I really thought two-part episodes would be the key to Gotham’s success. Returning from its winter hiatus, the series slammed home “Rogue’s Gallery” and “What the Little Bird Told Him,” two episodes that built the Electrocutioner into a scene stealing mad genius and gave Gotham the verve it so desperately requires (and that only comes in fits and starts). Last week’s “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” was even vervier; unexpected and daring enough to use a wee little micropig as a murder weapon. Surely, the second half of the proto-Scarecrow’s rampage would keep the pattern going.
Not so much. “The Scarecrow” has somehow forgotten the underlying point of basically every TV two-parter, ever: first episode’s the setup, second episode’s the payoff. Last week, Dr. Gerald Crane (Julian Sands) stalked a crippling phobia support group, confronting members with their most primal fears and then cutting out the fear-tinged bits inside them. This week, we finally figure out what Crane’s plans are with his harvested adrenaline supply. The fiendish doctor injects himself with them, then… stares at his wife’s ghost. Repeatedly. So that he can’t feel fear, ever again.
And just like that, the menace, the fearsome quality of Dr. Crane goes kaput. He’s supposed to be evil, right? But his grand master plan is just an extreme form of therapy to cure something that’s actually very justified. If I was traumatized by the ghost of a wife I let burn to death, I’d want to get rid of that too. Suddenly, our deranged megalomaniac is weirdly relatable.
Second, curing himself of all fear doesn’t actually harm anyone. Technically, his plans for his son are all kinds of harmful, but after that final kill in the episode’s opening, Crane’s no longer hunting victims and thus no longer a danger to society. And Bullock and Gordon racing against the clock, because my god, this man’s dangerous self-medication MIGHT ACTUALLY MAKE HIM FEEL BETTER has no dramatic stakes, whatsoever.
Also, what would curing yourself of all fear actually do? Crane speaks of fearlessness in a tone that implies it’s some kind of superhuman ability, but he gets shot and killed like six seconds into his demonstration of its awe-inspiring power. Really sucks away all the goodwill that “The Fearless Dr. Crane” put so much effort into cultivating.
As a sidenote: I don’t think having a total lack of fear would cause you to proclaim “You think I’m afraid of you? AFRAID OF YOUR GUNS?” and then charge blindly into a hail of gunfire and die. Fear and logic are two separate things. And having no fear might actually make you calmer, and better at assessing that the screaming headlong charge is a poor choice and would cause instant, bloody death. Right?
There was no part of “The Scarecrow’s” Scarecrow storyline that didn’t catastrophically drop the ball. No stakes, no excitement, no logic. Also, the heart of “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” was Bullock’s flourishing relationship with Scottie. Zero mention of her last night, without any explanation for why Bullock would immediately cut all contact with a woman he was so clearly into. Also also, the crippling fear for that first kill was very unclear (were those guys in hoodies supposed to be zombies? Demons? Lepers?).
In retrospect, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” may not have been the ideal episode to continue straight into a Part Two. Last week finished on a win- Bullock and Gordon figured out Crane’s plans and saved Scottie. That felt like a pretty satisfying ending (sure, Crane got away, but this is a comic book series- bad guys with name recognition don’t die to begin with). Building an entire second episode on top of that might have been too much to ask.
At least everything else in “The Scarecrow” was in top form. And with an emphasis on surprise- unlike Dr. Crane and his “dead wife in a fire” sob story (which was telegraphed the second we saw his hallucination), every major side plot had some big element of surprise to it.
There’s no better example than Nygma and the Penguin’s meet-cute. Gotham played this with finesse- Penguin enters the GCPD and immediately he and Nygma are moving with a weird synchronicity. We’ve never seen these two in the same frame before, so who knows what their relationship might be- acquaintances? Strangers? Secret partners in crime? It adds a layer of what the hell’s going on here? to their little dance (in a good way). Eventually, it comes out- Penguin’s got no idea who Nygma is, but Nygma knows all the Penguin.
Both characters are the token weirdos on each of Gotham’s halves (mafia wars/police procedural), and each future supervillain seems keenly aware that he’s staring down his respective foil. Like Falcone says of his waddling protege: “he’s clever enough to know that a freakish little man like him is never going to be boss.” If only you knew, Carmine- one day, the freakish little men will own Gotham. It’s something Penguin and Riddler seem to have picked up on.
Penguin’s other big moment came when putting his own spin on Fish’s former club. The major takeaway here was that Maroni’s no longer gunning for Penguin outright (partly because Falcone offered him a special moment of revenge, and partly because Gotham loves to reaffirm the status quo with a few quick lines of dialogue). Honestly, I wish “The Scarecrow” had pushed the supervillain interior design thing further. Falcone talking about the club’s decor and choice of lamp is just the kind of weirdness this show excels at- taking the entire storyline in that direction could have paid off hugely.
Still, it’s tough to accuse Gotham of not embracing its inner weirdness after seeing Fish Mooney’s portion of “The Scarecrow.” Last week, the show threw a guerrilla warlord onto Fish’s boat with no explanation. Now, she’s in a dungeon that some people think is a prison, and some people think is Hell. No explanation. Normally, there’d be a solid amount of connective tissue to lead us from “on boat, mercenary attack” to “trapped in a dungeon/existential crisis.” Instead, we’re left with a pile of questions as Fish’s situation withdraws from reality altogether.
- Is this dungeon on the boat?
- Could you even fit a dungeon on a boat?
- Is the sole qualification for being President of the Dungeon really just holding the only available knife?
- Doesn’t the knife-holder sleep? Then anyone could be the new Dungeon President.
- Why is there even a leadership system in this dungeon if there’s an actual leadership system from the soldiers who steal people’s eyes?
- Wait why are they stealing people’s eyes?
It’s baffling, hard to follow, hard to gel with the rest of the series and it’s absolutely incredible. Immediately, Fish Mooney has rocketed to the top of the Characters I’m Most Interested in Seeing Next Week list, if just to find out what crazy crap Gotham will be throwing at the screen.
This show is a mixed bag, week in and week out. At this point, it’s a waste of effort to try and predict what storylines might perk up next week and which will sag into mundaneness without warning. Something like “The Scarecrow” is a good benchmark to shoot for, as far as the average Gotham goes. Sure, the actual Scarecrow material was a mess, but there was enough of that madcap gothic Gothamness to keep everyone entertained for a full hour. And like most Gothams, it sure was pretty to look at. Standout images: adrenal glands being put through what looked like a garlic press, Bullock sniffing emerald green science juice and some fairly impressive-looking CGI scarecrows. Still, I’ve got my fingers crossed for more interior design details at some point.