Synopsis of 2×13: The GCPD tries to keep Nora Fries safe as Victor desperately tries to retake and freeze her. Leslie interviews a returned, vengeful Bruce Wayne and questions Jim’s lies about Theo’s death.
Last week, I mentioned the long shadow that “Heart of Ice” casts over Mr. Freeze stories and that really shouldn’t be considered a knock against either that episode, these episodes of Gotham or any number of other Mr. Freeze stories, but it’s such a definitive story that it often ends up making others about the character feel somewhat redundant or worse, revisionist. I think that’s going to be a complaint leveled against “A Dead Man Feels No Cold,” this week’s episode of Gotham, but it’s not one that the show really deserves.
The bad news is that “A Dead Man Feels No Cold” feels slight after last week’s “Mr. Freeze.” Now knowing that his formula can safely freeze Nora, Victor’s on a warpath, looking to rescue his wife from GCPD protection and willing to make alliances and the necessary sacrifices to do just that. It’s a solid hook but in practice, it means the whole episode just focuses on the push-pull of the cops’ trying to save Nora and Victor trying to take her back.
There’s some side business here but it’s barely worth noting. Bruce Wayne and Alfred are back after a trip to Switzerland and the show is really leaning on the Michael Keaton incarnation of Batman for this characterization. It expects viewers to buy that Bruce has come out of his capture by Theo Galavan more sure of his mission to kill Matches Malone than ever, but there’s really nothing to back that up.
He talks with Leslie Tompkins about how he’s “never lying” but it feels performative in a way the show doesn’t seem to want it to feel. Gotham has never quite seemed to know just how much Bruce Wayne is becoming Batman at this point and the scenes with him here reek of that problem. He’s so driven, so assuredly building up a mask of humanity before his tortured soul but it’s sort of hard to accept.
Likewise, so is the Penguin plot in Arkham Asylum. I’ve never loved the scenes in the asylum on this show and its evocation of electric shock therapy here is just bizarre. More than anything, it reminds me of Zach Snyder’s cinematic masturbatathon, “Sucker Punch,” with scenes of a manic Cobblepot being zapped to dour pop-punk.
It’s just off-putting and strange, particularly with how serious it is in scenes outside of the operating room, where Penguin’s splintering sanity is played for pathos and heart. It’s a tonal balance that doesn’t quite work, particularly with Hugo Strange and his assistant, Peabody, seemingly twirling their villainous mustaches at every chance they can.
The Freeze plot is really the main attraction here though and it’s again pulled off with aplomb. The focus is on the side characters, namely Nora and Leslie who form an unexpected bond because of their increasingly fractured romantic relationships. Their scenes actually earn some unexpected pathos by comparing Victor’s obsession with curing Nora’s with Gordon’s willingness to embrace corruption for the greater good.
I’ve said before that I never quite bought the show’s insistence that Gordon was harboring a darkness inside him but it’s a characterization Gotham seems to be sticking with and Morena Baccarin sells the pain of watching that descent capably.
The best scenes are in Nora’s final moments though, where she, finally unwilling to watch as Victor continues to commit crimes in her name, chooses to kill herself rather than let evil be done. It’s a twist that references the controversial “First Snow,” story from 2012’s Batman Annual #1.
“First Snow” offered the New 52’s origin of Mr. Freeze adding an additional layer of madness to the doctor’s villainous birth. There, in a battle at the top of Wayne Enterprises, Batman reveals that Victor has never met Nora and instead he’s become obsessed with a woman frozen decades before his birth.
Both this episode and that story reframe Mr. Freeze’s obsession as less of a noble quest and more of a narcissistic and deeply insane one, where a driven individual kills over and over for someone who doesn’t want to be a part of his life. Like “Heart of Ice” before them, they’re all tragedies but these allow them to be of Freeze’s own making, putting his actions in a harsher, more villainous light. For the kind of stories that Gotham so often tells, it works well.
“A Dead Man Feels No Cold” is a mostly satisfying closing to the Mr. Freeze story so far, with the A-story proving much more satisfying than the table setting going on in the background. It’s interesting to see Gotham set up a much more satisfying serialized story in the back half of this season than it has in the past and it’s actually working to build some excitement for what’s coming.