Gotham has been trending upwards this season, but This Ball of Mud and Meanness was on another level. This episode was the show finally living up to its promise of exploring the past and firmly laying the groundwork for the characters’ future.
Tonight was the rare occasion where pretty much everything the writers attempted worked. Free of head scratching moments that take you out of the episode, every subplot kept delivering en route to a very strong conclusion. The final 10 minutes were so satisfying that this could have been the season finale and I would be anxiously awaiting the next season.
With a lead in learning who killed his parents, Bruce got a gun from Selina, who is trying to convince him against murdering someone. The writers have gotten better at subtly developing the bond between Selina and Bruce in large part due to their differences. Selina doesn’t want to see Bruce forever tainted by becoming a murderer and Bruce is more and more fascinated with Selina’s carefree nature.
First, Bruce and Alfred had to track down Matches Malone and their first lead takes them to a street fight club. Alfred giving Bruce a fighting lesson while Matches’ former ally was a great scene. Despite the humorous set-up, I was glad Alfred had to go to the hospital after getting the location of another of Matches’ associates, Jeri.
This allowed Bruce to pursue the lead on his own without resorting to some ridiculous manner to ditch Alfred. Jeri (Lori Petty) was a singer at a club that resembled the seedy, deviant look of Gotham overrun by criminals. The outfits, sounds and general ambiance felt exactly like the kind of place Batman would come crashing through the skylight looking for a source.
Jeri’s performance outfit was clearly meant to evoke a prototype Joker look and she proved nearly as unpredictable. Petty was a fantastic casting choice for this character and Jeri was interesting enough I’m hopeful this won’t be her only appearance. After sizing Bruce up, Jeri offers him Matches’ address. While she’s friends with Matches, the ability to affect fate proves too tempting for Jeri and she’s curious to see the chaos her actions will create.
After chatting with Alfred, Gordon catches Bruce and tells him the police will handle Malone, but Jeri gets Gordon caught in a crowd surf long enough for Bruce to get away. I loved that Gordon’s immediate response was to slug the first guy who let him down. That dude has a terrible temper! Gordon’s interrogation of Jeri was fun as Petty chewed up the scene.
From there we get to the heart of the episode: Bruce Wayne’s confrontation with the man who may have killed his parents. As much as I loved Petty’s cameo (yay Tank Girl!) Michael Bowen‘s turn as Matches Malone was amazing. Bruce pretended to want to hire Matches before revealing he was actually there to kill him.
To Bruce’s astonishment, Matches could barely remember if he killed them. Too many years of too many bad things, he explained. Eventually, with Bruce’s helpful mention of the pearls, Matches does remember the incident. He’s ready to face the music actually glad that he finally is getting justice for all the atrocities he committed. This was a terrific moment and a defining one to steer Bruce into the Batman we all know and love. Realizing Matches was just a symptom of the greater virus spreading through Gotham, Bruce left him just as Gordon arrived. But since he also left his gun, Matches decided to finish what Bruce wouldn’t and killed himself.
The encounter with Matches stuck with Bruce though and he left Alfred a note saying he was going to learn more about the people of Gotham and the everyday struggles they face with Selina as his guide. This could easily be a way to write Bruce off the show for awhile and have him return in soap opera fashion and played by an older actor.
I’m still not sure what to make of the Penguin/Hugo Strange subplot. Strange’s endgame remains a mystery, but BD Wong and Tonya Pinkins are making Strange and Ms. Peabody a quirky, post Batman debut pair of potential villains. Penguin is declared sane and allowed to leave Arkham, but I’m betting Strange has set up a keyword to trigger a more significant psychotic outburst from Penguin down the road.
Solving the Wayne murder’s case still left Gordon with the question of who ordered the hit, which doesn’t interest Bullock at all. Gordon’s preoccupation with helping Bruce made him delay digging deeper into Ms. Kringle’s disappearance. Nygma is convinced Gordon is on to him now and is ready to match wits with his opponent. After his out of control murder rage moment, trying to outsmart the cops is getting Nygma back on track to eventually becoming The Riddler.
Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX