Gotham: This Ball of Mud and Meanness Review

Bruce finally confronts his parents' killer in one of Gotham's best episodes ever.

This Gotham review contains spoilers.

Gotham Season 2, Episode 14

Well, it only took a season and a half, but we finally got to see Bruce Wayne confront his parents’ killer. I’m not going to say it was worth the wait because this probably should have happened about a season ago, but it did make for one of the best episodes of Gothamever.

“Pick your battles. Don’t let them pick you.”

Tonight’s Gothamwas more of what I’d hoped this show would have been from the beginning. Not only does it let Bruce move forward as a character in some real ways, but it engages some serious discussion about the complicated nature of crime and “evil,” rather than the silly, superficial, black-and-white depiction of violence that generally characterizes this show.

Bruce continues to be one of the only characters on this show who not only takes violence seriously, but reacts like a normal, relatable person to seeing violence inflicted on others. Even when the show doesn’t take violence seriously, Bruce does — as is demonstrated in the fight scene between Alfred and Cupcake. In many ways, it’s played for laughs — both in the moment and when Bullock later delivers the memorable line: “For a butler, you sure do get beat up a lot.”

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The Alfred/Bruce relationship is one of my favorites in all of comic book culture, and Gothamis fine in its depiction, but tonight’s episode only proved to me how much more the show could be doing with it. This isn’t a two-hour movie adaptation; this is a seasons-long television show, and I am over watching Alfred be vaguely disapproving. I am ready for him to embrace Bruce’s decision to train — even if, realistically, it is a terrible choice to make as a teen boy’s guardian.

“Pick your battles. Don’t let them pick you,” Alfred tells Wayne, one of the pieces of wisdom he doles out as getting his ass kicked by Cupcake. It was so refreshing to see Alfred embrace the craziness that is his young ward, and just go with it. Will this episode be a turning point for the Bruce/Alfred relationship? Let’s hope so.

“You, my friend, are the childish hand of fate.”

After ditching a beat-up Alfred at the hospital, Bruce takes off to find Matches Malone himself, a gun he acquired from Selina in his pocket (hopefully, with the safety on). Cupcakes’ information takes him to Celestial Gardens, Gotham’s “sickest club” where “life is a joke.” While there, Bruce encounters Jeri, a performer with the face paint of the Joker. Jeri knows where Matches lives (they’re friends), but she seems more interested in sussing out Bruce’s motives and nature than giving any information.

“You’ve killed people before, bud?” Jeri asks a very young-looking Bruce. “No, but no one’s killed my parents before,” Bruce responds, not missing a beat.

The conversation between Bruce and Jeri is the first of two amazing scenes featuring David Masouz and a stellar guest actor (Lori Petty as Jeri, then Michael Bowen as Matches). They demonstrate what Gothamcan do when it slows down, takes a breath, and lets its characters articulate their motivations in fascinating, relatable ways. As demonstrated in the contrast between this quiet, tense scene and the subsequent scene, which sees Jim confronting Bruce on the hectic Celestial Gardens dance floor, sometimes, less is more.

“You, my friend, are the childish hand of fate,” Jeri tells Bruce. “And that makes me God. And who doesn’t like to play God?” Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more of the intriguing Jeri. In addition to apparently seeing inside of Bruce’s enigmatic soul, she also sees Jim Gordon for what he is. When Jim has her in the interrogation room, she tells him: “Angry is your natural state, isn’t it? You are the infamous Jim Gordon. Everybody knows about your temper.”

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“A man gets tired, doing wrong and going unpunished.”

While Jim is trying to get the location of Matches out of Jeri, Bruce is slowly and steelily discussing murder with the man who (probably?) made him an orphan. This entire sequence could be its own indie short film, it’s so well done, all-encompassing, and gives the viewers just the right amount of information. 

In some ways, Matches makes it easy for Bruce. He is a man at the end of his rope, but that end is defined not by desperation, but by fatigue. Matches doesn’t go into details about what made him the way he is — other than the oft-blamed, all-encompassing excuse of Gotham — but he isn’t unaware of it.

Matches is a philosophical hitman, even though, to him, murder has become mundane. If he’s telling the truth and he did murder Thomas and Martha Wayne, Matches doesn’t really remember it. For Bruce, it was the worst day of his life, the one that would define the person he will become. For Matches, it was just another Tuesday.

“Look at me. I’m a monster. You need to kill me,” Matches tells Bruce. Bruce does look at him. At this point in the Batman story, Bruce doesn’t have the necessary physical prowess to bring people to justice, but he does have the strength to look, unwavering, into the eyes of a killer — into the eyes of his parents’ killer — and to see context. Bruce tells Matches: “I wish you were a monster, but you’re just a man.”

Teenage Bruce Wayne doesn’t kill people. He walks away and they kill themselves.

Bruce might not have pulled the trigger on Matches, but the experience changed him. He went into that apartment thinking that he knew what he was looking for, and found something completely different: a more refined purpose than vengeance for his parents’ murder. And, on Gotham,this purpose is so incredibly needed.

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Gordon’s efforts to convince Bruce not to kill a man in cold blood fell incredibly flat. Jim has no leg to stand on, and I think he — and the show — know it. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if Gothamrecognizes it, and comments accordingly. And, now more than ever, we have Bruce as a counterpoint to Jim’s reckless, desperate, misguided attempts at justice.

“You can’t kill murder. You can’t get revenge on evil. You can only begin to fight such things by not doing them, and you can only fight them where they live. Not just Wayne Enterprises. In the streets. In the slums. In the bad parts of town. So that’s where I’m going.”

Bruce ends the episode by leaving his warm, cozy, Alfred-featured manor to live on the streets with Selina. Not only does this hopefully mean more Selina time, but it represents a much-needed step forward on the Bruce storyline. I hope Alfred lets him go. I hope Bruce continues to be the only character on this show who doesn’t murder people. That would be great, Gotham.

“I feel terrible about stuff. I was so mean to people.”

Less effective, for me, was the Penguin stuff in this episode. As much as I love a storyline involving ice cream, it is so incredibly ludicrous — even on the spectrum of this show — for Hugo Strange to let Penguin back out onto the streets. Does he even have that authority?

Tonight’s Arkham storyline was a bit of a snooze, but it did give us some more information about the Strange/Peabody dynamic. It seems the two don’t agree on everything. Peabody questions Strange’s decision to let Oswald back onto the streets of Gotham, while Strange informs Peabody that he can’t keep her informed on all aspects of his master plan.

“Deeper plans? Deeper than building semi-human creatures in the basement?” Peabody asks Strange. Hopefully, with Penguin back on the streets of Gotham, the Arkham storyline has more time to spend on the semi-human creatures in the basement…

“So that’s the game is it, Jimbo?”

Is Gothamactually getting ready to pull the trigger on its Riddler storyline? At the rate this show had been going, I thought we’d have to wait five more seasons before someone a) noticed Ms. Kringle was gone or b) noticed Ed making vengeful, passionate ramblings aloud to himself while glaring at Jim in the middle of the GCPD.

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The episode ends with Ed drawing a question mark over a picture of Gordon, implying that he may be going after the detective who he believes to be onto him. This is kind of hilariously great, given that Jim actually has no suspicions that Ed might be involved in Ms. Kringle’s disappearance. (Bruce also questions Jim’s competency as a police detective earlier in the episode, awesomely saying without bite: “You’re gonna take over from here? … I’m sorry, Detective Gordon, that doesn’t reassure me.”)

Will Ed strike at Jim sooner rather tha later? Will someone notice Ed’s increasingly mad behavior before it’s too late? And, most importantly, will Ed and Oswald become roommates again now that the latter is out of Arkham? The world needs to know.