As we get down to the nitty-gritty of the pre-Batman Gotham City – more about corruption and conspiracy than capes and cowls – it’s good to know that the traditional sources of criminal revenue are still well to the fore. As a drugs spree hits the streets, Gordon and Bullock find themselves tackling some formidably pumped-up street types, while mob bosses Maroni and Falcone edge closer to slugging it out for the city’s vice trades.
Bruno Heller’s dark fantasy has already introduced us to the characters we know are destined to become Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman, but for the moment, the true villains of the piece are the established mobs, each vying for a piece of the action in the vice rackets. As Falcone and Maroni head for a gang war, prompted by shady third parties, young Bruce Wayne searches for connections between the murder of his parents and the gangs’ plans to redevelop the Arkham neighbourhood.
‘I don’t want revenge’ says Bruce – ‘I want to understand how Gotham works.’ With the at first reluctant help of butler Alfred, he begins to see how Wayne Enterprises could help Gotham, but Bruce – who for some reason doesn’t seem to have to go to school – also realises that his company could be part of the problem.
A creepy chemist has been doling out free samples of a synthetic drug to junkies. It’s called Viper, which should have been a clue that its effects aren’t entirely benign, but the customers are happy to enjoy the god-like strength and confidence it endows just before it kills you. Fans of Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy will recognize the reference.
Gordon and Bullock come face-to-face with some crazed customers, and make a connection between Viper and Wellzyn, a Wayne Enterprises company. A shady ex-employee turns out to be the candy-man – but how much responsibility does Wellzyn, and the Wayne family, bear for his malfeasance?
Meanwhile Penguin is ingratiating himself further with the whale-like Maroni, confessing his real identity as Oswald Cobblepot and leading Jim into a sticky situation with a set of lobster tongs. Maroni wants to hit a rival casino, and conveniently, Penguin can help him, but we’re spared the detail of the op, other than that it involves tunnels. Not trick umbrellas, then.
Catwoman-in-waiting Selina Kyle pops up momentarily and to no real effect, but notably absent from this episode is Jim’s girlfriend Barbara, whose insipid presence we can’t say is much missed. More compelling is the waif-like Liza, Fish Mooney’s nightclub singer and potential weapon; in what way, we begin to see as she is given lessons in seduction and operetta. Yes, it all goes a bit Inspector Morse as we learn the seductive power of Puccini. Ten points if you recognize ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’, and another ten if you can name the episode of Morse it popped up in – it’s driving us crazy trying to remember.
A bit of a time-filler, this episode, with plots moving along a rather predictable path, and since the main victims seem to be street trash and corporate clones, we’re hard put to care. There’s relatively little sign of the metropolitan mayhem we’re looking forward to, so perhaps making an elderly opera-loving Italian the main villain of the series wasn’t such a good idea after all. We can only hope that the combined forces of Maroni, Mooney and Cobblepot will unleash some hell soon.