Gotham episode 8 review: The Mask

Gotham appears to be arranging its pieces on the board for a big confrontation. Here's Rob's review of this week's episode...

This review contains spoilers.

1.8 The Mask

Holy job interview fight club, Batman! This week’s Gotham episode certainly had a lot of character-based material to enjoy, but failed to live up to the heady heights of last Monday’s Penguin’s Umbrella on several other levels.

We all wear masks, metaphorically speaking, and that was the running theme throughout this week’s episode. ‘Who’s hiding behind what mask, and whose mask is beginning to fall?’ we were asked to consider, with some interesting results.

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We dug a little deeper into Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon this week, with his years in the army and his lust for justice leading to some delicate prodding around basic hero-analysing questions: Is Jim a good man, or a killer? Is the good cop routine he lives by merely a mask over a darker underlying violence? It’s quite obvious that Jim is an honest and heroic chap, but it was nice to spend some time re-clarifying that as opposed to the usual feeling of action simply unfolding around him.

Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock winningly binned his corrupt loser mask this week, in making the only rousing speech to ever include the term ‘ass hat’ (that we know of). Logue delivered this monologue well, and thankfully managed to turn a few other GCPD staff, however reluctantly, onto him and Gordon’s crusade.  

Every other cop in town being completely against the idea of anything vaguely lawful was becoming a bit tiresome, it was a welcome sight to see the balance readdressed here, however temporarily. We particularly enjoyed seeing Zabryna Guevara’s police chief Sarah Essen wade into a crime scene gun-in-hand. We feel like Gotham is gradually rearranging chess pieces here, creating a line-up where the eventual war between the mob(s) and the GCPD might actually be a fair fight. Sounds like good news to us.

Elsewhere, characters were chipping away at each other’s exterior masks and trying to harm the person underneath, with some generic bullying morons attempting to rile Bruce about his parents tragic demise, while Robin Taylor Lord’s Oswald (in arguably his character’s least exciting outing yet) separately hunted for an exploitable secret of Fish Mooney. Whilst we’re on the topic of Fish, it was another strong week for Smith’s intense portrayal of the newly-created character. Her motivation-based lies were an intriguing point this week, showing us another character who hides their true nature behind a mask.

As we’ve touched upon, Oswald’s arc wasn’t particularly thrilling this week – Fish impaling him was entirely predictable and the intimidation scene with his replacement felt like a wasted opportunity for some darker or grimly comic material. After last week, this was a let-down. Lord’s performance still shone through, but the writing didn’t quite match up. In general, we could do without with his mother, too.

Likewise, Bruce’s victimisation at school seemed like a very rushed strand. This did allow us Bruce’s first taste of violent justice, some shockingly lenient (but undeniably cool) guardianship from Alfred and the interesting prospect of Bruce’s combat training going forward, though. With that in mind, we think we can forgive some subpar pacing and some ineffectual bullies.

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Our bigger qualm this week? That’d be the central ‘freak of the week’ story. There was a lot we didn’t enjoy about the introduction of Black Mask, a villain that could be used in a variety of interesting ways, as the Arkham City videogame recently reminded us. Instead, he is leading a deadly fight club from an abandoned office building, which just seems like an attempt to cram some wackier ideas into the show.

We’ve long known that Gotham would give us a host of villainous origin stories, but this one just doesn’t compare to the Oswald story or even the gradual increasing creepiness of Ed Nygma (who had a sound comedy moment this week). As a bad boss with a thing for ‘warrior baloney’, Sionis just seemed like a lazy expression of an urge to squeeze in as many recognisable names from the comics as possible.

We’re hoping that this starting point won’t be the end of his character, and that Heller and co. can find some more interesting things to do with him in future, rather than run an overly-violent finance company thingy.  In the comics he’s traditionally an intimidating crime lord, and we think that would be a more interesting angle. Maybe he could rise to prominence in the aftermath of the upcoming mob war?

This was an uninspiring week in the villain stakes, then, and the Wayne murders went un-investigated for another week. However, the theme of masks opened up some interesting character material, and Lost/Fringe/Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. alumnus Paul A. Edwards handled the manifold fight scenes very well from the directorial side. The final showdown, where Jim had to take down multiple baddies, had the feel of the Arkham games’ speedy fighting mechanics, which can only be a good thing. We’d definitely have Mr Edwards back, but ideally in a better-thought-out episode.

One final thought: Did anyone really care when Barbara walked out at the end? After declarations of love last week, and now a sudden walk-out, it seems no one knows quite what to do with her. We could do without the yo-yoing, and hope that a more fully-formed character and arc can be devised sharpish.

Read Rob’s review of the previous episode, Penguin’s Umbrella, here.

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