Review: Gotham – Season 2, Episode 14 “This Ball of Mud and Meanness”

Guys. GUYS. This episode was the most insane, bonkers, off-the-wall, batshit crazy episode that this show has ever produced. I’m not exaggerating when I say this. I spent the majority of this episode yelling “WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW???” at my TV. This episode was so nuts that it outdid all the other crazy ass moments that have come before. Moments such as:

  • The time Jim Gordon kissed a prisoner he was questioning in front of his pregnant girlfriend and his boss
  • The time Edward Nygma hid the hand of the woman he killed in a vending machine at the police station as a clue to himself
  • The time Harvey shook down a sex club where a dude wearing a diaper and a bunny mask was tied to a chair
  • The time Fish spooned out her own eye and stepped on it out of spite
  • The time Alfred drove Bruce to a classmates’ house and had him beat that child senseless while using his father’s watch as brass knuckles. Then he took him out for pizza to celebrate

Gotham:

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The Chosen One (a.k.a. Bruce) is a God Damned Moron
Bruce meets Selina in an alleyway that’s full of the sounds of cats meowing. Not actual cats, just the sound of them. She gives him a gun and for the rest of the episode the camera will pay special attention to how he can’t stop touching it or pulling it out of his pocket just in case we viewers have forgotten that Bruce has a gun.

Bruce and Alfred go on a “hunt” to find the man who they think killed the Waynes. Do they have any evidence? Witnesses?Of course not! They think this could be the guy so they’re going to go kill him. So these two idiots, dressed exactly the same as they usually dress, walk into a fucking FIGHT CLUB and start demanding to know where Matches is. There are about 40 Mad Max extras all gathered around to beat each other’s faces in for fun, and Alfred not only gives his full, legal name, he tells everyone in the group who he’s looking for. And Bruce, who is also an idiot, tells everyone that he’s Bruce Wayne. Yep, that Bruce Wayne, the one in the papers and on TV and with his fucking name plastered on every building in town. Luckily, these people decide that they’ll let Bruce live if he gives them 50K and if Alfred fights a dude. So he fights a man and uses it as an opportunity to talk Bruce through a fight.

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Oh! And to add to Bruce Wayne’s emotional damage, Alfred blames him for the fight. Good role model!

After Alfred wins the fight (yet is still hospitalized) Bruce runs off to find Matches. Alfred calls Jim and Harvey because of course he does. Harvey, who is criminally underused in every single episode, says “for a butler, you sure get beat up a lot.” And then he tells Alfred that he should have called the police with the name of the man who killed the Waynes because that’s the cops’ job. Then the following exchange is had (emphasis mine):

Alfred: …my guess is he went after this Malone..solo
Jim: Goin’ after? To do what, exactly?
Harvey: What can he do? He’s a kid.
Alfred: Any reason to go alone, he’s going to kill the man. I mean, I told him not to, I said ‘you’re too young for killing‘, said I’d do it for him
Harvey: Again, we’re the cops. Do not tell us stuff like this.

YOU’RE TOO YOUNG FOR KILLING. Is it like a driver’s license? You get your killing permit at age 15, which only enables you to maim people or kill when an adult is present? Then you turn 16 and, whoo boy! 24/7 The Purge-style violence up in this bitch! “Hello officer, what seems to be the problem? Oh, yes, I did stab this guy 98 times and light him on fire but it’s ok – I have my killin’ license! Yep, first time! Just turned 16 yesterday!”

Bruce goes to a punk-goth club to find Jerry. I think I’ve been to this place. Or it’s just like every shitty show at a shitty dive bar that I went to back in my goth days. It’s hard to tell. Lori Petty, a.k.a. Tank Girl, is rocking out on stage dressed somewhat Joker-ish while footage of Jerome’s rampage plays behind her and her similarly-dressed band. It reminded me of that moment in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker where Terry meets Bruce for the first time after being chased by a gang that calls themselves The Jokerz. The lead Joker walks up to Bruce and says something like, “Don’t you know who we are, old man? We’re the Jokerz!” Bruce just smirks and says. “sure you are” before handing all of them their asses. I miss that Bruce. I miss him so, so much.

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Lori Petty immediately recognizes Bruce and leaves in the middle of her show to walk him through what looks to be a whore house above the bar. Perfect place for a child! This is where Bruce goes from “Hi, random people, my name is Bruce Wayne!” to “Hello, everyone I come in to contact with, my name is Bruce Wayne. Wayne is spelled W-A-Y-N-E. I am looking for a man named Matches because I am going to kill him with this fire arm I purchased illegally. Please inform everyone you know of my name and plans, including Matches Malone himself and any police officers you may come into contact with. Thank you and have a pleasant evening.”

THEN! THEN! This happens:

Lori Petty: “…you kill people before, blood?”
Bruce: “No. But no one’s killed my parents before.”

BUT

NO

ONE’S

KILLED

MY

PARENTS

BEFORE.

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Holy shit. That was a line of dialogue delivered with a straight face on a prime time television show.  WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW????

As Bruce is leaving the club, Jim shows up to tell him he understands how he feels. Bruce says, “No, you don’t” and Jim just fucking rolls over with “You’re right, I don’t get it. Sorry, bro.” Lori Petty shines a spotlight on Jim and he gets pulled into a mosh pit. Instead of moshing his way out he punches people and arrests Lori for…shining a light at a cop. Sure, let’s go with that.

When Bruce finds Matches, Matches is very open about his record as a killer. No coded language to throw the cops off the trail in case they’re listening, no plausible deniability in case they’re caught, just flat out “I kill people. I will kill someone if you give me money.” Has no one on this TV show ever seen another TV show? Or a movie? Does “keeping shit on the DL so you don’t get busted” not exist in this universe?

Admittedly, I do like that Matches doesn’t remember Bruce or killing the Waynes until Bruce gives him some additional details. However – I don’t like the contract angle. I’ve always liked the idea that the Waynes were killed in a random act of violence because it shows that anyone can be a victim of Gotham – rich, poor, important or not. Gotham has her own plan.

Bruce, of course, doesn’t kill Matches. Matches does it for him! YAY? Bruce leaves Alfred a note that is read in voice over to swelling, heroic music. He’s going to live with Selina on the streets and learn to become the kind of person that can help Gotham. This feels like they’re writing him off the show, like this is the last we’ll see of Bruce Wayne until he’s ready to don the cowl. That would be the best thing this show could do.

I love Batman, I do, but it’s hard to have a prequel that focuses on a young Bruce Wayne. At least, it’s hard for this show to focus on young Bruce Wayne. They continually imbue everything he does with a sense of meaning and destiny, the weight of what he will be hangs on his every action and limits the growth that this version of Bruce Wayne experiences. He’ll never get really hurt and he’s never at risk of dying or getting thrown in jail for premeditated murder. We don’t worry about him because we know we need him to exist in the future, and that sucks all the tension and stakes completely out of the story. He can’t grow under all the “YOU ARE DESTINED!” shit they keep heaping on his character.

The AV Club writes (emphasis mine):

Much like with the show did with Jim Gordon, “This Ball Of Mud And Meanness” makes a big deal out of whether or not Bruce will kill Matches Malone and cross some sort of line. As always, the actual nuance of this is lost in the mess. Is there something inherently interesting about Bruce Wayne having to deal with growing up amidst violence and having his privileged worldview shattered in the worst way possible? Of course there is, but that’s not what Gotham is looking at. Gotham wants to live off of the idea of its edgier elements while never actually engaging with them. So what’s the point then? If Gotham never really grapples with the inner turmoil of Bruce Wayne, what’s the point of him seeking out Matches Malone and pointing a gun to his head?

That’s where Gotham has everything backwards. “This Ball Of Mud And Meanness,” and Gotham more generally, seems to think that the mystery of who killed the Waynes is more interesting than how the murder affects Bruce. If Gotham believes that, then of course the storytelling is going to privilege laborious plots with zero emotional consequence, because Gotham is presuming we care less about character insight and more about narrative twists and mysteries. That attitude extends to so much of “This Ball Of Mud And Meanness,” perhaps the most pointless, dull episode of the season so far.

I’d love to know how any of this affects Bruce. But I don’t think this show cares. And it doesn’t matter because GOTHAM GOT RENEWED FOR A THIRD SEASON.

The Penguin Blues
Penguin, who goes to the same barber as Klarion the Witch Boy, starts this episode having a torture nightmare about his mother and a tray of meat. Hugo Strange thinks he’s been successful in “curing” Penguin of his violent tendencies so he sends him (and some ice cream!) to sit down across from a sentient WWE action figure with all the smarts of a bag of hair. This leads to screaming and Penguin immediately cowering in front of this huge dude instead of fighting back. Later, Penguin frees the guy from the torture chair in another of Strange’s tests. Strange thinks this is “proof” that Penguin is cured. Except from what we know of this universe’s Penguin, he’s not much of a fighter. He’ll pit people against each other and he’ll try to play underhanded games to get his way (see: the entire first season), but for the most part he’ll avoid getting his hands dirty if he can – that’s what he had Butch for. Or Jim Gordon, if we’re being honest. He’s not a huge imposing guy who punches his problems away. Freeing the guy who kicked his ass over ice cream isn’t a sign he’s “cured”, it’s a sign he’s doing what he always does – doing something for someone only to call in a favor later or get even later. I can’t imagine Penguin, who is both smart and manipulative, doesn’t see the benefit of having some huge dumb guy on his side to call on when he needs a little muscle. The real question here is: Is Strange being played by Penguin? Or, because this is Gotham, did the writers honestly forget how Penguin operates?

Jim Hearts Riddler
Someone has finally noticed that Eggnog hasn’t collected her final paychecks. She hands them over to Jim and we get to see that one check was for $522.12 and that Gotham City is located in the state of Gotham.

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(Side note – the only reason Leslie has these checks is because she went to HR to ask for Wrapping Paper’s new address and they were like, “Oh, here. Take your co-worker’s checks.” I’m more surprised to learn that GCPD has an HR department than I am to learn that it’s barely functioning.)

Jim, literally the worst detective, is all, “eh, she’s fine. She’s traveling with that other guy that didn’t collect his last paychecks! Nothing to see here!” Leslie begs him to do his job so he agrees to look into it.

He asks Riddler about Tinsel’s disappearance and Riddler immediately jumps to the conclusion that Jim is on to him. Except I don’t think he is. I think Jim’s going through the motions so he can tell Leslie he tried. Now Nygma is going to blow up into Supervillian mode. Great. Maybe he’ll start hiding Riddler trophies around the city and this will turn into a live-action Arkham City.

 

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