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Gotham: The Scarecrow

Doctor: “Imagine the thing you fear most in the world. Imagine that it's all you see. Every waking hour.”

In the second part to last week’s ‘The Fearsome Dr. Crane,’ Gordon and Bullock continue their pursuit of Dr. Gerald Crane. In my review for ‘part one’ of this arc, you may have noticed I spent more time analyzing the characters themselves rather than the actual story going on, simply because I waited until the resolution of this arc to analyze it all as a whole.

Because there has been no animated or live-action depiction of The Scarecrow’s origin, Gotham certainly doesn’t have big Joker shoes to fill, and yet what bemuses me about ‘The Scarecrow’ – this episode – is that the show almost feels a little urgent to get though Jonathan Crane’s upbringing and then be done with it. More screentime is devoted to Gerald Crane’s plot of using his victim’s adrenal glands to develop a serum that can enable its user to overcome their worst fear. Somehow through typical supervillain-science and a very “because-the-episode-says-so” attitude, Crane’s serum also makes the user hallucinate their fears as opposed to simply just experiencing the feeling of terror.

And that “because-the-episode-says-so” attitude carries on throughout the entirety of the Cranes’ subplot. Gerald wants his son Jonathan too to take the serum “because-the-episode-says-so”. Jonathan is terrified at the thought of having to partake in the inoculation “because-the-episode-says-so”. Jonathan just happens to have a huge phobia of scarecrows…you get the picture. In a show with so much potential like Gotham, it disheartens me to see that Jonathan will go on to don the moniker of ‘Scarecrow’ because…well they just kind of spooked him a little when he was younger. Perhaps the showrunners are aiming to mold Jonathan as a dark counterpart of Bruce Wayne who we know channels his fear of bats into his motif as a vigilante but right now, my earlier hopes that Jonathan might play foil to a young Bruce Wayne on this show now seem dashed seeing that Jonathan’s schedule is going to be quite filled for the time being, what with being institutionalized and all.

If there was one thing I could take away from the Cranes’ subplot and gush joyously about though, I needn’t look any further than the scene between Jonathan and Gerald in their yard where Jonathan first expresses doubt about taking the serum. I give a hearty “good-on-ya-mate” to the cinematographer for always keeping a lone scarecrow in the background of every shot focusing on Jonathan. In quite the ominous fashion, the scarecrow is always there, a little out of focus but there nonetheless, looking over Jonathan and haunting him. It’s the little details which keep me going with this show.

As for the rest of this episode, it is a mix of both moments that reward the fanboy in me for being so patient with this season, and moments that make me want to damn that patience into an eternal and fiery netherworld. With actually quite a bit to go over in terms of story, I figured for this week, I’d cover the rest chronologically. Which takes us to Fish Mooney’s subplot first. After the hijacking of her getaway ship last week, Fish awakens in a chamber of unknown coordinates where she and dozens of other prisoners seem to be being harvested for their organs. It doesn’t take long for Fish to figure out the hierarchy of the captives and she manages to usurp power, taking charge immediately. I’ve realized that my issue with Fish’s story throughout Season 1 is not the character herself or how she’s written, but with Jada Pinkett Smith’s performance and the fact that it throws me back to another ill-acted Batman rogue on the big screen – Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in Batman Forever. I am certainly not saying that there is anything lacking in the talent of these two actors themselves, but in both cases, it’s evident to the audience that their hearts are just not into the characters the way Jack Nicholson was as Joker, or how Robin Lord Taylor is as Oswald. Maybe they’re just doing what they can do to collect an easy paycheck or there’s some behind-the-scenes tension with the crew that’s unfortunately got a vicegrip on their performances. Whatever the reason, I’m surely convinced at this point of the season that Fish is not going to be remembered by me for being one of this show’s more memorable rogues.

At the GCPD, Gordon and Lee, still in a relationship that gets about as captivating as a plain rice cake, are having trouble agreeing on the appropriate amount of affection they should be displaying to each other while on the clock. Gordon’s already displaying twinges of irritation at the fact that he even has to have such a discussion with Lee – even though he’s the one that suggested Lee step in as the precinct’s next M.E. in the first place. To see Gotham reach for such a trite television cliché as the “working together ends up creating more issues for the relationship than it solves” so early for Gordon and Lee too – three dates, they actually make it a point to tell the audience – just further aggravates my annoyance with this subplot. What’s more, I’m convinced that Gordon actually has more chemistry with Oswald Cobblepot than he does with Lee Thompkins.

Oswald, at the insistence of Don Falcone, commences a major overhaul of Fish’s former nightclub and personally invites Gordon to the re-opening. Gordon declines due to being tied up in the Crane investigation, leading Oswald to instead offer his assistance if needed like before with Flass. At the mere mention of this, Gordon blatantly refuses, adamant that he never again have to resort to having Oswald and his goons dig up information through less-than-ethically-sound means. There’s no façade or manipulation tactics here – Oswald displays genuine sorrow at the fact that Gordon seems to be brushing him aside in this episode. Among Oswald’s ambitions, it would seem that, in Season 1 anyway, true friendship is another one of Oswald’s drives and he looks for that in Jim Gordon. If Oswald had an ulterior agenda for Gordon at the beginning of this season, it has surely evolved now into a relationship where Oswald just wants him and Gordon to be on the best of terms with each other, regardless of their politics or professions. Gordon is at least perceptive of what that entails though, and seems wanting to distance himself more and more from what Oswald stands for.

While we’re on the subject of Oswald, there’s another interaction in this episode that goes to show what some of the highlights of prequels can be. En route to invite Gordon, Oswald crosses paths at the precinct with Ed Nygma for the first time. One advantage of such a prequel series like Gotham is that interactions, scenarios, and the building of a relationship between characters – such as this one – can be shown when they would otherwise feel out of place. In any other interpretation of the Batman mythos, an exchange between Riddler and Penguin like the one in this episode, chock full of leers and taunting, would likely end with one dead, or at the very least beaten into a pulp, at the other’s hands. Instead, Ed is safe, for now anyway, in the sanctuary of the precinct and so he’s free to hurl penguin trivia tidbits at Oswald for as long as he wants. The fact too that Ed seemed to be the only one so far in the show not to show cowardice at Oswald’s power and reputation had me snickering all the way through too.

Finally, there’s little Bruce Wayne’s subplot. This week, Bruce wants to continue an annual hiking tradition he previously took part in alongside his late parents, despite Alfred’s insistence that Bruce lay the tradition to rest. While on his own, Bruce takes a fall and sprains his ankle. It is only due to Alfred’s eventual appearance that Bruce manages to avoid any further unpleasantries in the wilderness. Sean Pertwee as Alfred is already becoming another favored interpretation of mine from Gotham and, like many other renditions on the show, it’s quite a departure from the Alfred we’re used to seeing in other forms of Batman media. Instead of the “dinner-is-served-manservant” shtick, Gotham’s Alfred is one still retaining the nimbleness and agility of one who’s been trained in combat, yet is unsure and unprepared in how to go about looking after and raising a young boy on his own. And it has not gone unnoticed by me that Alfred is now making his own evolution throughout Season 1 - from utilizing at first a ‘tough-love’ approach in his raising of Bruce, to more humble approaches such as in this episode to demonstrate his care for the boy.

I can’t say for sure that this is arc is one of my favorites from Gotham’s first season, but it certainly gave me much to discuss, and in the end, that’s really all one can ask for from show business.

Aaron Studer loves spending his time reading, writing and defending the existence of cryptids because they can’t do it themselves.

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