For a moment, I really thought that a two-part arc about the origin story of Jonathan Crane, aka. The Scarecrow, would avoid the trappings of the procedural cop show that Gotham falls into far too often. For a second, I thought the second part of this arc would be able to avoid such trappings due to the very nature of it being the second part; you know, the part where you can do away with all of the exposition and hokey procedural drama and just focus on the characters, the tone, the chase. Quite unbelievably (or perhaps predictably is the better word, if you’ve been keeping up with the show), the show manages to stretch its most tedious and frustrating elements across two episodes, and the resulting conclusion to Gotham’s hyped Scarecrow story ends up being just another meaningless and dull riff on the Batman canon.
Week in and week out, I’ve been saying that the reason Gotham fails so miserably from one episode to the next is because it never commits to a specific tone or genre, and has a haphazard approach to character development. While I think that still holds true, the critique may need a little modification at this point. For awhile, Gotham was failing to walk a fine line between being a cartoonish comedy about pre-Batman Gotham, and a police procedural with some gritty, but also fun elements. One episode would see Bullock and Gordon doing the buddy-cop schtick, and the next would see Gordon dealing with his own personal issues or going toe-to-toe with the corruption within the GCPD. With “The Scarecrow,” the show seems to have more fully committed to its procedural stylings. The wild tonal shifts are still present, but it seems as if the show may have decided what it wants to be.
Unfortunately, the procedural tendencies of the show still tend to be its worst qualities. “The Scarecrow” sees Bullock and Gordon continuing their search for Gerald Crane, who is removing the adrenal glands of his victims and creating a hormone injection which he then uses on himself. Crane’s rationalization for this barbarity: he believes that fear is an evolutionary flaw that can be overcome by a protocol he has created, which is the injection and the terrifying experience that comes with such a sudden hormone introduction to the system. Once Gordon and Bullock realize this, they set about figuring out what Crane’s own fear could possibly be, hoping that the information will help them find the killer.
The barebones plot isn’t necessarily a problem, but the execution is. Compelling storytelling is about creating tension, which happens when a story is filled with questions, and gradually revealed answers that give the story a sense of depth and complexity. These questions can be seemingly trivial or heady–for instance, the ”will they or won’t they” love story is a classic question that creates instant tension–but they ultimately serve to make the story more unpredictable and exciting. Gotham is entirely too predictable and tidy, and the absence of meaningful questions means that there’s little to no conflict or tension built into the narrative. Every beat in the search for Gerald Crane can be seen a mile away, from the way in which his study is revealed (a colleague at the school where Crane is a biology teacher literally gives the detectives physical evidence of Crane’s motivation) to the psychology behind his sociopathic tendencies (his wife died in a house fire and he was overcome with guilt for not being able to save her). The reveal of the latter is particularly clumsy, and serves as a perfect example of the muddled exposition this show peddles every week. It’s clear to the viewer that Crane’s wife died in a fire of some sort from the very start of the episode, and that knowledge renders the following revelation by Bullock and Gordon completely dead in the water.
Even Gotham’s more reliable characters are stuck spinning their wheels, with no sense of momentum or consequence driving the narrative forward. Mooney’s entire storyline, which sees her trapped in some sort of underground prison thing after last week’s (unfortunately offscreen) kidnapping, serves to position her as a badass. The trouble is, we already know that about Mooney, and once again, the narrative beats are predictable. As soon as the underground “boss” shows up, we know Mooney is going to get close to him and kill him, asserting her dominance. Why do we know that’s going to happen? Because we know she’s ruthless and e can hang with big guys like Falcone and Maroni. Thus, the storyline does little but provide Jada Pinkett Smith with more opportunities to ham it up (which she does wonderfully, I might add; I really hope her character sticks around).
Cobblepot doesn’t fare much better. Falcone realizes that Cobblepot is a worthwhile employee, so he tries to appease Maroni by offering him full torturing access to a judge who’s put a couple of Maroni’s guys behind bars. That, along with $200,000, is enough to keep Maroni from killing Cobblepot (for now), who is now in charge of getting Mooney’s old club back up and running. Cobblepot does away with Fish’s dated decor and sets about inviting a bunch of people to the opening. It’s his big chance, and he ultimately fumbles it. It might not be his fault, but the club is practically empty when they open for business. Empty, except for a short visit from Maroni, who assures Cobblepot that once Falcone is out of the mix, the Penguin is a dead man.
These three storylines are so immensely frustrating in how they handle basic narrative and storytelling beats, that the short scenes involving Bruce and Alfred are practically a masterpiece by comparison. Bruce sets out for a hike that he and his father have done annually for some time. Alfred offers to come along, but Bruce tells him it wouldn’t be right; it’s something he has to do alone. There’s not much else to the story: Bruce goes on the hike, finds the rock piles that he and his dad have been building over the years, hurts his ankle in a fall, and is then reunited with Alfred, who has come out to find him. In terms of plot, there’s not a lot going on, but the storytelling is a wonder in how patient and thematically-focused it is. There’s real heartbreak in Bruce’s dismantling of his father’s rock pile; it’s the first time he’s allowed his composed strength to fail, and Mazouz does a wonderful job portraying the frustration and vulnerability that certainly must come with losing an important figure in your life. Then there’s the quiet sunrise scene, which beautifully asserts Alfred as the surrogate father for Bruce. It’s touching but not overly sentimental to see them together watching the sunrise, Bruce coming to the realization that while he no longer has his father, Alfred will always be there for him.
- Never Mind The Bullocks: Bullock doesn’t deserve a highlight this week after that creepy “high school girls didn’t look like this back in my day” comment. Gross, and completely unnecessary in terms of the character and the situation.
- So I guess Barbara is still at her parents’ house? And I guess Jim has mostly forgotten about her?
- Is it just me, or do Ben McKenzie and Morena Baccarin have zero chemistry on screen? Trying to believe or care about their office romance is exhausting.
- Maroni intimidates Cobblepot by continuing to pour champagne into his glass even after it’s full. It spills over and we get a shot of the liquid falling down between Cobblepot’s legs, because that’s what counts for insightful imagery on this show.
- Another thought regarding Cobblepot: do we really need that goofy score every time he walks into a room?
- Okay, something positive: I liked that the show called back to the time Gordon called in a favor from Cobblepot in order to implicate Flass in a murder. It establishes the uneasy relationship between the two and, in an ideal world, would jump start some sort of moral conundrum for Gordon in future episodes.