I admit that Gotham got me with this week’s title. I saw “This Ball of Mud and Meanness” was wondering which version of Clayface would be turning up. It was a decent guess, but I was wrong. Instead, we see them do another major departure from later Batman canon. At this point, the show is absolutely an alternate world from the later Batman stories, and this just nudged it along further in that direction.
The episode opens in Arkham, never a good place to be. Penguin is continuing his “therapy” under Hugo Strange’s weird ideas of that process. This time we get to see inside the world the Virtual Reality gear is creating, and it’s pretty nightmarish. I’m generally not a “sympathy for the devil” type, but this one made me feel bad for Penguin.
In an alleyway, Bruce and Selena meet up. They both look nervous, which I expected from Bruce, but I’m not sure why Selena was so rattled. She’s come up with Bruce’s requested gun, which they both brilliantly pick up with bare hands. Fingerprints, anyone?
Back at the Gotham City Police Department, Lee stops in to see Gordon. This time, it’s not about their relationship. Lee is worried about the absent Miss Kringle. She went to human resources to get her address to write to her, and found out that she hadn’t left one, and also hadn’t picked up her last two paychecks. In fact, HR gives them to Lee. How does THAT work? “Hi, I’m looking for my friend.” “Sorry, haven’t seen her, here, take her check.” I mean I know Gotham is corrupt, but I didn’t know they were generally incompetent.
After prepping for their mission at the Manor, Bruce and Alfred go looking for “Cupcake,” a former associate of Matches Malone. Matches is supposedly the man who killed the Waynes. In the comics, it’s either Joe Chill or an unknown assailant who killed Bruce’s parents, depending on the era. Also, in the comics, Matches Malone is one of Batman’s frequently used undercover identities. Considering this man ends up being decades older than Bruce, I guess that one’s out, too.
Cupcake proves to be a huge black man, who is running a gang called the Mutants. I guess that’s another nod to Batman’s future. In the Frank Miller Dark Knight stories, set many years after the current comics, the Mutants are a street gang Batman has a lot of problems with. Alfred’s cautious approach is ruined by Bruce talking too much, and Alfred ends up having to fight Cupcake to get the information they want. Alfred holds his own all right, even giving Bruce pointers as the fight goes on. Of course, Alfred isn’t exactly young anymore…
After another chilling scene with Strange and Penguin, we see Gordon drop in on Nygma. Gordon is following up on Leslie’s concerns about Kringle. Gordon doesn’t learn anything useful, and Nygma starts sliding into paranoia. Nobody really gets what they want out of that visit.
Gordon gets called away from his weird scene with Nygma to go visit Alfred in the hospital. Alfred tells Gordon and Bullock what’s been going on. While Bullock scrabbles for some kind of plausible deniablility, Gordon is more worried about Bruce and follows up on Alfred’s one lead.
Of course, Bruce is way ahead of Gordon, and gets to the place where he’s supposed to meet the person who has information on Matches Malone. It’s a sort of weird punkish club with a lot of projected images on the walls. Bruce sticks out like a sore thumb, but the bouncer lets the clearly underage kid in, no questions asked.
Inside, Bruce finds Jeri, the club’s lead act. Jeri is an odd woman, played by Lori Petty. Petty was the voice of the animated villain Live Wire on the various cartoons in the 90’s. She does a good job of playing the performer who eventually tells Bruce what he wants to know. Gordon almost catches up with him (how long was Bruce waiting around earlier to come here?) but Bruce slips away with help from Jeri, who causes a major distraction to cover his escape. Why? I’m really not sure.
Strange runs Penguin through more weird tests and scenarios at the Asylum. Peabody watches with sadistic enjoyment. Eventually, Strange makes a really questionable decision regarding Penguin’s future. To coin a phrase, no good can come of this.
Bruce finally finds Matches Malone and the scene is just odd. Matches is old, bitter, and has an indifferent attitude to the question of his killing the Waynes, even when asked at gunpoint. Finally, he remembers when Bruce mentions the now iconic scene of Martha Wayne’s necklace breaking and spewing pearls everywhere. Their conversation is a weird one that ends strangely.
The episode ends with Nygma getting even more paranoid about Gordon’s questions. Gordon wonders who paid Malone to go after the Waynes, while Bullock doesn’t care. And Bruce embarks on the next phase of his “training.” It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
What I liked: Bullock continues to be an amusing mix of corruption, indifference, and occasional outbursts of being a good cop in spite of himself. Strange is acting like he should be a patient at his Asylum, but it’s being played well. I’m not sure how I feel about Nygma’s slide into insanity, but Cory Michael Smith is doing a good job with the story.
What I didn’t: Ever heard that phrase about “When all is said and done, there’s a lot more said than done”? There’s a lot of talking this episode that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Malone and Bruce’s conversation seemed kind of odd. I pointed out the flaws with Lee getting Kringle’s checks already. And I really don’t like the changes to Malone’s story from the comics. There was no point at all in using this character this way. Malone could just as easily have been Joe Chill, or an original character.
I’m giving this episode a very low 3 out of 5. It had its moments, but overall didn’t really impress me. And for a story arc being called “Wrath of the Villains,” it was lacking in Wrath.