Gotham "This Ball of Mud and Meanness" Review: There's No Place Like Home

Gotham S02E14: “This Ball of Mud and Meanness” 

With a title like that, I really thought Gotham was going to give us a Clayface introduction. The fact that it didn’t happen was a pleasant surprise from the series that already gave us the Mr. Freeze double-whammy of the last two weeks. I love exploring Gotham’s take on established Batman characters—especially when they do it well—but too much of a good thing can spoil fast. Uneven quality and tone is still an issue that plagues Gotham’s sophomore season, though admittedly less in this half than in the fall. Gotham is streamlining its multiple arcs in this half of the season, moving things along quickly before they fester into a blister just begging to be popped, like Galavan’s story and literally the entire first season of the series.

Gotham could have easily lingered on Bruce’s latest moral dilemma—it’s a big one for Batman, after all—but the show moved that angst train along at the perfect pace, even if that pace meant conveniently sidelining Alfred in Gotham General so that Bruce could run off unattended. At least the writers had the decency to get Bullock to make a snide comment about it. The truth about Alfred’s inherent inconvenience at this stage of Bruce’s story, however, led Gotham to what is undoubtedly the first of Bruce’s deep-cover sojourns into the real world to learn how to be a person who isn’t a maladjusted thirty-something trapped in a teenager’s body. 

“This Ball of Mud and Meanness” couldn’t have had a better title, because this wasn’t an episode about Matches Malone’s role in the Waynes’ deaths or Edward Nygma’s steady decline toward a full blown psychotic break or even Penguin’s brain damage masquerading as rehabilitation. The biggest disappointment of Gotham’s storytelling decisions, for me, has always been the implication that the deaths of Martha and Thomas Wayne were a calculated hit rather than a random act of violence. I’m a little ball of mud and cynicism, so the idea of a random event launching little Brucie Wayne into the life of a legend always felt more plausible and appropriate than the garden variety crime and punishment angle, regardless of the medium Batman was appearing in. It’s a THING that I have and your mileage may, as always, vary, but that’s the enduring beauty of characters like Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Spidey—they are our modern myths and their stories can be adapted to explain any number of questions about the human condition. 

Gotham is in too deep to completely bail on the assassination angle when it comes to Thomas and Martha, but in Matches Malone, the series introduced the sort of ambiguity that will keep Bruce Wayne up at night. Matches Malone only vaguely remembered the most important night of Bruce’s life, and even then, I’m not convinced that he was ever really involved in their deaths or if he was just exploiting the details that Bruce fed him in order to provoke Bruce into killing him—the man was openly suicidal, after all. Even if Gotham’s narrative—that Matches was hired by some shadowy Wayne Enterprises figure to stop Thomas Wayne’s pre-Batman vigilantism—still holds by the time this story is all wrapped up, Matches Malone’s indifference and lack of investment in Bruce’s tragedy brings some of that lost senselessness back to the narrative. The Waynes were just another job. Sure, some of his jobs have lingered and tormented him, but not the Waynes. He barely remembered them. That kind of thoughtlessness is more devastating than a random mugging-gone-wrong. It’s the difference between a murderer who maybe didn’t mean to do it and a murderer who saw your parents as just another mindless shift at McDonald’s. 

Matches Malone showed Bruce what Selina, Alfred, Galavan, and Gordon haven’t been able to get through his head just yet: the world is not conveniently catalogued and carefully constructed. It’s a messy, muddy thing full of people who, just like Bruce himself proclaimed last week, are two things at the same time—sometimes more.

Bruce’s decision to leave stately Wayne Manor to slum it on the streets with Selina for a bit is the turning point that his story needed to move beyond the creepy-kid-with-emotional-problems-and-more-money-than-god to the once and future Batman. This Bruce knows that his fancy pedigree and private school tutors are not the type of education he needs if he will actually make a difference on the streets of Gotham. After a season and a half of overestimating his own knowledge at literally every turn, Bruce is embracing his limitations and that openness is going to be his greatest asset going forward in his evolution toward the dark knight. Cockiness leads to recklessness and then you’re Jason Todd and DC has a phone-a-thon to decide whether or not to kill you.

A phone-a-thon. Guys, the '80s were so cute.

Anyway, Jim Gordon could learn a thing or two. I’m looking forward to the part when Nygma goes full Riddler on him. I wasn’t the only one who squealed at the green question mark, was I?

“This Ball of Mud and Meanness” was a reprieve from the brutal soul-crushing sadness of the Freeze family plight—which isn’t exactly touting sunshine and rainbows here, Gotham rivals Supernatural these days with its functional malaise. It certainly felt like we were getting back to business though, and right now, business is good.



NOTES FROM THE BATCAVE 

— So like, what are Tabby and Butch up to? I feel like we haven’t seen them in forever. 

— Is Penguin faking it or has he really been Clockwork Orange’d into submission? 

— CUPCAKE <3 

— I love that Jim is getting a reputation among Gotham’s criminal population as the cop everyone loves to screw with. 

— Bruce + Selina foreverrrrr.

Comments (48)
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Mar 18, 2016
Ice cream test sounded fun!
"Fight me baybie." Alfred vs Cupcake was fun to watch.
"I'm absolutely flipping peachy mate."
Jeri seemed cool!
"No babies. I won't kill babies." glad he draws a line somewhere
that was nice of Matches to show Bruce how to kill him!
Oh yeah! Penguin graduated!

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Mar 17, 2016
Having Bruce take to the streets now is probably a good thing. In Batman Begins Bruce lived as a thief for years while traveling on his own. I don't see this version of Alfred. who comes off much harder and more protective than the Nolan version, allowing Bruce to do that.

By having Bruce live in the streets now they can then have him learn what it is like to live among the downtrodden. This way when Bruce is ready to fully begin his training it would take the form of him and Alfred traveling the world finding different masters.

Lori Petty was pretty great as Jeri, a perfect fit for the character. Jeri didn't come off as a follower of Jerome like the rest of the people in the club despite the make-up. She came off as more of someone who just follows her own beat and is maybe a bit into chaos. Actually she came off a lot like Tank Girl but that might just be Lori Petty herself.
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Mar 17, 2016
This was a mixed bag for me. Penguin's reformed psycho/ not really reformed psycho and Nygma stepping up his inner obsessive psycho was pure gold. Bruce's search for Matches, and his stupid mistakes that led to Alfred being beaten to a pulp just bored me and pissed me off, in that order. I am glad that he's taking the time to learn some street wisdom from Selina, but he has a looooong way to go before becoming Bats.

Lori Petty was awesome!
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Mar 16, 2016
I loved cupcake! And that fight!
And I believe the kid playing Bruce really nailed it in the scene with Matches Malone. I am glad he is supposed to remember him when he becomes Batman and takes Malone as another alter ego.
And yes, I squee at the green question mark.
I believe this was a very, very good episode.
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Mar 16, 2016
The scene between Bruce and Matches was money. Again I prefer the killing of the Wayne parents to be some random event that kickstarts Bats but with the improvement of this show i'm willing to roll with the conspiracy angle. Seeing the decay of Nygma is always a plus.
Grade for episode=B+
(1) Lori Petty always fun but not sure what she adds.
(2) Penguin gotta be faking..right??
(3) B.D Wong's /Hugo Strange is perfect casting..
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Mar 15, 2016
A mixed bag this week with the Bruce plotline and the Penguin slowing things down , highlights was the Gordon crowd surfing. So I we lead to believe that a butler with a rich kid turns up at fight club comes away with Alfred in hospital and Bruce untouched really. Cupof soup could kidknapped Bruce and earned some real money. Alfred should really look for alternative employment looking after one of rich romance writers a lot safer.
Then we have the silleness of Bruce and Cat eloping together on the streets really after Bruce came face to face with his parents killer ZZZ. Still Penguin hopefully now will run amok around Gotham. This show needs a lot more thrills to it .
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Mar 16, 2016
no because cupcake made it clear he was all aout respect!and so he was!
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Mar 16, 2016
wow, your reaction was so different to mine. Well, milleage varies.
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Mar 15, 2016
Personally, I remember the perp looking different than Matches--anyone got a publicity still that we can use to recheck the eyes (a la Zoom on The Flash)?
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Mar 15, 2016
Is Penguin faking it or has he really been Clockwork Orange’d into submission?

My thoughts were that Penguin was faking it. That he realizing what they were trying to do and played along. Since, at least on this show, he's one of the craftiest guys around.

Though honestly... it could go either way with him. Either he's playing the long con and pretending to be this way, or he's eventually going to snap back to his violent persona in a BIG way later.

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Mar 16, 2016
I think it's a bit of both. He's faking it to get out of there, but he is not untouched by the treatments. Only time will tell how much he's been altered.
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Mar 15, 2016
I wonder if Matches really did it. He seemed to just speak in generalities when he finally "remembered" what they looked like.

Like, he just wanted to accept it and get killed by the hand of fait :-)
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Mar 15, 2016
Or that he was already a dead man walking, and getting shot by Brucie was a better way to go than what he would face if the ploy failed.
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Mar 16, 2016
I think so too. He was caught, his operation was compromised, his employers would hear of it and take matters into their own hands to cover it up.
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Mar 15, 2016
It was a good episode! Its highlight was Bruce confronting Matches. Well done scene!

Lori Petty shined! Just that! Great guest!

Hugo Strange was cool for yet another episode! I don't believe that his tortur-e-rapy work on Penguin, yet that remains to be seen.

For some reason, All episodes about Bruce stand out for me and entertain me a lot!
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Mar 15, 2016
#Hello_Bruce!!!

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Mar 15, 2016
Now this reminded me of the film After Hours when the poor guy ended up at one of these joints and got a free haircut lol
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Mar 15, 2016
She looked like Heath Ledger as The Joker.
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Mar 16, 2016
I wasn't expecting this. Do people really rave to the news?

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Mar 16, 2016
Well, you saw the montage of reactions all around Gotham to Jerome's crimes back in the fall, so apparently they do there.
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Mar 15, 2016
More like Ellen DeGeneres as the Joker :D
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Mar 16, 2016
I saw the same
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Mar 15, 2016
Deliberately so.
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Mar 15, 2016
Lori Petty was awesome.
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Mar 15, 2016
I hope the show gets even better with more air time for hot hot Selina! Yes!
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Mar 16, 2016
If you aren't a sixteen-year-old then you are being reaaaallly creepy.
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Mar 17, 2016
CrazyVaclav, I'm 21+ & a normal honest American male. btw in monitoring my child's social media I've noticed that "creepy" is a term oft used/abused by children. Are you a child?
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Mar 17, 2016
No I'm a 42-yr-old man who gets a little concerned when he sees what appear to be adults lusting after children!
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Mar 19, 2016
Hi CrazyVaclav & glad you "get that". I guess I'm not an ageist if that's a word LOL. Seriously though, I generally see nothing wrong with consenting legal relationships with wide age differences in either direction. What you call "lecherous" I call complimentary, plus my guess is most young actresses want & like such complimentary buzz about them. "comments" are also not actions / relationships. Perhaps a 16 yr old UK girl (that legal consent) might be better off with a more mature man with more life experience & wisdom & more hormonal control compared to your example of being with a 21 yr old? Probably we'd best agree for her to be optimally with a fellow 16 yr old? However there are exceptions plus life often isn't optimal.
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Mar 18, 2016
I get that dude, I'm from the UK and 16 is the age of consent here. Still would sound iffy if I as a 42 year-old were to make lecherous comments about a 16 year-old. At 21, yeah maybe not so much but I was a father by that age and maybe that's why it gets to me so.
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Mar 17, 2016
The age of accepted sexuality varies by culture & by time in history. Other factors include extended life span & extended public education. Primary biological natural factor is age of puberty. Also "lusting"/admiring doesn't constitute actual sexual action or violating any laws. Our society has laws re age of consent yet commonly sexualizes girls below that age in media/entertainment/advertising/clothing & sports too. Girls olympic (& pre-olympic) events (gymnastics, ice skating) with tight small outfits & flexible moves draw higher ratings (& perhaps sponsors & ad rates). I'm an honest normal male expressing honest views that I find are fairly common across men of varied economic & educational spectrum (the real world, not the robotic incorrect so-called political correctness).
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Mar 15, 2016
You never know, MaryAnn, maybe they'll make Malone into Clayface (mostly kidding). Although Galavan was looking rather misshapen in the Hoth-style suspended animation tube. (Please no, writers.)

Still waiting for Mr. Tetch, myself. Anyone spot a haberdashery lately?

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Mar 15, 2016
Scratch that--Barnes is Clayface. (Sorry, Mr. Chiklis.) :)
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Mar 15, 2016
Did Bruce and Selina just elope together.
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Mar 15, 2016
It was OK.
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Mar 15, 2016
If you're reading this Sleasman, then great review. I agree w/ everything stated above! My only SLIGHT nitpick, was no mention of Lori Petty's turn as female Joker of sorts. I like how she gave up her pal Matches ( who I think wasn't the Wayan's killer either! If you look back at the pilot, you'll see the assassin was heavy set!) to feel powerful like God. Then later on Malone telling lil' Bruce that he felt like God, constantly getting away with his crimes. Boy one has to wonder what kinda theological convo. him and Lori were having last time they were together? All in all a solid episode pushing everyone's story further into new territory. This episode gets a B+ Can't wait to see what happens next. PS I'm calling it now. Alfred's gonna be back in the hospital at least ONCE more by this time next season!

GOT HAM? you so crazy;-p
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Staff
Mar 15, 2016
I. LOVED. LORI. PETTY.
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Mar 15, 2016
Good heavens, I think I might need to check into Arkham myself, because these last few episodes have been damn good, no qualifiers attached.

One thing I'm liking is that it's starting to feel less like Gotham is trying to be an origin story per se and more like it's building up a full-fledged Bat-mythos of its own. I hope I wasn't the only one surprised to see Mr. Freeze's origin story take such a drastic left turn last week. Plus there's the fact that Hugo Strange is a much better overarching villain than Theo Galavan, and he technically hasn't done anything yet. (Speaking of Galavan: who else wants to bet he comes back as Gotham's take on Solomon Grundy?)
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Mar 15, 2016
One thing I'm liking is that it's starting to feel less like Gotham is trying to be an origin story per se and more like it's building up a full-fledged Bat-mythos of its own.

This. Totally this. When Gotham isn't afraid to put it's own twist on things, it can be really great. I think a lot of last season felt restricted by this idea of what was "correct" and this season is much more willing to experiment and go out on a limb-- with generally great results!
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Mar 15, 2016
Another thing I'm loving: how it's playing with Bruce Wayne's transformation into the future Batman. I don't think there's ever been a take on the Bat-origin story that had Bruce confronted by the fact that the "criminals" he would grow up to fight are ultimately victims of a machine that he and, yes, his parents were (at least superficially) complicit in. Just compare this Bruce to the Nolanverse Bruce, who was "saved" from killing Joe Chill purely by dint that someone else killed him first.
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Mar 15, 2016
The text recap is up, as soon as it clears the cache.
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Mar 15, 2016
No mention of Lori Petty? I thought she was the best part of the show. Lots of sharp writing by Jordan Harper on the script, and Jeri got most of it. Although so did Matches. Bruce: I want someone to die. Matches: Wait a while. They will.
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Mar 15, 2016
I thought that was the only bad part of the show. It was like: yuck. Didn't know if it was a man or a woman (but certainly undesirable).
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Mar 15, 2016
I thought that her inclusion was really, really interesting. I loved the little clue they threw out there that went up on the wall as Gordon was trying to apprehend Bruce. Wonder how many others noticed it.
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Mar 15, 2016
Even if Penguin has been Clockwork-Oranged, anyone who has actually seen that film knows that Alex's viciousness wasn't cured and that all it took was being on the receiving end of a bit of the old ultra-violence to wake up his Mr Nasty again. The obvious narrative choice would be to put Oswald on a similar trajectory. Hopefully they'll do something a bit more original, but probably not.
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