Gotham 'The Mask' Review: Gordon and Bruce Find Their Inner Tyler Durdens
This episode continued the "rich people are responsible for everything terrible" trend that we've come to expect on Gotham, and that's not a complaint. "The Mask" saw Gordon combating, and subsequently getting pulled into, a corporate Fight Club full of entitled, buttoned-up finance guys who are forced to beat each other to death in order to prove that they're ready for the cutthroat industry. It's a little on-the-nose, but it effectively parallels the show's thesis about the nature of Gotham's sickness: discontent teeming under the surface wherever you look, even among the privileged. This is arguably the first example of malaise among the rich rather than the disenfranchised, which is interesting, but the obvious parallels to Fight Club just serve to remind us that Gotham avoids that kind of psychological examination or social commentary. There's a nice little metaphor in the fact that they're killed with office supplies, but the commentary doesn't get more in-depth than that. Maybe I should just accept that this show is not going to make any complex statements about class, privilege, or masculinity (which the whole Fight Club plotline completely sidesteps as a result of the complete lack of adequate female perspective on the show), but the show is in this slightly awkward place where they're engaging with these issues and then not actually dealing with them.
However, this episode also demonstrated what it does well, which (aside from coming up with creative kills and finding reasons to include samurai swords, which are always welcome in my book) is using its prequel status to its full advantage. I've heard many people grumble that there's no dramatic tension when you know the end result for all these characters: Gordon will become commissioner, Bruce will become Batman, all these villains will eventually wear costumes, etc. But Gotham is actually more interesting because we know the ultimate outcome. Without that knowledge, we would just be watching yet another cop with a few anger issues and yet another angry kid. Instead, we get to see Batman, the superhero who's an underdog in name only, since he doesn't have superpowers but has enough money to manufacture them, have a sympathetic, slightly Spider-Man-like adolescence. It's much darker than Spider-Man, but it's showing Batman at his most vulnerable and relatable, when he's just an angry (and incredibly intelligent) kid who doesn't fit in with his bratty peers. And the parallels between Gordon and Bruce are fascinating; Gordon decides not to kill Sionis in order to prove to himself that he's not addicted to killing, and Bruce is currently struggling with the same addiction to violence, and trying to get on the road to channeling his violent tendencies towards the greater good. (Only reinforcing these parallels is my recent sojourn back into the first season of The O.C., and baby Ben McKenzie's "You know what I like about rich kids?" *punch* "Nothing.")
Gotham's structure is becoming somewhat more streamlined, with the main focus of the episode on Bruce, Gordon, and the always enjoyable rivalry between Penguin and Fish Mooney. The only part that felt somewhat extraneous was Selina Kyle. I don't dislike the character, but her storylines are getting repetitive. They keep finding her and losing her, and at this point I've forgotten to care that she knows something about the Waynes' death. The writers postponing that reveal didn't really build anticipation, it just made us lose interest and demonstrated that they're still juggling a few too many balls. Once again, an A and B (and maybe C) plotline is more than enough.
And speaking of extraneous plotlines, arguably the best part of this episode, at least from the standpoint of the series's potential, was the long-awaited forward momentum of Jim and Barbara's non-plot. Barbara packed a bag and is looking to leave; I would complain that after all her talk about how much she loves him it's way too sudden, but I don't want to jinx it. (Okay, fine, I know she's not really gone, but don't burst my bubble until next week, okay?)
-The "assassin develops feelings for her future victim" trope is tired, but I suppose it makes sense, since the girl isn't actually a trained assassin
-Re: Jim and Barbara- It's amazing that two people that good-looking could have so little chemistry. They don't have zero chemistry, they have negative chemistry, to the point that it reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth in The Hunger Games.
-I was on the fence about whether Bullock's transformation from utterly corrupt and "lackadaisical" cop to a faithful buddy was too quick and convenient, and maybe it was, but it also jives with his overall characterization that he would be a stand-up guy to anyone he considers to be "his people." It makes sense if I interpret his shift in behavior as a grudging acceptance that Gordon is now "his."
-Riddler managed to show up and be sufficiently creepy without dropping any obvious "riddle" puns, so we'll consider that a win.
-I've always liked the idea that the death of the Waynes caused the city to despair and the crazies to come out of hiding, but this has already been established. We're way past the point where it needs to be explicitly stated, the writers would be better served trying to demonstrate it more than they have so far.
-David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee did an amazing job in that final scene; their delivery on the lines "Can you teach me how to fight?" and "Yes, Master Wayne" gave me chills.