Last Monday's episode was either the end of Gotham's first chapter or the beginning of its second one. The show introduced a maniac in Victor Zsasz, only to momentarily break from the theatrical-villain-of-the-week format and reestablish its mafioso power players. It slowed things down, but not necessarily in a bad way, and it's genuinely scary to think what Zsasz — who slashes deep cuts in himself for every victim — will do in the future.
This week's chapter — "The Mask" — initially seems like we might be back to business as usual: a late-night murder, an early-morning crime scene and a righteous, possibly baroque bad guy. With a little light detective work, Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock discover that wealthy CEO/weapon collector Richard Sionis has been hosting ugly duels for his new employees. (He's a nod to Roman Sionis, a bad guy in 2013's Batman: Arkham Origins video game.) The ski-masked candidates compete in an abandoned office full of sharp and heavy Staples items; whoever "wins" gets a gig. Gotham likes giving its weekly stories a homemade-justice tint, but Sionis' story is more a "perverse abuse of wealth and power" tale. It's a nice, unexpected palate cleanser, this — a villain who's just a pure, icky nihilist, and not a broken man with warped ideals.
Oswald Cobblepot, who we now know is working for Carmine Falcone, tries giving Fish Mooney a brooch he snagged off some rich lady. Fish, rarely in the mood to entertain people who've screwed her over, stabs the Penguin's hand with the pin and sends him packing. (Let's take a quick moment to recognize Gotham's wardrobe department: They keep things pretty basic with the good guys, but Jada Pinkett Smith is teaching an eye-popping course in high villainess fashion every week.)
After enjoying a song by an elderly woman who's probably her mother, Fish takes a meeting with her own adoptive daughter, Liza. A human weapon being primed to nuke Falcone, Liza has started poisoning the mob boss but is slowly losing her resolve. Fish takes the opportunity to share a gruesome childhood memory that implicates Falcone as a beast, and suggests that vengeance is what's fueled her climb up the crime world's ladder. It makes no difference if she lied about her mother being murdered or not — the message is that a turf war isn't a game for Fish. It's everything. Liza understands. The Penguin failed Mooney; Liza can't afford to do the same and escape with her life. (Are we reading too much into things by googling “do penguins eat fish”??)
At Wayne Manor, it's time for Bruce to return to school. He's forgotten what it's like to take classes and have crushes on girls, but he knew exactly what it would be like to deal with douchebag teenagers again. A kid named Tommy starts it: "I've never seen a real dead body. Was there guts?" Tommy's either bullied Bruce in the past or is looking to become his new worst enemy. "You're being very unkind," Bruce tells him between classes. Then he ineffectively smacks the dude in the least Bat-manly way possible.
Alfred can't have his new ward running around not knowing how to fight, so it's seems like time for a training montage. Instead, Alfred just drives Bruce to the house of his young nemesis, gives the boy his dad's chunky old watch, and watches as the kid introduces a few hard fists into Tommy's smug dumb face after a very Kill Bill-ish intro. ("We have unfinished business.") Gotham is handing all the Bat-themes regarding Bruce pretty nicely. Also: what if, while we've been watching adults for signs of the Joker, Tommy is actually our guy? Look at that streaky mouth-blood smear! Peep those dimples! Who knows what the show is planning, or not planning, regarding the Joker; it feels inevitable that he'll show up, though it seems the powers that be are happy to work with Penguin, Fish, Falcone, etc. for a while.
The volume of evil vigilantes in town is starting to frighten both Barbara Kean and Captain Sarah Essen. "There aren't any monsters," Jim reassures Barbara back at their penthouse palace. (Does Victor Zsasz not count as a real-life boogeyman here?) "When did this become normal for this city, what changed?" Essen asks Gordon at the precinct. "Maybe nothing," the detective answers. "Maybe it was always just below the surface and only needed a spark."
Sionis eventually catches Gordon snooping, knocks him out, and throws him into the OfficeMax Arena against three scared interviewees/warriors — while Sionis's other employees watch on TV. "Oh: and I'll throw in a million-dollar signing bonus," Sionis advises the masked schmoes. This is the future Commissioner Gordon, though, so he handles business without much trouble. Next up is Sionis, whose criminal alter ego is named the Mask, a guy who…well, wears a mask that's fancier and more expensive than everyone else's in the office gladiator pit. Gordon takes care of the boss as easy as he did his goons, and holds back just before killing him. In these dark times, Gordon's still got honor to spare.
Gotham can spend too long building single-episode subplots, but sturdy scaffolding has been going up for some major doings for the last few weeks. We're now tracking Arkham’s development as a potential stage for mayhem, the respective criminal plans of Fish and the Penguin, E. Nygma’s steady evolution into the Riddler, Gordon and Bullock's relationship, Gordon and Barbara's relationship, and Selina Kyle’s continued misadventures as Baby Catwoman. Something big is on the horizon. It's just a question of what.
Previously: The Letter 'Z'