Gotham is still finding itself in terms of tone, and that isn’t surprising only 8 episodes in. The set design has been magnificent, and really set Gotham apart as a unique location and not just any generic city. Robin Lord Taylor continues to create a unique and interesting take on Penguin, Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney was created just for the show and has found real depth, cruelty, and evil in her crime boss. Ben McKenzie’s Gordon is showing some shadowing and depth that creates more than the two dimensional good cop, and Donal Logue’s Bullock has some real chemistry with his partner and future police commissioner.
However, Gotham continues to introduce the villain of the week, and is adding too much, way too soon. It’s as if the producers are afraid of a show without Batman, so they are throwing everything else up on the screen. It’s a justifiable fear, but Batman’s villains are among the most rich, deep, and diverse of any comic book character, and they need to develop what has already been established. We are eight episodes in and we have Penguin, The Riddler, Cat Woman, Fish Mooney, Maroni, Falcone, Poison Ivy, Victor Zsaz, and this week we met Richard Sionis, who may or may not be Black Mask. There was also the Easter Egg with the introduction of Tommy Elliot who bullies young Bruce at school, and may become the villain Hush. It’s just becoming too much and feeling forced, instead of an organic roll out.
Last week’s episode “Penguin’s Umbrella” focused the story down to just the coming mob war between the rival families, and was by far the strongest episode of the season. It was the story of one man’s struggle to keep his soul in a city increasingly falling apart and run by fear and crime. Interesting characters moved with reasonable motivations, but were colorful enough to remind us we are in the DC universe, and Batman is somewhere out there in the future, waiting to bring the city he loves back from the brink. That’s the show I want to see, and not a half-hazard collection of over the top characters like Penguin’s mother, and an investment banker running a office based version of Fight Club. The Black Mask story is one that has so much potential, and the mask Sionis wears in this episode is just dreadful. The wardrobe department really dropped the ball here.
The main problem with Gotham is that it tells and doesn’t show. The writing doesn’t offer much subtext, and instead states the obvious and pounds the viewer over the head. In this episode, Gordon is speaking with Captain Essen, and Jim suggests that crazy sociopaths running fight clubs to get a finance job, or strapping balloons to people is the new normal, all because the death of the Wayne’s crushed the city’s hopes and dreams, and now the worst impulses of the citizens has been unleashed. It’s a perfectly understandable and it’s a valid theme to build stories around. However, the characters shouldn’t be outright stating this to each other, instead of revealing it in more subtle ways.
The scenes with Catwoman/Catgirl stealing fur coats felt extremely forced into the narrative, as if to remind viewers that she is around, and not because it moved the story forward in any way at all. If it’s a setup for next week, it should happen at the beginning of that episode, and not shoehorned in to this one.
Reading interviews with the show runners, Bruce was not meant to be much of a presence in the series, but after finding David Mazouz, they found a thirteen year old actor with the ability to plumb some pretty dark material. Bruce is reeling from his parent’s murder, and is struggling to make sense of the world around him. It’s been nice to see him take an active interest and role in the investigation of his parent’s deaths. He is planting the seeds that will grow into him becoming the World’s Greatest Detective, and in “The Mask” he begins to re-integrate into society. That means that Bruce is going back to school, even though he tells Alfred that home schooling is just as effective, and he can provide the data to prove it. A young Tommy Elliot bullies Bruce, wanting to know specifics about the crime scene, and about his mother. Mazouz allows his emotions to read on his face, as he moves from shock and hurt to anger and then slaps Tommy in the face. After school, we see Bruce got the first blow, but he obviously didn’t win the overall fight, so he asks Alfred if he can teach Bruce to fight, and Alfred agrees.
Fighting was the theme for this episode; fighting for what you believe in, fighting for what is right. Gordon is fighting against corruption and fighting to keep the city from falling into crime and villainy. Cobblepot and Mooney are fighting a cold war and positioning themselves for the battle that is sure to come between Falcone and Maroni. Their reconciliation scene finds the perfect balance between realistic mob drama and a superhero comic book story. But Alfred driving Bruce to Tommy’s home, giving Bruce his dead father’s watch, and implicitly gives Bruce permission to use the watch as a pair of brass knuckles and knock Tommy’s teeth out. After the beatdown, Alfred tells Tommy “”Now you remember how I let him try.” That is cold, and it reinforces that Alfred will teach Bruce how to take care of himself, but will always be there behind him and helping him.
Next week, we introduce another future villain in Harvey Dent, but let’s hope his transformation into Two Face is several seasons down the road, and instead gives Gordon help and hope in his battle for Gotham’s soul.
Last random thoughts: Penguin stole the broach he gave to Fish, but then re-gifted it to his mother after Fish stabs him in the hand with it. Somewhere Tim Whatley is doing a slow-clap.
After Bruce gets his first taste of beating up a villain, all he wants to do is eat pizza, which reminds the audience this is 13 year old boy, but is a future superhero.