So we’re putting Mr. Freeze aside for the moment to catch up with Bruce Wayne as he confronts the man who killed his parents. Should Matches Malone prepare to die? Let’s see.
The episode begins with a dream sequence as a bound and gagged Penguin dines with Gertrude. She tells him that life is hard, but Penguin is special. However, Penguin number 2 appears behind Gertrude and hits her over the head with a bat.
Penguin’s therapy continues as Dr. Hugo Strange and Miss Peabody watch their subject go through the treatment. Next up is the ice cream test. Penguin enters the cafeteria with ice cream on his plate, unsure how he got it. The inmate wants to know why Penguin has it. What the hell makes him so special? Penguin shows no violent reaction as the inmate chokes him to find out about the ice cream, even the flavor.
Bruce meets Selina to get his gun. Though he looks afraid, Bruce assures her that he’s anything but. Selina warns Bruce that guns aren’t for protection or show, but one thing.
At GCPD, Leslie speaks with Jim and gives him Kristen Kringle’s final paychecks from Human Resources. Apparently, no one knows where she is and she has no forwarding address. No one’s talked to Ed, and Leslie didn’t want to worry him, so Jim will look into it instead of missing persons.
At Wayne Manor, Bruce informs Alfred that he’s ready for the dangerous manhunt. When the two hit the streets, Bruce is to follow Alfred’s lead. Alfred goes over Malone’s recent information, including one ally in Blackgate Penitentiary.
So Bruce and Alfred infiltrate some underground fighting ring to speak with Mr. Cupcake, played by Jamar Greene. Cupcake presents himself and Alfred explains that he’s looking for Matches Malone. Bruce Wayne, against his best judgment, gives his name and offers money for information about his parents’ killer. Cupcake wants a million, which is too much for Bruce, so he knocks it down to $50,000 instead. Cupcake won’t hurt Bruce, but Alfred has to fight him first.
Alfred doesn’t figure him as a fighter, but he’s in Cupcake’s house. Bruce offers $100,000 and no fighting, but Cupcake says it’s fight or nothing. Well, when you put it like that, Alfred doesn’t have much of a choice. So even though Bruce did the talking, it’s Alfred’s time to enter the ring. He warns Bruce to picks his battles, not the other way around. The fight doesn’t stop until someone says uncle or goes to sleep.
So the two fight, with Cupcake eventually managing to overtake Alfred as he beats the hell out of him. Bruce says uncle, but Alfred soon fights back and gets Cupcake in a chokehold. If you’re going to beat a big man, you just have to outlast him. Cupcake soon taps out and the fight ends. Cupcake tells the two to see Jeri at the Celestial Gardens on the East Side for information. Alfred thanks Cupcake before passing out.
We cut to a hospital, where Alfred advises Bruce to stay until he’s better. As Alfred rests, Bruce leaves.
Back at Arkham, Strange plays word association with Penguin and stops on the word remorse. Remorse is progress and huge, Strange says, but Penguin feels terrible about things he’s done. But remorse is a normal sign, and Penguin wants to be good.
Strange congratulates Penguin on his progress into his real self: a kind, decent man. A few more sessions and he’ll be a new man. Penguin fears more therapy, but Strange tells him that it is making him better.
In the medical examiner’s lab at GCPD, Jim asks Nygma if he’s heard at all from Kristen. Nygma responds with a riddle: I’m strong as a rock, but a word can destroy me. The answer? Silence.
Jim asks Nygma about Dougherty and how things went south with him and Kristen. Nygma mentions her note, which he didn’t hold onto as a keepsake. Luckily, Jim gets a phone call that sends him on his way. When Jim leaves, Nygma wonders aloud whether Jim is trying to outsmart him.
Bullock and Gordon visit Alfred, who reveals that they have the name of the man who killed Bruce’s parents. There’s a solid lead, but Bruce won’t answer his phone, so Alfred figures he’s going after him on his own and that he plans to kill Matches. This isn’t a game for Bruce.
That evening, Bruce heads to the Celestial Garden, which turns out to be a nightclub, even though I’m sure he doesn’t meet the age requirement. Inside, people dance while news reports about the Maniax flash on the screen. The main singer brings Bruce to speak with Jeri. Again, no one questions a child in a club like this?
So the singer brings Bruce into the back, where she introduces herself as Jeri, played by Lori Petty. He tells her what she already knows, but he assures her that she’ll kill Matches Malone. She warns him that killing people isn’t easy, and while Bruce hasn’t killed, no one’s killed his parents before.
Jeri warns Bruce that Matches is a professional and has killed many people. Jeri wants a good reason to give up Matches’ location, as Bruce’s responses of justice and money don’t fly. So he pulls out his gun, which turns out to be a good reason. He doesn’t point the gun at Jeri because he’s not going to shoot her, so he leaves. Jeri soon reveals that Matches lives in a building on Grand Street between 9th and 10th in Apartment 9B.
Bruce leaves just as Gordon enters, telling him what Alfred explained. Jim may not understand, and Bruce doesn’t want his help, based on past experience. And that’s when Jeri kicks into a new song, which gives Bruce just enough time to leave while Bruce flees. Where was Bullock in all of this?
Anyway, Jim quickly hauls Jeri into a station wagon while Bruce heads to the apartment. He knocks on the door and comes face to face with Matches Malone, played by Michael Bowen. He then pulls out a wad of cash, saying that he wants to hire him because someone needs to die. Bruce won’t wait and he’s old enough to make his own decisions. He needs to be sure he’s making the right decision, since Matches looks pretty ordinary.
But Matches assures Bruce of his abilities, telling him about how many people he’s killed and what weapons used. After a bit of hesitation, Bruce figures Matches for the right man.
At GCPD, Jim asks Jeri about where Bruce is headed. Jeri plays games, as she knows all about Jim’s temper. In addition, she doesn’t see why Bruce, out of all the endangered kids in Gotham, should receive special attention. Jim threatens to hurt Jeri, but Jeri finds him less fun than advertised.
Jeri asks for the time. Not because Bruce might be in one spot or several, but because she figures that Bruce should be at Malone’s location by now. Jim should get there in time for the cleanup.
Matches lays out his terms- no babies killed, apparently- before asking Bruce who he wants killed. Bruce realizes that Matches doesn’t remember him, so he reminds Matches that they’ve met before he pulls out his gun. Matches claims that he could overtake Bruce now, but he’s tired.
Bruce Wayne introduces himself. They met two years ago in a theatre district alleyway when Matches shot and killed his parents. The name rings a bell, but Matches’ memory is foggy. He was busy that year. Bruce points out that his parents were important people and their deaths were all over the news. Most deaths stick with you, but not with Matches. Bruce describes his parents’ clothes and how Matches grabbed his mother’s pearl necklace.
It starts to come back to Matches as he finally remembers the Wayne family. Bruce asks who hired Matches, but he responds that it might have been a random occurrence. Gotham made Matches, and because of Matches’ actions, he says that he made Bruce. Bruce threatens to hurt Malone for information, but Matches isn’t afraid. Killer’s code isn’t much, but it’s what he has. If he dies, Bruce will never know who hired him.
So there’s nothing left to say. Matches toasts to Bruce, as he wants Bruce to kill him. Why? A rich kid like Bruce wouldn’t understand, but Matches explains that a man gets tired doing wrong and going unpunished. Nothing happens. You start to wonder if there’s a God who would let this happen. Matches advises Bruce how to hold the gun before pulling the trigger, but Bruce hesitates.
Matches insists that he be killed since he’s a monster, but Bruce only wishes he was a monster. Instead, Matches is just a man to him. Conveniently, Jim arrives as Bruce heads out and the two hear a gunshot. Jim enters and sees that Matches turned the gun on himself.
We return to Arkham as Penguin is locked in with his ice cream loving companion, who is strapped in the Clockwork Orange chair. Penguin grabs a knife and removes the man’s blindfold as he reminds the inmate who he is. Oswald offers to help, but only if the inmate promises to be nice. Otherwise, no ice cream. He frees the inmate from his bonds.
Strange then gives Oswald a certificate declaring him sane after passing his tests. He’s even saner than Miss Peabody, which means that he’s a free man and no longer has to stay in Arkham Asylum. However, Oswald believes that he’s fine where he is. He’s sane, gentle man, Strange says, and good things happen to good people. Penguin thanks Strange for being such a kind mentor and friend. Penguin heads off to gather his things.
Peabody wonders if Strange has done the right thing by freeing Oswald, but Strange isn’t worried about the potential outcry. To him, people are afraid of progress. He also won’t alert the police, as he has future plans for Oswald Cobblepot. Plans that go deeper than building semi-human creatures in the basement. For that, Peabody wants to play no part.
Back at GCPD, Bullock and Jim go over Malone’s record, but he’s a fly under the radar. Bruce got a confession, and that’s good enough for Jim, but now the question of who hired Malone. That’s a question Bullock does not want to ponder.
Jim then gives Nygma a non-update on Miss Kringle’s disappearance. While Jim then speaks with another officer, Nygma believes that Jim is trying to lull him into a false sense of security. Nygma can make plans of his own.
Back at Wayne Manor in the not Bat cave, Alfred finds a temporary farewell note. In his narration, Bruce explains that he plans to live on the streets with Selina Kyle. He’s thought long and hard about this decision and Malone’s death made him realize that you can’t get revenge on evil.
You can only fight such things by not doing them. And you can only fight them where they live: in the streets and slums of Gotham. He won’t start battling muggers, but someday, Bruce will do something to help the people of Gotham. First, he needs to learn about life on the streets Selina will teach him all about that. He’ll be home soon, so he hopes that Alfred will honor his wishes.
Ngma, meanwhile, reads a newspaper report about Gordon and begins to scrawl a green question mark around his face. Get it?
Okay, so after spending two episodes devoted to Victor Fries, we get something on Gotham that we haven’t had in some time: a Bruce Wayne centered episode. With so much attention on the rise and wrath of Gotham City’s rogues gallery, it’s a refreshing change of pace to spend time with Bruce.
Execution-wise, there’s a lot to be desired. I don’t think Gotham has a proper handle on how Bruce Wayne has processed his parents’ death. There have been interesting ideas, but not all have been handled well. Things like listening to blaring music, creating a crime web, asking Alfred to teach him how to fight, and trying to learn more about Wayne Enterprises were incremental steps in showing us the origin of a great detective.
Despite his abduction, Bruce is still focused on getting to the bottom of his parents’ murder. Unlike Season One, he now feels comfortable with the idea of taking a human life because he’s motivated by justice. Bruce, right now, hasn’t discovered the proper brand of justice, so I could see him being impulsive enough to get a gun from Selina and expect to just kill Matches without any regret.
Making the decision to take a life, as Selina said, takes you down a dark path. It’s something that, I feel, warrants more time spent contemplating such a huge move. This could have been a good opportunity to get into Bruce’s head and find out what he’s thinking. As is, we can only go off of his conversations with Leslie, Selina, and Alfred, but that’s not enough, considering the weight of Bruce’s actions. What is Bruce feeling? Is it right to take the law into his own hands?
And revenge is a lame motivation. Maybe have Bruce ask Jim for his input. The GCPD didn’t seem too busy this week, so Jim could make one of his routine visits to Wayne Manor and check in on Bruce instead of Leslie. And with Jim having just committed murder to prevent Theo Galavan from causing more harm, he’d be able to relate to Bruce without having to reveal his secret.
Plus, Alfred is the one who found out information about Matches Malone thanks to his source. Not to mention he put himself at risk in that fight. We know that Malone has killed plenty of people and is a real threat, but only because we’re told these things. Have Bruce do some more investigating with his crime web and learn about Malone on his own. He damn near tore apart Wayne Manor to find Thomas Wayne’s not Bat cave, so he could spend some time to learn about one assassin.
Like it or not, Batman’s rule is that he doesn’t kill. And yes, he’s not Batman yet, but for Bruce in his youth to weigh such a big decision deserves better care focused on his choice. And sure, we’ve seen Bruce act impulsive, but we’ve also seen a quiet, more reserved Bruce. Give us more of that so that when Bruce finally does decide that he wants to kill Matches on his own, he’s resolute in his decision.
I say this because for all the buildup to the confrontation, Bruce ended up wavering and we had to have the conversation between him and Matches spell out everything. Things like whether Matches is a man or monster, killers going unpunished, and the Wayne legacy, I feel, don’t need to be told to us in the span of one scene. It’s a good moment for Bruce, but the scene loses some of its weight because it doesn’t let the audience come to a conclusion on its own.
So when Bruce decides to head into the underworld with Selina, it feels a bit forced. The two come from different worlds and Selina already warned Bruce about killing. Why would she suddenly open her arms to welcome him into her circle? Based on past interactions, Selina should be telling Bruce that this life isn’t for him. Some sort of hesitation on her part. Again, it’s an interesting place to take Bruce, but I just wish we had more buildup.
As far as everything else goes, the Maniax and Jerome in particular seem to have had an impact on some of Gotham’s citizens. Though Jeri had a bit of Heath Ledger’s Joker in her as well when she asked for the time while in interrogation. I’d be interested to see Lori Petty play this bit part again, though.
And Nygma is drawing question marks while thinking that Jim is trying to outsmart him. You know, because Riddler stuff.
Actually, I’m curious what will become of Penguin now that Strange has decided to free him. Strange continues to be the most interesting part of this second half of the season because he appears to be a few steps ahead of everyone. Even Peabody isn’t 100 percent on board with his plan of semi-human creatures. So what’s his game plan with releasing Penguin? We’ll see.
So we got our confrontation between Bruce and Malone in “The Ball of Mud and Meanness” and while it was decent, Gotham missed a chance to dig deeper into Bruce’s head to find out what he’s thinking as he contemplates a life-changing decision.
As is, what we learn is spelled out instead of shown through a slow progression. But hey, here’s to Bruce and Selina’s grand adventure. Meanwhile, with Penguin out of Arkham, does that spell potential trouble for Jim and his secret?