Fight, fight, fight! That was the mantra of this week’s Gotham episode, “The Mask.” Be it Jim getting into verbal scuffles with his fellow officers, Lil’ Bruce dealing with school bullies, Fish and Penguin having their own form of sparring, or Jim (again) dealing with actual fights in one man’s insane challenge regarding his financial firm. This may technically be a step back from the quality seen in the last couple of episodes, but what it lacks in story quality it makes up for in seeing these main characters with a stronger sense of purpose behind their actions, given what everyone has gone through in recent weeks. Gotham is growing.
To make this point right up front, the main story is pretty silly, but certainly fitting of a comic book-based property. Sure, it casts character actor Todd Stashwick as Richard Sionis aka Black Mask, one of the members of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery, but if this is an origin story for that character, it is a pretty silly one. Mr. Sionis is a character so obviously evil that when he is initially questioned by Jimmy & The Bulls, the guy does not even try to feign innocence, as opposed to just challenging the cops to prove his guilt. His whole system is crazy. The man has various candidates fight to the death in order to land a job at his company. Crazier than that, he can see the killer inside of Jim (based on Jim’s time spent in war), yet his ultimate plan to dispatch him revolves around pitting three non-killer accountants/lawyers/whatever to kill him. Basically, Mr. Sionis is an over-the-top comic book villain in a show that wants to be the kind of show that can rely on these stories for a case-of-the-week structure.
This brings it back to what audiences want from Gotham and what Gotham wants to be. Can it be the show that goes back and forth between police procedural and a gangster thriller, with a hero cop on the outskirts? Can it be a show that balances the pulpiness, silliness, and zaniness of Batman: The Animated Series and 70s/Silver Age-era Batman comic books? I think it can, and these recent episodes certainly find the show in a better position to be delivering on these elements. “The Mask” is more or less back in the weird zone, where the show has serious stuff going on, but the tone is a bit mixed, given the tracking of nearly the entire ensemble cast. Still, it is an episode of Gotham that seems to be delivering on what the show can be, but handled a bit better, given where Jim and the gang are now coming from.
Following “Penguin’s Umbrella,” which found Jim in a shootout at the GCPD all by himself, seeing an episode that chooses not to forget the actions taken by the other cops is a refreshing way to show how the precinct openly acknowledges that it is corrupt and also knows how to feel guilty about it. Captain Essen, in particular, gets a chance to shine, which I think is important, as that character has the chance to really go places, as far as seeing Jimmy & The Bulls gain strong allies in the future (the same can be said for Montoya and possibly Allen, but they are less defined). Having Essen as the main voice in Gordon’s ear, regarding the actions taken by the GCPD from the previous week, works to develop the kind of relationship Gordon realizes he is going to have, if he continues to do his job the way he sees is right. Of course, Gordon also has Bullock providing help in his corner (finally), as well.
Moving elsewhere, this week I finally learn the answer to my question revolving around Lil’ Bruce and whether or not he ever goes to school. In “The Mask,” it seems he is just now going back, only to immediately fall victim to bullies. It is not just any bully, either, as we learn that Bruce is getting assaulted by one Thomas Elliot (another Batman comic pull), but regardless, Bruce does not take this lightly and neither does Alfred. The main takeaway from this side plot is that Bruce wants to learn how to fight. Now, we are once again being knocked on the head with the fact that Lil’ Bruce is going to grow up into being the Big Bat, but how are we supposed to feel about this sudden urge to be a better fighter?
Many have taken issue with Sean Pertwee’s portrayal as Alfred. This is an Alfred unlike many of the previous incarnations, as he is essentially a lot meaner, despite being the one man always in Lil’ Bruce’s corner. In this episode, we get to see Alfred encourage Bruce to not only fight back at Thomas (when he’s not expecting it), but to use a weapon as well (admittedly to be on more equal ground). Do we want this? Is this how we want to see Batman come to be? Obviously most people don’t want to see Batman at all in a show about Gordon, or they would just rather have a show about Batman. As one who has respected the development given to Lil’ Bruce, I am hoping more and more that the season finale has him reach a point where he leaves Gotham entirely in a manner that fits with the shaping of his character thus far. For the time being, though, linking the Wayne family to Gordon’s cases is fine, but the less we see of these two, the better.
The only other aspect to address is Fish and Penguin, but what is there really to say? The two hate each other. Fish has her plans, Penguin has his, and neither wants the other to get in their way, as they both grasp at more and more power. Penguin’s character is basically developed as far as he can go at this point, so we can just continue to find delight in Robin Lord Taylor’s performance, even if his relationship with his mother is excessive. Fish, on the other hand, is performed well enough, but she continues to purposefully elude us. We think we finally get some backstory to explain more about who she is, but it is quickly revealed as a lie. There is a chance to show what lengths she may be willing to go to, but the character continues to go along with her plan that has already been established. These are not knocks against what Pinkett is bringing to the role, nor is it a dissatisfaction with the character, necessarily, but it does find us in a continual state of pause, before things no doubt become more intense.
“The Mask” is a stronger episode of Gotham compared to the earlier parts of this season. It is an episode that applies the ramifications of last week in a way effective enough to make up for how silly this week’s main plotline is. It does not hurt that I generally like a majority of these characters and the performers in these roles, either. There is also something to be said for the style of the show, which I have not mentioned in a while. For all its faults, I do continue to enjoy the mildly stylized approach to this sort of procedural storytelling. I may want more in the way of making Gotham feel like a main character of the show, but I am getting some good stuff just from watching this show each week, which is another nice way to look at it.
From Det. Jim Gordon’s Police Files:
- Cat’s back, having us all wonder if she has any more purpose.
- Nygma is also growing on me, so kudos there, and it should be noted that Cory Michael Smith did a hell of a job playing a completely different role on HBO’s Olive Kittridge.
- Even Barbara was less annoying, despite still being the least serviced character on the show.
- Seriously, Mr. Sionis needs a better janitor crew.
- Ben McKenzie did a fine job showing off his action choreography skills in that 3-on-1 battle.
- “Asshat” – Donal Logue has been stepping it up in a good way. I really liked his speech and the terms he managed to reach with Gordon.
- Remember when Liza beat up some woman she didn’t know to get a job? What happened to her?
- This week’s Classic Gordon Clip.