Chemical warfare is terrifying. Imagining all of the different types of weapons that have and will be invented sends a shiver down the spine. So when a drug that gives the user the ability to rip someone apart with their bare hands was introduced on Gotham this week, my interest was piqued.
As with “Arkham,” “Viper” continues to unravel the mystery connection between Wayne Enterprises and Gotham’s major crime family. The title of the episode refers to the aforementioned drug that gives the user a euphoric god-like complex and strength powerful enough to rip an ATM from a wall. Viper was originally part of a first batch of chemical compound meant for military use. However, researchers soon learned the toxin has terrible side effects. After a few hours of the potent high, viper converts calcium into energy and as a result the victim’s bones decay. From there, the person suffocates and dies.
The scientists who developed the drug eventually worked out the kinks, leading to the creation of Venom – yes, that Venom. This kind of quiet reference is exactly what Gotham needs more of. Not every character and story from the comics needs to be overtly included in the show; sometimes subtlety is the best policy.
As an episode, “Viper” shows something of an improvement over “Arkham.” With moments of light humor, Gotham is starting to find a tonal and narrative balance between maintaining its rigid structure and fleshing out its main characters. The episode opens up on the main crime of the episode before switching to a shot of Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) on their coffee break, immediately loosening the mood.
The detectives jab each other playfully about swimsuit season as Bullock consumes a hamburger and milkshake. Bullock has always has a sense of humor, but the way it’s conveyed in this episode is different. Bullock jokes around with Gordon, and not at his expense as he usually does. The light moment is pleasant to watch and serves as a great example of what Gotham really needs: moments of ease.
At times, Gotham can feel too heavy. Scenes like the one between Bullock and Gordon break up the constant dark cloud hanging over the viewer’s head. Plus, although the two detectives are usually used to frame the narrative for each episode, it always feels as thought the two have little actual screen time. More scenes together would easily solve both of these issues.
The antagonist in this week’s episode is intriguing. Much like The Balloonman, Stan Potolsky (Daniel London) is not your typical bad guy. He used to be a biochemist for a subsidiary company of Wayne Enterprises where he helped develop Viper. However, the side effects of the drug did not sit well with Potolsky, so he pleaded with the company to cease research. They refused.
Annoyed and desperate, Potolsky released the drug to the public, hoping to cause an uproar that would demand a halt to production. It doesn’t work. Potolsky fumes at the people of Gotham for not caring about Viper or what happens to its lower class citizens. This doesn’t excuse his actions, but it does paint Potolsky as a sympathetic character rather than as a cartoon villain. This fascinating duality adds a complexity to Gotham that is a big part of Batman’s later years, but has so far lacked in this series.
Not all of Gotham‘s character development is as tight in “Viper,” unfortunately. In fact, some of it is downright atrocious. The only person who gets attention is the one we know the most about, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz). It is a shame the writers focus so much on Bruce considering Gotham is full of amazing characters I’m dying to know more about.
To Mazouz’s credit, he plays Bruce deftly and is always compelling to watch. However, there’s no tension or curiosity surrounding the character because we know how his story goes. Am I really supposed to fear Bruce may be exposed to the deadly Viper outbreak? We know he won’t be, so where is the intrigue?
The same caveat applies to Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor). The moment where he decides to tell Maroni everything about who he really is and who he used to work for is ultimately anticlimactic. We know Penguin is a major player in Batman’s future. Therefore, he can never be in true mortal danger unless they plan on rewriting Batman canon.
Regardless, Taylor continues shine as the best part of the show. He never fails to entertain each week. And to my delight, Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) isn’t not a complete annoyance this time around; he comes across as a much more real and believable character after last week’s missteps.
If showrunner Bruno Heller can continue the pace of “Viper” in next week’s “Spirit of the Goat,” then Gotham may be breathing new life once again.