Review: ‘Gotham’ – ‘The Mask’

Senior Television Writer
11.10.14 32 Comments

FOX

A review of tonight's “Gotham” coming up just as soon as I ask you for your broach…

Last week's episode, “Penguin's Umbrella,” pared things down to just the rising mob war, and was by far the best and most coherent hour of “Gotham” so far. But it's the kind of episode that was effective precisely because the show can't do it every week, and with “The Mask,” we were back to the show's wide-spread formula, for good and for ill. Jim and Harvey's investigation was one of the least compelling so far, while the episode did better at advancing several of the story and character arcs.

The most successful of these involved Bruce returning to school and running afoul of bullies looking to take advantage of his emotional stress (as teenagers are wont to do). The worry when FOX announced that “Gotham” would include an adolescent Bruce Wayne as a regular character is that we would get some kind of weird high school melodrama nested inside the Gordon-and-Bullock cop show, where Bruce can't decide whether to ask Selina Kyle or Silver St. Cloud to the spring formal. We may still get there(*), but for now the show has tried very hard to figure out what young master Bruce would be doing in the immediate aftermath of his parents' murder, knowing what the endpoint will be. We've already seen him engage in early detective work, and learn vigilante do's and don'ts from watching the Balloonman and Jim Gordon, and here he learns how to stand up for himself on a physical level. The character occasionally borders on having an autism spectrum disorder (a lot of his dialogue and Max's on “Parenthood” is interchangeable), but David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee have this chemistry that's growing stronger and deeper with each episode. And for all of Alfred's concerns about his surrogate son's obsession with his parents' murder, the moment when he allowed the slightest of smiles when offering to teach the boy how to fight was tremendously satisfying. He may not want Bruce to become a crazy man who fights crime while dressed in a bat, but he very much wants the boy to be able to protect himself.

(*) I wouldn't be the least bit shocked if “Cat” and Lil Wayne wind up classmates for a half season or more, just for the sake of bringing together two characters the show  often struggles to integrate into the rest of the action.

The corporate fight club mystery is the sort of thing that I can imagine working in several different eras of the comics (I can all but picture how Jim Aparo would've drawn it in the '70s or '80s) but that feels fairly silly when played by actors, even on a show that's had plenty of ridiculous moments so far. With Penguin, Fish, and even Harvey, the show hasn't shied away from mixing dark and even absurdist comedy in with all the violence and Nolan-ness, but it tends to work better with continuing characters than with one-offs like Evil Bill Lumbergh here, or the Balloonman a few episodes ago.

On the plus side, that mystery continued the tension between Gordon and the rest of the GCPD – since an incident like the one in the precinct with Zsasz can't just be forgotten – and led to a Jim/Harvey detente that was both inevitable and necessary. I especially liked the scene where Essen and Gordon talk about the Waynes' death as a tipping point for all the insanity the series has depicted so far(**).

(**) I understand the desire to open the show with the iconic scene in Crime Alley where Bruce watches his parents die, but all the talk of the importance Thomas and Martha had to the city, and the way they kept certain elements in check, makes me think Bruno Heller might have been better off pushing their murder back at least a few episodes, if not through most of season 1. You stunt-cast the characters with actors who won't do a long commitment, you show us what they meant to Gotham (and to Bruce) rather than telling us, and then you bump them off and have it mean something beyond the inciting incident for the Batman story.

More Carol Kane with Robin Lord Taylor is always a welcome thing (and, again, an example of the show more comfortably going to comic places with ongoing characters), and I also enjoyed Nygma's immense disappointment at discovering that his breakthrough with the printer toner was irrelevant because the cops had figured it out first.

Barbara remains a significant problem, and there's a part of me that wishes she would be leaving Jim for good, even though I know she won't be. And I appreciated that they didn't try to do too much with Selina in what was already a busy episode, but instead just brought her back to tease whatever she'll be doing next week.

What did everybody else think?

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