Gotham: 1.21 “The Anvil or the Hammer”

Barbara Kean in Detective Comics #500 / DC Comics
Barbara Kean in Detective Comics #500 / DC Comics

I know, a lot happened last night on Gotham, particularly the gang war set up for the finale of this season, but first, let’s talk about a character whose failure to become more than cardboard is indicative of Gotham’s overall failings.

In all her incarnations, Barbara Kean has never come off well. In the 1970s, she didn’t even have a name, she was simply Jim Gordon’s late wife and Barbara Gordon’s mother. She was finally given life by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano in 1981, in the classic “To Kill A Legend” story in Detective Comics #500.  (Brennert complained of receiving no compensation for co-creating Kean when Gotham added her to its list of characters.)

In Batman: Year One, Frank Miller wrote Kean as a long-suffering wife, a pale shade of Detective Sarah Essen, Gordon’s true love. Eventually, the elder Barbara died in a car accident. Sometimes Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon was her daughter, sometimes her niece. More recently, Kean was written as slightly mentally unbalanced due to terrorization by her firstborn, the unhinged Jim Gordon, Jr.

The first reports of Gotham cited Barbara Kean as a doctor, a definite step up in her characterization. I’m not sure what happened to that angle, but instead, we’ve gotten Barbara going from Jim’s supportive girlfriend to drug-addicted girlfriend of Detective Renee Montoya, to passively floating through life, to Selina’s fashion consultant, to outright victim.

Gotham 1.21: The Anvil or the Hammer, Erin Richards as Barbara Kean, Milo Ventimiglia as Christian Grey, the Ogre
With Christian Grey, the Ogre (Milo Ventimiglia), a mind-wiped Barbara Kean (Erin Richards)

None of these portrayals have been the least bit interesting, despite the best efforts of Erin Richards. If the show intended to portray her slow descent into madness, leading up to her snapping when suffering from Stockholm Syndrome at the hands of Christian Grey/Ogre in last night’s episode, it failed. Like most of the characters in Gotham, she’s only surface deep. I had a glimmer of hope last night when Barbara whispered the name of someone she wanted dead to the Ogre. After all, Carmine Falcone had kidnapped and terrorized her and Jim. Sending the Ogre on a collision course with Gotham’s mob boss would have shown of glimmer of intelligence and calculation on Barbara’s part. It would have been interesting.

No, instead, Barbara leads the Ogre to her parents. Barbara—drugged and a captive—isn’t responsible for their deaths but she’s now clearly mentally unbalanced, which lines up with her current portrayal in the comics. I guess that might work, if the show next year showed her post-traumatic stress and had a story built around her struggle to regain her sanity but that would require subtlety and Gotham is nothing if not obvious. I had such hopes for this show, once.

Onto the gang war.

Oswald is back to betraying and killing people again but his plan is shaky, at best. He double-crosses the assassin he hired to kill Maroni, to make Maroni believe Falcone tried to kill him. This sets off a war between Maroni and Falcone. Oswald plans to pick up the pieces after they’re both dead. Bad plan, Oswald, as you’re a Falcone ally and Maroni hates you, so why wouldn’t you be his first stop in the war anyway? But I guess the writers will give you a pass on to make you appear cleverer than you actually are.  Oh, and Jim, desperate to find the kidnapped Barbara, comes to Oswald and threatens him to get information. Oswald complies and insists he’s now owed a big favor. Why Jim would keep his word to Oswald, I have no idea. Why Oswald wouldn’t just have Jim killed at this point, I have no idea.

Bruce continues his own investigation. He also doesn’t have a great plan—breaking into the safe of Wayne Enterprises executive Bunderslaw (great name)—but Bruce is just a kid, after all, and I forgive him. Bunderslaw outmaneuvers Bruce, who finds the safe empty. Bunderslaw then offers Bruce a cookie but Bruce is rescued from this fate by Lucius Fox, not yet grown into Morgan Freeman. At this point, I realized that the scene had both a Cookie and a Lucius in it and wondered exactly what Bruce would make of Cookie and Lucius Lyon from Empire.

Gotham 1.21: The Anvil or the Hammer, Bruce Wayne goes a-burgle-ing
Gotham 1.21: The Anvil or the Hammer, Bruce Wayne goes a-burgle-ing

I also wondered if Bruce knows how to rap. I’m guessing not.

Bruce does eventually confess his and Selina’s role in Reggie’s death to Alfred. Alfred seems to shrug it off, because that’s what you do when your young ward confesses to being part of voluntary manslaughter. Instead, they discuss whether Thomas Wayne was a good man. No one seems to wonder whether covering over Selina’s pushing Reggie out a window is something good men should do. Also, no one seems worried about Martha Wayne being a good woman.

Eddie, however, knows for certain the object of his affection, Miss Kringle, is a good woman because he killed for her. In scenes more morbidly funny than they have any right to be, he disposes of the body of Miss Kringle’s abusive boyfriend. That he rolled the trunks containing the body parts through police headquarters to get to the morgue cracked me up.

Before I go, I have to mention perhaps Gotham’s weirdest scene. With this show, that’s saying something.

Gotham 1.21: The Anvil or the Hammer, Donal Logue as Detective Harvey Bullock at a BDSM club.
Det. Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) appears put off– didn’t know that was possible.

To follow a lead on the Ogre, Bullock heads to the Foxglove Club, an exclusive BDSM kink club frequented by Gotham’s elite. Security sucks at this club because not only does Bullock get in with his badge but there’s no privacy among the members. I’d hoped Bullock would provide some good snark or some of the fetishes would elicit a mild smile, but instead, Bullock is appalled and the club is just dead boring.

Next week: Bruce and Alfred find the Batcave. Gordon and Bullock attempt to stop a gang war, Oswald presumably gets everything he ever dreamed about, and Fish returns to Gotham seeking revenge.  I’d never though I’d look forward to Fish’s brand of crazy but, hey, it has to be better than the episodes built around Barbara Kean.


Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.

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