Fear is a powerful emotion. It renders some people unable to leave their house, while others jump out of planes and off bridges to confront fear head-on. On this week’s episode of Gotham, Dr. Jonathan Crane (Charlie Tahan) prefers that people deal with their fears in a more deadly manner.
Dr. Crane spends his time targeting victims in support groups and then kills them with their greatest fear. He’s only in three scenes, but in each one he exhibits unnerving calm in the face of victims who are out of their minds with fear. In the first scenario, he suspends a man from a building so he can experience his fear of heights at its full potential. But Crane does not kill the man by pushing him off the building; he hangs him instead.
Crane’s sadism continues as he hoists the man back up and proceeds to surgically remove his adrenal glands. Dr. Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) later explains that these glands are closest to the fear receptors and store up adrenaline in moments of life and death. The next two scenes are brief but in each one it is evident that Crane is fascinated with his victim’s biological response to fear.
“The Fearsome Dr. Crane” confuses me. It gives elicits the feeling of a grand event, or an episode about the doctor’s rich backstory, but Gotham doesn’t deliver either. Dr. Crane is simply another villain of the week: a waste. He is one of the most interesting, complex and terrifying Batman characters, yet here he is reduced to window dressing (but will hopefully receive more attention going forward). The real story this week focuses on Maroni (David Zayas) and Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor).
Maroni now knows that Cobblepot works for Falcone (John Doman), but he doesn’t let that slip. Instead, he tells Cobblepot that they’re taking a trip and spends the episode keeping Cobblepot on his toes. Cobblepot is a wonderful character, but seeing him get played by Maroni is satisfying because Cobblepot is always the one pulling the wool over his enemies’ eyes.
Maroni has so far come off as an idiot, but he proves himself to be much more than that during his ruse. Maroni – played by a superb Zayas – keeps his cool while Cobblepot loses it once his cover is blown. When Cobblepot steals Maroni’s gun, he briefly believes he has control of the situation; he soon learns Maroni wasn’t bluffing when he said the gun was loaded with blanks.
Despite his mastery of mind games, Maroni encounters the same issue Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) does when he attempts to take Cobblepot’s life. While Cobblepot begs for his life in front of Maroni, we know he can’t die then and there because the Penguin has to survive. These origin stories are interesting but ultimately lack weight because we know the Gotham universe as it stands 20-30 years from the show’s time period. They lack dramatic tension because these characters survive. Gotham would be a stronger show if it didn’t rely on these empty life-or-death stakes.
Gotham should focus on character development and insight. We do see some of when Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) experience blowback for arresting Flass, the crooked cop from last week. The captain warns Bullock not to stand too close to the edge of the roof because “accidents happen,” and that Flass had a lot of friends in the department. The moment conveys a sense of chilling despair with regard to Gordon’s future in the GCPD.
Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) is decent in this episode. As a forensic examiner, he is a better medical examiner than the one Gotham PD already employs. He notices clues that help Gordon and Bullock catch the killers. For example, he deduces that last week’s victim was not a suicide but a murder based on the incision hole in the victim’s back.
This week, he gets caught examining the victim’s body, which he’s not allowed to do because he isn’t a licensed medical examiner, and is suspended. Nygma, of course, gets himself reinstated by planting body parts in the examiner’s locker. Smith’s performance is toned down and more finely tuned this episode. He no longer feels like a caricature. He’s still enthusiastic, but stops short of over-the-top.
As we know, Gotham has several major recurring problems. In this episode, hollow suspense rears its ugly head. We know what the Gotham universe is like during Batman’s era. We know whatever troubles Penguin finds himself in, he will survive because he is one of Batman’s foes. And we know that even if Gordon and Bullock capture Dr. Crane, they won’t be able to charge him. And even if they do, he’ll likely get sent to Arkham, which would only be a feeding ground for Crane’s fear experiments. Gotham wants to be suspenseful, but it is difficult to be when we know most of the characters survive until Batman rises.
The strangest part of this week’s Gotham was when Gordon walks into his and Barbara’s (Erin Richards) apartment and shouts “Barbara, are you home?” Why does Gordon think Barbara will be home? He hasn’t heard from her in weeks and there hasn’t been any indication that she’d attempted to contact Gordon in any way. I realize that he’s hopeful that Barbara will come home soon, but come on – he’s a better detective than that.
The moment is meant to be melancholy because Gordon clearly misses his wife. But the emotion is undermined because Gordon hasn’t talked about Barbara in a while. It feels like the writers are trying to keep that emotional subplot in play, and the result is disjointed. It is also bizarre that Gordon would wistfully ask if Barbara is home considering his obvious feelings for Dr. Thompkins. They go on a date at the end of the episode and both seem genuinely enthusiastic about their time together. Gordon doesn’t seem as broken up about Barbara’s absence as the writers try to imply.
At least this episode didn’t commit the same sins I rail against every week: poor writing, weak structure, meandering narrative and lackadaisical character development. It may have committed new crimes instead, but somehow a little change is better than nothing at all.