'Gotham' Recap: Stupor Heroes

Season's penultimate episode serves up one head-slapping storyline after another

Milo Ventimiglia and Erin Richards in 'Gotham.' Credit: Jessica Miglio/FOX

They beat information out of prisoners. They protect cold-blooded killers from the law. They swear to execute their enemies and do it without thinking twice. And they're the good guys. Tonight's episode of Gotham, "The Anvil or the Hammer," pulled off the impossible: It made its main characters even harder to root for, for reasons even more impenetrable than usual.

Problem number one: It messed around with Jim. (Did nobody in the writers' room consult the Jim Croce song before penning the script?) Even though he's painted as the One Good Cop who's going to clean up the GCPD, the supposedly squeaky-clean Detective Gordon spends most of the hour assaulting informants, threatening the Penguin, and vowing to kill the Ogre rather than arrest him — a promise he keeps without losing sleep. All of this is presented by the show as hardcore and heroic, instead of, you know, a gross abuse of police power. Cue up an episode of Daredevil on Netflix at random and you'll see proof that the superhero genre can tackle the issue of extrajudicial violence with nuance and moral integrity. What's Gotham's excuse?

And it's not like young Master Bruce comes off any better. Though he eventually comes clean to Alfred about his involvement in the death of his butler's pal, it's not like he calls the cops on Selina Kyle — which makes "covering up a murder" part of Batman's official backstory in this version. Worse, the future Catwoman killed the guy to protect her little pal from Bunderslaw, the crooked Wayne Enterprises executive, but it turns out the sinister suit has no interest whatsoever in executing the heir to the family fortune. It's death for no reason, in other words. Plus where does this kid get off judging his dead father for knowing about the company's crimes and doing nothing, when he's doing the exact same thing?

It could be worse for Bruce, of course: He could be female. If that were the case, he might have spent the episode dangling from bondage gear like Barbara Keane. (Hey, kids! Enjoying your superhero show?) Gordon's ex endures a host of indignities this episode. First, we discover that she reacted to being shown the Ogre's murder room by boinking his brains out all night. Then, when she sees his photo album of past victims, she faints like a silent-movie damsel in distress. Yet somehow this is preferable to what she does when he stabs her parents to death in front of her serial-killer friend: silently stare, eyes wide, blank as a Barbie doll. The down-and-dirtiest exploitation trash gives its women-in-peril more agency than that.

Jimbo's current girlfriend, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, has it even worse. On the docket for the good doctor this week: Nagging her badass beau to get some sleep and eat a sandwich, congratulating him for blowing her off in order to shoot someone to death, then apologizing for how wrong she was to stand in the way of his hero's journey. "I would never try to change you, Jim." God forbid! The sexism here is staggering, and every minute Morena Baccarin wastes in this role is a minor tragedy. Who'd have thought she'd depart the slowly sinking ship that is Homeland for an even more thankless gig?

At least Harvey Bullock gets to dress up nice for his ignominious adventure tonight. The grizzled vet un-grizzles himself for a visit to the Foxglove, a supposedly swanky sex club that plays Suicide songs about Marvel Comics characters on its sound system — thank God it wasn't "Frankie Teardrop," or things would have gotten really weird — for the entertainment of a clientele decked out in fetish gear to a hilariously explicit degree. (When Harvey finally placed everyone under arrest, here's hoping he started with whatever Foley artist decided to add the squealing pig to the mix.) Looking around this Eyes Wide Shut meets the Gimp hellscape, it's hard not to wonder who the target audience is — perverts who thought Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was too intellectual, maybe? Perhaps some mysteries are best left unsolved.

Speaking of baffling storylines, riddle us this: Why would future criminal mastermind Eddie Nygma dispose of a dismembered cop he killed in the officer's own precinct house? And why would he secretly taunt the woman he's ostensibly protecting by leaving a clue to his own guilt in the Dear Jane letter he forged to throw her off the scent? You kind of have to be a Riddler-level supergenius to unravel that one.

The Penguin's plan makes marginally more sense. Deliberately staging a botched hit on Don Maroni and pinning it on Don Falcone in order to be the last creep standing is a reasonably clever gambit. But it requires its mark not to question why an opponent would send a well-known hitman to deliver a gift. Or, for that matter, that said assassin never getting the chance to explain the ruse before being rubbed out. It just so happens things work out that way, because that’s what the story requires. Right.

God help us, it's all enough to make you miss Fish Mooney. No doubt she'll be back for next week’s season-ending scenery-chewing contest, vying for first place against Gordon's growling, Eddie's giggling, and Oswald's…whatever you call what Oswald does. The Falcone-Maroni war should mean a high body count even by Gotham standards. Here's hoping the survivors inherit a better Bat-show to star in by the time the shooting stops.

Previously: Female Trouble