A Look at Gotham- Season 2, Episode 14: “Wrath of the Villains: This Ball of Mud and Meanness”

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Oswald speaks with his mother in a dream sequence

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Penguin and the ice cream test

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Selina gives Bruce a gun

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Leslie tells Jim that Kristen has been missing for some time

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Alfred and Bruce prepare to find information on Matches

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce and Alfred speak with Mr. Cupcake, played by Jamar Greene

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce and Alfred in the hospital

We cut to a hospital, where Alfred advises Bruce to stay until he’s better.  As Alfred rests, Bruce leaves.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Hugo Strange plays word association with Penguin

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jim asks Nygma about Miss Kringle

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bullock and Gordon visit Alfred in the hospital

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce visits the Celestial Garden

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?

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jeri, played by Lori Petty, talks to Bruce about Matches

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jim finds Bruce in the Celestial Garden

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?

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Matches Malone, played by Michael Bowen, sees Bruce offering him money

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jim asks Jeri about where Bruce is located now

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Matches lays out his terms

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- My name is Bruce Wayne, you killed my mother and father

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Matches kills himself

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Penguin with the inmate who wanted his ice cream

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Hugo Strange gives Penguin a certificate declaring him sane

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Miss Peabody wonders about Strange's experiments

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bullock and Gordon discuss Malone

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jim gives Nygma a non-update on Miss Kringle

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Alfred finds Bruce's note

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Ed draws on Jim

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce gets a gun from Selina

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce points his gun at Jeri

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Selina asks Bruce if he still wants the gun

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?

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jim spots Bruce

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce and Alfred at the underground fight ring

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce is surprised that Matches doesn't remember him

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce can't bring himself to kill Matches

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Bruce and Selina go on an adventure

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Jeri asks Jim for the time

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.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Riddler foreshadowing

And Nygma is drawing question marks while thinking that Jim is trying to outsmart him.  You know, because Riddler stuff.

This Ball of Mud and Meanness- Penguin released from Arkham Asylum

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?

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