NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Gotham are present in this review
Finally. Finally! After spending all of 2015 in a bit of a slump so far, Gotham finally righted the ship a bit more with “The Fearsome Dr. Crane”, an all-around stronger episode that finally did away with the show’s recent story issues, and presented actual, interesting plot developments with actual, interesting drama.
This episode is actually a two-parter, and begins the setup for the latest Batman villain yet-to-come, Scarecrow. As was the indication with the Black Mask tease in “The Mask” however, the one who would one day menace Batman as Scarecrow is merely the son of another deranged criminal, played in a guest role by Julian Sands, whom Smallville fans should recognize as the in-the-flesh Jor-El. In fact, the young Jonathan Crane is only seen once in passing this episode, so barely consequential that his lack of meaning feels brilliantly calculated at this point, as with the introduction of Ivy Pepper for example. It’s almost hard to believe that this is a future villain that will one day be powerful enough to conquer all of Gotham City, were Batman not around to put a stop to him.
Anyway, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” largely puts Bullock in the center of Crane Sr.’s crime wave , which involves him posing in a phobia support group to kidnap the members, kill them while under the duress of their greatest fear, and then harvest their organs. It’s actually very fitting for the father of the future Scarecrow, whose son will inevitably take up his mantle to even deadlier effect one day. Bullock even gets a particular moment to shine this episode, his best since “Spirit of the Goat”, as he ends up falling for a group member that Crane Sr. later tries to drown in a pool, taking advantage of her own worst fear.
Bullock ends up saving the woman, who luckily has a lone pool that she’s particularly afraid of, making her location easy to deduce, though Crane Sr. escapes, despite Gordon’s pursuit. We knew that would happen though, since the second half of this two-parter still has to air next week.
Another blatant cliffhanger is had with Fish Mooney, who is currently being smuggled out of Gotham City on a boat, only to have the boat attacked and all of the crew killed. The episode ends with Fish staring down a commando-like man and the two charging at each other. It’s actually kind of silly-looking if I’m being honest, though it does give next week’s episode an interesting note to start on.
As for Penguin, Fish ends up ratting him out to Maroni, creating the episode’s strongest plot arc. Maroni decides to test Penguin’s character again, this time by taking him to a remote cabin and interrogating him. Penguin tries to grab Maroni’s gun and shoot him when he believes he’s been found out, only to discover that the gun has been loaded with blanks. It was a trap, and Maroni is now certain of Penguin’s deception.
This leads to an awesome sequence of Penguin being bound in a car that’s about to be crushed in a junkyard, with Maroni making sure to watch him die. With his pleas falling on deaf ears, Penguin soon gets the idea to call the scrapyard owner, and threaten that Don Falcone will come after him and his family if Penguin is murdered by Maroni. The owner stops the crusher long enough for Maroni to chase after him, and Penguin to slip away. It was a brilliant execution of an inevitable discovery by Maroni, even if we knew that Penguin was bound to survive, and it once again presents incredible promise for episodes to come over the remainder of the first season, now that Penguin has been rooted out as a traitor by Maroni. This should also put the Falcone/Maroni mob war back into play, particularly when Penguin reveals to Maroni that the land related to Arkham that was donated by Maroni to Falcone is not as worthless as Penguin initially claimed.
Even Edward Nygma got some fantastic material this week, finally showing a hint that he’ll one day turn to villainy, and become Batman antagonist, The Riddler. After the GCPD’s medical examiner finally gets Nygma suspended for his unauthorized examining of cadavers, Nygma breaks into his locker and fills it with body parts, leading to the medical examiner being fired. Nygma even gets the attention of Ms. Kringle a little more by the end of the episode, the woman he’s been borderline stalking for most of this season. Sure, he didn’t leave any riddles, but that would have been moving too fast. It’s great to see that the show is demonstrating Nygma’s turn to villainy with tact and care, and not just wanting to rush him into becoming The Riddler on a dime.
Speaking of tact and care, this episode also did a better job of showing the budding relationship between Gordon and Dr. Thompkins. Gordon is only now dropping the keys back to Barbara (who has hopefully fallen into an open sewer and died off-screen), complete with having to shoo out the sqatting Selina Kyle, who even tries to corroborate her lie to Gordon that she lied about witnessing the Wayne murders. Bruce Wayne even relieves Gordon of his promise to find his parents’ killer, which helps Gordon try to find comfort in the arms of Dr. Thompkins.
Refreshingly though, the relationship has bumps in its early stages. Gordon is tactless and has forgotten how to date, with Dr. Thompkins initially believing that he is only interested in her for her medical expertise. Gordon even confesses that he has trouble being affectionate with her around the precinct, since he wants to keep their relationship under wraps. When Dr. Thompkins talks him into accepting a kiss on the cheek though, the two happily kiss in front of a bunch of awed cops. It was actually undeniably cute, and it helped to make up for the relationship feeling a little shoehorned into proceedings all of a sudden during the events of “What the Little Bird Told Him.”
It’s great to see Gotham back in fine form, since the show often has potential with its ideas that its scripts don’t always tap. “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” however went back to smarter stories and better drama. With the episode being a two-parter, hopefully the concluding half of the Scarecrow origin next week will be just as well-realized!
Gotham finally returned to solid footing in 2015, with the first of a two-part Scarecrow origin event, even if the best moments were unrelated to the fearsome villain-to-come.
THE GOOD STUFF
Awesome Maroni/Penguin standoff
The Gordon/Thompkins relationship is unfolding well