gotham 1.14 the fearsome dr. crane aka the lost opportunity

By Caleb Gillombardo on

 

Let me start by being honest. I feel really bad about being so harsh on last week’s episode. I don’t think I was wrong, but I could’ve tried harder to be more objective. With that in mind, I approached this week’s episode with as much open-mindendess as I could muster. I did not hate this episode. There were some great moments, and a few lousy ones, but overall it was a good chapter of the Gotham saga.

It doesn’t hurt the show that Scarecrow is my favorite Batman villain. Even with my general dislike of the villain set-ups in Gotham, I retained hope that Scarecrow would still be a great bad guy. I wasn’t exactly happy with what happened, but I wasn’t completely disappointed.

But we’ll get to that.

There really wasn’t a main focus of this week’s episode. There were several plot lines that ran simultaneously, and unlike other episodes, this wasn’t really a bad thing this week. The different story lines were strong enough to maintain their momentum and my interest. Obviously, most of the show was devoted to Crane’s criminal activity.  Second to that was the ongoing Penguin story, and his confrontation with Maroni. The background stories revealed Selina leaving Barb’s apartment, Bruce getting upset at Gordon and saying that he would investigate his parents’ murder himself, Fish making her way out of Gotham, Gordon furthering his relationship with Tompkins, and Nygma mixing some criminal into his creepy.

The primary story with Crane was pretty good. Gotham shines its best when it decides to be a police drama with an interesting criminal case. The opening reveal of Crane was intriguing and somewhat frightening. The fact that we didn’t get any lines or exposition from him until late in the episode showed strong writing decisions. He was given to us a mysterious bad guy. We saw only his actions, leaving us to draw our own conclusions. Even though we knew he was Crane, we the viewers were forced to experience his action without the filter of the script, thus adding to the intimidation factor of the villain. In a sense, we were viewing Crane through the same eyes of his victims. This was a fantastic way to introduce the villain. If this had been maintained, Crane could’ve easily been a very strong recurring bad guy to deal with. Unfortunately, his motives were handed to us in the final moments of exposition. Even though we would’ve suspected what he was truly up to, had the characters not figured it out yet, Crane would’ve maintained a level of mystery, which would’ve made him a better villain. And the reveal of trying to harvest super fear juice (I know, not the term the good doctor used, but that’s basically what she meant) felt like a cheap nod to the established comic book character. They haven’t had a problem with the slow development of Riddler and Penguin, so why the rush for Scarecrow? I am also annoyed by the reveal of Junior Scarecrow waiting in the van. One of the things I dislike most about Gotham is the young version of the villains. So seeing Jonathan Crane as picking up the legacy of his father really bugs me. Why can’t the villain just be the villain? And since next week’s show is titled “The Scarecrow”, I’m sure young Jonathan is in store for a traumatic experience that will set him down the path to eventual villainy.

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The Crane story also gave us one of the best scenes of the show so far, in my opinion. When Bullock attended the phobia support group, we saw seemingly serious admission of truth from both him and Crane. Part of me thinks both men were simply telling stories to get what they wanted. Bullock wanted to get into the redhead’s pants and Crane wanted to snag a victim. But I also think they could’ve been telling the truth. Bullock (who was back in his perfect form this episode) has been growing as a character, and this reveal adds a level of humanity to his gruff exterior. And Crane’s reveal of being scared of failure, if it wasn’t a trick, adds weight to his lines later to his son about working towards a greater goal. I’m sure we’ll get some quick exposition next week, but there’s potential for a deep character story with Crane. This moment of honesty and vulnerability for these characters was impressive. I think if Gotham was more focused on being a strong police drama, we could be seeing more of these moments. And that’s what makes a good show.

Penguin’s story was very uninteresting. I enjoyed the showdown between him and Maroni. I think this mental and verbal exchange is where Penguin is most strong as a character and a villain. And it was great seeing more of Maroni being less of a stereotype. But there is no sense of fear or drama in the Penguin’s development. The scene in the junkyard was intriguing, but there was no real question to its outcome. We know he’s the Penguin and that he must survive through the story. The impact of him being shoved into the car and narrowly escaping was lost. There is some interest in seeing how he creates his criminal empire, but there is no character growth. He’s already proved himself to be an ambitious manipulator, who is always pursuing selfish interests. By this point, I’m bored with Penguin.

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The quick scenes with Selina and Bruce were absolutely pointless. They only recapped what we already knew and highlighted the annoying aspects of these young characters.

The scenes with Tompkins were somewhat interesting, in that they serve to reveal Gordon’s humanity. Tompkins herself had no purpose in this episode other than to deliver exposition. But she did point out that Gordon is fighting to maintain a certain persona within the GCPD. While we the audience knew this, it’s nice to have it pointed out in the world of the show. It tells us that the writers are acknowledging the dual nature of people, a theme that Batman stories are rich with. Underneath the costumes and action, Batman stories are about the choices and consequences that are central to humanity. Showing that the main character of Gotham is dealing with these struggles is reassuring. It demonstrates, however slightly, that the writers are not completely obsessed with just handing out early versions of classic bad guys.

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And then there’s Nygma. God, I hate every scene with Nygma. His awkwardness and ignorance of normal human actions is so distracting that I cannot see anything else on screen. At 14 episodes deep, he is the character with the least development. We have no knowledge of who he is and why he acts the way he does. He has no motivation. The introduction of his infatuation does not add any depth to his character, it only highlights his oddity. If we had any insight into Edward as a person, his inability to interact with the people around him would have a sense of interest. But as it stands, all we see is his goofy grin and the confused way he cocks his head. There is nothing to Nygma but his gimmick, and that’s getting annoying. The only thing we’ve ever seen him do other than act his shtick did happen this week, when he got the ME fired, so that at least demonstrates the writers’ willingness to do something with the character. But it’s too little too late. I’ve read many interviews with people involved with Gotham, and they all continually tease a huge dev   elopment for Nygma in the future. But by this point, I just don’t care. We have been given no connection to the character behind the joke.

Saving the worst for last, we still had to suffer through Fish this week. I was hoping she’d be out of the show for at least a few episodes, but we are not so lucky. She still chomped away at the set when calling Maroni from the phone booth. Her exit from Gotham was still in casual luxury, so there’s no sense of loss or panic after last week’s run from Zsasz. But the icing on the cake is when she (and I am not exaggerating) GROWLED AND CHARGED AT A SOMALI PIRATE.

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That horror aside, I think the best moment of the show, aside from the Bullock and Crane scene in the support group, was when the beat cop walks up to the chief with a severed limb in his hands. It was genuinely funny, if a little cliche, and it served as a great break to the seriousness of the police investigation. And do you know why this worked? Because it was a very comic book moment. I think Gotham’s problem is that it’s trying too hard to force comic book themes into a “real world” show. Take a look at Constantine, Arrow, and Flash. These are my favorite shows on television right now, and they prove time and time again that comic book themes can be successfully translated to the small screen. These shows have the balance between action and comedy. They deliver both the spandex superhero and the gritty dark superhero.

Gotham is just trying to do too much at once. Admittedly, the Batman mythos is a huge beast to wrestle into a television show. I think the core idea of Gotham, seeing a young Jim Gordon and the true corruptness of Gotham City, is a great idea. Aside from the overuse of CG, Gotham could be a solid police drama with a wonderful cast. If the show stayed to the concepts of watching a cop learn to deal with the problems that normal humans create, we would have an amazing show. There are so many rich stories that can evolve within the struggle of clashing ideologies.

The problem arises when Gotham forces in the stories that are nothing but exaggerated fanservice. Maybe if season 1 served to establish the characters and the world without the constant interruptions of pint-sized villains, season 2 could’ve built on that foundation to start inserting the comic book characters. Maybe if all we had in season 1 were easter eggs and sly nods to the larger story, the transition into ordinary cops dealing with extraordinary villains would’ve been easier to handle.

I did enjoy this episode, and I continue to hope that Gotham will live up to its potential. But I’m not holding my breath.

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