Last week was proof that Gotham does not work as a dry, reality-based police procedural. Gordon and Bullock brought down Arnold Flass, a crooked cop who (despite being a legitimate Batman character from legitimate Batman comics) could have been lifted from any of the 6,000 police procedurals currently dotting the TV landscape. Flass peddled drugs and killed those who saw him peddling drugs, and the law brought him down. Snore.
This week, a proto-Scarecrow serial killer wielded an adorable micropig like a deadly weapon, inspiring abject terror in a man deathly afraid of pigs. The killer approached, stroking his tiny, adorable porker like he’s North Carolina Blofeld; we next see the victim strapped to a chair while a dancing maniac in a pig mask goes to town on him Hostel-style. There are several adult pigs in attendance.
“The Fearsome Dr. Crane” is batshit insane, and it’s also Gotham at its absolute best. It’s an even blend of laughable and really, genuinely scary (also seen in the episode’s opening- when another of Dr. Crane’s victims is hung from a building, we see the point of impact when the noose snaps his neck… and we see the cleaning lady jamming along to her headphones, totally unaware). Best of all, the crazy crap in “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” is surprising. Which itself is surprising, given that last week’s Gotham was nothing but old storylines dredged up from the dead and pieced together into a “new” episode. No one watching Gotham last night could have predicted the micropig attack or the small avalanche of severed corpse pieces or that Penguin would find salvation in the arms of old church ladies. That’s what makes TV fun, and what makes “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” a shining example of how awesome Gotham could be if it wasn’t so inconsistent.
Also, what part of Gotham City still has old-fashioned church ladies? There must be some hidden neighborhood where people still go to church, respect their elders, and don’t routinely hack apart their fellow Gothamites.
“The Fearsome Dr. Crane” definitely wins points on ambition- the Scarecrow is easily the biggest, most recognizable Batman villain the show’s ever used as a one-off baddie (two-off really, given that next week’s episode is titled “The Scarecrow” and will most assuredly feature more Dr. Crane). Like with all things Gotham, the Dr. Crane we saw last night isn’t the Dr. Crane everyone already knows and loves from years of Bat-media. Gotham’s Crane is Dr. Gerald Crane, father of actual Scarecrow Jonathan Crane- who in last night’s episode is just a teen, charged with important supervillain tasks like “feeding the meter” and “keeping the van running” while Dad tortures, kills and dissects the victims.
Gotham didn’t invent Gerald Crane, technically speaking. Gerald Crane is the official, comic-sanctioned name for the classic villain’s pop. But Gerald Crane is mostly nonexistent- as explained in the 2005 two-part comic, “Year One: Batman/Scarecrow,” Gerald Crane and Karen Keeny gave birth to a wee baby Scarecrow, then promptly abandoned him and left him in the care of an abusive grandmother. From here, it’s a simple path to supervillainy. A childhood where disobeying Grandma meant being pecked at by a flock of vicious crows, an adolescence where the other kids mocked him for being spindly and bookish, and an adult life as a psychology professor and Arkham asylum shrink. All of which gives us a guy who’s obsessed with fear, knows all there is to know about it, and has the means to craft himself a scarecrow suit, concoct a nifty fear gas and begin a reign of literal terror.
Most of that is the invention of modern Batman writers; according to Bob Kane and Bill Finger (Batman’s creators, and Scarecrow’s too), Scarecrow’s origin was a much simpler three-part process. As shown in 1941’s “World’s Finest #3:”
1. Jonathan Crane was once a little brat in short pants who liked to frighten birds.
2. Jonathan Crane grew up to be a psychology professor and an all-around expert on fear.
3. Jonathan Crane lost his job after firing a handgun in the middle of a lecture. To cope with the firing (and that his peers thought he was a weirdo), Crane started wearing a scary mask and stuffing straw down his pants.
Eventually, Batman caught up with the Scarecrow in “World’s Finest #3,” and the two beat on each other with trash cans for a few panels before heading their separate ways. And after one more comic appearance, in 1943’s “Detective Comics #73,” Scarecrow disappeared off the face of the comic Earth for more than two decades. In 1967, the character returned to Batman comics and has enjoyed a healthy reputation as one of Bruce Wayne’s greatest foes ever since.
Fun Fear Fact: Joel Schumacher was originally set to direct another Batman film following Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Titled Batman Triumphant, Schumacher had already approached Nicolas Cage to play the Scarecrow (the film’s lead villain). Then Batman & Robin was actually released, and was so globally despised that all Nicolas Cage Scarecrow plans were scrapped forever. Think of Cage dressed in torn rags and ranting about his “gas,” and weep for what might have been.
Just like “Rogue’s Gallery” and “What the Little Bird Told Him” (the Electrocutioner two-parter that was creative, clever, and wrapped around a winning evildoer), Scarecrow’s presence energizes every little detail of “The Fearsome Dr. Crane.”
Valentine’s Day is just a week off, and so this two-parter gets a dash of romance. Gordon confirms what everyone’s been thinking (and hoping)- that Barbara is gonezo and Leslie Thompkins is in-zo. Meanwhile, Bullock’s courting Scottie (Maria Thayer), a woman involved with the crippling phobia support group that Crane Sr.’s using as a hunting ground. Mixing romance and Gotham seems like a recipe for awkward, stilted kiss scenes, but “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” persevered against all odds and gave us some genuine sugar. Gordon and Thompkins get two romcom-worthy moments of bumbling cuteness: Gordon bringing his Crane case files on their date (he’s not using her just for her medical know-ho, he’s just genuinely that clueless about how dating works). And later, she goes for a kiss at the Gotham police headquarters, even though the GCPD is a strict no-kissing zone.
Kudos to Ben McKenzie for really pushing it on this one. His Gordon certainly seems closed off, and even when he’s embracing the I AM JUSTICE side of the character, he’s not what you’d call personable. But Gordon’s adamant refusal that he will not kiss Leslie while there are cops watching is legitimately charming. And of course he kisses her. Meanwhile, Donal Logue demonstrates just why he was hired for Gotham, chatting up Scottie like a bashful schoolboy.
Bullock: To be honest, you don’t strike me as the fraidy-cat type.
Scottie: Phobics are not fraidy cats!
Bullock: I know, it’s just… you seem like a strong lady, is all.
Gotham might not give Logue the same range he had on Terriers (note: for anyone who’s been enjoying Logue on Gotham, Terriers is required viewing), but if the show keeps feeding him lines like “you seem like a strong lady, is all,” he’ll keep make your heart melt, every time.
Speaking of romance (next week’s “The Scarecrow” is just days before the big V-Day and I’m really hoping it keeps with the theme), Ed Nygma’s fledgling romance with Kristen Kringle took a big step forward. Gotham’s been pushing their little “will they, won’t they” for some time without any major swings in either direction. A “will they?” every time she appears as Nygma’s clearly-appointed maybe-love interest, and a “won’t they?” every time she thinks he’s a psycho.
“The Fearsome Dr. Crane” gives these two geekish lovebirds a good shove in both directions at once. Kristen sobs over Flass’s arrest, further proof that she was very much on the bullying side of the clique line and not really into Nygma at all. Also, all those times she thought he was a psycho? Totally validated when Nygma fills the GCPD medical examiner’s locker with cadaver chunks. But Kringle doesn’t know that yet, and her little pencil line at the end might actually be construed as a flirt. There’s hope for them yet. And while this might be one of Gotham’s weaker storylines (really just the “wacky medical examiner” schtick from Bones and a thousand other forensic shows on overdrive), keeping things on the “rotting corpse locker avalanche” level of crazy will definitely help “The Riddler Finds Love” stay watchable.
That leaves us with just one other major development for this hour of Gotham: Penguin’s falling out with Maroni. Here, Gotham demonstrates a level of self-awareness I never realized the show was capable of. All those moments that should have made it glaringly obvious that Penguin was playing Maroni- that Frankie Carbone was mysteriously stabbed to death in a gunfight, that Penguin instantly got Falcone to take the “worthless” Indian Hill property in a trade, or that Penguin’s poker face is non-existent and he’s snitched on every other character at least twice now. Turns out Gotham’s been taking notes. And so has Maroni.
And when Fish Mooney whispers a little something in the big guy’s ear, he realizes there might be some truth behind his ten-page list of hunches. And so finally, FINALLY, a character takes a no-bullshit approach to dealing with Penguin. Robin Lord-Taylor is, as he’s been for the last thirteen episodes, enthralling. But every character on the show has gladly accepted his shit-eating grin without hesitation, every time. With each interaction in Maroni’s hunting lodge, our Penguin expectations have been flipped on their head. Penguin declares his sing-song love for oatmeal and coffee? We know Maroni sees through it. Penguin’s got a gun to Maroni’s head? It’s clear from Maroni’s expression that he’s thought of that too. Maroni doesn’t even try to hide that he’s done with Penguin- he doesn’t put any effort into his cover story beyond “we gotta see a guy about a thing.”
In some ideal alternate universe, this might have served as the Penguin’s death scene. He’s finally out of tricks, and his final near-death play- calling up Maroni for one final plea- just gets laughed off. But this is the Bat-Universe and Bruno Heller seems pretty insistent (for now, anyway) that things be preserved perfectly for Bruce when he finally grows up to don the cape and cowl. That means Penguin will continue to squirm out of all death scenes for the extent of the series. At least the church ladies were a welcome consolation prize (and besides, halfway through Season One is years too early to off Lord-Taylor).
Two final tidbits to end this one on:
1. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice a box of Frute Brute at Gordon’s place, because somebody in the Gotham crew really loves Pulp Fiction. Or Frute Brute, I guess.
2. We are definitely missing a piece with that ending shot. Are we supposed to know who that revolutionary-looking dude was? Why he and Fish seemed to know each other? Why they both snarled like dogs before charging into battle? That was too vague and too stupid a note to end such a great episode on.
Next week: More Cranes (hopefully some fear gas, too- is that what Crane Sr.’s extracting the glands for?) and hopefully just as much insanity. I wouldn’t mind another micropig at some point.