I actually had to go back and watch the end of last week’s Gotham again, just to prove to myself that I wasn’t crazy.
I’m not crazy. Last week, Gotham really did end the way I remembered. The Ogre and Barbara Kean, sipping wine in his snazzy murder penthouse. “What’s in there?” she wonders, gesturing towards his secret sexy torture dungeon.
“See for yourself,” the Ogre offers. So she does, and sees, and gasps. He enters a moment later. As they look into each other’s eyes, she flashes a seductive little half-smile.
Given that the Ogre’s a supervillain, that he and Barb spent all episode bonding over their crippled, broken emotions and that his sex dungeon is really 5% sex and 95% violence (a couple of gas masks, a harness on the ceiling, and then wall-to-wall medieval murder implements), the context seemed extremely clear. Barbara has a dark side, and the Ogre’s just unlocked it.
Which is why it was so brain-breaking when “The Anvil or the Hammer” opened without a single trace of that context. Barbara enters and the Ogre’s eating a quiche (the preferred breakfast of serial killers). “Last night at the ball, you talked a good game. But let’s not pretend this isn’t more than what it is,” she informs him. We’re to piece together from this dialogue that all they did was have sex. So the Ogre jams a bag over her head and they slide conveniently into SVU-tier “serial creep” and “helpless female victim” tropes.
I have two questions.
- Why did the Ogre need to put one of those kidnap-victim black bags over Barb’s head? They were already in his apartment, maybe 15 feet from his dungeon.
- Why? Why would you do this, Gotham?
With that quickie-retcon, they’ve ruined everything that made last week’s outing so unique, enticing and otherwise good. Remember, Barbara Keane is nothing but a throwaway comic character, put in situations of peril just to give Gordon extra strain. A Barb with a dark side is a Barb with her own motivations, feelings and genuine importance. A legit comic first. “The Anvil or the Hammer” just gives us the same old boring Barb. She cries, faints and gives up about halfway through the episode.
Perhaps appropriately, around the time the Ogre forced her to pick a murder victim, Erin Richards totally stopped acting. The Ogre murders Barb’s parents. The Ogre holds a knife to her throat. Her throat is lightly slashed as he slumps over. She’s rescued! Large moments, and through all of them Richards just stares at nothing with a slack face. It’s like everyone else is cranking the cop drama to a ten and she’s trying to unfocus her eyes to solve the Magic Eye just off-screen.
The more you think about this, the less sense it makes.
- Why did Gotham devote so much time to this storyline just to bring it to an abrupt close, one episode before the gang-war finale it doesn’t connect to at all?
- Why pick a comic villain as insignificant as the Ogre and a Gotham character as little-liked as Barbara Kean for something this important?
- Who on earth, if a serial killer forced you to pick their next victim, would go MY PARENTS PLEASE MURDER MY PARENTS?
One could continue poking holes in this mess for hours if you really felt like it. But let’s continue to another segment that, in the Gotham tradition, was as wonderfully realized as the Barbara stuff was total crap. I’m talking about the Riddler, who just nailed my absolute best-case-scenario hopes for Gotham when the show was first announced.
Most of Ed Nygma’s cover-up this week was silly. Most of his material throughout the season has been silly. But it’s built a very strong case for who Nygma is as a character – hopeless romantic, socially stunted, puzzle enthusiast, capable of killing and dismembering another human being. Which flows naturally into Nygma forging a going-away note for Ms. Kringle and hiding a secret clue inside.
And just like that, Gotham has created a human and totally believable (but still silly) reason why a guy would commit fiendish crimes, and purposefully reveal incriminating evidence in the form of riddles. It’s amazing, it totally fits and it’s added “regular riddle-crimes” to my Gotham Season Two wishlist.
It’s also impressive given the comic history of the Riddler, which rarely takes the time to explain why he riddles. At best, it’s a disorder/coping mechanism for some kind of trauma, which is an easy out.
The very first Riddler, introduced in 1948’s “Detective Comics #140,” just liked riddles a whole bunch. As created by writer Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang, Edward Nygma (sometimes Nigma, sometimes Nashton) was a schoolboy with a particular fondness for jigsaw puzzles (also a schoolboy with the face of a 45 year old). Riddler grew in reputation as a puzzle-master, partly for his skill and partly because he would just cheat anyway.
As an adult, he realized his puzzle smarts could apply to crime, and he started staging robberies with obvious clues in the form of puzzles (of course, as a cheater, the puzzles were always rigged with red herrings to throw off Batman). But by the end of “Detective Comics #140,” Batman wised up and solved Riddler’s final, corn-themed puzzle, just in time to stop the supervillain.
Riddler was never that popular until the Adam West Batman TV series, where Frank Gorshin’s suave, gigglingly manic performance made him a Batman heavyweight (Gorshin’s green question mark suit quickly became a standard costume, replacing comic Riddler’s full-body spandex). And just two months after Batman debuted, DC gave Riddler some extra backstory oomph in 1966’s “Batman #179.” In “The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler,” Nygma understands that leaving clues to his daring heists makes it so easy for Batman to catch him. He tries to stop. He can’t. His clue-riddling is compulsive, it turns out! Even when he thinks he’s going riddle-less, the Riddler subconsciously leaves an envelope, a map of Minnesota and a honeysuckle plant behind during his latest crime spree. And we can all figure out what crime those three point to. Duh.
An arc in “Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight” (issues 185–189) would go on to blame Riddler’s compulsive puzzling as a product of child abuse. Writer Paul Dini (also the guy responsible for every great ’90s DC cartoon) conked Riddler on the head with a mace and put him in a coma. When he woke up, his compulsion was cured, turning him into a kind of crime-solving antihero. Although that’s not the case anymore – in the current continuity, he’s back to evil.
Riddler aside, the other half of “The Anvil or the Hammer” was more about setup than payoff. Although you’d have thought Bruce telling Alfred about Reg’s death would have more impact than it did. They kinda glossed right over it to discuss Thomas Wayne maybe-kinda being corrupt. And that doesn’t seem likely, not when Alfred and Lucius Fox (new addition Chris Chalk, who’ll hopefully get more than just that one scene) both strongly hint that Thomas’ corruption was just a cover for something secret and heroic. The previews make that secret seem like a Batcave. It’s not a Batcave, is it? That’s completely insane. And not entirely out of character for Gotham.
We’ve got that, and hopefully more coming from Bunderslaw next week. At least, I hope so. Michael Potts was Brother Mouzoune on The Wire. He was in “The Book of Mormon.” He’s good with crazy. Give him some crazy, Gotham.
At least I have high hopes for the Penguin’s mob play, if only because Maroni’s slow-motion hit squad was a pretty gorgeous piece of work (also, this promo pic hints at greatness). Ideally, we’ll actually see something decisive happen in Gotham’s mob world- someone major gets whacked, Penguin climbs a few ladder rungs. But ideally, the finale would also be free of Fish Mooney, and the previews have shown that’s not the case.
I don’t think for a second that Gotham can pull out of this season with something profoundly satisfying. But I do think it can end with something profoundly weird. Go ahead, Gotham. I dare you.