'Gotham' Review/Recap: "The Mask"

Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Todd Stashwick in the Gotham episode "The Mask." Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Todd Stashwick in the Gotham episode “The Mask.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.

“I’d give you a good cop routine, but it’s not in my toolkit.”

For the seven episodes we’ve seen so far, Gotham has had an uneasy relationship with its own tone, flip flopping wildly between being a pulpy comic tale and a gritty action drama. To say that Gotham hits it stride in this episode may be a slight exaggeration – there are still a handful of the usual flaws lurking in nooks and crannies throughout the episode – it is now much more clear what the creators of Gotham were going for when they pitched the series in the first place. It is not a pulpy noir or a gritty action-thriller, it is a gothic procedural that means to incorporate aesthetic influences from both the previously mentioned genres.
Last week, with James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) saddling up for a last blaze of glory only to be shot down (figuratively) by Falcone, it felt like the show was simply pulling a hard reset before changing too much about its own status quo. On one hand, that is true – Bullock and Gordon are partners once again, and neither the GCCPD nor the mob have suffered in any way from Gordon’s actions. However, the underlying dynamic in both these organizations have changed, creating a believably tense atmosphere in both counts.

Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue in the Gotham episode "The Mask." Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue in the Gotham episode “The Mask.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Take Gordon’s relationship to the GCCPD: in early episodes, he seemed to be the only cop who knew how to do his job properly, no thanks to the heavy handed “this city is corrupt” platitudes Bruno Heller and his writing team insisted on shoving in Gordon’s face. After the events in “The Penguin’s Umbrella”, Gordon is a living reminder to the rest of the GCCPD that none of them have the guts to be an honest cop anymore. Finally, Gordon’s place in the Gotham Police force feels grounded and real, thanks to the context provided by last week’s episode. In a similar sense, we finally see what the writers wanted to do with Bullock from the outset – his adventure with Gordon hasn’t made him less cynical, but it made him come into his own as a cop who actually cares, despite how much he’ll say otherwise. Starting from “Spirit of the Goat”, Bullock’s central arc has been his evolution from a boneheaded caricature into a more believable, if still jaded, product of his own environment. Now that Bullock is no longer the lazy and incompetent cop from earlier episodes, he actually works quite effectively as a dramatic foil to Gordon.
This may perhaps be the first episode of Gotham where not a single storyline felt excessive, forced, or mundane – yes, even the segments with Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) has its moments. For the first time, the one at the most loss for what to do during this hour (excepting Barbara Kean, who exists purely to be unstable and dependent on Gordon at this point) is Robin Taylor Lord’s Penguin, who connives and menaces as well as he has been during the earlier episodes (and make no mistake, he was the clear highlight of the didactic early season), but nothing he does here stands out as strikingly different from his actions in previous episodes. The show has yet to do anything new with the newfound revelation that he is playing both sides of the mob war, but if you are paying attention, you’ll notice how empty many of Fish Mooney’s threats come off in this new light.
Camren Bicondova in the Gotham episode "The Mask." Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Camren Bicondova in the Gotham episode “The Mask.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Writer John Stephens is the first of Gotham’s writing staff to give Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) something interesting to do. This episode sees Bruce Wayne go to boarding school at the insistence of Alfred (Sean Pertwee). This section features two absolutely brilliant exchanges, the first intentional (Alfred: “Don’t you want to be like a normal kid?” Bruce: “I don’t know… define normal, and make a good case for it.”) and the second hilarious only because we can’t imagine small talk with young Bruce Wayne beginning any other way (“so, uh… your mom and dad got killed, huh?”). David Mazouz proves in this episode that he is one of Gotham’s secret assets, making Bruce Wayne mature beyond his years without any excessive brooding. While his wail at the death of his parents may have been a touch overdone in the pilot, here we get to see a character who is fundamentally lacking in that kind of emotional honesty. He is learning to repress his emotions and simmer away until he can take revenge at the opportune moment. It’s an intriguing direction to go with the character, and it’s nice to see the show give him something to do besides hurting himself.
The A-plot of this episode concerns a business with a rather sadistic way of recruiting new clerks through an office-based deathmatch scenario. It functions as little more than something for the characters to occupy themselves with while Bullock and Gordon try to wring support from their guilty-as-charged GCCPD colleagues. It’s all campy stuff, but none of it reaches a level of silliness that would detract from the episode. The show itself seems vaguely aware of it’s own madness – a passing reference to the Balloonman implies that the creators are learning from their earlier missteps. Perhaps this series has a chance, after all.
Overall Episode Grade: B+

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