This Gotham review contains spoilers.
Brace yourselves, ladies and gents, I’m about to write the most positive Gotham review I’ve ever attempted. “The Scarecrow” shows incredible promise for the future of this show. Despite the fact that it has the name of a reasonably prominent Batvillain in the title, he isn’t remotely the main focus of the episode, and this one might have held its own even without him.
Recently, I’ve felt that Gotham has been lining up more and more individual elements that I want to see from a show like this, but it’s had trouble putting them all together to add up to great stories. I’m not sure “The Scarecrow” really qualifies as a “great story” (and I was less than enamored with its predecessor, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane“), but it is without question the episode of Gotham that comes the closest to nailing everything it needs to.
Considering that Gotham is, despite it’s batty connections, a procedural, it’s never really been able to establish a consistent formula from week to week. They’re settling into a rhythm now, with the kind of flashy visual openings that Arrow has made its staple since season two. We get another atmospheric open this week as Dr. Crane commits another murder, and then we move directly into a brutal fistfight in wherever Fish Mooney is being held. My initial response was to think, “well, it’s all downhill from here…” but I’m happy to report that I was wrong.
Were there stumbles? Sure. The Gordon/Tompkins romance is pretty awkward. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like the show is trying to correct mistakes it made as recently as last week, which of course makes no sense, since it’s not like this one went into production Tuesday morning after last week’s aired. Harvey Bullock is once again the voice of a confused audience when he gets the news that Dr. Tompkins is the new GCPD medical examiner: “You’re joking.” But there’s all this talky weirdness with things like “but you offered me the job” and Jim telling Leslie “no kissing at work” and having her point out the complete nonsense that was their makeout session in front of the entire GCPD.
But it’s still infinitely better than the Barbara crap, and maybe now that they’ve laid some ground rules they can get on with actually behaving like adults. No Barbara again this week, and no Selina or other street urchins. Maybe they really did put those storylines out to pasture. That’s a great thing, because it leaves more room for proper storytelling. Perhaps Gotham just has to let this awkwardness work its way out of its system now.
This is a relatively minor complaint, but I do wish a little more actual police work went into tracking Dr. Crane down. Having the principal explain the plot to Gordon, Bullock, and the audience was exceedingly awkward. The “he had me proofread a paper that describes these crimes in detail” was lazy, but the fact that it clearly must have happened within the last couple of weeks for her to have it lying around like that slipped into “we ran out of ideas” territory. Had they not felt the need to give us three minutes of nonsense with Nygma and Cobblepot, or if entire scenes weren’t spent not making sense of the Gordon/Tompkins relationship, we might have had time for a better explanation.
For the most part, though, even poor Edward Nygma was written well this week. I could have done without the heavy handed “first meeting of the Riddler and the Penguin” scene, but other than that, Ed Nygma felt like a proper supporting character in the GCPD. His scenes with Gordon and Bullock this week are how he should have been written all season long. Awkward and weird, but not a giant waving green flag in your face. Hell, maybe we might even begin to care about/like/feel sorry for him before he turns to villainy if they keep this up.
There’s a little more emphasis on Dr. Crane’s actual experiments with the fear toxin this week (Julian Sands is very cool as Gerald Crane), and it’s suitably horrifying. I mean, the actual cooking and distilling of the adrenal glands is some proper slasher film stuff, but actually injecting your teenage son with a powerful stimulant/hallucinogen is probably the craziest child abuse you’re likely to see in an 8 pm slot on a network. It’s a departure from the usual Scarecrow origin, but it’s a suitable twist, I think. This is also the first time we’ve really seen his origin done in live-action, and there’s a fun visual payoff at the end.
Watching Maroni and Falcone start to get chummy was a treat. It really does look like Penguin’s double (triple?) agent days are over. That’s a good thing. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of his story this season, but the quadruple crosses taking place were becoming unwieldy. Now he’s got his own joint, he’s temporarily off the hook with Maroni, Fish probably won’t be back until the end of the season, and they can move him forward a bit.
The manner in which Falcone chooses to “own” the judge feels like a good move. Gotham City is known for extravagance, and the bad guys (and the good guys) certainly have a certain kink to them. In Gotham, you don’t just blackmail a judge with images of his sexual dalliances, you get a dominatrix to break his spirit while two crime lords watch.
So, let’s see if I can keep score. Lots of great visuals this week? Check. A Batman villain origin that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the story? Check. The better elements of the show progressing in a logical fashion? Check. Add some more great music cues, and we’re on a roll. Oh, and speaking of music cues, I nearly fell out of my chair when the band in Penguin’s club was tearing through The Stranglers’ “No More Heroes.” I’ve suspected all season long that someone with seriously good taste has been sneaking some proper tunes into this show.
Life With the Waynes
– I felt like Bruce’s hike would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce the cave underneath the Wayne Manor property, but it wasn’t to be. Oh, well. Not really an issue.
– Is Sean Pertwee Alfred the best Alfred? I’m starting to feel that way. “Did you stop off for a pie and a pint on the way?” Amazing. We also get more hints of Alfred’s past as a badass. I’d be down for a flashback episode focusing on this at some point.
– I’m not sure how I feel about the whole “state of constant terror” that Jonathan Crane finds himself in. Unless this just becomes how his body ends up burning out on fear while he’s looking inward at his own terrifying hallucinations. It would have been nice to get to know Jonathan a little better, as he seems like a reasonably well-adjusted kid here. Clearly, this will set up his later “issues.” Great ending, though.
– There’s a major Jonah Hex foe who shares a last name with Maroni and Falcone’s favorite judge, but I think that’s just a coincidence.
– Nygma is cooking up something green in his lab. That one had better just be a coincidence.