Gotham Review: 'The Anvil or the Hammer'

Tuesday, 28 April 2015 - 10:23AM
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Tuesday, 28 April 2015 - 10:23AM
Gotham Review: 'The Anvil or the Hammer'
The title of this episode cracks me up. "The Anvil or the Hammer"? How about both, because you will need both to hit yourself over the head before the show's terrible writing has a chance to. This episode not only typified all of Gotham's worst impulses, but it missed opportunities at every turn, failing to follow through on even the most basic storytelling conventions. The Riddler's murder storyline played out in a low-stakes, contrived way, the Ogre was wasted on an anticlimactic departure, and after that huge climactic prison escape that happened a thousand years ago, Fish was still nowhere to be found. But they introduced Lucius Fox, so there's that.

The Ogre and the Damsel



The most egregious missed opportunity this week was the relationship between Jason and Barbara. Last week, it seemed that Gotham was finally diverging from the "Barbara is always a victim because women are stupid" trope by making her complicit with the Ogre. Although they hit us over the head with it in true Gotham fashion, it was still interesting to see that Jason felt a kinship with Barbara, that he could really be himself with her, a relationship which seemed to be confirmed and deepened when Barbara wasn't scared off by his Christian Grey-style Room of Pain. And yes, accepting S&M tendencies is a far cry from accepting serial killer tendencies, but it still would have been fascinating to see Jason slowly induct Barbara into his world. And since Barbara has been terribly and inconsistently written so far, they probably could have gotten the audience to believe that she would get on board. Because let's face it: there's nothing else to do with this character but make her a villain.

Instead, they undo all of the work they did in the previous episode in one fell swoop by having her revert to typical "damsel in distress" mode within five minutes. Even putting sexism aside, this is just plain boring, as we've seen it a million times before. But even then, they still could have developed the relationship between Jason and Barbara, made the audience understand that she has Stockholm Syndrome, and shown a believable descent into villainy. They sort of tried to do this, but it was horrendously executed. Barbara presumably ordered the Ogre to kill her parents, but what were her motivations? Was it just to save herself? Did she have deep-seated resentment towards her parents? We don't see them die, so we don't even get to see if she secretly enjoys death and murder. Instead, she just went catatonic, and no one cared, not even Jim.

And then they killed the Ogre off, in the most anti-climactic way possible. The Ogre, and particularly Milo Ventimiglia's portrayal, was the best thing to happen to Gotham in a while (and I'm not just saying that as a Jess Mariano fan), and he was wasted on this stupid Barbara plotline and a cheap death. So it goes.

The GCPD is worse than Miami Metro



The pacing on Gotham leaves a lot to be desired. After waiting for so long for Riddler to finally go full-on villain, that murder last week should have spurred some real action in this plotline, especially since the season is coming to an end. But instead, much like the Fish prison escape, the writers just sort of threw up their hands and said "Now what?" Unlike Fish, he actually appears in the episode, but the plot doesn't move forward at all. 

Not to mention that the little that does happen makes the GCPD look worse than Miami Metro. Nygma carries a suitcase full of body parts through the police station and no one thinks anything is amiss? Really? 

And speaking of terrible police work, Jim Gordon channeled Elliot Stabler and physically intimidated a witness. In the vein of missed opportunities, this could have been an indicator that he's allowing the corruption of Gotham and the GCPD to seep into his moral fiber. But instead, we're supposed to shrug it off because Barbara was in danger, which is tired. Everyone is someone's daughter, son, sister, husband, etc. It may be understandable that Gordon loses sight of his principles when a "loved one" is in danger (albeit one he doesn't care much about), but that doesn't mean he gets a free pass.

The Sins of the Father



Aside from the introduction of Lucius Fox, the most notable event in Bruce's storyline was the revelation that his father may have been aware of Wayne Enterprises' criminal activities. This would have been a much more devastating reveal earlier in the season, when the writers still had momentum on the Waynes' murder and the notion that the Waynes were some kind of moral paragon in Gotham. But we've hardly thought about the Waynes all season, to the point that I often need to remind myself that we still don't know who killed them, and are still supposed to care. At some point, this season lost sight of what its main emotional thrust was going to be, and now it's just floundering.

Penguin paves a path to the finale



The resolution to Penguin's scheming in this episode, in which he essentially tricks Falcone and Maroni into going to war against each other while he sits back and laughs, was perfectly satisfying, and it gave me hope that something might actually happen in the season finale. But the cat-and-mouse game has rapidly lost steam over the back half of the season, and we've seen these double-crosses so many times they don't really have any stakes anymore. Again, it's a pacing problem, as Penguin's ascent to power gained momentum too early, and then slowed down, so now his inevitable takeover will be anticlimactic.

Afterthoughts

-It was fairly offensive that Gotham used sexual fetishes as a "hilarious" punchline, especially considering that they are already associating S&M preferences with serial killers. I'm past expecting sensitivity at this point, but still.

-Similarly, the "I'm a hooker and he's a rich man" line was probably more poignant than the writers intended. I wouldn't expect them to explore this power dynamic in a thoughtful way, but it represents yet another missed opportunity.

-I'm glad that the Gordon/Leslie/Barbara triangle doesn't seem to be coming back in full force, as Gordon really doesn't seem to care about Barbara.

-But that being said, he was engaged to her very recently. When he "doesn't even think of Barbara" in regards to the Ogre coming after his loved ones, that doesn't make him a loyal boyfriend to Leslie, it makes him an idiot.

-Jada Pinkett-Smith won't return for Gotham's second season, so get ready for her to go out with a bang. (A bang that would have reverberated much more loudly if she hadn't been absent for the last few episodes, but whatever.)
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