The penultimate episode of any season is always a nail-biter, an edge-of-your-seat experience meant to build tension toward the final installment. Gotham is no different. Almost all characters’ plot threads reach an emotional zenith during “The Anvil or The Hammer,” the culmination of 19 episodes filled with mob betrayal, cheesy one-liners, and whole lot of confusion.
But strangely enough, the main dramatic element of Gotham’s latest episode concerns a villain we’ve only met a few episodes previous. Yes, we’re still talking about the Ogre, and yes, it still doesn’t make sense. Throughout the first season of Gotham, we’ve seen the early years of some of Batman’s most fearsome villains, like Bane, Scarecrow, and even the Joker. So why does the Ogre, a cookie-cutter psychopath, get so much screen time? Maybe at the very least, we’ll see a new Barbara—tempered from tragedy—emerge from all of this. Otherwise, what’s the point?
The episode opens with Barbara having stayed the night with the Ogre, and when Barbara tries to slink away with just a casual one-night encounter, the Ogre doesn’t let her off so easily. Like all of his victims before her, she’s chained up and subjected to torture of both the mind and the body. Luckily (I guess?), her captor decides that she is the one and that he sees something inside of her that he’s never seen before. What that exactly means, who knows. She’s seems about as scared and resistant as all the other women who have fallen victim to his craven sexual predation.
Meanwhile, after realizing the Ogre has kidnapped Barbara from last week’s episode, Gordon is now in full-on, coffee-fueled detective mode trying to hunt down any leads imaginable to find her. He seems ragged, on-edge, and full of worry. His current lady friend, Leslie Thompkins, points out that he’s acting like a crazy person, but he snaps back saying whatever happens to Barbara is because of him. Instead of this episode settling once and for all where Jim stands between his two “loves,” it only further complicates the issue. Gordon does go pretty much crazy to find Barbara. When he gets a random lead that the killer once frequented an underground sex club, called the Foxglove, he threatens Penguin with physical violence to get an invitation to the club. He even promises to owe a huge favor, which seems in moral conflict with Gordon’s stance on the division between police and crime in Gotham City.
To sum it up: no more Mr. Nice Guy. It’s completely obvious to see that this is all fueled by some unresolved feelings for Barbara, but near the end of the episode Gordon admits that he never even thought of her as a possible target. Ouch. So really the question becomes whether in that moment he is lying to the audience, or simply lying to himself. Looks like a lot of this drama may be reserved for season 2.
NEXT: Bad luck, Barbara
Anyway, as Gordon investigates a creepy sex club, one of the club’s scantily-clad employees says she was actually a would-be victim of the Ogre, but she was able to slip away. All she can say about her killer’s “lair” is remembering the letters O-Y-A-L. Almost instantly, Bullock mentions the Royal Hotel could be where Barbara is being held hostage. Of course, when they go to investigate they find an empty apartment and a killer on the telephone telling them they tripped a silent alarm. Unfortunately, the phone call’s ambient noise, train horns and such, gives away that they’re heading out of Gotham on the only bridge that has a train. By piecing together the direction, Gordon figures out he’s going to Barbara’s parents’ house.
One of the tricky things about police shows is towing the line between believable detective work and just reading the script. In both these “eureka!” instances, it feels like much more of the latter than the former. The answers pop into their heads a little too quickly, unnaturally so. We can chalk it up to them being the heroes of this twisted tale, but when any question or riddle is almost immediately answered in the next sentence, it saps away some of the drama and realism. Just a few more moments of thought, putting together some of the connective tissue so the audience can follow their logic, would be helpful making it feel like Gordon and Bullock don’t have superhuman powers of deduction.
But of course, Gordon’s hunch is right and the Ogre is in the middle of stabbing and killing Barbara’s parents. Why? Well, the Ogre kept asking Barbara who he should kill and she said her parents supposedly? Who knows. It all happens off camera, but either way that seems a little messed up, which brings us to yet another annoyance. If the audience would have seen Barbara’s parents more than just once for about five minutes, maybe…just maybe, we’d have some kind of emotional reaction to what is happening. “OMG, they killed Barbara’s parents that is so terrible/great/heartbreaking/relieving.” We get the sense that they don’t have a close relationship, but it certainly doesn’t seem horrible in the sense that an abusive household is horrible. Maybe there is more to it, but we’ll never know because we were never shown.
After a classic damsel-in-distress, knife-to-the-throat standoff, Bullock distracts the Ogre long enough for Gordon to pull off a killshot. And… that’s it? The three-episode slog to learn this dude’s backstory ends in a bullet to the head and a mind-shattered Barbara? It would’ve been great to see a real moment for Barbara here, where Gotham flips the script, does something unexpected, and lets Barbara survive her situation just through an internal strength she didn’t even know she possessed. But no… she’s rescued once again by Gordon who always does all the rescuing and then we never see her again for the rest of the episode. It just seems like a waste.
NEXT: The real kingpin of Gotham
However, Gotham did pull an unexpected card concerning the ever tumultuous Maroni-Falcone relationship. Last episode, Penguin was prepping a certain bar to become the killing field for Maroni and his men. But instead of actually killing Maroni, he sent in hired killers to act like they were from Carmine Falcone, pulled out the firing pins from the stashed weapons, and in turn had Maroni kill his hired thugs thinking the attack came from Falcone. This was so freaking great because we get to see Penguin’s deviousness and thirst for power. He wants it all, and he doesn’t care how he gets it. Just so long, that in the end, he does get it. As gunshots and explosions break out all over Gotham, Penguin relaxes at his bar, simply drinking in the chaos.
Of course there is just one illogical piece to this whole plan. Carmine Falcone provided the only protection the Penguin had from Maroni, right? Once Maroni felt betrayed by Falcone, he immediately started turning on Falcone by attacking his businesses directly. Captain Sarah Essen even says as much during the episode’s final minutes. So why wouldn’t Maroni, who’s been itching for a reason to kill the Penguin, not immediately march over to Oswald’s and put a bullet in Cobblepot’s dome? Doesn’t exactly make sense. Perhaps he’s simply blinded by rage, he’s clearly distressed when he pumps two of Falcone’s lackeys full of lead.
So it seems Gotham is headed for an all-out mob war, one that will most likely put the Penguin in an unprecedented position of power. But what does that mean for Fish Mooney? Once again, after sustaining a life-threatening injury from her escape from crazy island two episodes, we haven’t seen her since. Maybe she’s not doing anything too exciting, perhaps just recovering in some hospital or something—basically sleeping while all this is going on. Or maybe there’s more to it. We’ll most likely know much more next week.
“The Anvil or The Hammer” does have one redeeming quality—and that’s the Riddler. Finally, we are getting to see why Edward Nygma is one of the most feared villains Batman will ever face. Corey Michael Smith, who plays Nygma, has done a masterful job slowing transforming his character from the butt of GCPD jokes into an unhinged villain that is sickly delighted by the pain and suffering he causes. The best moment is handing Ms. Kringle, the long-standing object of his creepy affection, a note saying how her past boyfriend (who he just killed) up and left the city. But buried in the note is a hidden message that spells out N-Y-G-M-A. Is it a little simple and cheesy? Yeah, sure, but the pure delight he gets from flaunting her ex-boyfriend’s death right in front of her is just great. At least we can look forward to how much more demented Nygma becomes in season 2.
Although we have one more episode left until Gotham’s inaugural season comes to an end, nothing can save the show from having a below average first outing. Major characters simply disappeared from the show, other characters felt completely alien, and episode after episode feeling turned into pure filler. There just isn’t much substance to Gotham. That’s not to say Gotham can’t blossom into a show that’s worth an hour out of your Monday, but things built on a shaky foundation rarely stand the test of time.