Gotham, at this point, feels like a bad CW show circa 2006. It is so full of melodrama, moody stares and juvenile exposition that I’m amazed the show got picked up for a full second season. I had so much hope back when previews for Gotham started, but each week, the show brings us new and exciting failures.
“The Scarecrow,” second part of the arc launched in “The Fearsome Dr. Crane,” should have been the show’s way out of its procedural trappings. Follow-up episodes do not need crime-of-the-week arcs or procedural drama. The episode should have been Gotham’s time to frame the Batman villains we already know in a different light, although the focus on Jonathan Crane’s father is an intriguing take. The elder Crane’s obsession with fear and finding an antidote of sorts does come back to harm his son, Jonathan.
Gotham still has a general problem with getting too bogged down in Batman’s cultural popularity. Showrunner Bruno Heller has been able to create a compelling backstory for Cobblepot and has even stretched his imagination to create a compelling new villain. Examining Jonathan Crane’s father is interesting, but we don’t want to see a two-episode arc about him. We want to see a story arc about Jonathan.
It’s a shame when shows like The Flash are reimagining major DC comics foes like Bertram Larvan (who’s hitting the scene as the female Brie Larvan in the CW series) while Gotham flounders with tired retreads. A fresh take would do this show wonders.
One positive (and I use this term loosely) I can say about Gotham is that it no longer suffers from major tonal discrepancy. We rarely dive from uncomfortably goofy to immensely serious in one episode. The show has settled into a very serious tone with a few rare moments of light or humor. There are no more wild tonal shifts, a blessing to us all.
Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) hypothesize that the one way to stop Gerald Crane (Julian Sands) would be to have him confront his greatest fear. From there they set about trying to figure out the one thing that will send Crane running for the hills.
The dialogue in the episode is predictable, like much of the episode. Tension is lost due to the absence of mystery. There is nothing to support a narrative. This leaves the dialogue amateur at best. The exposition between Crane’s colleagues and the defectives is rudimentary. Something we would hear in a college seminar for screenwriting. Everything Gordon and Bullock say to each other when they find out how Crane’s wife died in a house fire, “He lied. Why would he lie?”, “He’s ashamed”, is obvious and can be seen coming.
The search for Crane could not be more flat and blank. His study is discovered after a colleague literally gives the detectives physical evidence of Crane’s motivations. Then we’re given a story that we’ve seen time and time again in television to explain his sociopathic tendencies. It is appropriately tragic; his wife died in a house fire and he was unable to save her. We’re told the grief drove him mad, but that’s still not an excuse to become a psychotic murderer. It’s hard to take moments like this seriously when Brooklyn Nine-Nine is actively lampooning the genre every week on the very same network.
The delivery of Crane’s backstory is clumsy and an exquisite example of Gotham’s terrible exposition. It was clear from the beginning of “The Scarecrow” that his wife died in a fire. After Gerald Crane injects himself with a needle, he hallucinates his wife who, engulfed by fire, keeps asking, “Why won’t you help me, Gerald?”
Procedural elements are Gotham‘s weakest area. Bullock and Gordon continue to search for Gerald Crane (Julian Sands). We know from last week that Crane is removing adrenal glands from his victims. What Crane is doing with that adrenaline is something Batman fans know all too well. He creates a hormone injection that induces bouts of great fear that he believes is a cure for phobia, which he then uses on himself.
He thinks fear is an evolutionary flaw that he can fix with this new medicine. Without fully testing his invention, he hastily gives it to his son, Jonathan. He’s later found underneath a scarecrow, writhing, overcome by fear. The doctors say that his “mind is lost.”
In this episode’s subplot, Maroni (David Zayas) knows Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) is a rat but can’t do anything about it because Cobblepot is indispensable to Falcone (John Doman). But just because Maroni can’t hurt Cobblepot doesn’t mean he can’t mess with him.
Maroni’s idea of an intimidation tactic is to continue pouring champagne into Cobblepot’s cup even after it’s full. I was not quite sure how this technique was supposed to be intimidating until we see the look in Maroni’s eyes. He is focused and intense. Cobblepot may be protected by Falcone but that is not going to stop Maroni from hurting Cobblepot.
The next shot we get is Gotham’s attempt at insightful imagery; as the champagne spills over, we see the liquid fall down between Cobblepot’s legs. Implying that Maroni’s tactic worked, the champagne between Cobblepot’s legs is a substitute for him actually peeping his pants. Classy.
Obvious symbolism aside, I would like to state again how much I love David Zayas. His character started out as a gross caricature of an Italian mobster but Zayas has been able to breathe genuine life into Maroni. He acts through his eyes and the way he carries himself. His performance is more understated than the rest of the cast, which adds a “real” quality to the show. I’m not sure if Maroni gets better writing or if Zayas is able to act through it, or both, but he’s mesmerizing to watch. His scenes stand out the most to me and keep Gotham worth watching.
Last week featured a confusing dichotomy for Gordon. We saw him come home defeatedly asking after Barbara who was nowhere to be found, but we also excitement over his date with Dr. Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). This week we get nothing about Barbara. Is she still at her parents’ home? Regardless, Gordon appears to have completely forgotten about her – the same feeling I get at the end of each episode of Gotham.