As succinctly as I could I'll give you a rundown of this week's episode entitled The Mask so I don't have to burden you with lengthy discussions about every scene. At this point I've also found myself having less time to write longer reviews for this show and NBC's Constantine on my other blog, mainly because I want to prioritize posting my comic book reviews because I only have until December before I wrap up my Batman comics diet. Gotham has gotten better in places that matter (story development) even if the standard freak-of-the-week formula is still an unavoidable plot narrative of this show. Overall, The Mask is a thematic exploration of Gotham's ensemble of heroes and villains and the double lives they cling to as they try to get by in a city that is just as duplicitous as their hidden natures. On some level, this episode worked in spite of the absurdities of the specific case concerning a yuppie Fight Club for Wall Street punks and it has really more to do with the fact that this may be the show's first ever solid character-driven episode which actually sustained the momentum scene after scene. Let's discuss the significant best and worst moments of the installment, shall we? Here come the bullet points:
- I'm pleased they addressed the GCPD abandoning James Gordon last episode when Zsasz showed up to abduct him. It's this episode's central conflict where Gordon has grown weary and hostile towards his own co-workers, demonstrating how alone and alienated he feels in his personal mission to clean up the city from corruption and the mob. I've complained how far-fetched it was that not one or two people from the entire police force even stood up for Gordon last time (save perhaps the superintendent, Sarah Essen who is starting to become an ally to Gordon at this point). It's a good thing then the writers followed up on this, portraying GCPD in a very unflattering light where everyone seems to uphold self-preservation over camaraderie and sheep mentality over moral conviction. If I was working alongside such assholes, I would be just as pissed and worried for my own safety, unable to know who and how to trust again.
- And that's where Harvey Bullock comes along. I had a smile on my face during that scene with Bullock and Essen where the former has shown considerable concern over his partner's deteriorating faith in things. Genuine friendship on Bullock's side is now more apparent than ever. I was afraid that he will go back to his crooked cop ways after that confrontation with Falcone. This time it does feel that Bullock's loyalty is primarily on Gordon now. We got the big gesture when he finally spoke up on behalf of his partner to defend him from the rest of the other cops, but it's the smallest things that really mark Bullock's affection for Gordon. He has become less preachy. He allows Gordon to lead the questioning of suspects. He steps out of his way for Gordon's sake. Whatever his partner needs, he provides. It's really sweet and as a viewer I do like the "buddy" aspect of buddy-cop shows and the development of their friendship has been handled well enough in the series. I continue to hope it keeps up.
- Keeping in line with the theme of masks, there is a scene with this week's villain Sionis who makes a timely observation concerning Gordon's military background and the fact that he has killed before. He also asserts that there is a part of Gordon that enjoys inflicting violence. On a later scene, Bullock addresses that Gordon likes pursuing dangerous situations and that's probably because it gives his life an edge. Whether or not these assessments are true, it's great for the writers to bring up a less noble interpretation of Gordon's moral uprightness and bravery. Could these qualities serve only as a mask that hides an angry, violent man beneath who uses his self-righteousness as an excuse to feel good about himself? It's a great way of knocking down the lead hero a peg by making us viewers question his intentions.
- You can also argue that Bullock's mask of apathy has been slipping ever since he met Gordon and solved cases alongside him. I think he's beginning to believe in something again, at least on someone and that's no other than his partner. In his own way, Gordon has helped make sense of the madness in their daily lives as cops and men and I think Bullock unconsciously acknowledges it whether it's for the best or for the worst.
- What Fish Mooney has going for her in the last seven episodes is her cutthroat ambition and sassy personality which can get tedious to watch when these are the only things that define her character. However, in the last two installments, she's been doing a lot more than just seethe and scheme inside her club. She's becoming threatened of the newfound alliance of her former pet-turned-Judas Oswald Cobblepot with rival mob boss Maroni. Her Russian lover/ally was just disposed of. The only person she can rely on at this point is Liza whom she asked to infiltrate Falcone's life and recover an important ledger for her this week. The woman has reached a stalemate and she definitely needs an ace and whatever Liza handed to her in that piece of paper seems to hold promise. What I did enjoy about Mooney in this episode is that, though still vicious and uncomfortably sharp, she finally did open up to someone about her insecurities even if the childhood memory she shared was a mere fabrication. I believe that a lie can also tell you something about the person who told it. From what I can gather, Mooney is someone who clutches very tightly on her mask because it's probably the only thing that keeps her alive. This means everything she reveals is just as crucial as the things she conceals. I can also picture her placing her heart inside a metaphorical jar in the morning before she goes to work.
- We finally got young Bruce Wayne out of the stifling mansion walls and into private school where a generic bully started taking a keen interest on the gruesome way his parents died. His scenes are refreshing not just because of the change of scenery but also because his relationship with this show's Alfred has become my second favorite thing next to Taylor's Cobblepot being delightfully crazy. Sean Pertwee's Alfred has been struggling to help his young master cope with his loss and now it looks like he can finally help Bruce by teaching him how to fight. There is that unmistakable glint in his eyes as he agrees to help Bruce channel all his rage into a boxing ring (oh, I so hoped we'll see them do that; fencing is far too elegant for a traumatized boy who proves here that he can punch the shit out of someone). Giving the late Thomas Wayne's watch so Bruce can use it as a knuckle buster is a nice touch too. This Alfred recognizes that his young ward has suffered a great deal and if overcoming his bully will alleviate the pain then he's damn well going to let the boy have at it. I'm always excited for their scenes because it's just nice to watch for myself the frail boy who will become Batman someday grow up and find his way in a harsh world, and who would often stumble in some places. But at least he will always have an unfaltering devoted guardian like Alfred Pennyworth. Because It warms my fucking heart, that's why!
- Oswald Cobblepot's scenes for this episode were not as strong as his last ones, unfortunately, but Robin Lord Taylor still gives it his all in every performance. Cobblepot himself continues to make decisive moves and this time he's gathering intel that he could use against Mooney. I really look forward to his future confrontations with her. I do get the sense that we'll be getting another conflict/development next week pertaining to the inevitable mob war. After all, Liza has acquired something of importance for Mooney from Falcone at the same time when Cobblepot just learned that Mooney has planted a spy to get close to Falcone. Something big is coming, guys. Can you feel it?
- Sionis as the Black Mask was not a very interesting storyline and an origin story for a villain from the comics canon. Sure, I liked the Fight Club-esque parallel of the entire thing but this case just played second fiddle to all the other interesting character-driven subplots happening around it. It also feels like this case is also an extension to emphasize Gordon's inner turmoil and resentment which functioned well enough. The symbolism of corporate scumbags as faceless drones also serves to contrast the GCPD being a cowardly flock of mindless sheep who abandon Gordon while the former attack him (with office supplies; you gotta love the cartoonish ways Gotham shamelessly operate on). On that note, I suppose this is heavily a Gordon-centered episode which tackles the kind of man he needs to be if he hopes to save Gotham.
- Barbara Kean, what the hell are they doing to you? You're flip-flopping more than the footwear of its namesake! I'm not even going to talk about you anymore, woman, because you frankly stopped making sense at this point!
- Edward Nygma is getting more scenes lately. I think the writers are slowly but surely trying to fit him into the plot more and more and hopefully develop his character importance alongside it. He's intrusive, creepy and off-putting, consistently so. I'm gradually paying more attention to him too because my interest is increasing.
- Oh, hey, Selina Kyle. How will you be wasting more of Gordon's time for next episode, my dear?
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5 STARS
Both character-driven and thematic, this week's episode has provided engaging multiple subplots that were even able to outshine the main arc itself. Notable developments are falling into place and some characters' hidden potentials are coming to fruition while the best ones are still given time in the spotlight and are owning it.