‘Gotham’ Review: “The Mask”
FOX’s ‘Gotham’ detects its eighth installment in “The Mask,” as Gordon's strained relationship with his fellow cops jeopardizes his investigation of a corrupt financier, while Bruce returns to school and Fish and Penguin conspire against one another.
Last week's ‘Gotham' installment, "Penguin's Umbrella," saw the exposure of Jim's lie about killing Penguin bringing killers and criminal chaos out of the woodwork, while Carmine Falcone revealed an unforeseen angle of conspiracy to his own plans, so how does FOX’s latest episode of Bat-prequel drama shine a light on the city's villainous beginnings?
Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Gotham’ episode 8, “The Mask”!
Last week’s ‘Gotham’ was an important one for the series. Bullets whizzed in every direction over major set pieces, betrayals came to light, and most every character got a moment to shine, in what seemed like a new beginning of sorts. That was the ‘Gotham’ I wanted to watch, a serialized drama that highlighted one man’s struggle to keep head above water in a city increasingly controlled by criminals. Colorful characters abounded in somewhat reasonable directions, and maybe once in awhile, someone did something that reminded us we belonged to the DC universe, and Batman lay somewhere in the future.
That was the ‘Gotham’ I wanted to watch. Did we have to go back to the campy mess version so very quickly?
There’s no shortage of critical diatribes against the conceptual issues of the series, but I think the moment somewhat crystallized in a scene tonight between Gordon and Captain Essen. Jim points out that the city’s new status quo of crazy criminals strapping balloons to victims, or in the case of "The Mask,” crafting elaborate fight clubs around a finance firm owe to the Waynes’ murder, as the city’s crushed hopes ignited a powder keg of its citizen’s worst impulses. That’s … perfectly cogent, and a reasonable extrapolation of meaning to add to the Wayne legacy, but I had to wonder: Does ‘Gotham’ understand the concept of showing these platitudes rather than stating them outright?
Certainly not the way to illustrate them was with tonight’s one-off villain Richard Sionis, who -- however menacingly brought to life by genre favorite Todd Stashwick -- doesn’t quite add up beyond the sum of his parts. For one, Edward Nygma’s own side investigation suggested that Sionis had been pitting employees against one another for years, well-before the Waynes’ murders would have shocked anyone out of apathy, and the internal logic of applicants fighting to the death for jobs, cheered on by their potential co-workers in an office pool, holds up about as well as you’d think. One might observe an attempt to thematically tie Sionis’ crimes with Gordon’s struggles at the GCPD, fighting impulses left over from war, and even to some extent Bruce’s struggles with bullying at school, as all around the message seems to lie in knowing which battles to pick, and preparing one’s self for war.
And that’s really where “The Mask” proved most effective, integrating Bruce and Alfred’s side of the story thematically with a newer exploration of the young Batman’s role in the series. Up to now we’ve seen Bruce largely brushed off and brooding within his cavernous mansion, and showing the character’s experiences returning to school -- however dry they might sound in principle -- has well-capitalized on the show’s troubled premise. Not only that, but it made a strong degree of sense to have his relationship with Alfred deepen over a need to learn self-defense, however contextually awkward it might seem to have Alfred so menacingly encourage violence between children. Much like the rationale behind keeping Bruce out of therapy, or even a larger call on the series itself, the logic certainly supports the unexplored origins of Batman, but still seems devastatingly weird in its execution.
Other than that, “The Mask” seemed like the show’s usual mix of half-formed ideas and shoehorned plots, most of which seem to serve little purpose overall, at least for now. We get a chance to see Edward Nygma’s ambition as a crime-solver and respected intellectual, though his contributions wind up largely superfluous to the investigation itself. Carol Kane pops up to mouth some crazy as Penguin’s mom, but isn’t otherwise integral to her son’s plan to exploit Fish’s weaknesses. Li’l Catwoman literally resurfaces out of nowhere, getting caught in another crime and calling for Gordon’s aid. Barbara gets drunk and scared, leaving Jim once again, presumably in search of an actual plotline, or at least a job to support her cavernous apartment. Fish Mooney lies about her mom having been killed by Falcone's men, or something. Her mother was on stage singing as this happened.
Probably the most effective holdover from last week’s hour was the tension created between Gordon and the officers who’d abandoned him in his fight with Victor Zsasz, an understandable bit of fallout that gave Bullock the reasonably heroic task of rallying the officers to Jim’s defense, and simultaneously gave us our best look yet into the conflicted characterization of Captain Essen. It’s hard not to see ‘Gotham’ as something of a tragedy, given we know Gordon’s mission to clean up the city will inevitably fail, but it made sense to develop some tension around the fact that Gordon hasn’t well integrated with his fellow law-enforcement agents just yet.
It’s sad to see ‘Gotham’ returning to sloppy form so quickly after its peak hour last Monday, though there still exist a few scraps of potential amid the messier procedural elements. And while John Doman’s Carmine Falcone (and heck, even David Zayas’ Sal Maroni) weren’t around to give the mob dealings some gravity, it’s hard not to crack at least one smile around Robin Taylor’s Penguin and Jada Pinkett’s Fish trading barbs with one another, ostensibly one of the few entertaining holdovers from the show’s pilot. ‘Gotham’ would do a lot better to stick with its most successful serialized elements than continually attempt to get its consistently campy tone off the ground (maybe handcuff it to a balloon?), but “The Mask” certainly wasn’t without a few more interesting character explorations.
AND ANOTHER THING...
- Perhaps worth noting is that the "Sionis" surname alludes to future Batman villain "Black Mask" (Get it?! MASK!), and Bruce's schoolyard bully was none other than Tommy Elliot, otherwise known as the future "Hush." I say "perhaps," as these details were in no way relevant to anything about the plot, or anything we'll see for the next 20 years.
- Penguin not only stole the broach to give to Fish, but even re-gifted it to his own mother. This an impressively elaborate avoidance of actual gift-giving.
- "Put a zipper on it!" - dialogue spoken by a human person.
- I'm confused. Was Sionis holding the men in cages against their will, or had they previously agreed to fight it out for the job and signing bonus?
- Was this the series' first use of scenes shot in actual sunlight, and not just a hazy overcast?
Well, what say you? Did ‘Gotham’’s eighth episode “The Mask” help set the stage any further for Batman's beginning? How do you think the prequel drama fared in its latest attempt at Batman lore? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Gotham' episode 9, "Harvey Dent" on FOX!