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TV Review: Gotham Series 1 Episode 8: 'The Mask'

This week's episode of Gotham introduced Black Mask, a villain with his own Hunger Games. Niall Whitehead reviews.

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Gotham The Mask

I'll get this out of the way now - sadly, this episode of Gotham was entirely bereft of Jim Carrey. I know. Surely that episode'd have been magical. What we did get, however, were some cool fight scenes, a few moral questions and the live-action debut of a villain I quite like.

That villain'd be Black Mask, also known as Roman Sionis. He's an interesting bridge between the realistic criminals of Gotham's mobster past and the comic-book supervillains who show up later - effectively a crooked businessman, but one with a mask burned onto his face who tortures people for kicks. In this episode, he's a non-scarred financial broker who makes his job applicants fight to the death for positions in his company. Gotham's idle wealthy watch on a live feed, in another nod to that "eat the rich" theme that seems to be popping up every now and then.

Naturally, running your own Hunger Games is in fact frowned upon in most societies, even in Gotham, so it's up to Gordon to sort things out. But on top of that, there's still tension between him and the rest of the GCPD after that part where they all left him to die last week. When Sionis catches him and throws him into the middle of his impromptu Fight Club, can the cops redeem themselves?

This interpretation of Black Mask also has a thing about warrior culture for some reason (maybe knowing how to kill someone with a sword gives you an advantage on the stock exchange, or something), so we get our moral dilemma - since Gordon's an ex-soldier, is he only a cop for the thrill of violence? Since Gordon has the moral flexibility of a brick, the answer's quite obviously no, and we learn that American police would never use violence if the situation didn't call for it. But it's all characterization, but that's OK.

Meanwhile, Penguin tries to find out Fish Mooney's weakness (not that interesting a subplot, though his actor Robin Lord-Taylor still plays him well), Fish Mooney herself shows some flashes of backstory as she continues to train up her honeytrap protege, and Little Bruce learns an important lesson that he'll carry through to his Batman career - that violence feels awesome.

That last one's the meatiest of the plotlines. A still-depressed Bruce returns to high school, runs into some private-school bullies (think the Young Conservative Party led by Regina George) and has his mother insulted and face punched. Sean Pertwee's gritty portrayal of Alfred drives him to the head bully's house, and Bruce punches the brat until his problems go away. Alfred then offers to teach Bruce to fight, which could be interesting. Maybe he'll become a kid vigilante, thus starting off the great Batman tradition of child endangerment that leads to all the Robins later on.

(Mind you, at the rate these villains are turning up, all already half-formed and adults, maybe he won't need to learn how to fight. By the time he's actually Batman, it'll be an MMA fighter against a bunch of 50-year olds).

In the end, the cops do redeem themselves somewhat. Bullock provides a rousing speech, displaying his own tottering character development towards "actual hero", and they show up to save him. Although by the time they arrive Gordon's already taken down Sionis and his minions, through some impressively-directed fight scenes, so really they just show up for moral support. But baby steps.

Also, Barbara decided to leave Gordon, because she couldn't deal with the effects of his policing career. Despite all those episodes where she begged to let her shoulder the burdens of his policing career. Like last week's, for example. I don't know what the show plans on doing with her, but I hope it gets a lot more interesting.

Overall, a pretty good episode, though a bit of a step-down from 'Penguin's Umbrella'. Next week, the debut of Harvey Dent!

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