Before anyone gets too excited, I just want to be clear that I’ve been snowed into my home for 2 days with minimal human contact and I might be going a little stir-crazy. It’s entirely possible that this case of cabin fever is affecting my judgment. But “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” was an overall enjoyable episode of Gotham. It wasn’t a huge game-changing blowout like “Lovecraft,” but it was still generally well done. It had stakes? And realistic dialogue? And a mostly logical series of events? And nice character moments? It was even tonally consistent, with just a dash of that trademark Gotham camp, evenly spaced and deftly handled.
I’m almost afraid to offer any serious criticisms, because we’ve seen what happens when the Gotham creative team tries too hard. But then, fear is the whole point of this week’s episode, so perhaps it’s appropriate that they were afraid to go as all-over-the-place as usual—but in this case, that fear may have paid off.
Lest you Bat-fans get too excited by the title, the case-of-the-week in “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” was focused on the father of Jonathan Crane, that beloved Scarecrow-to-be, who only makes a brief appearance to collect some change for the parking meter. The not-so-good Dr. Crane has been stalking a support group for people with crippling phobias. He picks them off one at a time, somehow incorporating their greatest fears into his murder method of choice, then posthumously removing their adrenal glands—presumably to harvest their cortisol in its purest form, in a wink-and-nod to the trademark fear toxin that his son will ultimately develop as the Scarecrow.
The investigation introduces us to Bullock’s new love interest, Scottie Mullens, a pretty Irish-American redhead (which confuses Bullock, despite her being a redhead named “Mullens”) with a fear of swimming pools. She was the sponsor to Crane’s first victim, Adam Jadorowski, who was afraid of heights and was killed by hanging off the edge of a skyscraper. Bullock’s flirtations with Mullens seem like something more than just a means to solve a case. He attends the phobia support group with her and, in a rare moment of earnestness, admits that he’s constantly terrified of death. “I don’t want to die alone in a gutter. I want to die in a warm, cozy bed in the arms of a beautiful woman,” he says (after previously deflecting his honest confession by claiming, “I’m a cop. The only thing I’m afraid of is decaf coffee”). Mullens is kidnapped by Crane in the middle of the support group meeting; Bullock rescues her from drowning while Gordon goes after Crane, but Papa Scarecrow slips away and lives to harvest fear another day.
My only real complaint about this part of the episode was after they captured one of Crane’s thugs, whom they pegged as the central perp. But Gordon still had to say “I think there’s another guy out there!” which resulted in yet-another stern talking-to by Captain Essen, who asks him kindly to stop being such an asshat. There was no good reason for him to think that, and dramatically, the only purpose it served was to set up an awkward date with Thompkins, which could have achieved in a number of other ways. As I said last week, even I’m sick of the Gordon-is-right-about-the-case-all-along plot line; yes, he’s aggressively righteous, but it would be more interesting if you challenged his character beliefs more. I’m more interested in the story where Gordon screws up, or his self-righteousness ends up causing the problem, instead of being the solution. As annoying as it is, it’s hard to argue with Gordon’s attitude when his lone-wolf-boy-scout method is always, always right.
Other than that, there’s a teeny-tiny part of me that wishes this episode (or this show in general) did a better job of thematically tying the A-Plot to the B- and C-plots. I often think of Buffy as a great example of a show where the case-of-the-week resonated thematically with the characters’ personal struggles (in particular, “Hush” comes to mind). Gotham has tried that a few times with, but even their success in that hasn’t been particularly remarkable. If less ambitions mean better television, I’ll take it (kind of the opposite of the Grant Morrison “So much ambition that you can’t manage all of it but at least I commend you for trying” problem).
A Bird in the Hand is 9/10 of the Law
Meanwhile, Penguin and Maroni are celebrating the demise of Fish Mooney when Maroni gets a phone call from… Fish Mooney, who rats out Penguin as a rat for Falcone (Fish is currently hiding out on a boat; there’s a joke in there somewhere). Maroni takes Penguin on a road trip to his cabin upstate to “see a guy about a thing” which we all know to mean “kill you.”
I was genuinely impressed with the writing in the scenes with Penguin and Maroni. It’s a constantly shifting power dynamic that somehow had me on the edge of my seat despite the fact that I know that Gotham isn’t going to do anything of consequence to either character. Somehow I believed there were actual stakes for once! First when Maroni’s on the phone with Fish, with Penguin right across from him at the restaurant examining a knife…which is dirty, so he asks the waiter for another. This was a great use of dramatic irony; Penguin didn’t know who Maroni was talking to, but the audience did, and this made the tension feel truly palpable.
Later, at the cabin, Maroni starts to poke holes in all of Penguin’s stories, then challenges him to a friendly game of “Truth or Truth.” Maroni doles out his newfound knowledge in three carefully calculated steps, as Penguin tries to deflect with confessions about his dislike for oatmeal. The tables turn when Penguin reveals, “Truth: I took your gun,” and pulls a pistol on Maroni—who turns it back around with, “Truth: I loaded it with blanks.” Maroni ultimately brings Penguin to a junkyard where he sticks him in a car to get crushed by a scrap machine.
If this were any other episode of Gotham, Maroni would offer some lame excuse to let Penguin live, which would then enable him to escape and rat another day. This made it that much more satisfying when Maroni actually went through with killing Penguin. Sure, he weasels his way out at the last minute, but he goes about it in a clever way that doesn’t rely on Maroni’s poor decision making. Even knowing full well that Penguin would survive, I was still surprised when he found a way out of the wreck. That is how you do dramatic crime storytelling.
Odds & Ends & Other Things
- Gordon goes to Barbara’s apartment to “drop off the keys” and discovers Selina Kyle there. She, like us, questions the futility of Barbara’s continued sub-plot, then tells Jim that she told Bruce that she didn’t actual see the Waynes’ killer—and then she escapes. Whoops!
- From there, Gordon visits Bruce, who “releases him” from his oath to find his parents’ killer. Alfred stands by Bruce’s decision to investigate the murder by himself; it seems his not particularly fond of Gordon after that whole “assassination attempt” thing happened.
- Quote-of-the-Week once again goes to Maroni: “A bird in the hand is 9/10 of the law.” (second runner-up goes to Bullock for actual saying “That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” thus firmly establishing the show is anachronistically set in 1993)
- Essen warns Bullock to watch his back because Flass’s bros might “accidentally” throw him off a rooftop for his association with Gordon. Sadly, this Chekhov’s gun had no payoff.
- Nygma is suspended for YET AGAIN getting his hands dirty (literally) in the medical examiner’s office.
- So naturally, Nygma fills the Medical Examiner’s locker with pilfered severed body parts (ew), so the ME gets fired…
- …which opens it up for Dr. Thompkins to join GCPD!
- …which in turn makes me wonder why ever needed to go to Arkham in the first place, if Thompkins could have just been introduced as a new medical examiner?
- But that’s okay, because Morena Baccarin could have irresistible chemistry if she was acting with a brick wall as her romantic interest.
- Finally and perhaps most importantly, this is the second time that Gotham has featured a pig-masked villain in a single scene—and yet, still no sign of Professor Pyg! Maybe that whole “Joker hint in every episode” thing really was a red herring, and they’re dropping hints towards Professor Pyg instead! (a guy can dream, can’t he? I just want to see this dance sequence played out on the screen…)
Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net.