Gotham - Season 1 Episode 21

Gotham Episode 1.21 Recap

Only one episode of Gotham’s first season remains, and thank god it won’t have anything to do with The Ogre. “The Anvil or the Hammer” marks the final episode in a three part event arc focused on a serial rapist, remarkably making up the series’ lowest point. The previous two episodes were downright offensive, highlighting some of the worst tendencies of modern TV, and this week’s conclusion to the Ogre arc wins points simply by ensuring next week’s season finale will be completely unrelated to Gotham’s worst plotline yet (yes, even worse than the Colm Feore surgery island arc).

It’s baffling to me that Gotham spent three entire episodes focused on the Ogre, threatening to kill off Barbara Keane, only to end up with absolutely nothing to show for it. The Ogre entered the show violently, spewed threats at women for three hours, killed Barbara’s parents for some reason, and then got shot in the head. He offered no thematic value, caused zero character development, and kind of just gave Gordon and Bullock something to do while the Penguin and Riddler set the stage for what is shaping up to be an entertaining finale.

This week, Jim Gordon continues his frantic search for The Ogre, hoping to save the life of his ex-lover Barbara Keane. His scramble leads him further into favour-debt with the Penguin, sends a besuited Bullock to a fetish club shakedown, and brings both of the detectives to Keane manor, but not in time to save the lives of Barb’s parents and their butler.

There’s not much to say about the procedure of it all other than that Donal Logue is handsome in a suit, and that the Ogre is a gross and boring villain. I’m glad he’s dead, and that should be sign of his weakness as a character. Batman villains are among the most epic of pop culture’s evil doers, and despite their despicable deeds are dearly loved by fans to a point of narrative invincibility. They are myths that cannot die, but the Ogre is just some fucking guy.

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Ogre’s failure to live up to the standards of his villainous peers stands out even more with Gotham’s first bullseye since The Electrocutioner episode: Ed Nygma made his first evil riddle. Sure, it was an acrostic poem, but it was so on-brand I can forgive its simplicity.

In “The Anvil or the Hammer”, Ed Nygma disposes of his first victim’s remains, dissolving body parts in the GCPD crime lab sink with the application of some kind of chemical solvent. No body, no crime, he tells himself, later forging a goodbye note from his victim to shared love interest Kristen Kringle. The first letter of every line spells out his last name.

The softball nature of an acrostic poem signature  speaks volumes about Riddler’s pathos. Nygma leaves clues compulsively. He is a proud person and deep down inside wants to be caught. There is a clear thrill he gets from literally spelling out his confession, and part of that is because Cory Michael Smith plays Ed with such compassion. The Riddler’s pride is that of a man who broke the rules, but knows he did the right thing even if people of lesser intellectual powers can’t see that.

Riddler’s becoming is so satisfying because Cory Michael Smith has been acting the hell out of his role all season long. In contrast to the Ogre plotline, Smith’s performance in “The Anvil or the Hammer” is bittersweet: it’s a reminder that Gotham has the capacity to be a fun superhero show, but left me wishing Nygma got a full episode to himself for this important life moment.

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Speaking of important milestones on the path to going crazy, Bruce Wayne took some big steps toward his inner batcave this week. The little bat boy confessed to his involvement in Reginald Payne’s murder, infiltrated Wayne Enterprises, met Lucius Fox (!), and put his dad on the bulletin board of corruption. It’s like Nancy Drew with Batman fan service, and it works, even if  Bruce’s failure to gain any substantial leverage against his corporate enemies set a deliberately slow pace at which we can expect to learn any big pieces of Gotham’s Wayne Enterprises mythology.

Of course, a 22 episode season needs to be padded out. That is a lot of serialized high concept drama for a writers room to come up with, and any hour long show forced into that kind of outdated episode order is bound to suffer as much as Gotham has. Thankfully, with the death of The Ogre, Gotham is free to make good on the mob war it has been teasing since the very first episode.

Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin, the unofficial lead character of Gotham, has followed a compelling origin story throughout season one. Though it may have lagged at times, Penguin’s rise from Fish Mooney’s umbrella holder to would-be mob king of Gotham City is what this show’s first season will be remembered for.

“The Anvil of the Hammer” sees Penguin pull the pin on his grand scheme. Having taken painstaking measures to intentionally botch an assassination attempt on Sal Maroni in the name of Carmine Falcone, Cobblepot has incited criminal chaos throughout the city. Finally. If this had happened at epsiode 16, I think Gotham would have been a success. As it is, the ending of episode 21 is at least a reason to tune in next week.

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The episode closes with a montage, wiping away the terrible memories of the last few weeks and seving as a reminder of what Gotham is great at: ridiculous crime drama featuring legendary characters. Bruce pins a picture of his father to his board of enemies, Falcone receives a human head in the mail, Marone and his goons start wrecking shit, Captain Sarah Essen of the GCPD announces to the force that a shooting war has begun. Penguin, sitting in the Iceberg Lounge (can we call it that yet?), laughs as I walk over to my calendar and write under May 4, “Same bat-time, same bat-channel.”

Utility Belt:

– Judging by the offscreen pig squealing, the Foxglove was hosting a screening of the first episode of Black Mirror right before Bullock instigated the sex club shakedown.

-So, it turns out Barbara’s excitement upon seeing The Ogre’s sky-dungeon was indicating her interest in axe play.

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-I would like to see a supercut of The Ogre episodes that squeeze it into 45 minutes. I have a feeling that would fix a lot of the major problems plaguing the past three weeks of Gotham.

-What would you like to see in next week’s finale? I’m interested to see how the writers shoehorn in Fish Mooney’s inevitable return via helicopter.

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