While I’m not sure what it had to do with anvils or hammers beyond its melodramatic title, “The Anvil or the Hammer” was still a pretty exciting and ultimately enjoyable episode—at least until the end, when Gotham remembered that its season finale is next week and so just kind of dropped everything that we’d spent the last three weeks on in order to setup the EPIC CLIMAX WHERE EVERYTHING CHANGES et cetera.
Granted my enjoyment began to waver once I sat back and thought about what actually happened. But “The Anvil or the Hammer” felt packed enough with action, drama, and stakes that as long as I was in the throes of it, I was too enthralled to question anything until the end. So that’s good?
Picking up from last week’s episode, it’s implied that Barbara and the Ogre have some pretty raunchy sex. Good on them. In fact, whatever kink that they got up to really greased the Ogre’s wheel, and he confesses his love for Barbara—and also the fact that he was definitely planning to kill her. But now he’s not, thanks to the darling revelations of S&M. This, understandably, freaks Barbara out, and so he holds her hostage anyway and ultimately threatens to kill her unless she gives him someone else to kill.
Barbara, in an exciting moment of ambiguity and emotional complexity, complies, and whispers a name into the Ogre’s ear…
Gordon, of course, is still investigating the Ogre. He’s more desperate than ever, since he feels responsible for Barbara’s life being in danger. He’s also not really sleeping or eating or taking care of himself, which only serves to further aggravate the whole “Gordon Growls At Things” MO this show has going on. Bullock ends up bringing in some Random Character Witness that Gordon delightfully pummels until the guy gives up the name of a club once frequented by the Ogre.
Unfortunately, the Fox Glove (which is totally definitely absolutely 100% certainly not the club from Eyes Wide Shut) is an underground illicit venture whose location is only known to those with invitations. Gordon turns to Cobblepot once again to secure an invitation to the club, and in turn owns Cobblepot yet another favor (I really hope the smoking gun of Cobblepot’s favors comes to fruition in the finale, but I’m not holding my breath).
Bullock infiltrates the Fox Glove in a nicely tailored suit, which makes him awkwardly overdressed for a sex dungeon party. It’s not long before someone starts raping a pig on stage (or so its implied) (yes, seriously), which is enough to prompt Bullock to show his badge and shut the place down. Bullock and Gordon chat with one of the club’s employees who wears a mask for more than just sexy reasons—she has a big ol’ scar on her face, thanks to one Jason van Groot aka Don Juan Killer Christian Grey Patrick Bateman the Ogre. It turns out that she actually pre-dated his first known victim, which is how she managed to escape. Fortunately, the trauma was such that she still very vividly remembered the glowing marquee letters “O-Y-A-L” which were visible from the Ogre’s penthouse apartment (I guess real estate’s tough in Gotham City when millionaire serial killers can’t even afford to move after a decade, but I digress).
This, of course, leads Bullock and Gordon right to the Ogre’s vacant apartment, which overlooks the sign for the Royal Hotel. But the Ogre is still a few steps ahead of them, and calls Gordon while he’s in the apartment to make some more cryptic threats about Barbara. Lest you thought that the convenient geographic clue of the Royal Hotel sign was weird enough, Gordon succinctly analyzes the background noise from his phone call with the Ogre to figure out the Ogre was driving, on a bridge, near a train track, which means he’s heading upstate (oh, that vague place again) where Barbara’s parents live.
Gordon and Bullock reach Barbara’s parents’ house just in time to find their bloody corpses riddled with stab wounds and cuddling on the couch. Barbara enters, covered in their blood—it seems she’s gone all the way over to the Ogre’s side. She begs Gordon to leave her and the Ogre alone so they can live happily ever after as sociopaths. There’s a tense standoff, with the Ogre holding a knife to Barbara’s throat and threatening to cut if Gordon doesn’t leave. But Bullock manages to get the drop and puts a bullet through the Ogre’s head (although his too-sharp knife still slices Barbara’s neck as he falls, which was kind of unnecessary but also made me squirm).
Did Barbara truly fall off the deep end? After all, she sold out her wealthy parents. Maybe all of Barbara’s abandonment issues are finally paying off on this show? Was Barbara’s frustrating uselessness part of the plan all along? When in the last four hours or so did she suddenly go from hostage to Stockholm Syndrome Sidekick? None of these questions are answered, because Jim Gordon is busy receiving a hero’s welcome back at the Police Station for putting a stop to the Ogre’s reign of terror, and we’re definitely not going to get to it later because there’s a serious mob war going on.
That’s the other thing that happened. Ya know how Penguin was planning to kill Maroni? Turns out that was a bit of a red herring: he actually means to incite a mob war so that Maroni and Falcone take each other out. To accomplish this, he hires one of Falcone’s hitmen to take out Maroni, but secretly removes the firing pins from the guy’s gun so that he fails and Maroni thinks that Falcone was out to get him. It’s exciting, although it’s certainly convoluted. And it’s not like we weren’t expecting there to be a mob war since the first episode, just like we’ve seen the Penguin try to play both sides against the center. But now it’s actually happening! This is classic Gotham falling back on the exact same story beats—only this time, with the season finale ahead, we might get to see some actual progress.
Meanwhile, Bruce heads to Wayne Enterprises for a facilities tour and sneakily pulls the fire alarm so that he can break into Bunderslaw’s (ugh that name) office and use the key that Selina stole to find whatever dirt he can. Unfortunately, Bunderslaw (ugh) was expecting him. He offers Bruce some cookies, then reveals that Thomas Wayne was not the saint that Bruce thought he was, and that every generation of Waynes comes into the business with asltruistic aims and winds up just as filthy as the rest of the corporate crooks. Then he offers Bruce another cookie, and introduces Bruce to Lucius Fox, who is being setup as Bruce’s clandestine corporate ally for Season 2. In private, Lucius suggests that Bruce’s father may not have been as evil and corrupt as Bunderslaw (ugh) was letting on. In a tragic, telling moment, Bruce cuts his father out of a photo of the two of them together, and adds his father’s face to his big Murder Investigation Wall.
Also Bruce totally tells Alfred that Selina Kyle actually murdered Reggie which, um, well, goes over a lot better than you would think would happen if you were a billionaire orphan who just told your butler that the homeless girl you’re crushing on murdered his old army buddy who recently tried to kill him.
And then there’s good ol’ Eddie Nygma, fresh off his first act of homicide. He hacks up the corpse of Officer Dougherty, then lugs it into GCPDHQ in a pair of suitcases so that he can properly dispose of it in the basement—“No body, no murder,” he rationalizes. It’s all suitably creepy, especially his Poor Yorick moment with Dougherty’s skull which he then proceeds to smash with a hammer. In order to cover up Dougherty’s disappearance, he sends a letter to Ms. Kringle claiming to be Dougherty and saying that he had decided to leave town (again: doesn’t hold up when you think about it, but it’s played well enough in the episode that you’re willing to go with it). But what Ms. Kringle doesn’t realize is that the letter is in fact an acrostic poem which spells out “NYGMA.” Oh, Eddie, you adorable sociopathic weirdo. I like this path you’re on!
Nygma tries to prompt Kringle a bit, desiring as he is to get the credit for his actions. “Sometimes with men, you need to read between the lines,” he says. “Sometimes with men, you need a drink,” she answers. This felt like a metaphor for every conversation I have in my head about Gotham in general. “Sometimes with Gotham, you need to read between the lines,” the creative team tells me (instead of showing). “Sometimes with Gotham, I need a drink,” I respond as I reach for the liquor cabinet.
If anything, the action-packed hour of “The Anvil or the Hammer” made me retroactively appreciate Gotham just a tad bit more, as it confirmed my suspicion that this three-episode arc was indeed unnecessarily padded out in an attempt to fill the expanded season order. Even if most of the ending beats were kind of lackluster, the show crammed about an episode-and-a-half worth of other things into the episode. While I probably would have preferred the other two Ogre episodes to have been given their share of meaningful events, it did make “The Anvil or the Hammer” feel suspenseful and consequential (for the most part). In fact, I read a recent interview on CBR in which Executive Producer John Stephens explained:
“We originally thought that we were doing 16 episodes. We had arced out the season in its 16 episodes, so we had to kind of start building things out again. Like we actually weren’t going to do Jonathan Crane this year. When we got those extra six episodes, we did that. We built in the Fish getting kidnapped by the Dollmaker storyline. That had not existed before. We weren’t going to do a Red Hood story. We had not planned on doing the Flying Graysons. […] But this next year, the way the early pick-up has affected our storytelling now is that we’re arcing the whole 22 [episode] season now. So we actually know where we’re going and ending up. So hopefully, it will feel a little less panicked. [Laughs] I doubt that, but…”
Now, I don’t know why I find that comforting, but I do. I’m genuinely intrigued to see where we end up next week at the end of the season—once we know where it’s all going, will we be able to look back and understand the maddening arc that got us there?
Probably not but hey, even this show has its surprises.
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net