A mysterious fight club begins leaving its discarded victims throughout Gotham, and Gordon must find out who is behind it all.

By Darren Orf
November 11, 2014 at 02:00 AM EST
Jessica Miglio/Fox
S1 E8
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Whenever there is a cataclysmic event, you have to deal with the aftermath. In last week’s episode of Gotham, Gordon tried to arrest the mayor and the biggest crime boss in the entire city with only a gun-toting Harvey Bullock in tow. The plan backfired. Now, Gordon is completely ostracized by a police force, yet he continues his one-man crusade against crime in Gotham.

But ultimately, “The Mask” is a return to what’s familiar. Gordon and Barbara have their love drama, Cobblepot and Mooney continue feeding their hate for each other, and Bruce Wayne still tiptoes the line between normal child and a creepy antisocial billionaire. Aftermath episodes usually add much-needed reprieve from the pulse-thumping action of previous episodes and try to harness that narrative momentum. Unfortunately, “The Mask” funnels whatever energy Gotham was building into another predictable plot with the expected beginning, middle, and end. Wedged in between these telegraphed moments are scenes both great and awkward, but neither can overshadow a mediocre episode that once again feels like something already seen.

Gotham loves three things: allusions to Batman, murders, and thinly-veiled commentary about wealth and class. “The Mask” delivers on all three. The episode opens with two suspendered gentlemen completely beating the s— out of each other in an office after hours. The eventual victor of the fight (the other guy gets a paper cutter straight to the face) salutes to an unknown video voyeur, who watches the fight kind of like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget—without the menacing cat.

The death match’s loser is later discovered the next day near the docks out in the open, which seems like a terrible hiding spot. The dead body’s attire tips off to Gordon and Bullock that the recently deceased was a banker, or at the very least in finance. As soon as Gordon speaks some of his first few words, you can already tell that he’s annoyed. This time not with Bullock’s flagrant disregard for protocol, but rather the entire police force. It’s not too hard to imagine why since last week, psycho killer Victor Zsasz waltzed into the GCPD and almost killed Gordon without a single cop putting up a fight. Now, Gordon has a general distrust of detectives and cops alike, and in turn, they also avoid him out of guilt.

Setting aside the semi-unrealistic notion that an entire police precinct would get bullied out of their own station, Gordon’s lingering resentment is one of the better side effects to spiral out of last week’s episode. It’s one of the more tangible pieces of evidence that Gordon is inspiring the policemen he works with, much like Batman will inspire him years later. It’s been pretty well established since the first episode that Gordon is Gotham’s interim Dark Knight until Bruce Wayne eventually assumes the mantle, and seeing him in a similar inspirational role helps create the familiar hero archetype.

NEXT: They’re coming for you, Barbara

It also helps cement the friendship between Bullock and Gordon, which is one of the few examples of great chemistry between characters. With Gordon on a butt hurt warpath against his fellow police officers, the good cop/bad cop routine is turned upside down with Bullock now playing the friendly mediator between Gordon and the GCPD. Unfortunately, Montoya and Allen, who showed signs of not being completely boring last episode, are once again MIA. At this point, their characters feel forced. Even though they’re part of an amazing cast of GCPD characters in Batman comics, their presence in the show, as of right now, is unneeded. Hopefully, now that they’re off Gordon’s wild goose murder chase, they’ll become more central to the story, but “The Mask” seems more evidence to the contrary.

As fractures begin to grow among the city’s police so too are mob bosses drawing bloody lines in the sand. In an attempt to patch up the animosity with Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot visits her and presents a purloined brooch as a gift. However, the brooch’s pin is soon buried into the Penguin’s hand yet each villain smiles through gritted teeth, forced to uphold Don Falcone’s call for peace.

But Mooney wants blood as she inches closer and closer to unleashing her weapon, Liza, who’s infiltrated Falcone’s camp with flashing eyes and pouted lips. But even Liza begins to have second thoughts as she learns exactly what it means to be a weapon and the moral complications that come with the title. Mooney asks if she’s starting to have feelings for the “old man,” and she coyly plays it off, but with a sense that Mooney may have hit closer to the truth than she feared. Here’s the real problem: The audience hasn’t been shown any scenes between Falcone and Liza save for their planned meeting in the park, so Liza’s second thoughts are empty and have absolutely no context. Is she falling for him? Who knows!

And that’s not the only thing that continues to make no sense. This may seem to be a common thread with Gotham reviews, but we need to talk about Barbara. Her character is genuinely perplexing in the worst way possible. After nearly getting Jim killed, Barbara is now completely unhinged as she’s understandably scared for her life after her ordeal with Carmine Falcone. But of course she actually caused the whole life-threatening situation to happen in the first place. The writers say that she did it out of love for Gordon, but as soon as Gordon reprimands her for using a gun while drunk (understandable) and telling her he’ll call her back when he’s not busy (also understandable), she leaves him a note and moves out of the apartment. What happened about her courage and loving affection for Jim from literally the last episode? Barbara is so emotionally all over the place that it’s nearly impossible to know what she’s going to do next. Also this will be the second time in only eight episodes that she leaves Gordon again. With such a nasty flight instinct, it becomes really hard to believe this couple’s “I love yous” and other sweet nothings exchanged back and forth throughout episodes of Gotham. It’s almost better to roll your eyes and believe none of it.

NEXT: Killing is my business

But despite a lackluster love life, Gordon still needs to catch a killer, and after a brief trip to a black market surgeon, Gordon and Bullock visit a law firm printed on a the business card left behind by the unknown assailant. There they meet Richard Sionis, some winking fan service to the Batman baddie the Black Mask, a hateful a–hole who relishes in the “battle” of business. This scene is actually pretty great because it’s classic crime fiction where the cop knows he’s cornered the killer but lacks any means and evidence to actually charge him with anything. During their emotionally charged back and forth, Gordon and Sionis deliver this small gem of dialogue.

Sionis: Finance is tough business. In order to succeed, you have to be a warrior.

Gordon: No you don’t, you have to be a good businessman. Warriors fight wars. It’s different. So you fancy yourself a killer. Have you killed people, Mr. Sionis?

Sionis: Only metaphorically.

These lines are all delivered dripping with suspicion and double meaning, ending with Sionis basically taunting Gordon and Bullock to find evidence to his crimes. As Bullock mentions, this is no longer a Good Cop/Bad Cop scenario; Gordon is pissed at pretty much everyone and will to do whatever it takes to ensnare Sionis.

As Gordon hunts for ways to achieve those ends, viewers see something they can never unsee: Bruce Wayne going to school. There are just some things you don’t need to see your favorite superheroes ever doing, and Batman going to school is one of them. It becomes pretty clear when David Mazouz, who plays Wayne, is finally surrounded by kids his own age that his portrayal of the soon-to-be Dark Knight is a little weird. In most scenes, he just acts like an emotionless robot who transforms into murder mode whenever someone mentions his parents. Is this approach to Wayne is supposed to convey the lasting emptiness of his parents’ death or the cold, calculating demeanor of a detective? Whatever it is, it makes Bruce completely unrelatable and weird.

However, what’s even more weird is that Alfred Pennyworth and Bruce Wayne basically hold their own PSA supporting bullying. Alfred drives Bruce over to a bully’s house so Bruce can beat the s— out of him. Not satisfied with creating this small act of child-on-child violence, Pennyworth then threatens the kid (who is bleeding) and tells Wayne he will teach him to fight when literally earlier in the episode, he pleaded with Bruce to just be a normal kid. This is not normal. Beating up kids at their homes is not normal. Little scenes like this just completely disregard any narrative groundwork laid before it, and it makes these characters and their motivations much more muddied.

Meanwhile, Gordon, still going the lone gunman route, follows a lead to an office building where the Mask, a.k.a. Richard Sionis, is waiting. He pits Gordon in death match, much like the one that opened the episode. Once Gordon dispatches his three assailants, he must fight Sionis himself. After a few close calls along with the help of Bullock rallying the cops to hunt for Gordon, they’re able to finally put Sionis in cuffs. However, this all reeks of repetition. Once again, Gotham seems determined to make a statement on the corruption of wealth. In its most heavy-handed allegory yet, bankers sit around a television and watch their fellow coworkers beat each other to death as some kind of bloodsport. The circle is once again complete. A murder, an investigation, find the killer, allusions to wealth and class. Same old, same old.

The writers leave a few uninteresting threads lying about at the end. Penguin discovers that Mooney has someone close to Falcone, but this seems pretty uninteresting considering Liza has barely been in the show at all. And after being gone for five episodes, Selina Kyle is back in police custody—supposedly the audience should care about that too for some reason.

All of the energy and promise of last week’s Gotham is squandered with “The Mask.” It’s a return to the circular narrative with which viewers are already very familiar. Instead of charging ahead with its newfound intensity, Gotham plays it safe and continues with its familiar bag of tricks, but how much longer will audiences be content with what’s familiar?

Ben McKenzie and David Mazouz star in a dramatic look at what Gotham City looked like before Bruce Wayne became Batman.
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