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“Viper” brings super powers and pseudo-science to Gotham and it’s just the shift the series needs right now.

For a series based in a comic book universe, the antagonists so far have been rather mundane. This week, Gotham takes a leap into the extraordinary and, honestly, there couldn’t be a better time. After last week’s dreadful “Arkham” it would make sense if people gave up on the show, but those that stuck around for “Viper” were treated to a quality episode.

Sure, the comic book pseudo-science behind “Viper” is cringe-worthy, but seeing how the (comparatively) realistic police force and corrupt officers deal with the problem is fantastic. It’s what Gotham does best: putting the outlandish in front of mostly normal, often dirty cops. So far it’s been restricted to over-the-top organized crime and murderers with ridiculous MOs, but this week’s introduction of super-powers is the best way to showcase that juxtaposition.

Fortunately, “Viper” isn’t too far out there in the superhuman world. A drug (named Viper) from an unknown source starts to hit the streets, giving users super-strength for a short while. It’s a simple premise, and there is no real resolution to it, but the revelations about the origin of Viper are intriguing enough to raise questions about Gotham City that I look forward to seeing answered.

Similarly, “Viper” succeeds in making previously unbearable or difficult to watch characters more enjoyable. Bruce and Alfred have scenes that don’t sacrifice what the characters are, but still manage to make Bruce more tolerable and Alfred less pretentious (admittedly, Alfred wasn’t too bad before, but it was there). Even Nygma’s scene was something you could watch without wanting to throw a brick at the TV. He’s still off-putting, but he isn’t all “I like puzzles! And riddles! Guess who I am!” Nygma is creepy in his fascination with Viper, and his reaction to it is entirely inappropriately excited, but it works so well for the scene.

The over-arcing story about the organized crime families remains intriguing, with Fish Mooney putting together her plans while Cobblepot continues to make his way up. Maroni has his terrifying moments finally, all smiles while ordering for his men to kill people. It’s much more refreshing than punching a table and yelling, “I want revenge!” But he does some of that, too.

“Viper” is a good move for the series, and viewers can look forward to next week’s Halloween-type episode, “Spirit of the Goat”, which does look promisingly creepy.

Gotham is on Fox, Monday nights at 8/7c. It’s also available to view on Fox’s website and Hulu. Spoilers ahead!

Viper: Don’t do drugs, kids.

Let’s get the biggest problem with “Viper” out of the way immediately: the people in Gotham City are still deeply dull (and more than a little stupid). When someone hands you a mysterious vial of green gas, don’t immediately inhale it. When you hear that people are taking a new drug and dropping dead shortly after, don’t do the drug. And Jim Gordon, buddy, maybe don’t shoot the hose that is filled with Viper. You don’t know if that stuff is flammable or how it disperses.

Getting past all that, the Viper plot is fun, even if the science is ridiculous. Viper burns the calcium in the bones of its users, giving them super-strength and a heavy craving for milk. After a while, their bones just turn to mush, which was gross to watch on screen, but it’s awesome seeing Gordon and Bullock’s reactions.

With no real way to deal with the drug and people popping up all over the city that are super-strong and a little crazy (Viper seems to do that, too), Bullock suggests letting the drug run its course. He smiles as he says the drug could result in the end of crime in Gotham City. While no one takes his suggestion seriously, no solution is ever found, so presumably everyone that took Viper did die. Man, this city sucks.

The man behind it all, a biochemist named Stan Potolski – whom Gordon and Bullock stop before he has a chance to poison a charity luncheon for Wayne Enterprises – gets blasted with Viper and just kind of disappears, but only after telling the detective duo to check out a warehouse.

The World’s Youngest Detective.

After Falcone and Maroni got the Arkham deal from last episode (reminder: it’s a big realty and development thing), Bruce is investigating why his parents’ plan for Arkham fell through. Alfred is dismayed at all the files, folders, and paper spread around the room in which Bruce has set up shop, but the young Master Wayne actually reacts to his butler’s concerns with more chill than he had before. The two have some nice scenes this episode where Bruce reacts to Alfred’s complaints with some light humor and even takes the Alfred’s advice to attend that charity luncheon. The visit is just to ask questions of the executives of Wayne Enterprises, but at least he’s getting out of the house.

Honestly, the detective aspect works better for a young Bruce Wayne than the brooding and pain tolerance tests of previous episodes. So far Bruce has been closed off and had no real relationship with Alfred, but before the end of episode the butler even joins in on the research. Let’s hope this direction of his story continues.

Bruce’s findings also come back to the Viper story. The drug was created by a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises, but the project was apparently shut down when brought to the attention of some higher-ups by Stan. At some point, Stan was bounced out of the company and Venom (that’s the same stuff Bane uses) became their new focus. Angry, Stan has taken his supply of the drug and begun distributing it, hoping to draw attention to the unethical practices of his former employers and Wayne Enterprises.

All of this creates a new focal point for the series. Bruce is beginning to realize that his family’s company might be less altruistic than he thought and allowed Maroni and Falcone to take the Arkham deal. The revelation that Wayne was aware of Viper and Venom — an employee was watching the warehouse Stan sent Gordon and Bullock to — also raises some flags. It turns Wayne Enterprises into the force that ties everything together, which could have the same terrible effect as Oscorp does in the Amazing Spider-Man films.

Weekly Mob Update:

Remaining separate from the Viper plot, Cobblepot nearly dies trying to make his way up in the Maroni organization and Fish Mooney has some awkward moments with her secret weapon.

Attempting to ingratiate himself with Maroni, Cobblepot reveals that he has connections to help Maroni get revenge on Falcone for a robbery (that Cobblepot actually organized). After revealing his past with the Falcone family, Maroni does not react happily. He pulls in Gordon to confirm Cobblepot’s story, and while we all know Gotham isn’t about to kill off its stars, it’s still an intense scene. Credit goes to David Zayas (Dexter’s Angel Batista) for carrying on with anger, threats, and violence with a friendly smile on his face.

Mooney is still “training” Liza as her “secret weapon” to take down Falcone. Yes, she actually calls her “secret weapon” and the scenes between the two feel incredibly forced and awkward, but it looks like we’re past that. The episode closes with Liza approaching Falcone and the two of them do the hipster thing where they share headphones while listening to music. Because of Mooney’s training, it feels like anyone could see what’s going to happen with Liza. Ideally, that subplot will take a sudden turn soon, because right now it just feels like Mooney is constantly shoving “secret weapon” in viewers’ faces.

Bottom Line: A much better showing for Gotham that improves on a few of the show’s weaker characters and does pretty well to avoid the eye-roll inducing dialogue of earlier episodes.

Recommendation: While the show isn’t consistent, this is one of the episodes to watch.

[rating=3.5]

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