It is important to stand up for what we believe in. Gotham is full of crime and corruption, but Gordon (Ben McKenzie) isn’t deterred by it. He wants to help and serve its citizens in any way he can. I do not have the same tenacity as Gordon, however. I cannot keep fighting for Gotham. After two strong episodes, “The Mask” breaks the show’s momentum.
“The Mask” is a bland episode. With a Fight Club-esque scenario run by a corporate type obsessed with murder, there isn’t much intrigue to the plot. After the narrative-driving “Spirit of the Goat” and “Penguin’s Umbrella,” the weekly crimes are difficult to care about. Gotham‘s strength comes from the Maroni-Falcone conflict. A focus on anything other than Gotham’s major families causes the drama to fall apart.
The Mask, businessman Richard Sionis (Todd Stashwick), is hungry for blood. He makes those who apply to work at his company literally fight for the position. The problem is that The Mask isn’t scary. He may be somewhat twisted due to the pleasure he derives from watching potential employees duke it out for a job, but that hardly compares to the other series antagonists.
I also didn’t feel invested in the drama folding onscreen because it has no tension. Bad things happen to people in Gotham all the time. If Gotham wishes to be a successful procedural, then its crime of the week needs to tie in directly to Maroni, Falcone, Cobblepot and Mooney. And it needs to have real consequences beyond the demise of nameless henchmen.
Although this week’s episode went back to the villain-of-the-week structure, the Maroni-Falcone narrative isn’t totally discarded; the power struggle among the major crime bosses still drives the show. There is a lovely interplay between Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) in “The Mask” as they negotiate for Falcone and Maroni. Mooney only has contempt for Cobblepot, while he cleverly acts as polite and sympathetic as possible. The contrast is fun to watch.
The exchange sheds light on an important fact; Mooney and Cobblepot are not the puppets, their bosses are. The real turf war is between Mooney and Cobblepot. Falcone and Maroni are content with agreement made with one another, but Mooney and Cobblepot want more.
Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) takes on a larger role this time around as he finally returns to his posh private school following his parents’ death. There, he encounters a bully who taunts him about his mother. This provokes Bruce to slap the boy. The whole conflict is rather awkward due to the stiff proper dialogue that writer John Stephens gives to Mazouz; the total lack of conjunctions in their conversation is particularly grating. But the problems with this exchange lies with the actor, too; Mazouz pronounces every syllable of every word making him difficult to listen to.
The Wayne subplot becomes worthwhile only after Alfred enters the scene. He drives Bruce to the bully’s house and allows Bruce to beat him up. Alfred’s exchange with the bully is priceless. After the kid hyperbolically remarks that Bruce tried to kill him, Alfred replies with “Yes, yes he did. And I let him try. Remember that.”
With each episode, Bullock (Donal Logue) becomes more fleshed-out. He is still sarcastic and crotchety but appears to have transformed into his old self again. He is no longer afraid to fight for the good guys after years of taking orders from Falcone and Mooney (see “Penguin’s Umbrella” for more on that).
Importantly, he also cares about Gordon. The two got off to a rocky start because Gordon’s do-gooder attitude rubbed him the wrong way, but now Bullock is on his side. We see evidence of his metamorphosis everywhere. Consider the speech he to rally his fellow officers after Gordon goes missing. No one wants to help, but Bullock reminds them all what happened when they abandoned Gordon to Victor Zsasz.
It is telling that Bullock is the one cop willing to show his support for Gordon. His endearing character development is the only thing that this episode, “Spirit of the Goat” and “Penguin’s Umbrella” have in common. It is a shame “The Mask” couldn’t sustain the energy from those episodes, as well.
I no longer hold any expectations for future episodes of Gotham. Whatever good “Harvey Dent” brings will have to be a surprise.