Previously on Gotham ... Freeze got frozen, but there was nary a Disney-style musical number in sight.
Now on Gotham ... Bruce Wayne got a gun, Bruce Wayne got a gun, some other stuff is getting done ...
All right, so last night's episode, "This Ball of Mud and Meanness," is almost entirely a Bruce story. You may remember last week I said young master Wayne feels a little out of place among the current plot threads, and that still feels true. The whole "Rise of the Villains" arc is very much a GCPD-centric drama.
Yet I can't deny that David Mazouz, who has been charged with the near-impossible task of playing a young Bruce Wayne, brings a real depth to the role. And "This Ball of Mud and Meanness" is, undoubtedly, his best performance to date. It may also be his last for a while. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First things first!
- Hugo Strange continues to pass off torture as therapy for Penguin. Apparently, it's working! Penguin is repeatedly and intentionally placed in scenarios where he can easily attack others but chooses the peaceful option each time. Has Oswald actually been successfully reprogrammed, or is he faking it? Strange schemes to find out the answer by awarding Penguin a shiny new certificate of sanity, releasing him from Arkham, and loosing him out into the world. Seems safe.
- "Oh, hey, whatever happened to Kristen Kringle," wonders Lee. "I'll look into it," grumps Gordon. "I KILLED HER AND I'LL KILL YOU NEXT," Nygma says to himself, out loud, in the middle of the precinct and well within earshot of Gordon. He's still a free man, though. Get your hearing checked, Jim!
- Alfred and Bruce are on the hunt for Matches Malone. While Bruce has a pleasant conversation with Lori Petty, Alfred gets beat into a hospital bed by a gang. With Punchy Pennyworth laid out, Bruce is free to visit Matches on his own, gun in hand. Matches admits to being hired to kill Thomas and Martha and wants Bruce to end his life now. Too many bad deeds unpunished can make a man desperate to see his own story end, is Malone's reason. But Bruce can't do it because, even on Gotham, Batman doesn't use guns. Matches takes Bruce's gun and kills himself before we can find out who hired him. Coming so close to committing murder causes Bruce to realize that, while killing isn't the answer, hanging around stately Wayne manor ain't exactly saving lives, either. Bruce leaves a note for Alfred saying he and Selina are going to live on the streets together so he can learn about Gotham and its people. He wants to understand what he can do to protect the city. Cue the bat signal!
All told, this is a great episode and, if it's the last time we see Bruce Wayne for a while, it's a heck of a way for him to go out. But there's a lot of specifics that aren't represented in that quick plot outline. We haven't even talked about Lori Petty yet! Let's do this.
- Matches Malone actually killed Bruce's parents. Sure, we don't know who hired him to do it yet, but it's nice to see this story actually move forward a little. I was afraid Matches was going to be a red herring, and it's a relief that his appearance held some actual payoff for both Gotham as a show and Bruce as a character.
- If you weren't following along online as many of the actors live-tweeted the episode, you might have missed the one consistent trend -- they were all talking about what a talent David Mazouz is. And they're absolutely right. His take on Bruce Wayne has such a vulnerability to it, such an emotional honesty that it's easy to forget Mazouz is only 15 years old. And, on a technical level, setting Bruce up to be on the streets with Selina is a smart move with the potential pay-off of making it easier to fit his character in with the rest of the story.
- Regulars aside, can we talk about Lori Petty? Because her ability to chew just the right amount of scenery makes her a natural fit for Gotham. Plus, she's basically playing an older, more collected (but still wacky) version of Harley Quinn. Even her style is a bite off the Harley costumes from the Arkham games. Also, she's the lead singer of a punk rock band. It's like they custom-tailored the role of Jeri to be played by Lori Petty. And why not! She's brilliant. By the way, if she's meant to be this world's Harley Quinn, they've done a wonderfully subtle job of tying her to the Joker. During her performance, Jeri has a projector playing an image behind her of that formerly live broadcast of Jerome from earlier in the season. You can see him saying, "What you call sanity, it's just a prison in your minds" but only if you're really paying attention. That's neat. On a show that's mostly known for pitching it to the cheap seats, it's great to see a visual cue that trusts the audience to piece what's happening together without excessive hand-holding.
- Speaking of Matches, parts of the scene with he and Bruce feel a little off. Why does he decide to end his own life now? I get that it must be disquieting to meet the child of the people you murdered, but Matches is not a young man and he's been a hired killer a long time! If Matches had a conscience, don't you think it would have gotten to him by now? If he feels so guilty, why not turn himself in? The whole "too many bad deeds going unpunished" line just read a little hollow to me.
- While Lori Petty is super fun (and please put her in more episodes, Gotham) we need to talk about the role women play in this show. This latest episode really draws the problem into sharp focus -- Kristen's death made Nygma go full evil, Lee's addressing Kristen's disappearance exists purely to drive Bruce and Jim together, and Jeri, great though she is, serves as a vehicle to drive Bruce to Matches' front door. We don't get much in the way of women's stories on Gotham -- they exist primarily to enable characters like Jim and Bruce to feel their man pain more fully. When you've got talents like Morena Baccarin, Lori Petty, Tonya Pinkins and more, why not give their characters stories and agency of their own! As hot as I find me some growly man voice, it's a waste to stick with the "behind every great man" routine. Get these ladies front and center!
- Alfred gets into a fight with a gang called "The Mutants" which is also the name of the gang in Frank Miller's Batman opus "The Dark Knight Returns". But the weirdest part of that sequence isn't the oddly shoehorned reference, it's the part where Bruce introduces himself to the gang leader as Bruce Wayne and the leader's response is, "White, billionaire, Bruce Wayne?" HOW MANY BRUCE WAYNES ARE IN GOTHAM CITY? Is there a black, middle-class, small business owner Bruce Wayne, too? If so, I now expect them to appear in a future episode. Oh, Gotham...
- According to Jeri, Jim is known across the seedy underbelly of Gotham for being angry all the time. That seems right, but the best part comes when Jim has Jeri in lock-up for questioning and says "Do you want me to hurt you" and Jeri flatly responds, "Would ya, I got nowhere else to be". AND THEN SHE SEEMS DISAPPOINTED WHEN HE TURNS DOWN THE OFFER! Oh, Gotham...
- There's a part of Penguin's treatment where Strange gives him some ice cream specifically so that another inmate will get jealous and beat Penguin up. Hugo Strange actually refers to it as "the ice cream test" which is to say he must do this A LOT. I'll have two scoops of sadism, Doctor Strange! Oh, Gotham...
Next week on Gotham... Penguin's on the loose, Gordon's head's being fit for a noose, and Nygma's... I can't think of another "oose" word. Whatever, he's doing bad guy stuff.
Remember to follow me for live-tweets of Gotham every Monday. Until then... have some ice cream!