Episode 8: “The Mask”
by Dan Tomasik
Gordon cracks down on a barbaric office gauntlet, Bruce returns to school.
One of the most famous stories in the Batman mythos is The Killing Joke. A look into the origins of the Joker, it also provides a basis for the kind of man Jim Gordon is. Fresh from breaking out of Arkham, the Joker pays Gordon a visit. He shoots Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in the spine, paralyzing her from the waist down, then takes pictures as he has his way with her. Gordon is taken to an old carnival where he is stripped naked, then tormented by the Joker’s pictures in a nightmarish Willy Wonka-esque tunnel while Batman tracks him down. The Joker’s goal was to prove that all it takes is one bad day to turn someone insane like him. When Batman finally finds Gordon, he fears the worst, only for Gordon to reveal that he has survived, sanity intact.
If you aren’t watching Gotham yet, find a friend who will make you. At this point, you’re just being stubborn. Whether or not you worship Batman or know the history and easter eggs in every episode is irrelevant; the show is straight-up excellent. During these last couple weeks, the show has been diving deeper and deeper into the endless black that is Gotham City. The question it asks is, will Gordon falter from his path in the face of such utter hopelessness? Refer to the earlier passage regardingThe Killing Joke.
The darker Gotham becomes, the sharper Gordon gets. Faced with the bottomless pit that is the city he’s sworn to protect, Gordon’s response is the same as it first was, try to make it a better place. If the mob pushes him, push back. If his fellow cops desert him, carry on without them. If some rich business-type tries to pull one over on him, cut through it. If people in masks try to kill him, try to reason with them and avoid bloodshed. If that doesn’t work; beat them unconscious, drag their asses to the station, and get them to sign confessions. What people don’t realize is that Gordon has been fighting the good fight since Batman was in elementary school. And he never gives in.
Speaking of young Master Bruce, he faced down his first rogue this week. A big mean kid at his school. The first day back at school and Bruce is already wondering if he is doomed to be permanently identified as “the kid whose parents died”. The short answer is, “yes”. The long answer is, “eventually you channel that traumatic history into resolve to make the city a better place by dressing up in a bat costume and beating up criminals with gadgets and fists”.
Everyone was at the top of their game this week. Penguin, Madam Kapelput, Nygma, Alfred, even Fish Mooney gives us an intriguing look at her backstory (that is shortly thereafter revealed to be a pack of lies). Penguin seems to be embracing his grotesque assets, embedding them into his crime lord demeanor with great success. His loving mother (the fabulous Carol Kane) is an endless source of entertainment, keep her around! Nygma’s brilliance is again on display; this time around as a mortician, although it’s again cut short by philistines who don’t understand his way is better. Alfred’s former prickliness has transformed into fierce protectiveness over his young charge, turning him into the best kind of guardian a kid can ask for. One who doesn’t just listen and offer advice, but teaches you to take action, fight your own battles, and handle your own issues. God have mercy on the next poor soul who tries getting between Alfred and Bruce.
Gotham has finally found its rhythm. Perpetually getting darker and darker as it sends everything it can muster in an attempt to sway Gordon from his convictions. Gordon’s response is to meet it, face it, and if he can’t defeat it, at least hinder it. All that’s necessary for Gotham to maintain this level of quality is for evil to throw everything it can at the puny forces of good. It can bash them, pummel them, and laugh in their faces, but as long as they continue to fight, each day is a victory. The worse things get, the more good shines through.
Episode Score: 9.1