08 “The Mask” (Gotham season 1) [SPOILERS]


Last week’s episode of Gotham, viewers or readers of my reviews, went all bang-bang shouty crackers. And it was glorious.

The problem now, though, is dealing with the aftermath. The typical (Disappointing -Ed) option would be to carry on without acknowledging that anything even happened. The show suffers collective amnesia, and no one references anything which went down. I’d certainly hope Gotham wouldn’t attempt that; this series has thusfar been based on a running, gradually developing story arc.

But more than that, it would do the bravery in the writers for the last episode a huge disservice, by basically nullifying it completely.

My apologies to those studiously avoiding spoilers, who have read that detail-less non-specific waffle. But then, if you’re not going to read the rest of the review, why read the lead-in?

So after Gordon took on the mob last week, and basically lost, things are getting back to normal and are supremely uncomfortable. As well as a traumatised Barbara to deal with, Gordon is feeling none too friendly towards his fellow officers — who, you may remember, left him to be killed by Zsasz. But this week he is investigating a murder which leads to a millionaire banker using Fight Club as his job interview manual. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne goes back to school, and Oswald Cobblepot continues to dance around Fish Mooney.

The core mystery of this episode bored me, I’ll be honest. Casual cruelty from the financial services industry is an obvious choice, given how true to life it feels, but as a mystery in Gotham I’ve come to expect a little more…not subtlty, but maybe creativity? The obviously evil rich guy is obviously evil from the off, and even at the end when he stalks out in a mask with a katana sword, it’s still barely a shrug.

Fortunately, it’s wallpaper for some strong human drama.

Firstly Gordon. He is seriously smarting after last week. The tension between himself and his fellow officers is palpable from the off, threatening to boil over. He snaps multiple times, but as Capt. Essen says, he can’t do the job alone. The partnership with Harvey pays off here, as he plays the go between. He’s sympathetic to Gordon, but has enough realpolitik to know that Jim against the world won’t last long. His speech at the end is a blunt as you’d expect from him, but as he rallies the troops to find Gordon.

And Gordon’s soldier mentality is explored pretty effectively. When he is trapped in a room with four would-be bankers trying to kill him to get a job, but also in his no-nonsense approach to policing. He feels isolated, and so does Barabara, pulling a gun on him when he comes home. The sad part is that when Jim finally seems to have put the majority of it behind him, Barbara walks out of the apartment leaving a note for him on the table. Gordon fighting would-be bankers was a good moment — particularly as he deals with them all and the boss himself. And he chooses, makes the choice, not to kill. Which, relative to everything else, is a powerful symbol.

In the mob, Cobblepot is looking for Mooney’s weakness. They clearly aren’t going to kiss and make up — not after Mooney buries a spike in Cobblepot’s hand — so he needs something to hold over her. Mooney’s plant in Falcone’s operation, Liza, is getting cold feet at the idea of harming the Don. She reassures her with an almost certainly fake story of him killing her mother, and assures her that she’ll be safe. But after Cobblepot’s torture of his replacement at Mooney’s side reveals the existence of her spy, that seems doubtful. It seems doubtful she cares, beyond wanting Falcone out of the way.

Finally, though, the best part of this episode is Bruce Wayne. After spending seven episodes basically sitting around, here he does something interesting. Heading back to school, he is obviously isolated, and is targeted by bullies. Alfred helps him fight back — not altogether fairly, but hey ho. Bruce, it seems, has a taste for violence. It’s a bit cliched, yes, but it works well enough — especially given that there is a running theme in the comics that Batman is as damaged as his archenemy, the Joker.

This path, if they choose to follow it, would be a very good idea. Bruce Wayne treading the line between light and dark would give his character something good to explore, linked but leading up to him becoming Batman. Given that the cavalcade of lunatic killers are blamed on the Wayne’s death taking hope from Gotham, this is amply appropriate.

So my verdict, in the end, has to be that this was a good episode. Not as good as last week’s perhaps, but then it seemed more an extension to the madness which exploded. Gordon is damaged, undeniably, but he is trying to be a good cop in a bad town. Bruce Wayne is looking to harness his darkness, his damage, whilst Cobblepot is just revelling in his. For the first time, and as the dust settles, there seems to be a strongly emerging theme. It isn’t a perfect series, but it is head and shoulders above most, and has already become compulsive viewing for me.

Closing thoughts:

  • Edward Nygma has a history of conducting his own autopsies. Which the corroner is not too thrilled about. As I’ve said before, though, I would watch the hell out of an Edward Nygma show.
  • Cpt. Essen is growing on me. Her remorse for leaving Gordon is palpable, and she clearly sees what is going on in Gotham. Part of me thinks she’ll end badly for it.
  • Strange old woman singing for Mooney. Very obviously Mooney’s (not dead) mother.
  • Is it just me who was expecting something more…Batman-y from an episode entitled “The Mask”?
  • Though we do now have an emerging run of psychotics in masks. Between Goatman and this lunatic, some of the origins of Batman’s psyche are starting to be excavated — reclaiming the mask for the good guys.
  • Barbara is still dull. Her PTSD would be far more interesting if it manifested independently of Gordon, but all we get is her pointing guns at Gordon, her nagging Gordon, her leaving Gordon.
  • The Cat’s back. Maybe we’ll find out what she was nicking from Wayne Manor.
  • I probably should have mentioned that Richard Sionis, the homicidal banker, is a nod to Roman Sionis, the crime lord Black Mask from the Batman mythos. I still think he was a pretty boring character, but there you go.

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