When ‘Gotham’ introduced new villain Mr. Freeze last week, I assumed that he’d be the primary antagonist for the rest of the season. Now I’m not so sure. I realize that this season is subtitled ‘Rise of the Villains’, but just how many of Batman’s future foes will come out of the woodworks while Bruce Wayne is still a boy?
Make no mistake, Mr. Freeze is certainly the focus of episode ‘A Dead Man Feels No Cold’. Even so, this feels like the end of a two-parter, not the beginning of a larger story arc.
On the hunt for Victor Fries, Jim Gordon and a SWAT team raid the chemical factory where he gets the liquid helium for his freeze gun. Unfortunately, they get there too late. Fries has already swept through, frozen all the security guards (some of them while in the process of shooting at him, leaving their bullets frozen in mid-air), and stolen a canister of the chemicals he needs. He left a message behind, etched in ice: “Free My Wife.”
Captain Barnes is enraged. He wants to set a trap for Fries, using his wife Nora as bait to lure him into an ambush at Arkham Asylum (the only medical facility that can take care of the sickly Nora without endangering innocent civilians). Jim’s girlfriend Lee thinks this is a terrible idea, but Jim sides with Barnes and argues that it’s the most rational solution. Lee shoots back, “Sometimes the rational way is not the best way.” If Nora has to be put in harm’s way, Lee insists on going as her physician to take care of her. The fact that she’s pregnant with Jim’s baby doesn’t deter her.
At the mysterious Indian Hill facility (which apparently runs under Arkham Asylum), Dr. Hugo Strange tells his henchwoman Ms. Peabody that he needs Victor Fries’ expertise in cryonics for an experiment he’s having trouble solving. Meanwhile, he tortures Penguin with a particularly painful form of electro-shock therapy and makes him play “Duck, Duck, Goose” with the other inmates.
Still holding a janitor from the chemical plant hostage, Fries hears a report on the news about his wife being transferred to Arkham. Because he’s not an idiot, he immediately recognizes this as a trap. However, he’s still cocky enough to believe nobody can stop him.
As the asylum’s administrator, Dr. Strange happily complies with the police department’s request to set a trap for Victor Fries. He sends Lee and Nora to the hospital wing, which currently houses only one other patient: the comatose Barbara Kean. Lee is annoyed by that.
Penguin spots Jim at the asylum and tells him that he’s being tortured. Jim is unsympathetic and refuses to help. As he’s being hauled away by orderlies, a furious Penguin yells out that Jim is a murderer. Jim hopes that anyone who might have heard will assume that Penguin is crazy or a liar, but Dr. Strange watches on a surveillance monitor with keen interest.
While Jim and Harvey wait in their stakeout positions, a truck crashes through the asylum’s front gate. Inside is the janitor hostage, whose hands have been frozen to the steering wheel. Using that as a distraction, Fries invades Arkham from the backside, freezing a wall and then smashing through. He has a goofy new outfit that looks like a spacesuit.
Jim immediately heads to the hospital wing. When Harvey and some cops chase after Fries, Dr. Strange remotely closes gates to block them and clears a path for Fries directly to the electro-shock room. Over the intercom, he offers to help Fries get to his wife and escape, in exchange for one cartridge of his cryonic freeze formula. Fries agrees and drops a cartridge in the torture chair.
Jim gets to Lee and Nora but doesn’t have time to move them out before Victor arrives. Jim recognizes that he’s outgunned. Against Jim’s objections, Lee volunteers to go with Nora. Using the path that Dr. Strange arranged, Victor leads them out of the asylum.
Victor brings Nora and Lee back to the basement lab in his house. Nora begs him to let her die, but he can’t do that. He tells her that he’s perfected the cryogenic formula, and promises that once she’s safely frozen, he’ll surrender himself to the police peacefully. Everything he’s done has been to save his wife. Nora asks him to fetch her favorite necklace from their bedroom. While he’s gone, she swaps the cartridge in his gun for an older formula. Victor returns and freezes Nora with his gun, very slowly. (He couldn’t anesthetize her first? It must be incredibly painful to get frozen solid feet-first up to your head.)
Jim figures out that Victor would want to go back to his lab, and leads a police unit there. Before he can surrender himself, Victor watches his wife’s frozen body crack and realizes what she did. Devastated, he lets Lee go and asks for a moment, then uses the gun to freeze himself so he can be with Nora forever.
That night, Jim receives word from Dr. Strange that Victor could not be saved and died in the Arkham infirmary. He and Lee then have a big fight over his recent behavior and his lies.
At Arkham, Penguin continues to fight against his electro-shock therapy. Dr. Strange resolves to be more aggressive with his treatment. Below ground in the Indian Hill lab, Victor Fries wakes up. He’s still alive, but now has white hair and all-white eyes. Dr. Strange tells him that his survival is a miracle, and that “Death is a new beginning.” However, he can only live in extreme cold now. Exposure to heat may harm him.
Also seen in the lab is Theo Galavan’s body floating in a suspension tank.
In a side story, Bruce Wayne returns from a trip to Switzerland. He’s annoyed that Alfred took him out of the country in the first place. Lee pays him a visit to talk about his abduction and near-murder by Galavan. Bruce insists that he’s fine, and that he’s more committed than ever to finding his parents’ killer. Lee worries that his obsession is consuming him.
Having gotten the information from his police contacts, Alfred gives Bruce a file on a criminal known as “Matches” Malone, who he believes killed the Waynes. However, before he hands it over, he forces Bruce to make a deal: When they find this Malone character, Bruce cannot kill him. Alfred must be the one to do that. Bruce will get his justice, but Alfred won’t let him become a killer. Bruce agrees.
Later, Selina Kyle sneaks into the mansion to see Bruce. He asks her to get him a gun. He plans to renege on his promise to Alfred. He must be the one to avenge his own parents.
Maybe I’m wrong and Mr. Freeze will remain the main villain for the rest of the season. He’s still alive, after all. Nonetheless, it feels very much like he’ll be sidelined after this and not come back around for quite a while. Perhaps Dr. Strange is the new Big Bad, but he strikes me as someone pulling strings behind the scenes. I doubt he’ll be on the battle lines directly fighting Jim Gordon. Will the rest of the season be Villain of the Week cases? If so, I hope they’re good ones.
In any case, this is a pretty good episode. Although the basics of the Mr. Freeze origin story should be familiar stuff to Batman fans, the character is still a little more complex and even sympathetic than your usual supervillain. Their battle against evil is also taking quite an emotional toll on our heroes.