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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Gotham: “The Anvil Or The Hammer”

Erin Richards, Mile Ventimiglia
Erin Richards, Mile Ventimiglia
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The manhunt for the Ogre, spread across three episodes, is the best thing Gotham has done for a number of reasons (stay with me). For starters, the Ogre is the only villain who’s felt fully realized. The lineup of Gotham baddies is a collection of cartoon characters that are at odds with the more realistic, pseudo-gritty tone the show takes with its crime investigations. The Ogre stands out not only because Milo Ventimiglia has been good at playing a creep since Gilmore Girls, but because there’s some motivation and history behind his character. He’s a rich man who can’t find love, and while the show doesn’t give us quite enough backstory to understand why he’s murderous, his decade-long spree of killings infuses Gotham with a sense of history, something that’s been sorely lacking since the premiere.

Furthermore, the reveal that Loeb strapped Gordon with the Ogre case because of the killer’s history of making victims out of the loved ones of any cop who investigates him adds a layer to the story of Gotham, explicitly showing the city’s pervasive corruption, something that’s always been tucked away in a pile of exposition. The case of the Ogre, which comes to a close with the season’s penultimate episode, “The Anvil Or The Hammer,” deepens the story of Gotham, and thus, the story of Gordon.


In fact, much of “The Anvil Or The Hammer” signals a way forward for Gotham, giving us moments that prove this show can be more than a lackluster procedural. The multi-episode arc of the Ogre is the most obvious strength here. It proves that Gotham is better off without it’s case-of-the-week structure, instead choosing to focus on a long-term narrative, rolling out storylines that have consequences in the future and allow the characters to experience something resembling growth.

Unfortunately, the Ogre comes too late in the season; as relatively solid as “The Anvil Or The Hammer” is, its impact is lessened by the fact that it feels disconnected from the rest of the season. Barbara’s sudden inclusion in the murderous plot of the Ogre, after having been absent from most of the season, is representative of that disconnect. Throughout the episode, Barbara is in peril, both frightened by the Ogre’s violence and, by the end, perhaps sucked into his world by his charm. That’s a story that has potential to work–it gives Gordon a reason (now matter how gender reductive that reason is) to track down the Ogre, to evaluate the consequences of his choice to fight corruption in Gotham, and establishes a wedge in his romance with Dr. Thompkins. Barbara hasn’t been an on-screen presence for most of the season though, and her character has amounted to nothing more than a perpetual screw-up who Gordon once had feelings for but then forgot about. She’s been disposable since the very beginning; making her the center of Gordon’s manhunt drains the storyline of almost all of its emotional and dramatic tension.

The same can be said of the mob storyline, which finally comes to a head here. The intertwining stories of Maroni, Falcone, and Cobblepot–and once, long ago, Fish Mooney–and their struggle for control of the criminal enterprises of Gotham were, early on in the series, some of the most promising and engaging parts of the show, partly because they were the grittiest parts of those episodes, a solid foundation to build on while the rest of the show was finding its footing. With “The Anvil Or The Hammer,” Cobblepot’s long-gestating plan finally comes to fruition. He sets up Falcone’s goons for a hit on Maroni, never intending to have Maroni killed (as the goons believe), but rather ignite a war between the two bosses, leaving Cobblepot free to rise to the top after the dust has settled.

It’s a rewarding payoff, one that would have been even more effective had their not been multiple episodes (and Edward Nygma storylines) that forced the story to the backburner. Watching Cobblepot’s plan come together is delightful due to its simplicity and its implications for the future of the crime underworld of Gotham, but it feels like an afterthought, as much of the mob power struggle was delegated to the season’s earliest episodes.


“The Anvil Or The Hammer” as a whole feels out of place, a solid episode tucked away at the end of the season but with its roots in the earliest episodes. While this is conjecture, it’s hard not to see this disconnection, this lack of continuity, as the unfortunate byproduct of the series’ extension to 22 episodes. Six extra episodes would certainly account for the needless filler in the back half of the season that left storylines floating in limbo while forgettable villains made Jim Gordon scowl from one week to the next.

But, getting back to the idea that “The Anvil Or The Hammer” signals a way forward for the show: this is an episode that finds dramatic stakes in its mob power struggle while using the manhunt for the Ogre and Bruce’s revelation about the blatant criminal activities of Wayne Enterprises to tease out the complexities of Gotham’s political and class structure. That’s something to hold on to, but with only one episode left in the season, it might be a case of too little too late for Gotham.


Stray observations:

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: Harvey has seen every cop movie there is and knows how to turn a blind eye to Gordon’s forceful interrogation techniques. “I think I saw some donuts outside with my name all over them.”
  • I can’t even begin to fathom why Nygma has been getting so much screen time. His murder of Mrs. Kringle’s boyfriend feels completely inconsequential. It’s another instance of Gotham spreading itself too thin.
  • Who wants to take a trip to the Fox Glove? Seems like a swanky place.
  • Hey, it’s Lucius Fox! He’s a Batman canon character that you all know and love, right?!? Well, there he is, doing things, saying words. Did I mention he’s a Batman canon character?!?
  • Gotham is possibly the most exposition-riddled show on TV. This conversation, which takes place after the Ogre calls the detectives while in possession of Barbara, deserves to be typed out word for word because it’s that horrendous: Gordon: “He was driving.” Bullock: “To Tahiti, if he’s smart.” Gordon: “There was a noise…a thumping…like he was going over a bridge.” Bullock: “You know, I heard a horn. Like, a train horn.” Gordon: “Okay, so which bridge has a train?” Bullock: “Ummm…damn…White Cross. But that’s the upstate train.” Gordon: “Upstate. That’s where her parents live.” I may have screamed at my screener at this point.
  • See you all next week for the season finale!

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