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'Gotham' recap: Bruce faces his parents' killer in 'This Ball of Mud and Meanness'

For The Baltimore Sun
"Gotham" recap: Could this be Bruce's biggest transformation yet?

Bruce has lost his mind, and “Gotham” has never been better.

Every now and then, there’s a “Gotham” episode that reminds me of why I love the Batman mythos and why I got into recapping this show. “This Ball of Mud and Meanness” is one of them.

Usually, Bruce’s coming-of-age plotlines that show his transformation into Batman are shoved to the side in “Gotham.” But the gradual buildup over the past season and a half make the tension worthwhile when he confronted his biggest foe: Matches Malone, the man who killed his parents.

To find him, Bruce dives deep into Gotham’s seedy underworld. He begins at a fight club called the Mutants, run by a beefy man named Cupcake. But Cupcake insists that Alfred fight him if they want to find Matches.

After a few punches to the face and wrestling on the ground, Alfred wins, but gets rushed to the hospital after falling unconscious. Now Bruce is free to find Matches on his own with a gun that he got from Selina.

Cupcake’s tip leads Bruce to a punk/goth/Juggalo club. On stage, there’s a band playing in front of a screen with a picture of The Maniax and everyone’s favorite fake Joker, Jerome. He might be dead, but his love for chaos lives on.

There, Bruce asks for Jeri, the lead singer of the band. With caked-on white clown makeup and a bright red Glasgow smile, she would be a dead ringer for Harley Quinn if she didn’t shave her head.

“Please, tell me where [Matches] is,” Bruce meekly asks. Please? You don’t politely ask for the address of the man who killed your parents — you demand it! That’s why Jeri takes his gun and points it to her head to show him how it’s done.

So maybe being a gangster isn’t his calling in life, but Bruce still needs to toughen up when negotiating with criminals if he wants to be Batman. But for now his tactics work. Eventually Jeri gives in and tells him where Matches lives.

When he asks her why she told him, in spite of her friendship with Matches, she confesses, “Matches is going to be happy to see you. You, my boy, are the childlike hand of fate."

Whether it was fate or a maddening obsession that led him to Matches’ front door, Bruce finally meets the man who murdered his parents. It’s a question that has consumed our hero since the show began, and “Gotham” did not disappoint.

Usually David Mazouz is so rigid in his portrayal of Bruce Wayne, but he brought on the feels in “This Ball of Mud and Meanness.” His heartbreak looks genuine when learning Matches only charged a measly 10 grand for killing his parents, and — even worse — doesn’t remember killing them. It takes skills to make it look like you’re holding back tears, and Mazouz nailed it.

Bruce confesses that he’s come there to kill him. Rather than fight or resist him, Matches accepts his fate with a sigh of relief. “A man gets tired of doing wrong and going unpunished," he said.

As Bruce aims his gun at Matches and puts his finger on the trigger, he has a sudden change of heart. “I wish you were a monster, but you’re just a man,” Bruce says, putting the gun on the table and walking away.

Bruce leaves, then Matches takes the gun and does what Bruce wouldn’t.

This is a turning point for Bruce. Walking away from murdering the man who he was obsessed with finding and killing is a feat of moral strength. Not to say he forgives or condones Matches for what he’s done; he simply knows that taking his life is not justice.

Like all of Batman’s adversaries, Matches is not a monster. Sure, these villains might have done horrible things, but there is more to them than their crimes. Deep down they’re people with nuanced backgrounds that, one way or another, lead them down the path of evil.

So what causes them to be evil? That’s what Bruce is determined to find out as he lives on the streets with Selina.

“Malone’s death made me realize a couple things,” Bruce tells Alfred in his goodbye note. “You can’t kill murder. You can’t get revenge on evil. You can only begin to fight such things by not doing them, and you can only fight them where they live.”

I can’t wait to see what happens as Bruce submerges himself in Gotham’s underworld. What other villains will we meet? Will we see Bruce get into any fights? How will this transform him into Batman?

More highlights from “This Ball of Mud and Meanness”:

Best Harvey one-liner: “Again, we’re the cops. Do not tell us stuff like this,” Harvey stresses to Alfred, who admitted that he and Bruce were looking for Matches to kill him.

Most unintentionally funny line: “50 grand,” Cupcake says when Bruce asks how to find Matches. “Will a check be alright?” Bruce replies. And this kid thinks he can live on the streets?

Sassiest line: “You’re a lot less fun than advertised,” Jeri says, mocking Jim’s anger management issues while being interrogated in lockup.

Cupcake wars: It’s like “Gotham” knew what was on my mind with all these dessert references. First, Dr. Hugo Strange performs an “ice cream test” on Penguin, which isn’t the fun-filled flavor tasting you were hoping for, but a way to enrage a fellow inmate. “Why do you have ice cream?! What flavor is it?” he bellows at Penguin, who amazingly keeps his cool. Then, Alfred dukes it out with one of Gotham’s underground fighting legends, Cupcake. What, no pie? Yesterday was Pi Day, after all.

Best line that sums up Gotham: “Don’t call me son,” Bruce tells Matches. “Why? If I did what you think I did, I made you what you are,” Matches responds. “Just like Gotham made me. Just like the rich folks like your parents made Gotham. I might as well call you son.”

Best sound effect: "Gotham’s" sound artist does an amazing job capturing the anxiety and mania that many of the characters experience. This time it was Penguin as he heard Dr. Strange’s warbling voice telling him he needs more therapy (aka forcing him to imagine he’s killing his mom). Yeah, that’d stress me out, too.

Certifiably sane: I didn’t know insane asylums gave physical certificates to people who are deemed sane. But if this get-out-of-jail-free-card releases Penguin in the wild to wreak more havoc, so be it. I know that Dr. Strange says he has big plans for Penguin, but in the time being, he should catch up with Ed. He needs a partner in crime as he’s slowly transforming into the Riddler.

The biggest question of them all: Speaking of the Riddler, he has the target for his first riddle: Jim, which is exactly what actor Cory Michael Smith predicted. Funny, I guessed it would be Harvey since he bullies Ed, but Jim makes more sense. He and Leigh were close to Ed and Kris, and Jim would be the one notice Kris is gone, spurring a covert investigation to find what really happened to her.

But if Ed uses riddles on Jim, won’t he be able to figure out it’s him? It’s no secret Ed loves a good riddle. And will Kris Kringle’s disappearance even be a priority in the next episode, in which, according to the preview, Jim becomes the No. 1 suspect in Theo Galavan’s murder? Or will Kris’ disappearance be put on the back burner as Jim tries to keep his job and stay out of jail?

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