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Gotham: This Ball of Mud and Meanness

"Hurry up and bring on your electric chair. I want to leave here and take a nose-dive into the next world just to see if that one is as lousy as is this ball of mud and meanness." - Carl Panzram

Meet "the childish hand of fate" and one of the best episodes of the entire show.

For the short version, this is the one where Bruce Wayne talks a man to death and moves in with his girlfriend.

Jokes aside, I was greatly looking forward to this one, and as I suspected, it proved to be one of the strongest installments.

Just as the previous outing, the episode consisted of three plots neither one really connected to one another - Oswald's arc, Edward's arc and Bruce's arc - which could have lead to a similarly disjointed result. However, thematically speaking all the plotlines tie into similar topics of violence and insanity, be it in core or as window-dressing - Bruce's visit to the Joker-themed club, Edward's descent into paranoid madness and Oswald's entire storyline - which makes the final product feel much more coherent, and the storytelling is admirably focused. The narrative and dialog is consistently brilliant.

In essence, this episode merges the good parts of episode 12 with the good parts of episode 13, retaining the flair and depth of the latter combined with the pacing and functionality of the former.

Without question, the main plot was Bruce Wayne's pursuit of the man who killed his parents, and this is what I will focus on exclusively.

This was an episode which was a long time coming and which had to happen, and as it's over I realize how it has changed the basic nature of the show. I made an off-hand comment yesterday about Gotham being a city with no real heroes. I don't even think I need to delve into why Jim isn't one, but I also interpreted Bruce as essentially a young boy on a vendetta, consumed by a burning rage.

All that changed here and now the show finally has its own pint-sized hero.

The concept of Batman is cartoonish and simplistic in nature. How it is realized in a medium determines whether it holds our interest. The "Man" is the thesis of justice. The "Bat" is the antithesis of violence. The "Bat-Man" is the synthesis of violent justice. The Bat is amoral, violent and uncompromising. The Man is just, peaceful and diplomatic. Putting it another way, the Man is love and the Bat is hate. The only thing the two halves have in common is their methodical, calculating and intellectual nature. Neither side represents chaos or willful ignorance. This is important, because this allows them to communicate and reach consensus.

Bruce Wayne isn't a violent kid. That is to say, up until his parents' murder that side was never much of a factor. This is one reason the duality of his mind is developing - in a boy violent from infancy, that violence bleeds into his conscious intellectual personality and is internalized. As a contrast, Bruce - in having acquired his violent streak at an age where he is already self-aware and -reflecting - treats it like a foreign entity.

What is significant here is that whereas in the last episode Bruce is constantly shifting into and out of his Bat persona, in this chapter practically only the Man is speaking. I can only interpret this as the looming decision being so crucial to him that he can not afford to have his two sides being at odds with each other, and only the Man needs answers.

In this setting, Bruce could only grow by facing Patrick. The night when his mother and father were killed, what he saw was a huge, nameless, faceless monster. In the two years since, this manifestation has grown into what he perceives as a nigh-metaphysical force - a personification of evil, which has to be confronted and destroyed to make it all better. Only by demasking and seeing the old, tired man behind the fa├žade is he able to move forward. "I wish you were a monster, but you're just a man," and as he later writes to Alfred, "you cannot kill murder." He finally sees Malone for what he is, the symptom rather than the disease. Then, in a final, unstated compromise between his two selves, he leaves the gun on the table and walks away. He knows that Patrick wants to die, but he won't give him the closure of sending him off himself.

The show does make it easy for us at times. With Patrick willing, even eager to face his punishment, denying the impulse to kill turns into a clean-cut victory even the Bat can appreciate. By him immediately shooting himself afterwards, the show saves us the uncomfortable question, "what does he do next?" It won't always be that easy. In the future, the death of Jason Todd will haunt Bruce Wayne forever. The war between his two personalities will never truly end.

This concludes our main morality play of the evening, with Bruce leaving high society to live in the streets with the future love of his life.

All the stories told in this episode circle around ways of dealing with violence. In Oswald's case, it's forced suppression. In Edward's case, it's unchecked immersion. In Bruce's case, it's voluntary discipline.

I always feel vaguely dirty when reviewing anything without pointing out its flaws, but that is just it. As a separate installment of the Gotham series, this episode is flawless. I would be reduced to nitpicking, and I don't do nitpicking. Instead, I will make some points about future episodes.

Now, it is hard to imagine that the show will avoid the romance angle with Bruce and Selina any longer. In effect, there are no other viable and relatable romantic couples left at the moment. Jim and Lee are a train wreck and Edward murdered Kristen. I think the show will do a great job with it. However, in order to do this they need to address one basic issue.

This was Bruce's episode - it couldn't be anything but Bruce's episode - and Selina was almost reduced to a prop and plot device. I don't mind this for now, but I think it's important to fix the basic inequality of this relationship.

On this show, Selina does everything for Bruce and Bruce does nothing for Selina. This isn't me vilifying Bruce - part of it is Selina's own fault for never accepting any charity but having no problem handing it out to the ones she loves. That said, Bruce had a main agenda from day one but we still don't know what Selina really wants, and that is the fault of the show. Selina helps and teaches Bruce, and it's long overdue for Bruce to return the favor and get invested in her problems. We need to see her point of view, and we need to see Bruce step up and help her.

Failing that, this spectacular pairing will never be all it could be.


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