darth Vader? Yeesh.) But the more and more Bruce takes on this serious-minded persona, the more the character actually feels like he’s playing a grown-up—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Alfred, along with the Wayne Enterprise board, continues to treat Bruce for what he is, which is to say, well, a kid. The only character that treats him otherwise is Jim Gordon, and it may be for just this reason, that Bruce is inexplicably drawn to him.
As Alfred and Bruce continue their mutual misunderstanding of each other, the feud between Gotham’s two big crime bosses, Maroni and Falcone, is only getting started. Maroni, who is played excellently by David Zayas, wants to keep pressure on Falcone after his generous land grab last episode by robbing one of Falcone’s casinos. Cobblepot now serves as a restaurant manager of one of Maroni’s most popular haunts and overhears Maroni’s scheme.
But after only a few minutes, the audience is introduced to Viper. A bespectacled and distraught man fumbles his way across a busy street and drops a vial of the deadly drug into a busker’s suitcase. The vial shows twin snakes with the words “Breathe Me” emblazoned on the bottle. This is where things get a little… illogical. The busker throws absolutely every caution to the wind and decides to huff the stuff, even though it looks really sketchy. He soon gains super strength, assaults a bodega clerk, and rips an ATM out of the wall.
NEXT: When less means more
This show, at least up until this point, has kept a pretty level head. Gangland violence, sure. Child abduction? That’s fine. Guy who kills people with a weather balloon? A little strange but whatever. Super soldier serum that saps your calcium and turns you into a raging hulk until your brittle bones eventually collapse under your own weight? Okay, you lost me.
None of this is to say that the premise doesn’t work. You could try to pull out some thread that this is somehow an indictment on drug use, but that’s giving Gotham’s writers a little too much credit. The fact is at some point a show set in Gotham would eventually have to embrace its comic book origin. Later in this episode, a philosophy professor high on Viper rips apart his own walker and bludgeons Harvey Bullock with the pieces. Needless to say, that’s a little out there. But that’s okay. “Viper” shows that Gotham can flirt with crime drama and comic book influences and still make a show worth watching.
Bullock and Gordon soon stumble upon the hulk busker’s dairy-strewn handiwork, but there’s a small scene right before that highlights one of Gotham’s continuing narrative lapses—a bloated cast. What does this mean? Well, Harvey and Jim are at a food truck when Selina Kyle randomly (in broad daylight) tries to pickpocket some unsuspecting dude. Gordon sees her. Yells. She runs away, and that’s it. She never comes back. She’s just gone. This could be a reminder from the show writers saying, “Hey, remember Cat? What a scamp!” But really, it just feels like the show might have introduced too many characters too quickly. Last week, Gotham trimmed away some of this narrative fat by cutting out Selina Kyle and Montoya and Allen completely, and in this episode Barbara goes missing as well. As far as episode quality is concerned, the smaller cast means fewer derailing side stories, so the writers can actually focus on what’s happening.
However, reintroducing these characters will be a little tricky. They’ve already gone MIA for two episodes (maybe even more). Why care about them at all? It’s a delicate balance to be sure, and not one easily obtained, but Gotham bit off more than it could chew with its opening episodes and is only now starting to pull back. It will be interesting if, in the end, it will be for the better.
Despite the fact that Gordon and Bullock work homicide (which they even mention in the episode itself) they’re going to work on this drug case anyway, because why not. After a brief “hunting for clues” montage brought to you by a lovely little saxophone jazz riff, the detectives (as previously mentioned) stumble upon the hulk busker’s dairy lair, where he eventually raises the huge ATM machine over his head like a heavyweight champion and then his bones break and he’s crushed to death.
As Gordon aptly states “God help us if that drug gets out.” Cue the next scene with a deranged drug peddler handing out Viper like it’s margaritas at a Jimmy Buffet concert.
NEXT: Time for an intervention
The city quickly falls into a drug-addled craze with people literally falling to pieces in the GCPD. Amid the chaos, Nigma details how the drug works by feasting on your body’s calcium until you die. It’s complexities indicate a giant lab and incredible medical expertise would be needed to make it, and soon all eyes point to a company called WellZyn, a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises. A little bit of sleuthing unmasks our killer, Stan Patolski, an unassuming lunatic fed up with WellZyn’s deceitful plans for Viper, and its more refined sibling, Venom (wink, wink).
Of course, the audience learns all about this during Patolski’s psychotic banter on the roof of a Wayne Enterprises charity get together. Like almost every episode before it, Bullock and Gordon arrive just in time to foil the villain’s plans, and once again, the villain is using vigilantism and terrorism to prove a point. When it comes to discussions of class warfare and good versus evil in Gotham, the show’s writers are about as subtle as a shovel to the face. These moralistic ramblings, now a well-established trope in the series, get to be too heavy-handed and add unnecessary complexity where none is really needed. Like, the guy can be evil. Just let him be evil.
With Gotham now in rehab, the show quickly ties up a few loose ends. Penguin’s casino robbery goes off without a hitch and pushes Cobblepot even further into Maroni’s good graces. Mob bosses continue scheming behind Falcone’s back by whispering about mutiny, and Fish Mooney finally unleashes her femme fatale Liza, her underling from last week’s episode, on her unsuspecting prey—Carmine Falcone.
However, the best scene of “Viper” pops up in the episode’s final minutes. It’s only about 20 or 30 seconds long and absolutely no words are spoken. Patolski’s accusations of Wayne Enterprises’ involvement with Gotham’s recent drug addiction finds Wayne in that same familiar study poring over files. Alfred enters silently, sits down across from Bruce, and opens a file of his own. This is what makes Gotham great by exploring Batman with different scenarios and takes on his relationships with other characters. Batman would be nothing without Alfred. In comics and films, Alfred is always there sewing up wounds or helping Batman with cases. This important moment of Alfred embracing Bruce’s desire to be taken seriously needs no words. The action speaks for itself.
Yes, “Viper” embraces its comic book heritage more than any other episode before it. At some moments that means taking illogical leaps and relying on some suspension of disbelief to tell a story. But comics also capture amazing moments within its panels, and it’s great to see Gotham embrace both.