Gotham Season 1, Episode 3: Sick city

Fox's Batman-without-Batman tale plows onward, though its villains prove much more interesting than the heroes. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

"If people take the law into their own hands, then there is no law."

Fans of the Batman franchise know all too well that Gotham is a broken city. The corruption in government, the police force and business create fertile ground of vigilante justice, and the Batman series has brought us some of the DC Comics universe's most interesting villains.

Even those outside of comic culture may be familiar with Bane (played by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises) — the self-proclaimed "liberator" of the people — and the Joker (played most recently by Health Ledger in The Dark Knight, the last role before his death, and earlier by Jack Nicholson) — a stand-up comedian-turned-criminal driven insane by the death of his wife and unborn child. There's the Penguin, who has been tortured throughout his life for his physical impediments, and Catwoman/Selina Kyle, an orphan who lives at the edge of society and fluctuates between good and evil. Many Batman villains have been snubbed or abused by society. They see Gotham's (and the world's) corruption and take justice into their own hands.

One such villain, introduced in the third episode of Fox's new drama, Gotham, is the Balloonman. This masked assassin targets well-known, corrupt citizens and strings them up — not by lynching each man up a tree or a telephone pole, but handcuffing him to a large weather balloon that rises into the sky and pops, sending him plunging to his death.

Though I don't endorse vigilante justice, the stories of villains like the Balloonman, the Joker and Bane are the best kind of stories. They are complex. I don't think the Balloonman should be killing dirty cops, but what else is he supposed to do? Gotham is a sewer of lies and violence, with no one looking out for the good of the people! Even the journalists think he has a point! So does Detective James Gordon (still played by Ben McKenzie, still not that interesting). When he finds the killer and hears his motive, it stirs him deeply. Something must be done. He will clean up the police department, and the government, if he can! (Wait, wasn't that the takeaway last week, too?)

Gordon's girlfriend, Barbara (Erin Richards), is worried about him. She sees him come home physically and emotionally sore, and serves as an encouraging wife-to-be — even if there is absolutely no chemistry between them. But she is also hurting, though we're not yet sure why. Suspicions of a past relationship between Barbara and Gotham Major Crimes detective Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) are confirmed, and past drug and alcohol addictions are suggested. These peripheral characters are growing more enigmatic, but I'm still not invested in anyone but the villains.

Oswald Cobblepot (the Penguin) has returned to Gotham. Ousted from Carmine Falcone's ranks and perceived dead, he seeks to hobble his way into another competitor's circle, work his way up and take over the city. Using the pseudonym "Paolo," and after killing a line cook and trading out those familiar shiny shoes, he finds a job in a restaurant. Surprise! The shop turns out to be a front for the operations of Salvatore "Don" Maroni (David Zayas), a menacing mob boss with a frightening sense of humor and a bad accent. Maroni is on a mission to take out Falcone, as is Falcone's own disgruntled lieutenant, Fish Mooney. Cobblepot may have found his in.

The battle will come to a head this week in episode four, "Arkham." The Arkham district of Gotham is up for grabs in a city council election, and all parties want a stake. Plus, my favorite villain gets a leg up.

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