Gotham Season 1, Episode 21: ‘The Anvil or the Hammer’
Written by Jordan Harper
Directed by Paul Edwards
Aired Mondays at 8pm (ET) on FOX
The penultimate episode of Gotham superbly closes the Ogre arc and sets the table for what appears to be an exciting, grand season finale. The last couple of episodes have shown Gordon shaken and dead set on taking down the serial killer the Ogre, as he has threatened to victimize his loved one. The discovery that the loved one in question is his former fiancé only makes him more resolute in his undertaking. This episode does an excellent job at showing how determined Gordon is and the wear it takes on him, with Leslie and Bullock reminding him that he needs to take a break before he burns out, but Gordon doesn’t let up. Ben McKenzie is in top form in this episode, as he plays Gordon’s escalating fatigue subtly through his desperation. Gordon goes from violently interrogating a witness to aggressively asking a favor of the Penguin to, when he faces the Ogre, gunning him down. The resolution of Gordon’s arc in this episode is also very satisfying, although it oddly draws no conflict from Barbara’s return, because Gordon says that he wouldn’t have changed a thing. This is good, because it means that Barbara will not disrupt the Gordon/Leslie relationship…at least for now.
Meanwhile, on the Penguin side of things, there is a very good turn happening, as it is revealed that the plan that was set into motion to kill Sal Maroni is not exactly to be taken at face value. It’s hard to tell at times when the Penguin is being calculatingly clever or when he’s being arrogantly foolish, but that may be part of his genius. At one time, he’s acting on the heat of the moment to murder a messenger, and at another time, he’s setting up the pieces for a masterful manipulation to pit his two greatest enemies against one another. It’s this strange dichotomy that makes the Penguin a fascinating character, and Robin Lord Taylor portrays the madness and wickedness of the character very well.
There are some very promising developments rousing in both Bruce Wayne’s story and that of Ed Nygma in this episode as well. Bruce is discovering things about his parents that will inform his investigation into their murder, and Nygma is displaying traits of his more maniacal side as he continues to walk a very questionable path.
“The Anvil or the Hammer” is a very dark episode in many ways, particularly in the Barbara story, with rising tension that is going to hit the boiling point, as set up in the closing moments of this episode, in a truly eventful season finale. There is so much to look forward to, including the return of Fish and the effect she will have in the gang war between Falcone and Maroni, Gordon confronting Loeb again, and Bruce furthering his investigation into Wayne Enterprises.
Bruce has been struggling with the guilt of lying to Alfred about Reggie’s death and what he learned about the Wayne Enterprises Board members for the last couple of episodes now, and as Bruce learns more truths, he is overwhelmed and finally confesses everything he’s been holding back to Alfred. It’s good that Bruce has revealed the truth to Alfred, because now he can be part of the investigation again, and not be undermined by Bruce’s lies. The confession scene with Alfred is very well performed by David Mazouz, conveying all the emotions of confusion, anger and guilt he’s been feeling with what he’s learned, and Sean Pertwee gives a sturdy performance as well.
Bruce is also faced with Sid Bunderslaw, who had been expecting him to show up to peek into his safe. This is a wonderful turn of events, as it proves that the silliness of two kids pulling one over on a dubious adult is not one of merit on Gotham, at least not this time. Bunderslaw is also a very interesting character. As an evil Board member, he seems very unassuming and almost sweet, offering Bruce a cookie for being a child. From the performance by Michael Potts, it is very possible that he did not truly intend for Alfred to be injured, and that Bunderslaw only did want to have “the Talk” with Bruce. The Talk, of course, is the one that reveals that Wayne Enterprises is a soulless corporate machine willing to sacrifice innocent lives in the pursuit of commercial gain. Could it be that Thomas Wayne was fully aware of the purely corporate goal of Wayne Enterprises?
The answer may be more complicated, and the reason to question it is because of our introduction to Junior Executive Lucius Fox. What we learn from Lucius is simply that Thomas Wayne had secrets. This opens the door for a possibility that Thomas was working towards changing the corporate pattern for the better, with the aid of Lucius. It’s really interesting how secretively Lucius speaks to Bruce, as well as his technical efficiency with surveillance equipment. There is not too much with Lucius in this episode, but what we do get is very promising, including the characterization from Chris Chalk that will hopefully develop further in future episodes.
There is not too much development to Ed Nygma, although there are more characteristics of his Riddler identity being revealed here, which is kind of fun. Nygma doesn’t appear to be phased by having murdered Detective Dougherty, as he disposes the body, although we do watch him as he goes through his process of covering his tracks, which he is oddly adept at. What will be interesting to see is what his next evolutionary jump will be to take him further down the path to becoming the Riddler. In this episode though, the moments we share with Nygma are on the side of the lighthearted, and are entertainingly performed by Cory Michael Smith.
The Case File: The Foxglove Club
The investigation this week centers on uncovering information about the Ogre by learning more about a secret club called the Foxglove, in order to find the missing Barbara Keane. The investigation flows well enough, having Gordon cross over into the Penguin’s narrative at one point in order to ask for yet another favor. When will Penguin cash in and what will he ask Gordon to do? We may have to wait until next season for the answer. It’s good that they give Bullock a solo assignment, although it is very brief, as he’s tasked to dress up formal and dapper as a john to infiltrate the club, which one would imagine may’ve given Gordon a few moments to eat, bathe, or sleep, as he really seems to be burning himself out with this missing Barbara case.
Speaking of which, the Ogre storyline really heats up in this episode, with Barbara being the most interesting she’s ever been. The episode begins with Barbara and the Ogre having breakfast, which nicely plays off the information we learned from “Beasts of Prey”, but this time it plays a little different. There is a difference from how he portrayed the Ogre in the earlier episode, as Milo Ventimiglia’s performance here is much warmer as he menaces his captive Erin Richards. There is an arc for Barbara here, as she goes from rebuffing the Ogre’s advances to submitting, and then progressing to spiraling into his psychosis as a way to survive. The psychological damage that must have been caused by her deciding to sell out her parents in order for her to live will certainly weigh heavily on her, and Erin Richards does a fine job at playing crazy in her scenes, telling Gordon to leave her be with the Ogre. Hopefully the writers plan to have this incident resonate with Barbara, and maybe have some important repercussions to her overall story to come.
The episode is written by first time credit on Gotham and another former writer from The Mentalist writer’s room, Jordan Harper. The script is very well handled, with plot threads that connect and parallels that give off exposition without seeming too obvious, which allows it to work even as a standalone episode. There are a fair amount of conversational scenes that are very compellingly written, and are elevated by the direction and fine performances. Paul Edwards’ direction falls in line with the aesthetic of Gotham very well, and is enhanced by his interesting camera blocking and staging. The actors are purposefully posed, which gives them a very comic book like composition which is held in certain scenes, such as in the Ogre’s dungeon room. After he smacks Barbara, he maintains his pose very calculatingly, and Barbara is forced into the foreground, creating a sense of depth. Also, all of the music is very well chosen, creating the appropriate mood to go along with each scene, such as when Slim Gaillard’s “Don’t Let Us Say Goodbye” is heard on the record player, which makes the scene all the more creepier. In the end, the use of The The’s “Boiling Point” really builds up the rising tension of the shooting war between Maroni and Falcone, which culminates on the final shot of The Penguin smiling triumphantly in an incredible low angle shot.
- “No body. No crime.”- Ed Nygma’s strange mantra.
- What was happening on the stage of that Foxglove club show? Sounds like it may’ve been the deviant performance act that was addressed in Clerks 2.
- The scene where Barbara passes out from realizing how many girls the Ogre has killed in his dungeon was a bit funny, but became ultimately disturbing when they cut to her on the floor convulsing. This show gets pretty dark sometimes. I guess one must have a sense of humor to endure the grimness.
- Bunderslaw’s mention of Thomas Wayne’s Secret Files must be a reference to a DC Comics showcase series called Secret Files and Origins, which often were origins tales and profiles.
- “Sometimes with men, you need a drink!” –Kristin Kringle
- “You owe me a big favor!” –Penguin to Gordon. I really wonder what favor he’s going to ask for. It better be good.