Robin Lord Taylor, David Zayas

This week’s episode of Gotham begins like every other one, with a cold-open murder that once again strikes that strange, off-putting balance between cartoon comedy and brutal cop drama that seems to have become the show’s go-to tone, no matter how baffling it is. A man, later to be identified as Adam Jadowski, is seen tied to a wooden chair on top of a building, slowly being pulled up before he’s dangled over the edge. An unidentified killer lurks by his side and rips a burlap sack off of his head, revealing Jadowski’s fate. He ties a noose around his neck and then cuts the support rope, sending Jadowski down the side of the building before the noose tightens. It’s haunting stuff…up until the point where the noose tightens and the camera cuts to the inside of an apartment, where a maid is cheerily vacuuming the carpet while singing along to whatever song is coming through her headphones, blissfully unaware of the man hanging outside the window.

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It’s a cold open that’s become boilerplate for Gotham, which continually introduces new characters in such jarring fashion. From the Electrocutioner to that Wall Street dude that was running an underground fight club, the show has a way of just throwing its characters into the mix, rather than finding a meaningful way for them to gradually become part of the plot. Not every villain, whether minor or part of a larger canon, needs to be given such an intrusive entrance. By framing every episode in the same way, nothing feels consequential. An episode like “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” is marketed like a TV event, because it purports to give us a look at the origin story of The Scarecrow. That’s a red herring though, because this episode feels no different than any other. When every episode follows exactly the same beats, how are we, the audience, supposed to differentiate between what’s significant and what’s just for fun? Given, this is the first in a two-part arc, but that doesn’t make the shows weaknesses any more forgivable.

You see, the man who hung Jadowski, and spends the rest of the episode kidnapping and attempting to drown Jadowski’s redheaded sponsor/Bullock’s sudden love interest Scottie Mullen, is Dr. Gerald Crane, the father of Jonathan Crane aka. The Scarecrow. Much like his canonical offspring, the Dr. Crane of Gotham preys on the phobias of his victims. In this case, Mullen is afraid of pools, so Dr. Crane attempts to drown her. What should be an intriguing jumping off point for an origin story is reduced to another case-of-the-week that’s indistinguishable from any other week. How does Dr. Crane differ from any of the other villains introduced on an almost weekly basis? The answer is that he doesn’t, and such a failure to distinguish the characters on this show from one another, to give them important, meaningful storylines that boast depth and detail, is immensely frustrating to witness. Julain Sands, who deserves so much better, has absolutely nothing to work with here. Like every other villain on this show, he spends most of his time silently smirking (when not making on-the-nose remarks that totally implicate him as a killer) and just narrowly escaping capture.

There’s no instance of character development or insight, which is ludicrous when you consider that this is supposed to be the building blocks of an origin story. The origin story, by nature, is character-driven. It takes what we already know about a character and gives us insight into how they got that way. Gotham’s idea of an origin story is just giving us younger versions of characters we know. That’s it. It’s the worst kind of reductive nostalgia, which assumes that all Batman fans, or even casual superhero fans, want to see is winking nods to future characters. It’s astonishingly insulting, and as evidenced by “The Fearsome Dr. Crane,” or almost any episode this season, certainly doesn’t make for compelling television.

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It’s a shame that the Gerald and Jonathan Crane storyline is so undercooked because the rest of the episode actually contains some interesting moments (perhaps that’s just by comparison though?). The entire Maroni-Cobblepot storyline plays out wonderfully; it’s tense, well paced, and just the right amount of funny. Having Maroni finally find out about Cobblepot’s loyalty to Falcone, thanks to a quick phone call from Mooney, allows Maroni to occupy a position of power. It finally gives us an understanding of why Maroni is one of the top bosses around; he’s paled in comparison to Doman’s Falcone and Smith’s Mooney so far this season. It also allows Robin Lord Taylor to do what he does best as Penguin, and that’s manipulate and weasel his way out of tight situations. Heck, even Edward Nygma isn’t half-bad this episode. When he’s suspended for examining a corpse, which is actually the job of the medical examiner, not the forensic team, Gordon stands up for him. He mentions how the medical examiner concluded that last week’s ice-pick killing was a suicide, which proves that he’s another crooked member of the GCPD. Gordon needs Nygma back, and it’s because he does his job well. That’s a nice bit of character development that gives us a reason to like Nygma and helps us understand his role within the GCPD.

That kind of character development, which is admittedly minor, could have been used to bolster the Gerald Crane storyline. On any other show, I’d hold out hope for the second part of this arc exploring more of the dynamic between Gerald and Jonathan, and also giving us more insight into Bullock’s sudden crush on Mullen. But Gotham has proven time and again that character insight is an afterthought, that the audience should be satisfied just hearing the Crane name spoken. Next week’s episode is called “The Scarecrow”: what are the odds it amounts to more than just a hollow invocation of a canonical character in order to draw in viewers?

Stray observations:

  • Never Mind The Bullocks: ”We’re on a rooftop, Nygma. Don’t tempt me.”
  • Pretty cool end to the episode, with Mooney going full Richard Sherman on a baddie.
  • Love that impatient look from Cobblepot when Maroni says “a bird in the hand is 9/10 of the law.” Cobblepot has no patience for Maroni’s linguistic nonsense ever since that zookeeper remark.
  • Why does Gordon keep thinking that Barbara will be home? Also, haven’t I written that sentence before? Also, who’s Barbara? Can anyone remember?
  • More greatness from Robin Lord Taylor: “I love a road trip,” he says to Maroni with barely-veiled disgust.
  • Bruce totally guilt-tripping Gordon about his stagnant investigation was wonderful. I know he’s not Batman yet, but this show could use a lot more focus on the growth of Bruce Wayne.
  • I liked that the show briefly acknowledged the potential consequences of the Flass arrest in a scene with Essen and Gordon. Let’s hope (hope, however slim, is all we really have at this point) we get more of that in the future.

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