Usually, no matter how bad an episode of Gotham ends up being, it contains at least one really excellent scene. This week that scene is the meeting between two of Batman’s greatest foes in the Gotham City Police Department. Penguin is on a mission to hand deliver an invitation to Jim Gordon, requesting the detective’s presence at the grand opening of the villain’s new club. Jim isn’t at his desk and instead Oswald Cobblepot is forced into conversation with Edward Nygma, the future Riddler.
To understate the situation, both mad men get off on the wrong foot. When Cobblepot gives a rhetorical “What do you want?” Nygma answers with a riddle. Pingu hates riddles, and as conversation escalates, the duck-footed menace pulls villain rank on the Riddler, winning a step back from Nygma, who counters with a wonderful factoid-powered jab:
“Did you know that male Emperor Penguins keep their eggs warm by balancing them on their feet?”
The scene is electric with chemistry, presents two of the show’s most intriguing characters with a brand new situation that develops them both and doesn’t rely on TV budget special effects. What’s more is by the end of the encounter neither villain has named the other, only slyly identified their traits (Ed’s curiosity and Penguin’s fragile long term machinations) and made an excellent point: these guys are already too big to be buddies.
The rest of “The Scarecrow” is the opposite of that scene. Like last week’s “The Fearsome Dr. Crane”, this episode is bloated with additional plots, many of which simply don’t carry any weight. The difference here, in part two of what was billed as a major Gotham event, is that instead of not having enough Scarecrow, we somehow have too much.
Not that Jonathan and Gerald Crane received an inordinate amount of screen time, the episode certainly earns its name, but the subtlety of the Riddler-Penguin scene is completely absent in their storyline. In the place of the kind of nuance that I’ve praised the show for in the past, we’re given clunky exposition that,when summarized amounts to:
Bullock: “This biology teacher is harvesting fear glands.”
Jim: “Why would anyone harvest fear glands?”
Bullock: “He’s doing magic science so that he is no longer fearful.”
Jim: “That makes sense to me somehow. Why’s he so scared?
Bullock: “His wife died in a car crash. Oh wait, no, I just checked the newspapers, she died in a house fire and he thinks he could have saved her if he wasn’t so scared.”
Jim: (breaking character) “Does anybody else think that’s an unreasonable response?”
Writers (whispering): “His son’s gonna be Scarecrow tho.”
Jim and Bullock:“Oh. Okay cool. Let’s make an orphan of his kid.”
After the detectives orphan Jonathan Crane, but not fast enough so he isn’t given an overdose of fear magic by his now dead dad underneath the family scarecrow (which is totally a thing, right?), the abused boy is taken to the hospital where he is diagnosed with – and I swear to god I’m not joking – “a constant state of intense terror,” that might never go away.
To illustrate this totally real and scary medical condition we get a few panicked shot’s from poor Jon’s perspective. He looks one way – oh no it’s a computer animated scarecrow! He look’s the other way – Ah! Same Scarecrow! What about over- AH! There is no escape! No Escape from the cartoon scarecrow!
The most maddening aspect about how Goosebumps-ish the Jonathan Crane origin story turned out is that Gotham has introduced future villains in a fraction of the time with magnitudes more subtlety. In episode eight, “The Mask”, Hush is introduced with very little fanfare as Bruce’s morbid childhood bully. It worked, deepened Bruce’s character and it only took a few small scenes. Having a CG scarecrow scream at the screen from every possible angle is the opposite of that.
The ridiculous Scarecrow plot was still only about a quarter of the episode. The mob storyline was furthered as usual, the Fish Mooney cliffhanger was semi-resolved and Bruce had a heart warming night with Alfred.
Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni need to bury the hatchet named Oswald Cobblepot. After last week’s romantic interrogation in the woods, all the chips are on the table in regards to Penguin’s role as a double (or is it triple?) agent. As such, a peace offering needs to be made so that the Falcone and Maroni families can remain at peace and Penguin can keep his life. It’s a tall order, as Sal would love nothing more than to kill this personal betrayer.
Carmine Falcone invites Sal over to his place for a sandwich and an apology. The conversation equates to a reluctant trade between broadly drawn mobster caricatures and another forced attempt at edginess that reads as goofy.
Maroni: You gonna need to give me more than a sandwich or I’m gonna kill Penguin, capisce?
Falcone: Look I love the little guy, capisce? How about we work out trade?
Maroni: I’m an emotional mobster, capisce? The only way I’d give this vendetta up is for similar revenge and 200 Gs
Falcone: Oh, I capisce.
Falcone then opens the door to one of his mansion’s rooms to reveal Chief Judge Stanley Turner being sexually humiliated by a dominatrix. Smiling, they gaze on this sight with all the perverse awkwardness of straight men watching porn together. All is well between the men, Penguin is saved, and Gotham once again tries and fails to use violence on an extra to make its mains characters either scary or cool.
In case Gotham’s position on using rape to artificially heighten the stakes wasn’t clear enough (resounding support), the resolution to Fish Mooney’s irritated hangnail of a plot from last episode really sleazes the point home.
After last week’s mid-punch cliffhanger, “The Scarecrow” skips forward a bit and shows us a mysterious underground prison in which she’s being held with an inordinate number of men. She quickly gains a little hench guy and sets about hatching a plan to not get raped.
Li’l Guy: Look, you’re gonna wanna watch out for the rape down here.
Fish: Oh yeah? Who’s gonna rape me, those crumbums over there?
Li’l Guy: Could be anybody. Could be our boss.
Fish: What’s up doc?
Boss: I’m the boss here because I have the only knife.
Fish: I’m implying that if you protect me I’ll have sex with you. [aside] Don’t worry guys, I have a knife, actually.
Boss: Okay baby.
Fish: (stabbing the boss) Don’t call me baby.
Fish becomes the boss of the weird prison underlings and just as she makes her introduction speech another woman is thrown into the catacombs, blindly feeling around having recently had her eyes removed. “My eyes,” she explains, “They took my eyes.”
Once again Gotham is using gratuitous violence against nameless characters to raise the stakes without actually threatening the well being of anyone of consequence. The problem is further compounded by Fish’s LOST-ish capsule of a plot. Mooney doesn’t matter to the main storyline for the moment, and rather than being cool with that, the minds behind Gotham put Jada Pinkett Smith in a cave with a camera, some rapists and a mutilated blind human-warning-sign.
Finally, we come to Bruce. It is the anniversary of a tradition he used to observe when his father was alive. The Wayne boys would hike a trail to a place where they each had a pile of rocks and stay there until the sun would rise. Alfred is apprehensive at first, but lets the little master go on his way.
There is nothing to parody or mock here. Bruce’s scenes stand out because, like the scene at the top of this recap, they are more interested in subtext. Sure, when Master Wayne has an emotional breakdown and throws his fathers legacy of stones everywhere the message is less than subtle, but at least it’s showing instead of telling (or in many of the above cases, threatening). There is enough care put into these scenes which are delivered with restraint, to really highlight the problems with everything else in “The Scarecrow”.
Mid-freakout, Bruce stumbles down a steep hill and sprains his ankle just as a storm seems to be rolling in. Using the utility belt of his mind, a stick and then the actual belt that holds up his pants, Bruce fashions a splint and begins to crawl home.
Hours later, at the top of the hill he fell down, Bruce finds Alfred where the family rocks were. The butler’s built a campfire .
A short bit of cute dialogue ends with the two deciding to spend the night out there. No storm comes, and as the sun eventually rises the bond between the batboy and the butler strengthens. As bad as things can get, a new day is always just over the horizon. For Bruce that new day is the emotional closure of avenging his parents, for Alfred it’s every time his master experiences joy. For Gotham City the new day is Batman and for fans of this show it’s every new episode that might actually live up to its promise. For Jonathan Crane there is no new day, he has a super serious condition where he sees a cartoon scarecrow everywhere.
-Dr. Thompkins invited Jim on a date to the circus. Maybe the Flying Graysons are in town?
-Though I do like the umbrella icon he’s put all over the club, Penguin’s party got me thinking about his personal taste in art. Does he like the Strangers cover band he hired to play the event or does it just fit into his wrong headed idea of what cool looks like? I kind of get the impression that Oswald Cobblepot is one of those people who doesn’t get music.
-There was a Joker reference in this episode. Did you catch it? Do you care? In a couple weeks we have a Red Hood episode. Maybe there’s a connection?