"The Balloonman" introduces Gotham to vigilantism and is the series' most promising episode yet.
Gotham's third episode is the first one that looks like this series could work. Where the first two episodes were caught up with introducing characters and concepts, "The Balloonman" succeeds in delivering a full story with closure while building elements for the seasonal arc. The show is still a victim of clichéd, cheesy dialogue and broken story elements, but everything else is good enough that those problems can be overlooked.
Unlike last week's "Selina Kyle", this episode doesn't force characters and storylines together just to make it all seem connected. Gordon has his case, the world of organized crime is becoming less organized, and Bruce is chilling in Wayne Manor. Montoya and Allen, Major Crimes investigators suspicious of Gordon, are really the only element that moves across the stories, but at least it makes sense.
"The Balloonman" also delivers a full story with no "man behind the curtain" to be revealed later. It's good to see Gotham can conclude a story, and while the episode totally cheated on solving the mystery (more on that later), the climax itself went an unexpected direction and worked thematically with the episode. The modus operandi of the antagonist may not be plausible, but tying your victims to a weather balloon to kill them certainly fills Gotham's weird quota for the week.
The Balloonman himself serves as a message to the rest of the characters. The criminals and corrupt city officials begin to fear a city that cheers on a violent "hero" and they start to realize that the system could fall apart. From his home, Bruce Wayne watches and learns how to not be a vigilante and develops one of the most important core concepts of Batman -- no killing. Gordon, on the other hand, sees through the Balloonman just how badly broken Gotham City is and begins to think he might be in over his head.
In the comics, there has always been a tension between Batman and Commissioner Gordon -- Gordon is the person Batman would have become if he picked up a badge instead of a cape (paraphrased from an issue of Wizard I read over a decade ago). Batman works outside the system and deals mainly with the criminals -- both mentally unstable and otherwise -- but only after Gordon spends years cleaning up a dirty police department. They don't work towards the same cause and how Gotham's Gordon and Bruce interpret the Balloonman reflects their motivations in the comics.
The series also continues to succeed in showing fun new ways that the GCPD is corrupt. Beating suspects has been a recurring theme, but the first three episodes of Gotham have now shown police planting evidence, taking bribes, and stealing from drug dealers, respectively. Bullock, Gordon's partner, is consistently an example of a dirty cop who might have been a decent person but has been changed by a broken system. This episode gives Bullock a moment to shine when he uses his unethical methods and questionable contacts to chase a lead.
Separate from the episode's story, the criminal underworld becomes more unbalanced as Fish Mooney and Falcone continue their violent, manipulative game while Cobblepot rolls back into town (with an appropriate amount of bloodshed). The man who would be Penguin makes a new connection with an old Batman antagonist and the word "Arkham" gets dropped a couple more times.
Whether it's in reference to the asylum or not, "Arkham" has been a keyword in the past two episodes. The Waynes were attempting to bring Arkham back, while Falcone and a new party are wrestling for control of it. It's a safe assumption that next week's episode, "Arkham", will tell us for sure if the famed asylum from the comics is making a return.
Gotham airs Monday nights at 8/7c on Fox. You can also catch the new episodes on Fox's website and Hulu. Spoilers ahead, including the reveal of the Balloonman's identity because it needs to be discussed.