TV REVIEW: Gotham 1.8 “The Mask”

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It seems that Gotham is stuck in a perpetual cycle of two steps forward, four steps back. After last week’s strong outing, “The Mask” returns to the meandering, unfocused storytelling that has mired its opening episodes. Episode eight also heaps on the fan service once again by giving us a big bad that diehards will recognize as well as a living, breathing Easter egg in the form of a boy in Bruce’s school. All of this really doesn’t add up to much as Gotham is still struggling to decide what kind of show it is. Is it a heightened drama? Is it a straight procedural? The show has no idea, but hopefully by the time the season finale airs, it will have at least some simbilance of an identity. Until then, we’ll continue to get episodes like “The Mask.”

Episode eight presents two concurrent storylines, but only seems concerned with the main one concerning Gordon and Bullock hunting a killer targeting employees of a prominent Gotham investment firm, Sionis Investments. That’s right, Roman Sionis, the eponymous Black Mask, makes his Gotham debut. But instead of the ruthless mob kingpin we all know, he is little more than a bloody thirsty Jordan Belfort surrogate with a taste for the dramatic. This plot is pulpy enough to enjoy a base level – plus the idea of Black Mask running his job interviews like an office space Thunderdome is just cheeseball enough to like, but the plot doesn’t go anywhere past being a case of the week. Sionis (played with a cool disconnect by character actor Todd Stashwick) however, does bring up an interesting point about Ben McKenzie’s take on Gordon, goading him about how he misses the battlefield so much that he seeks out any and all conflict in his personal and professional life – which isn’t too far off.

Episode eight downshifting back to the case of the week format shoves the larger plot of the incoming gang war to the back burner, aside from a few random check-ins with some of the major players on Team Fish and Team Cobblepot, but none of it really goes anywhere and no major developments take place therein. It is as if the show puts a premium on narrative momentum and can only eke out small doses of it at a time, instead of letting its characters and plot move forward week after week. It’s frustrating because the show is still slapping at the potential that its displayed throughout its run, instead of just outright using it. Like I said before, two steps forward, four steps back. “The Mask” is most definitely a step back.

The second plot the episode presents is Bruce’s return to school, which brings with it the expected bullying by the hands of Tommy Elliot, in yet another glaring cameo. This plotline gives Bruce his first real substantial arc in an episode instead of just lurking around the fringes of the major action, but much like the A-story, this really doesn’t amount to much other than a pretty nice moment between Bruce and Alfred. Sean Pertwee continues to be the show’s secret weapon amid a pretty charismatic cast. I really hope that further down the line they give him a bit more to do, besides droll one-liners and platitudes.

We are now eight episodes into Gotham’s first season and I still really couldn’t tell anyone what this show was trying to convey. From week to week the show’s intentions and goals seem to shift and characters that got the spotlight last week are benched in favor of other characters that may or may not advance the major overall arcs. Of course that is usually how shows work and I understand that, but when the show’s dramatic intentions seem to change with the wind, we, as an audience, have no idea which characters we are suppose to be rooting for. Are we suppose to care about Gordon’s crusade as much as we care about Cobblepot’s rise through the mob ranks? Are we suppose to care about Bruce learning to fight as much as we care about Selina’s random arrests? I have no idea and honestly, I don’t think the show does either.

RANDOM FINAL THOUGHTS

-Selina’s inclusion toward the end of the episode was straight up groan inducing. The show has no idea what to do with this character aside from being a pain in Gordon’s ass.

-”You give us information, we let you keep operating. That’s a pun, ya see? Operating.”

-Bullock gives a speech to the GCPD this week and it may be my favorite moment from Donal Logue yet. He is a consistent bright spot in this show.

-It still bums me out that I hate Cory Michael Smith’s Nygma so much still. Apparently he is amazing in HBO’s Olive Kittridge, but here he is still annoyance personified.

-Barbara doesn’t own one single pair of pants. It’s alarming.

NEXT WEEK: Boy, that Harvey Dent is goin’ places!

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