I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Gotham shines most when diving headfirst into compelling mobster-driven stories, and while we got a taste of that with this week’s episode, “The Mask,” things don’t quite work as well as they did last week. Instead, the mob stuff is juxtaposed against another “villain of the week” subplot, which in turn feels like someone took Fight Club and injected it with a healthy dose of The Wolf of Wall Street. Which, in turn, was entertaining, but offered little to the larger narrative arcs or character development.
Gotham is, undoubtedly, improving in many ways. The characters feel more natural and defined, the storylines are more interesting, the villains are less hammy (except, of course, for the resident weirdo, Edward Nygma), the tone is more consistent, and there’s a palpable momentum that propels the episode along nicely. However, we are still given little to no reason to care about some supporting characters, namely Selina Kyle and Barbara Kean. Furthermore, some of the character interactions, namely those between Bruce and Alfred, left me scratching my head.
The episode employs a handful of familiar crime procedural tropes: the cold open showing a murder we know nothing about, a flash cut to the crime scene the next day with forensics already doing their work-up, the slow build toward the realization of what’s actually going on, and the inevitable climax with the perpetrator, who our trusty detectives questioned earlier on. Luckily, the case itself is interesting, and nowhere near as eye roll-inducing as say, the Balloonman. That certainly helps.
The villain of the week this time around is Richard Sionis, who I presume is the father of future Batman villain Roman Sionis, a.k.a. Black Mask. This Sionis is the Jordan Belfort of the DC Universe – a super wealthy, super cocky financier with a company chalk full of loyal and potentially psychopathic employees. That’s likely due to how they’re hired; Sionis created a fight club in which three candidates are chosen and then forced to fight each other until only one is left standing. That person then gets the job. Unfortunately for Sionis, however, this week’s fight ends in a murder, which of course piques the interest of the GCPD.
I’ve always been a big fan of Black Mask, so it was cool to see this version of the character show up on screen. I’m impressed with how the writers handled it, too. They’re finally showing a bit of restraint and no longer waving all of the DC Easter eggs in our face; I appreciate the subtlety, and wish they would apply it to some of the more regular villains.