Guys, I’m worried that I have been instantly Stockholm Syndromed by Gotham, much as the evil Ogre did to our non-beloved Barbara Kean. Because I actually kind of liked “The Anvil or the Hammer” — or at least parts of it. The insane parts, specifically.
Please don’t mistake me for thinking this was a good episode. It wasn’t. The writing and plotting was just as bad as it has been, but at least occasionally this time it was entertainingly bad. For instance, there’s nothing super-positive I can say about the show’s decision to string out the meager Ogre storyline to three full episodes. However, I did appreciate several things about this week’s installment. For instance, I enjoyed that the search for the Ogre required Bullock to infiltrate a sex club straight out of Frank Miller’s troubled imagination, which had to be sanitized for primetime Fox audiences. The end result was that it included a dude wearing nothing but a bunny mask and a diaper getting publicly spanked. [Correction: He was being fed milk, not spanked. My apologies for the error, and the fact this scene happened at all.]
Now, as you’ll recall last episode, the Ogre brought Barbara to his sex dungeon and we saw a smile creep across her face. Was the psychologically broken Barbara going to embrace evil and become a villainess?! Alas, no. She’s just into kinky sex (and good for her). Unfortunately, the next morning the Ogre pulls his “stay or I will kill you” routine, and Babs has a pretty normal reaction to discovering she just slept with a psychopath.
I was worried that Barbara would just be another damsel-in-distress, but here’s where Gotham threw me a curveball. Barbara initially resists him, but eventually the Ogre gives her an ultimatum — name someone for him to kill, or he’ll kill her. Barbara whispers a name to him. Gordon would seem to be the target, but as it’s shortly revealed, Barbara actually told him to kill her parents — her terrible, terrible parents who appeared for 30 seconds for one episode like three months ago, and who crapped on their emotionally vulnerable daughter the minute she asked if she could stay with them for a while. Do you know what that means? It means one of Barbara’s countless scenes of being abandoned by every single person in her life actually paid off.
And that’s not even the best part! The best part is that the Ogre has transformed Barbara into a willing prisoner, one who tells Jim “Just leave us alone!” even as the Ogre has a knife to her throat in their eventual stand-off. Barbara, who admittedly has never been the emotionally strongest character even at the beginning of the series — when she had a romantic partner, a job, dignity, a sense of self-worth — has somehow gotten Stockholm Syndrome in less than 24 hours with her captor, and a decent chunk of that was before he revealed he was a murderer, and they were merely having consensual sex together. Good writing? Absolutely not. Entertaining? Yes, I thought so.
While the show’s other disparate storylines continued to remain stubbornly unconnected, either by plot or by theme, there were a few pleasant surprises here, too.
• Penguin starts a gang war between Maroni and Falcone by hiring Falcone’s #1 gunmen to stop by Maroni’s favorite restaurant (which Penguin bought last episode) after hiding guns in there. The twist that the Penguin removed the firing pens from the guns so the gunmen would get killed and Falcone would be blamed is standard Gotham silliness (the Penguin works for Falcone, and Maroni hates Penguin anyways. Why on Earth does Cobblepot think this feint will somehow keep him off the hook?) but it appears the long, long, long-simmering gang stuff is finally going to actually get somewhere, so that’s nice.
• Bruce’s elaborate charade with Bunderslaw’s safe key is meaningless, in Gotham’s other standard. Bunderslaw knew Bruce was coming, and tells him that his father knew about Wayne Enterprises’ shady dealings and was okay with it. However, Bruce meets a young employee named Lucius Fox who hints that Wayne Sr. might have only been playing along. I don’t see this going anywhere the comics haven’t covered ad nauseum, but seeing TV’s young Bruce grapple with the idea that his father might not be a saint has a lot of potential drama, even if Gotham doesn’t choose to use it.
• And last but shockingly not least, the Riddler proved to be interesting for the second week in a row! He continues to show absolutely no remorse about murdering Dougherty, and has suddenly transformed from one-dimensional nerd-in-would-be-shining-armor to a somewhat compelling villain. He has zero compunction about hacking up Dougherty’s body, stuffing it in two hilariously huge suitcases and bringing them to GCPD (which is absurd, but a very Gotham-appropriate move) to dispose of it. He even happily smashes Dougherty’s skull in with a hammer so it’s harder to identify. Best of all, he pens a letter to Ms. Kringle, pretending to be Dougherty and saying he’s leaving town — a note in which Nygma hides his name as the first letter of each sentence. It’s not shockingly clever, but it actually serves as the first clue given by a man who would later become a villain obsessed with leaving clues for people to catch him, and it’s actually interesting! Seriously!
Next week is Gotham’s season one finale, so I’m going to take this episode’s increased craziness as a good sign. If nothing else, the show has spent so much time dawdling with its myriad plot lines that the finale should be action-packed. So even if it isn’t good, per se, it still has a damned decent chance of being entertaining. I’ll take it.
- So I thought this last time, but this episode confirmed it: The Ogre’s sex room had a lot of weapons in it — weapons like axes. I’m pretty sure someone at the show took the phrase “sex dungeon” way too literally. That said, if any of you consenting adults use giant axes in your sex play, my apologies.
- I’ve got to admit, I got a little thrill when Lucius Fox popped up. I think that’s because Gotham introduced him casually and didn’t force a big, goofy episode around him. I hope he continues to show up.
- Kid or not, I feel like Bruce should have full access to Wayne Enterprises any time he damn well pleases.
- Oh! Bruce confesses to Alfred that Selina killed Reggie, and Alfred could not care less about the murder of his close friend. He’s infinitely more concerned about the Bunderslaw/safe nonsense at Wayne Enterprises. Seriously, you guys, Dexter had more empathy for his victims than Gotham’s Alfred does for… well, anybody other than Bruce.
- Adventures in Gotham writers failing to understand how human beings speak: “She’s as safe as milk.”
- More adventures in Gotham writers failing to understand how human beings speak: “HEY, JERKO.”
- Adventures in Gotham lines that genuinely made me laugh:
Nygma: “Sometimes with men you need to read between the lines.”
Ms. Kringle: “Sometimes with men you need a drink.”
- Gordon continues to wave the crappy drawing of a generic white dude from 10 years ago around, and people somehow still immediately recognize it as Milo Ventimiglia. I made my wife, who was not watching the show but knows Milo from Gilmore Girls, look at the drawing and tell me who she thought it looked like. Her answer: “Maybe Ben McKenzie? But that may just be because he’s holding the drawing.”
- So that shot of the fireplace revealing a secret something-or-other in Stately Wayne Manor that was in the “Next Week On” preview? It was in last week’s preview, too. I’m calling it right now: This is the final shot of next week’s season finale, which ends with Bruce and Alfred looking down the secret passage, but not revealing what’s in it — exactly like the hatch in the Lost season one finale. I’d love to be wrong, but I don’t think I am.