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‘Gotham’ Review/Recap: “The Anvil or the Hammer”

Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Erin Richards and Milo Ventimiglia in the Gotham episode “The Anvil or the Hammer.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Erin Richards and Milo Ventimiglia in the Gotham episode “The Anvil or the Hammer.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.

“Sometimes, with men, you have to read between the lines.”

Huh. Only one to go. It’s hard to look back on Gotham’s first season and not feel a little bit nostalgic for the days when the promise of this series stretched to the horizon, full of visual splendor and film noir overtones lurking in the atmosphere. But enough of that, we’ll save the real reflections for the finale review, but what is curious about this episode is it only really feels like a penultimate episode approximately five minutes before it cuts to credits. Until then, we are treated to a “killer of the week” episode (or perhaps “killer of the week before last,” because our guest psycho has been kicking around since two episodes ago), with slightly more driving intensity than one would usually expect from this generally rather same-y show.

Last week’s episode ended with series resident damsel Barbara Gordon (Erin Richards) looking into a torture dungeon belonging to the serial killer who seduced her (Milo Ventimiglia) with an indiscernible expression on her face. This episode opens on one of the series’ most bizarre breaks in continuity to date, with Barbara Gordon walking out into the Ogre’s kitchen without referring once to her visit to his creepy sadist playground (however brief it ended up being after that fade to black last week). Instead, it sounds like they had some very normal sex, which leads directly into what the Ogre must consider second base at this point: preventing his victim from doing anything or going anywhere without him. To be honest, it is hard to tell if the preceding plot is unique or clichéd. Although one thing is for sure, it is hilarious to hear a character you know is a serial killer saying “Do you want breakfast? I have quiche.”

Donal Logue and Benjamin McKenzie in the Gotham episode “The Anvil or the Hammer.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
Donal Logue and Benjamin McKenzie in the Gotham episode “The Anvil or the Hammer.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.

Hot on the Ogre’s trail is our white knight James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), his armor getting more stained and faded by the minute. After making the discovery that the Ogre is after Barbara, Gordon takes responsibility for her fate onto his own head, and proceeds to beat, interrogate, and shoot his way to her. The pursuer’s half of the plot is not as engaging as the side of the pursued, save for two elements: Ben McKenzie’s complete and utter commitment to Gordon’s passionate pursuit of this killer, and a sequence in which Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) goes undercover in an S&M style brothel in order to get information. Say what you will about the unnecessary shaming of an oft-vilified subculture and you’d be right, but the sequence is shot and costumed in a way that recalls a PG Eyes Wide Shut as Harvey maneuvers through the sea of creepy fetish gear, making the audience more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Writer Jordan Harper also gets some mileage out of a gag where Harvey claims to be able to “fit in” with a high-class brothel, only to find himself sitting amongst countless bodies in bondage gear while he’s in an Italian suit, like if Fredo Corleone showed up at a convention of Matrix cosplayers.

As with the last few episodes, Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) probes through his family’s company in order to figure out how deep the roots of corruption lie, and he comes up with an interesting, if dramatically unengaging, answer. As Wayne Enterprises executive Sid Bunderslaw (Michael Potts) explains, Thomas Wayne had been complicit in the corporate corruption the whole time. The scene in which Bruce Wayne learns this is a pretty well-written scene as a whole, pointedly highlighting how condescending Bunderslaw is to the self-righteous child (he even refers to this as “the talk”, as if this knowledge will strip Bruce of his innocence in the same way as the birds and the bees). However, there is something not quite right about this revelation, and not in a “the writers intended it to be jarring” way. Perhaps some revisiting of previous Wayne Enterprises chapters is required, but it seems like this comes in direct odds to how Bruce’s parents’ deaths are supposedly tied up in corporate corruption in this version of Gotham. Maybe the finale will throw in some magical puzzle piece that will make it all tie together, like it is the Higgs boson and the arc of this plot line is theoretical physics (this may be one of the most abstract similes ever conceived by a TV critic).

David Mazouz in the Gotham episode “The Anvil or the Hammer.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.
David Mazouz in the Gotham episode “The Anvil or the Hammer.” Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX.

As the main plot wraps up, we have several near misses with interesting character developments, much to everyone’s disappointment. We are teased with the possibility that Barbara Kean is going to become a sociopath due to Stockholm Syndrome, which would at least provide an interesting reason for her bland facial expressions, but nothing comes of that (unless she’ll make a dramatic reappearance in the final episode, which would certainly spice things up). Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) is still nowhere to be seen, after anticlimactically escaping The Dollmaker’s facility with a bullet wound in her gut. Since Smith has confirmed she will not be returning in season two, we are staring yet another anticlimax right in the face, unless the writers pull yet another rabbit out of their hats next week (although, by the way this review is going, the rabbit probably will have to have wings and breathe fire to impress enough in this finale).

The two subplots in this episode that actually feel like a penultimate episode, not just an exceptionally hot-blooded standalone, are the ones involving Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and the Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor). The former aims to dispose of the gory remains of a detective he murdered, and the latter aims to start a gang war. We’ve written before about how Nygma’s plotline has teetered on the edge of office-romance cliché for some time, but it quite gleefully leaps into dark comedy, with results that outshine almost everything else in the episode. Likewise, the Penguin’s plot to kill Don Maroni (David Zayas) plays out with much more calculated results that expected, and injects a healthy dose of adrenaline that hopefully will carry through to the finale.

To say that the expectations for this finale are high are an understatement. Poorly-paced TV shows tend to lump as many of the important plot elements to their finale, to make it feel as important as possible. As such, this series has a lot to accomplish in its final hour. Part of the excitement about watching this extremely uneven show is seeing how this imaginative (and creatively disparate) stable of writers and directors pull together items from the Batman chronology in order to give their show some semblance of order at the last moment possible. Or, to put it another way: Gotham is struggling toward the finish line, and with only a few steps to go, it still has to keep as many balls in the air as possible without tripping on its shoelaces and dying.

Overall Episode Grade: B-

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