There’s Nothing to Fear But a Terrible Episode of Gotham: “The Scarecrow”

On the bright side, “The Scarecrow” may have been the first Gotham to give us a full-on origin story for an established Bat-villain (as opposed to Selina Kyle, Penguin, and Nygma, whose arcs are clearly more spread out over time).

On the down side, “The Scarecrow” was so ploddingly atrocious and unnecessary that it almost made me long for “Balloonman” again. At least “Balloonman” was entertaining, and so ridiculously uneven that you could experience some form of schadenfreude as you suffered through it.

Watching a video of a snail crawling down your driveway for 43 minutes would be more compelling than “The Scarecrow.”

Gotham The Scarecrow

“The Scarecrow” picks up from last week’s episode, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane,” but everything of interest that happens in “The Scarecrow” could probably have been folded into that episode. So we’ve got Dr. Crane, who’s been killing people and stealing their adrenal glands. His latest victim is a high school English teacher, and it turns out that Dr. Crane himself used to teach Biology. Thanks to the school principal, Bullock and Gordon get their hands on one of Crane’s academic papers, in which he details his theory that fear is not an emotion but an evolutionary imperative that works to protect organisms. Crane, therefore, thinks he can overcome this biological programming by pumping himself full of an herbal adrenaline cocktail—specifically, he wants to rid himself of all fear, because of that time that his house was on fire and he was too scared to go in and save his wife. Being the generous father that he is, Dr. Crane also plans to rid his son, Jonathan, of all fear, whether Jonathan wants it or not.

This is actually a pretty cool idea, and Crane’s motivations are probably the best of Gotham’s perpetual need to supply its vigilante-antagonists with altruistic intentions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really go anywhere. Bullock and Gordon’s investigation is pretty by-the-numbers, and we’re treated to some 18 gazillion scenes or so of Dr. Crane shooting up with adrenaline and then hallucinating that his wife is there on fire (although the visuals were great). This is also the MO of the entire episode: lots and lots and lots and lots of really short scenes that move their respective subplots along incrementally. There’s probably only 10 minutes of actual plot in the entire episode, plus 33 minutes of mind-numbing padding. I assume this was done intentionally to create “suspense,” in which case the writers missed some crucial lessons from the Hitchcock School of Dramatic Storytelling.

Gotham The Scarecrow

Bullock and Gordon ultimately make their way to Crane’s burnt-out husk of a property, which springs Crane into action. He injects Jonathan with an extreme dose of his fear-killing cocktail, and Jonathan’s screams lead the police right to them. Dr. Crane ends up being shot and killed by the cops (because no fear = run right into bullets!), while Jonathan has a seizure on the ground beneath—you guessed it!—a scarecrow. The overdose of fear toxin has left poor Jonathan in a constant state of paralyzing fear. Oops. THANKS DAD. This is actually an interesting and tragic origin for the boy who will be Scarecrow; I just wish they’d gotten there in a better way. Literally, any other way.

“The Scarecrow” also returns to the classic Gotham form of Shoving In Too Many Subplots Just So We Can Check In On Every Single Character, although at least this time, they left Barbara out of it. First there’s Fish Mooney, who in last week’s cliffhanger ending was lunging at a pirate who had attacked her floating hideout. We join her in a prison, with another 18 gazillion incremental scenes of her figuring out that she’s in a prison, that it’s a prison, that there are prisoners in the prison, that someone has put them all in the prison and she doesn’t know who, and that there is a hierarchy of power among the prisoners, who are in the prison, where she is also, which is a prison. Anyway, this guy Mace is the Top Dog prisoner, for no other reason than that he’s the only one with a shiv, so Fish uses her feminine wiles to get in close to him, still the blade, slit his throat, and claim her new (prison) throne. But her crowning ceremony is interrupted when the guards toss a woman into the prison, after having gouged her eyeballs out. This is supposed to be profound or scary or something, I don’t know. This whole thing was a waste of time.

Gotham The Scarecrow

Another un-fun and drawn out subplot: Falcone and Maroni meet to discuss the fate of Penguin. They go for a walk. They talk about Penguin. Did you know Penguin betrayed Maroni and he feels sad? Falcone wants to keep him around though, because Penguin is valuable. So Maroni and Falcone go for a walk, and they talk about it. Then they go for a walk, and talk about Penguin some more. Falcone gives a gift to Maroni in the form of a powerful judge with a penchant for young boys and ballgags, who Maroni can torture instead of killing Penguin. They talk about Penguin some more. Maroni promises not to kill Penguin, and then goes to see Penguin, and tells Penguin that Falcone told him not to kill Penguin, but that he’s going to kill Penguin once Falcone himself is dead, thereby essentially sapping the Penguin-Maroni plot of all the tension.

Did I mention Penguin? Because Penguin is now in charge of Fish Mooney’s old club! Except we knew that already, but I guess Falcone has made it officially official? So they re-open the club in one day and change the name to “Oswald’s.” Penguin throws a big ol’ party to celebrate the grand re-opening, and he wants to invite his buddy Jim Gordon, and wants to invite him in person. So Penguin walks in to GCPD headquarters and looks at Nygma, who looks at Penguin, who looks at Nygma, who looks at Penguin, who looks at Nygma, who tells a riddle because get it, he’s the Riddler, and oh my God I want to die. Anyway Penguin invites Jim Gordon to his club, and Gordon basically tells Penguin to screw off, which makes Penguin sad. “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light,” Penguin says to Gordon, which is one of two worthwhile lines (the other being Maroni’s “Son of a Mother Bitch!”). In the Director’s Cut version of this episode, there would be a scene where Gordon logs onto Facebook just to de-friend Penguin. And maybe to change his relationship status…

Gotham The Scarecrow

…because the lovely Dr. Thompkins is the new Medical Examiner at GCPD! Which makes Gordon feel weird, because they’re all kissy now and stuff and Gordon’s is super uncomfortable with PDA because he has a reputation to uphold as a tightass Boy Scout, I guess. Cue another 18 gazillion scenes of Gordon getting nervous every time he sees Dr. Thompkins, who is all flirty and pretty and stuff ‘cause she’s a girl and also Morena Baccarin so okay fine. Except for the part when Gordon is, well, kind of a douchebag, and tries to force Thompkins to follow his Rules For Being In A Relationship With A Co-Worker, and Dr. Thompkins is…totally okay with it, even though it feels really really controlling.

Also Nygma has a crush on Dr. Thompkins now, too, which I guess is fun. But Ed, what about your feelings for Kris Kringle? Nevermind, forget I asked; I don’t want to have to endure 18 gazillion more short, incremental scenes of awkward flirtations, too.

Gotham The Scarecrow

Finally, we come to young Master B, on the anniversary of he and his father’s annual hike through the woods. Alfred offers to accompany him this year, but Bruce wants to go it alone. Cue incremental scenes of Bruce hiking, which eventually lead us to the top of a large hill, where Bruce and his father had been building some kind of rock pile…which Bruce, in his sadness, proceeds to destroy. Bruce loses his balance on his way down the hill and sprains his ankle. He eventually MacGyvers a leg brace for himself, and drags himself back up the hill on his stomach…where he comes upon Alfred waiting for him with a nice fire. This is probably the only part of the episode I actually enjoy, because it encapsulates so much of their relationship. At first, Bruce is outraged that Alfred came all out to the woods and just sat back and watched while Bruce struggled—but that’s exactly the kind of tough love that Alfred delivers. He leaves Bruce alone to figure out how to survive, but then he’s always right there at the end with a warm fire and a pot of tea, ready to watch the sunrise together.

Next week, Gordon and Thompkins go to the circus! And if the snail’s pace of “The Scarecrow” continues, it’ll take another 2 episodes until they actually see the circus! I’m actually looking forward to shovelling snow after watching that episode…


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

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