This week’s ‘Gotham’ has the most wonderful episode title I’ve ever heard. Is ‘This Ball of Mud and Meanness’ a reference to something? I have no idea (my perfunctory Googling was inconclusive), but I love the sound of it.
This week is the big episode where Bruce Wayne finally confronts his parents’ killer. At least, he thinks he does. The show also introduces one of its weirdest characters yet, which is saying something.
As he asked her to last week, Selina obtains a gun for Bruce. When he returns to the mansion, Bruce finds Alfred ready to fulfill his own promise to track down “Matches” Malone, the man he believes murdered Thomas and Martha Wayne. To do that, the both of them hit the streets to first pay a visit to an associate of Malone’s named Cupcake, who runs a street gang called The Mutants. Alfred tells Bruce to stay silent and let him do the talking, but Bruce can’t keep his mouth shut and blurts out exactly who he is and why they want to find Matches. Cupcake agrees to give up Matches on the condition that Alfred must fight him. He of course underestimates the butler, who takes a good beating but wins the fight by outlasting and wearing down his opponent. This is an important lesson for Bruce. Accepting his defeat, Cupcake tells them where to find Matches, but Alfred promptly passes out from his injuries.
While Alfred recuperates in the hospital, Bruce slips away and heads to an underground punk club called Celestial Gardens. There he finds a woman named Jeri (Tank Girl herself, Lori Petty), who fronts a band while wearing Joker makeup and projecting images of Jerome and the Maniax onto the stage. (I suppose she’s taken the name Jeri as if she’s a female Jerome.) If her short hair, weird makeup and dominatrix attire are meant to be sexy in a Harley Quinn precursor sort of way, the effect doesn’t work. The whole get-up is really unflattering on Petty, but she makes it work in service of the character, who’s a major loon.
When Alfred wakes up and notices that Bruce is missing, he calls Jim and Harvey and tells them what he thinks the boy is up to.
As soon as Bruce walks into the club, Jeri introduces herself as if she’s been waiting for him. She brings him to her dressing room backstage and questions him about why he wants to find Matches. Bruce doesn’t try to deceive her. She’s intrigued and impressed by this “childish hand of fate” and tells him what he wants to know.
On the way out of the club, Bruce runs into Jim, who’s come to stop him. Jim tries to drag Bruce outside, but the punks in the club grab him and cause a scene, allowing Bruce to run away.
Jim arrests Jeri and interrogates her to find out where she sent Bruce, but by that time Bruce has already found Matches’ apartment in a run-down tenement. (Is there any other kind in Gotham?) The boy knocks on the door and tells Matches that he has come to hire him to kill somebody. The hitman lets him in. Bruce asks Matches about his experience as an assassin. Matches says that he’s killed more people than he can remember, but he draws the line at babies. Everyone has to have some moral code, and that’s part of his.
Bruce pulls his gun and reveals who he is. Far from being intimidated, Matches actually seems relieved. He’s wary of his life and is ready to welcome death. At first, he says that he doesn’t remember killing Bruce’s parents. When Bruce describes some details about the night, the hitman has a vague recollection. It sounds like something he would have done. Bruce asks who hired him to kill his parents. Matches says that even if he remembered, it’s against his code to reveal his employers.
Ultimately, despite how much he had steeled himself to do it, Bruce can’t pull the trigger. Killing this man would bring him no satisfaction or justice. Bruce leaves the gun on the table and walks out of the apartment. As soon as he steps into the hallway, Jim runs up to him. Before he can even ask if Bruce killed the man, a gunshot rings out from the apartment. Matches has killed himself. If he ever had any answers, Bruce will never get them now.
At the end of the episode, Alfred returns to Wayne Manor and finds a note from Bruce explaining that he has decided he’s not a killer. “You can’t kill murder,” the note says. More importantly, he’s also left home to live on the streets with Selina and find out what the real world is like. That doesn’t sound like a great idea.
In Arkham Asylum, Penguin has a bad dream about his mama (hooray for a Carol Cane cameo!) while undergoing his latest psychological treatment/torture. Prof. Strange is encouraged by his progress and puts Penguin to the “Ice Cream Test.” In the cafeteria, Penguin is given a big scoop of ice cream on his tray. This enrages another inmate, who demands to know why Penguin is so special that he’d get ice cream. Even Penguin offering to give him the ice cream just sends the man into a violent fit. However, Penguin has no violent reaction, even when attacked.
In his next therapy session with Prof. Strange, Penguin says that he has feelings of remorse for all the bad things he’s done, and claims that he just wants to be normal. Strange assures him that he’s well on his way, but Penguin is crestfallen when told that he still needs a few more treatments.
Later, Penguin is locked in the treatment room with the guy who attacked him in the cafeteria, who’s been tied down to the torture chair. Rather than take revenge, Penguin cuts his binds and sets him free. Strange observes all this with keen pleasure.
Prof. Strange declares Penguin cured and gives him an official Certificate of Sanity, then tells him he’s free to go. When his henchwoman Ms. Peabody asks what he’s up to, Strange merely says that he has “deeper plans” but isn’t ready to tell anybody, not even her. He also has no intention of notifying the police that Penguin has been released.
Penguin walks out the door of the asylum a free man.
In the midst of all his other worries, Jim is approached by Lee (things are still strange between them), who tells him that Kristen Kringle never collected her final paychecks. She finds this suspicious and asks Jim if he can look into it. He agrees to help if it will get him back on her good side.
Jim mentions this to Ed Nygma and asks if he’s heard anything from Kringle since she supposedly left town with her other boyfriend. (Viewers of course know that Nygma killed both of them.) Ed says he hasn’t and Jim doesn’t press the issue. Ed is convinced that Jim is just playing dumb and is on to him. He resolves to beat Jim at this game.
As far as we can tell, however, Jim isn’t toying with Ed at all. He’s too distracted by Bruce Wayne and hasn’t really given the Kringle situation much attention. Nonetheless, Ed grows increasingly paranoid and obsessed. At the end of the episode, he sees Jim’s photo in a newspaper and draws a big question mark over it with green marker – the show’s first appearance for the Riddler’s iconic symbol.
For a comic book show, this episode has a great deal of psychological depth and complexity. The Bruce Wayne storyline takes big strides in showing the boy on his path to becoming Batman. I assume that Matches did not actually kill Bruce’s parents. How long will it take him to come to that conclusion himself? For that matter, is this all a way to write Bruce out of the show for a while, or will we follow him in his life on the streets?
The Penguin and Riddler storylines are also pretty fascinating this week. I have a feeling that Penguin is gaming Prof. Strange and will be back to his old self before too long, but what is Strange actually up to? I look forward to finding out.