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Gotham‘s fifth installment: “Viper”, follows a standard plotline for comic book television, as well as many similar genres–the “Magic Drug” episode. Arrow, for example, has already explored this topic on several occasions.

While the basic story might be a little familiar, the execution is strong, largely due to a superior “B” plot: The developing story of the clandestine gang war between the Falcone (John Doman) and Maroni (David Zayas) syndicates. For more, hit the jumpy-thingy: 

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The mysterious narcotic in question is called Viper (I know, who’d have thought?), and the gentleman above introduces it to Gotham by distributing it for free to the city’s street people. The effects are a bit atypical for a recreational pharmaceutical: They start with intense euphoria and exponentially increased strength, but this only lasts a few hours. Apparently Viper makes the body break down the calcium in its own bones to fuel the super strength it causes (which has the side effect of giving the user unquenchable cravings for dairy), and eventually this means the skeleton just kinda crumbles, causing death by asphyxiation once the ribcage collapses in on the lungs…it’s not a pretty way to go.

The distributor is named Stan Potolsky (Daniel London), he’s a biochemist and former employee of an unethical drug company (really, in TV and movies, have you ever seen an ETHICAL dug company?) that happens to be a Wayne Enterprises subsidiary.

Potolsky had moral issues about the project he was working on, which was intended to be used by the military to manufacture super soldiers, he brought his concerns to the Waynes, who immediately cut all funding to the new drug. Then, of course, they died–and the company went right back to work on Viper, and shitcanned poor Stan.

Oh, and for your Batverse easter egg: Viper is apparently the beta test version of a more effective super soldier drug that DC fans know quite intimately.

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When making a few nameless street denizens into doomed milk-guzzling superhumans doesn’t do enough to get Potolsky’s message across (and let’s be honest, Potolsky’s message is not incredibly clear), he connects a barrel of the Viper gas to the ventilators at a charity event sponsored by Wayne Enterprises and his former employers–an event Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) himself is attending, where coincidentally he begins to learn that his parents’ corporation is becoming as unscrupulous and amoral as every other institution in Gotham.

But when you get right down to it, we’ve SEEN all this before: Bad guys who spread strange new narcotics to the population, super-soldier drugs made for the military by amoral corporations….it’s just all so DONE. At least they could have given Potolsky a better motivation than “You are all bad people and you drove me to this”, or “The world needs to know what you awful people are trying do”

Snore.

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Anyway, that’s the “A” Plot. Bullock (Donal Logue) and Gordon (Ben McKenzie) are naturally assigned the case, and they go about solving it in a manner that’s becoming pretty familiar to Gotham’s viewers: Bullock beats on/intimidates people until they talk–or gets info from shady underworld sources, while Gordon handles everything that requires deductive reasoning or concern for the well being of the community….eventually this leads to a confrontation with the baddie, who invariable dies–by his own hand or from a GCPD-issue revolver round. Honestly, Gordon and Bullock haven’t brought a living villain in yet (okay there were those child snatchers–but they were just pawns of the Dollmaker anyway) .

If you think about it, this may be why Batman’s Gotham is crawling with supervillains: Natural Selection.

Gordon and Bullock are like a force of nature–weeding out all the lesser bad guys, allowing the strongest, evilest, and craziest to flourish.

So, Bruce, if you’ve ever wondered why EVERY insane, unstoppable, and/or ridiculously theatrical criminal under the sun seems to make Gotham his or her home–just ask your old friend Jim.

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The “B” plot is far more interesting:

In fact, it has so little connection to the “A” story, that they might have been better off splitting this into two episodes. Adding an extra half hour might have given the Viper plot the detail and originality it lacked–and more time to delve into the Falcone/Maroni war would just make a good thing better.

Moving on–Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) is getting deeper into Sal Maroni’s  inner circle–after admitting who his last employer was and almost being killed for it, naturally.

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Fortunately for Oswald, instead of killing him Maroni has one of his men fetch Jim Gordon, who corroborates his story. An odd choice: All Gordon had to do was say he’s never seen this weird, twitchy kid in his life. Maroni would have gotten rid of Oswald, and Gordon would be free and clear–no longer would he have to fear retribution from Falcone or the GCPD for letting Cobblepot live.

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But then, Jimmy’s not the good guy for nothing.

In any case, Maroni believes the story–now that he’s heard it from two sources…and he’s delighted to have a Falcone turncoat on his team. Penguin (Maroni likes the nickname, and encourages Oswald to embrace it) uses his contacts among Falcone’s underlings to help Maroni plan a successful heist of the casino–the “capitol” of Falcone’s empire, so to speak. It’s not for the money–Maroni just wants to further weaken and embarrass Falcone. He had his first serious success against Gotham’s kingpin when he muscled in on the Arkham deal last week, and forced the mayor to give him a piece of the project.

As Maroni sees it, losing part of Arkham made Falcone look incompetent–unable to run things successfully. Getting his precious casino robbed will make him look weak–unable to protect his territory.

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All in all, it’s quite a little chess game we’ve got going–something I didn’t expect when I first started watching Gotham. I’m glad the “normal” criminals are getting center stage so far…let the freaks wait in the wings, their time will come soon enough.

Meanwhile, the Falcone family is closing ranks, but Carmine Falcone is refusing to allow any retribution against Maroni. Whether this is because the old man really does have a long term plan in mind for his rival’s demise–or he’s simply afraid to hit back is uncertain at the moment.

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Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is moving ahead with her plans to take out Falcone–training her apprentice, Liza (Makenzie Leigh), in just the right ways to get under the Don’s skin. Honestly, I’m not sure about this particular story line. Liza is an unimpressive character so far–which would be fine if she were a one-shot, a glorified, nameless extra. But apparently she’s gonna be with us for a while–and in this, the second episode she’s appeared in, I have yet to see any reason to care that she or her story exists.

The one positive aspect to Liza is what she brings out in Fish:

“You don’t call me ‘Mama’–just because you’re my Baby Girl don’t make me your Mama….you gotta EARN that!”

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Fish Mooney just gets better and better. She is, without a doubt, Gotham‘s best non-DC canon creation.

All in all, loving one half and being bored to tears by the other equals me liking “Viper” as a whole

As I said, the “Magic Drug” plot was nothing we haven’t seen before, but its weakness was shored up by the Mob war intrigue of the “B” story. David Zayas’ Sal Maroni is the quintessential Capo. With Falcone, you get the idea that under different circumstances he could have been a bank manager or a CEO….not that he lacks ruthlessness, he just seems a little colorless at times.

Maroni, on the other hand, was BORN to be a Don–if Zayas wasn’t such a good actor, and Maroni wasn’t so well written, the character could come off as more than a little stereotypical…But Maroni sidesteps that landmine by being likeable and interesting–not just another by-the-numbers Italian caricature.

Not that it matters, but I am definitely rooting for the ‘Ronies over the ‘Conies.

(Part of me really wants to see “Team Falcone” and “Team Maroni” t-shirts)

Now a Mob war plot may be no more original than a Magic Drug–the difference is a Magic Drug is typical of a comic book based series, a Mob war is something you see in realistic crime drama. It’s interesting to see how a comic book based universe handles it, and that’s what I want from Gotham: There’s half a dozen superhero shows on TV right now–each approaching the genre from a slightly different angle.

Gotham is the only “Pre-superhero” show out there–I think it may be the first one EVER, and that means fans expect a lot of it, they expect something they’ve never seen before, or things they have seen done entirely different. The “B” plot delivers this–the “A” plot doesn’t.

Next week seems to be a return to more traditional comic book territory–let’s hope that’s a wise decision given how well they’re doing with the current storyline.

Category: Comics, Featured, reviews, TV

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