Review: Gotham: ‘The Mask’

After last week’s big story blowout, it’s back to the grind this week. However, the show has taken the changes to the setup from the prior story and it looks like it’s trying to use them well. This week is definitely a step back from the prior ratcheting up, but honestly, it’s not a bad one to have.

I do have to say this may take the prize for the show’s strangest cold opening so far: two office workers in ski masks fighting each other to the death in an abandoned office building. Yes, there’s a logic behind it (sort of) and it serves as the basis for this week’s case.

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The case in question is an odd one. The mystery isn’t played out for very long, with the episode instead taking the path of ‘this is the man
responsible, but let’s just see them prove it.’ In some ways, that actually helps with this particular episode. With the perpetrator already defined, it gives the show a chance to move its focus elsewhere- primarily to exploring the fallout of last week. After trying so hard to play the stoic hero, Gordon has burned a lot of bridges at the GCPD- Enough that it can potentially damage further investigations for him. In playing to their strengths, we see this emphasized not through Jim, but instead Harvey. After being the only officer to begrudgingly come to Gordon’s aid last week, Bullock is now the only friend he has left. Logue has always been one of the stronger parts of the show, and now that the rest of the series is getting a feel for what it wants to be, even he’s getting more chances to shine as a result. Even in letting that good side of him out, he’s still the same cynical slob we’ve come to know, and I give Logue points for being able to make THAT the guy to deliver the episode’s ‘big speech’ moment and still make it work in character.

As far as Gordon, I think the show is putting in more effort for him than it has in the past, but it will still be a rocky road ahead. This week presented an interesting side of that, peeling away a bit more of the moral paragon we started off with to show a darker side. Once again, it’s a bit of an old bit- Gordon’s time in the military is discussed and this week’s criminal (Todd Stashwick) tries to read him as a man who secretly enjoys killing – but they’re finally trying at least. That this episode ends with Barbara once again cutting ties could either help or hurt the show in terms of fixing its weaker parts. We’ll have to wait and see on that front.

Coming up next - the latest gameshow sensation from Japan: Savage Violence! Salarmyan Arena of Death!

Coming up next – the latest gameshow sensation from Japan:
Savage Violence! Salarmyan Arena of Death!

As far as the antagonist goes, Stashwick is probably the weaker part of this week’s episode. He’s not bad with his part, actually; it’s more the fact the show just doesn’t really do a whole lot with his character. His entire idea is summed up in an idealization of warrior lifestyle that leads to him pitting prospective employees against each other in brutal fights, sometimes to the death. That’s really all there is to the character. Stashwick tries to give him some malevolence, but he’s an incredibly flat character that mostly just serves to make one thankful we still have the greater mob story for the criminal element this week, because Stashwick’s really only there for Gordon’s sake.

As for the mob story, everyone is taking to the new peace about as well as can be expected: by simply moving their more questionable actions off to the sidelines. Probably one of the best things for this show about having Oswald come back from the dead officially: the antagonism he has with Fish Mooney is some top-notch scene chewing. Their meeting this week is two actors each trying to overplay the other and it makes for the most entertaining moment of the episode. That said, on their own, Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith are both having a blast playing two of the more overtly comic book characters in this cast. This week reminds why, along with Donal Logue, they’re the trinity that are really keeping this afloat.

Seriously, if they ever decide to make just a full episode of these two trying to devour the scenery, I'd watch it. Probably a few times.

Seriously, if they ever decide to make just a full episode of these two trying to devour the scenery, I’d watch it. Probably a few times.

Bruce, meanwhile, is continuing to try and figure out just what he’s doing in this series. This week seems like they want to lay the groundwork for some very early Batman, when incidents at school lead to him asking Alfred to teach him to fight. Taken as its own story, this could work out alright, but alongside all the other stories Gotham has running each week, Bruce really feels like an odd man out. I realize the writers are a bit hard-pressed to find uses for him on any given basis, and even the running ‘Thomas and Martha Wayne conspiracy’ can only keep him just so connected.

I do have to commend the episode on the technicals. Like last week, the show at least looks like it’s getting a bit more ambitious in terms of direction and cinematography. It’s not high art, but a few sequences this week- such as a scene with Nygma performing an unofficial examination of a corpse – have a great sense of mise en scene and some sharp edits to make them stand out.

I know it's still only one frame, but this fills me with concerns about David Fincher's Doctor Demento biopic.

I know it’s still only one frame, but this fills me with concerns about David Fincher’s Doctor Demento biopic.

All in all, it is still a step down from the past two weeks. It’s not really awful, but after the ramping up of the past few episodes, it is a bit
disappointing to see the show slipping into some of its old habits here. At the same time, last week changed some elements enough that there are some changes for the better present this week. There’s a part of me that wants to hope this is just going to be a transitional episode building to the next big moment, but it’s too soon to say. Taken on its own, however, it’s still fairly watchable episode – just one that feels like it should have moved past some of its shortcomings by now is all.

That said, my hopes that this is just a transition are feeling a strengthened by what we can expect next week. Here’s hoping Harvey Dent marks the show’s continued improvement from here out.

Till then.

Pros:

-Follow-up from last week’s episode marks potential for developing Gordon from here out

-Robin Lord Taylor and Jada Pinkett Smith’s meeting scene is more entertaining than it probably should be

Cons:

-I know he’s going to become Batman, but man, this show is really having a hard time making Bruce worth paying attention to

-I know I said the show’s working on making Gordon more interesting, but he’s not there yet

Rating: 2.5/5

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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