Gotham S02E14 “This Ball Of Mud And Meanness” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writer: Jordan Harper
Director: John Behring
Essential Plot Points:
- Penguin sits in his house, tied to a chair. His mother asks why he isn’t eating the vast plate of food in front of him and commiserates with him. As he watches, another version of himself walks in and beats her to death with a baseball bat.
- His therapy’s going rather well.
- Doctor Hugo Strange orders the “ice cream” test to confirm Miss Peabody’s findings that Oswald is newly docile and friendly. He’s released into the canteen with a huge scoop of ice cream on his meal tray. An enraged inmate attacks him for it and Oswald doesn’t resist.
- He’s cured.
- MEANWHILE, IN THE AVENUES AND ALLEYWAYS, WHERE THE SOUL OF A MAN IS EASY TO BUY! (Good grief, we ought to give a no-prize to anyone who gets that reference – ed.)
- Bruce meets with Selina who’s brought him a gun. She makes sure he knows what this means and gives it to him. He returns home to find Alfred preparing to start the hunt for Malone. They begin planning, Alfred unaware of just what his young charge is REALLY planning. Their first port of call? A geezer called Cupcake… (hint: this is an ironic name.)
- MEANWHILE, AT THE AWKWARD MIS SEASON ANGSTY BIT OF AT HOME WITH LEE AND JIM!
- Lee comes to see Detective Jerkface and asks him to look into Miss Kringle’s whereabouts. Her paycheques were never picked up and she’s suspicious. Jim agrees, tries to do… you know… emotions and Lee sensibly leaves before he does himself a mischief.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE OPENING SCENE OF A LOT OF MID ’90s RAP VIDEOS!
- A group of punks are gathered around a street fight. Alfred introduces them, asks to speak to Cupcake and explains the situation. Or he does until Bruce starts talking. Cupcake, who is a very large, very jovial, very scary man likes them so he makes an offer: if Alfred fights him he’ll reveal Malone’s address.
- Oh, and he’ll also have that 50 grand that Bruce – who is the poster boy for White Privilege even more than usual this week – offered him within literal seconds of meeting Cupcake.
- They fight. Alfred gets the living crap kicked out of him all the while instructing Bruce in just why this is happening and what he should not do. Alfred weathers Cupcake’s attack, watches the bigger man tire, then chokes him into submission and they get their information.
- Then Alfred falls over.
- Bruce takes Alfred to hospital and his butler tries to get the future Batman to promise not to do anything without him.
- Bruce waits for Alfred to pass out, then leaves.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT ARKHAM!
- Hugo Strange uses word association and hypnosis to continue working on Penguin. It works but… Oswald is not digging this. He’s fighting, just a little…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT GCPD BLUE!
- Jim sees Ed who is increasingly wandering around like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Despite this, Detective Jerkface questions him about Kringle, notices nothing unusual and leaves. Ed is convinced that Jim’s onto him and something must be done. Something… enigmatic…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HOSPITAL
- Harv and Jim give Alfred some frankly pretty deserved stick about being hospitalised again. He explains that they were looking for Malone and that the plan was pretty much to kill him. Harv is disgusted, not by the plan but by the fact he’s being told it. Alfred gives them the information and Jim heads off to the address that was given to Bruce.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE NEW BEST THING IN THIS ENTIRE SHOW’S RUN TO DATE!
- LORI PETTY! Bruce arrives at a nightclub playing looped footage of Jerome and filled with people cosplaying as him. The lead singer of the band crowdsurfs over to him, knows him by name and agrees to have a chat.
- The following conversation is wonderful verbal sparring as Bruce politely asks her questions, pulls a gun, is given critique on how he’s using it and finally leaves. Impressed by the steely determination of the kid, Jeri gives him Matches’ address.
- On the way out, Bruce runs into Jim who tries to talk him down. Jeri, back on stage, puts a spotlight on Jim and weaponises a mosh pit to give Bruce the time to escape. SHE’S THE BEST.
- MEANWHILE, AT MATCHES MALONE’S HOUSE!
- Bruce arrives and hands Matches a wad of money. He says he wants to hire him…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT LAW AND ORDER: DETECTIVE JERKFACE!
- Jim tries to interrogate Jeri. It goes wonderfully badly for him. She doesn’t care, can’t be intimidated and like with Bruce only tells him something when she’s ready. Matches’ address in hand, Jim sprints out as…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT MATCHES MALONE’S HOUSE OF IMMINENT DEATH!
- Bruce confronts Matches, tells him who he is and… Matches doesn’t care. Or remember. He’s killed lots of people and only gradually realises who Bruce is. Even then he accepts his fate with barely controlled emotion. Matches, on the verge of tears, faces down the death he knows he deserves and finds time to critique Bruce on technique. He’s not a monster. He’s just a tired, broken man who’s done awful things.
- Bruce leaves the gun and the apartment. As he does, Jim arrives. They hear a gunshot. Matches has done Bruce’s jon for him.
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT ARKHAM!
- Oswald is thrown into the treatment room where the inmate who assaulted him earlier is tied down. There is a charming selection of sharp objects nearby but, instead of revenge, Oswald introduces himself, tells the man to calm down and cuts him loose.
- Strange declares Oswald sane and releases him to return to the city. Miss Peabody is dubious but as Strange explains, deeper plans are at work…
- MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GCPD!
- Harv, who presumably was taking a coffee break for the last half of the episode, explains that Malone hadn’t worked for a while so he was off their radar. Which is about as good an explanation for the GCPD passing over an immensely successful contract killer in the search for two high profile murder victims as we’ll get.
- Jim talks to Ed who freaks out even more and actually starts monologuing in public about how much he’s going to fix Jim’s little wagon.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE BAT CAVE!
- Bruce leaves Alfred a letter explaining that he’s going to live on the streets with Selina for a while. He knows now that evil isn’t something that can be definitively beaten but can be understood and defeated. In order to do that, he has to learn how not to be a rich white kid.
- MEANWHILE, AT ED’S APARTMENT!
- Ed cuts a clipping of Jim out of a newspaper and draws a green question mark over it…
There are two vital things that happen this episode. The first is the death of Bruce Wayne the victim. The second is the new perspective the episode offers on Gotham.
Bruce has been a pawn, a sacrifice and a victim for as long as the show’s been on air. He’s struggled for control but has spent close to two full seasons reeling from the horrific murder of his parents and the destruction of his innocence. This episode, he gets everything he’s wanted since the start of the show. This episode, the very first question the show ever raised…
…Who killed the Waynes…?
And it doesn’t matter.
Or rather, it doesn’t matter enough. Because it was never going to. Matches Malone isn’t an evil genius. He’s not a man with a plan just a man with a gun. He even tells Bruce that walking through back alley could have got his parents killed. Gotham is a dangerous, stupid, cruel place and bad things happen at random. Matches, at least, ensures that bad things happen when he gets paid. He’s murder with a schedule, death with a client list so long he can’t remember everyone he’s killed.
That mundane, almost banal approach is exactly what this show has desperately needed. Matches doesn’t grandstand or show off he just kills people for money. He’s a monster, certainly, but he’s a very simple, very sad one. And there are thousands like him.
When Bruce walks into the apartment with Matches, he does commit murder; his innocence dies in that room and Bruce, at last, sees the city, and himself, for what each are. One is a crucible gone wild, a feral landscape of human predators unable to be anything else.
The other is a good-hearted, frightened rich young man whose family helped build hell.
That’s why Bruce leaves the manor. Because he knows that part of his life is a foundation and it’s time to build something new. He’ll screw up again, undoubtedly, but that’s the point. He’ll screw up and be endangered on his terms now. His journey towards being Batman has begun and Bruce knows exactly what it will cost him. The fact he’s doing it anyway proves he’s already a hero.
His new perspective is shared by the show. In particular the introduction of Jeri, played with incredible, brittle charm by Lori Petty, does fascinating new things to what we thought we knew. Jeri runs a nightclub filled with people who hero worship Jerome. The old Maniax straitjackets are everywhere, the face of the original Joker plays on screens and Jeri herself dresses like him. This is a subculture we’ve not seen before but which fits the show like a glove. Gotham, a broken city, in love with its monsters and trying to become them. Bruce, a broken young man, trying to save them from themselves and each other.
That’s heady, tragic stuff and the episode nails it. Even the subplots feed into this central idea and finally begin to show us a different side to both the city and the show. Next week it could be awful again. But here, at last, is the city how the show wants us to see it. Absurd and horrifying, funny and tragic. Awful and brilliant.
Welcome to Gotham. Good luck. You’ll need it.
- The reference to the Crane formula is a nice callback, and forward, to the role the Scarecrow will play at Arkham.
- “He was arrested seven times with a geezer called Cupcake… I suspect there’s irony at play there…” How true, Alfred.
- “Alfred actually yells, “WHAT YOU WANT SOME?!” during the fight. Only the presence of Lori Petty is better than this moment. We also sincerely hope he yells “’AVE IIIIIT!” next time.
- “Are you okay?”
“I’M ABSOLUTELY FLIPPIN’ PEACHY, MATE!”’ Oh Cockneyman, if the rumours of an Alfred spin-off are true I will be so happy.
- “AGAIN?” This show is starting to grow a welcome sense of its own absurdity. Jim’s eyeroll at Alfred being in hospital again is a lovely example of it.
- “Again we’re the cops – DO NOT TELL US STUFF LIKE THIS!” As is this. We love that Harv’s disgust is from knowing this stuff because if he knows it he has to do something about it and we all know how much Harv hates doing stuff.
- “You my boy are the childish hand of fate… Well, that makes me God in a way doesn’t it?” Jeri is magnificent in a way no one in this show has been since Jerome. Much, much more of her please.
- “This is gonna go a lot better for you if you don’t make me angry.”
“Anger is your natural state isn’t it? You are the infamous Jim Gordon.” Witness this moment where Jim does his usual chest pounding nonsense and she all but yawns. Wonderful stuff.
- “DON’T CALL ME SON.”
“Why? I do what you think I did, I made you what you are. Just like Gotham made me. Just like the rich folks like your parents made Gotham.” This is crucial to the whole episode. Gotham is a good idea curdled by human nature. The people born and built in Gotham are curdled the same way. None of this is Bruce’s fault. All of it is his responsibility. This is the episode he realises that.
- Matches walking Bruce through how to kill him is as heartbreaking as it is disturbing. Also Michael Bowen is just amazing here. The emotion in his final moments is extraordinary.
- “I’m a monster. You need to kill me.”
“I wish you were a monster. But you’re just a man.” There’s no dragon to slay. No single cathartic release of violence and gunpowder. Just a broken city and a young man realising his blessing, and curse, is being in the right place to do something about it.
- Alfred’s fight psychology is absolutely on point. Cupcake’s a big, untidy brawler. He’s going to take some big hits but Cupcake’s got very little in the gas tank and Alfred outlasts him.
- Also Alfred’s suit is on POINT this week.
- David Mazouz is amazing this week. He runs the gamut from rage to horror to a moment of real emotional maturity. Bruce, the child, dies this episode. Bruce the adult in training is born. His final monologue in particular, and the tragic air to it, is stunningly great.
- Top notch guest turns this week too. Michael Bowen and Lori Petty are brilliant throughout.
- Where does Harv go for the back half of the episode? Is he so sick of Detective Jerkface that he ditches him?
- Ed delivering a monologue about vengeance ALOUD IN A ROOM FULL OF POLICE OFFICERS is very very stupid.
- Alfred passing out after a fight like that is a very, very bad sign. It implies a bleed on the brain which requires a lot more than a couple of hours in a hospital bed. Still, he’s at least benched for the entire episode so while it’s made light of at the time it clearly has an effect.
- Michael Bowen, who’s so damn good as Matches Malone here has appeared in numerous big movies including The Godfather Part III, Beverly Hills Cop 3 and Django Unchained. He was also Jack Welker on seven episodes of Breaking Bad.
- Lori. Freaking. Petty. The undisputed queen of ’90s genre cinema graces Gotham with her presence and the show is so much more fun with her in it. She did iconic work in Point Break and A League of Their Own and owned the screen in the amazingly weird and sporadically brilliant movie version of Tank Girl. More recently she’s appeared in a memorable run of House episodes and as Lolly in Orange Is The New Black seasons two and three.
- Shot of the week is of course, the iconic green question mark.
Review by Alasdair Stuart