Aw C’mon Gotham: Season 2, Episode 14: “The Ball of Mud and Meanness”

Fox’s “Batman-without-Batman” soap opera is the most amazingly weird show on television. For every episode this season, Deadshirt’s own Sarah RegisterKayleigh Hearn and Max Robinson discuss the good, the bad…the beginning? of little Bruce Wayne, skinny Oswald Cobblepot, and Jim Gordon sans ‘stache as they try to find their way in the misery-soaked, work-a-day world of…GOTHAM.



Max: I’m just going to say it: This is I think the best episode of Gotham to date. Beyond being typically weird, this episode flatout has a couple of really great performances and they’re both from guest stars. Let’s do it.



Max: Penguin, DOSED ON FEAR GAS, gets put into a VR simulation where he’s tied up and can’t eat a big plate of dog food while his mom is murdered by his own evil duplicate. Then Hugo Strange gives him a “LEGALLY NOT INSANE” certificate and lets him go, essentially just to fuck with him?

Sarah: Strange and Ms. Peabody’s little golf claps after Penguin passes the aptly named Ice Cream Test is exactly the kind of cultured insanity I come here for.

Kayleigh: Strange and Peabody are the Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank of Gotham, and the Ice Cream Test is their darkest Invention Exchange yet. “What do you want from us? We’re evil. EVIL!”


Max: Something Gotham does pretty reliably is have Alfred either threaten to kick someone’s ass or, sparingly, actually show Alfred in some insane fight. This episode finds Bruce and Alfred rolling up to some kind of homeless fight club/outsider art installation in order to track down the man who may have killed Bruce’s parents, Matches Malone. Bruce is a nerdy square who doesn’t know how to use leverage, so we watch Alfred fight a giant dude named Cupcake.

Sarah: Gotham does such a great job coming up with its own weird B characters that I don’t understand why they keep introducing known villains before their time. I mean, come on, Mr. Cupcake?

Max: “FIGHT ME, BABY” – Mr. Cupcake

Kayleigh: I want an entire tie-in motion comic about Mr. Cupcake.

Sarah: Bits and pieces of this episode felt like homages to past Batman films, and Cupcake and Co. felt like they were from the confoundingly colorful Joel Schumacher universe. I also love that this scene, while extremely silly, was very deliberate in informing both Alfred and Bruce as characters, as well as setting the foundation for Bruce’s later encounter with Matches.

Kayleigh: The punks are, notably, the Mutants gang from The Dark Knight Returns. We are one season away, tops, from anime-inspired Jokerz biker gangs.

Max: Can you believe this is just one of TWO underground punk crime dens this episode of Gotham takes us to?


Max: The best part of Nygma mistakenly believing that Gordon suspects he killed Kristin Kringle is that 1) Gordon doesn’t connect the dots on this at all and 2) Nobody thinks Nygma killed her because the entire GCPD doesn’t think or care about Nygma *at all.*

Kayleigh: Nygma is so inconsequential to the GCPD that he gives an insane monologue threatening Gordon in the middle of the crowded station and no one notices.

Sarah: How great would it be if Nygma started a crime spree with little Riddler clues and no one from GCPD ever finds them?

Max: Brillo cream homeboy was just angrily growling to himself while Gordon happily went about his day.

Sarah: I desperately wanted the camera to pan out during one of his weird monologues to reveal literally everyone in the room watching him.



Sarah: Jeri for Joker 2016

Max: Lori Petty kicks ass. It’s cool that this show’s giving us some very unorthodox “proto-Jokers,” and having Petty play a character who embodies a lot of elements of the Heath Ledger Joker—without being too hammy or derivative—was seriously inspired. Especially dug that her big scene with Gordon is very obviously a play on the Gordon/Joker interrogation scene from The Dark Knight.

Sarah: What a gift this character is to the show. I loved her scene with Bruce, who, by the way, seems to be getting most of his parenting from literal criminals on the streets these days.

Kayleigh: I am 100% down for evergreen movie crush Lori Petty as murderclub Joker in glasses. (Tank Girl in glasses. Rolf, fetch me my smelling salts!) What’s interesting about her “proto-Joker” is that Jeri seems to take a genuine shine to Bruce and wants to see what he’s made of. It makes her rictus-grinned trickster god character scarier than if she had just let loose a peal of insane laughter. Jeri deserves a full-on arc as much as Jerome did, and she’s one of the best arguments yet for why Gotham’s “anyone could become the Joker” theme works.




Max: Holy shit! Holy shit! Man, this scene! The whole show has been building up to having Bruce confront the man who killed his parents, and they knocked this out of the park. Michael Bowen is a guy who’s made a career out of playing memorable scumbags who only appear in a few scenes (Buck from Kill Bill, the slimy fed in Jackie Brown, Uncle Jack The Neo-Nazi from Breaking Bad) so bringing him in to play Matches Malone for one episode and one episode only was a stroke of genius. There is…a lot going on in this scene, it’s really remarkable.

Kayleigh: Gotham has finally figured out how to use David Mazouz, and he holds his own against Michael Bowen very well.

Sarah: What an incredible turn of events with Matches accepting his tiny Death incarnate. Though it’s still not entirely clear that he is the real killer, he could not have made it any easier for Bruce to get his revenge, which is why it’s even more powerful when Bruce chooses not to go through with it.

Max: I loved the ambiguity with Matches there. He eventually admits to killing Bruce’s parents but the details he remembers are pretty vague and could’ve just been him pulling answers out of his ass. Watching the dynamic between Bruce and Matches completely transform during their conversation was fascinating. 


Sarah: When Matches becomes almost fatherly to Bruce, empathizing with him and calling him “son,” saying that Gotham had created them both, I got chills. It’s the closest to Batman this show has come. I half expected Gordon to tell Bruce that criminals were a superstitious and cowardly lot after Malone’s suicide.

Kayleigh: There’s a very popular idea that Batman himself is responsible for all the costumed crime in Gotham—that monsters like the Joker or the Riddler would never have existed if Batman hadn’t appeared first. I’ve always thought that take on Batman was far too cynical, and I’m glad Gotham is going in the opposite direction and showing how a hero like Batman could be created as a direct response to the horror around him. Here, Bruce journeys to the underworld and meets two of his “creators,” Jeri (who compares herself to God) and Matches (who talks to Bruce like a father). Gotham is never subtle, but it works.

Max: Watching Bruce finally, really *get* that his parents’ death is a part of a larger problem is such a crucial Batman thing. Bruce’s encounter with Matches fundamentally changes him, and it tells you everything you need to know about his eventual philosophical approach as Batman.



Max: Bruce has turned his back on single-minded revenge and is embarking on the path of “woke trustpunk” with Selina as his guide. Kind of amazed this is a beat we’re getting so early into season 2.5.

Kayleigh: This is just like the time Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne lived on the street with a bunch of turn-of-the-century newsboys!

Sarah: With all the sick parental advice Bruce got from adults in this episode (Alfred showing him how to fight a larger opponent, Jeri coaxing him to properly threaten people, Matches teaching him how to properly shoot to kill) it’s no wonder he runs off to the teen underworld.

Max: The death of the Waynes fundamentally changed Gotham, so it’s only fitting that Gotham’s denizens are pushing back and directly influencing Bruce. As goofy as Gotham is, I don’t think a Batman story has addressed the relationship between Gotham and its people as well as this show has over two seasons.


Gotham airs Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern on FOX. 

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