Gotham Review: 'The Fearsome Mr. Crane'
The latest episode of Gotham, "The Fearsome Mr. Crane," did a lot of things right. The cold open was truly disturbing, with Dr. Crane (who is never referred to by name) cruelly waking his victim moments before his death for the sole purpose of psychological torment. The scenes between Penguin and Maroni were thrilling and perfectly paced. Leslie and Jim were unobjectionably cute. There was a nice character moment for Bullock in which he expresses a deep-seated fear of being killed on the job. There was no Barbara. And, as you may already know, I have a weakness for creative kills, and both the hanging and the pigs definitely fit the bill.
But even looking at this list of things Gotham did right, I can see that I'm grading on a serious curve. The Penguin/Maroni plotline was the most marked improvement, especially the scene in which Penguin thinks he has the drop on Maroni and has the rug pulled out from under him. For once, there were actual stakes to this cat-and-mouse game, and between Robin Lord Taylor's performance and the car crusher (again, creative kills) the entire storyline was wonderful to watch.
But take the opening scene, for example. Considering that Gotham usually fails to make a real emotional impact with its villain-of-the-week, the cold open was great. Dr. Crane's sadism was disarming, the man's screams were haunting. But then the tone completely shifts from dark and grim to Gotham's trademark silliness, with a shot of a maid cleaning an apartment while the poor man hangs from the window. That might sound like an inspired bit of black humor, but it's not. There isn't nearly enough black in the moment for it to qualify as black humor, or at least not well-done black humor. One can easily see how a few tweaks would have made this cold open damn near perfect, which is the most frustrating part of this show.
All the other "good" parts of this episode can be qualified in a similar way, where it was perfectly fine for Gotham, but would have been weak points in an episode of a legitimately good show. Bullock's monologue was refreshing and well-acted, but a cop being afraid of dying on the job is hardly original or even really enlightening. Dr. Crane was a fairly frightening villain, but his dialogue was often reduced to "bad guy" cliches. For example, the "don't think badly of me" was a fairly interesting character moment for Crane, but telling his son that they're doing this for the "good of humanity" is a cliche that apparently doesn't need any further explanation.
The introduction to the future Scarecrow, a scared 16-year-old who is traumatized by being forced to take part in his father's murders, is completely sympathetic, which is a welcome change. Most of the future villains on the show, with the exception of Ivy (and I suppose Cat, although Catwoman isn't always a full-fledged villain), are pretty far from being solely sympathetic figures. It would be a much more interesting arc to see someone go from completely sympathetic to full-fledged villain. But while Gotham did that part right, it didn't delve nearly enough into the psychology of either of these characters. Which, it has to be said, is the entire point of a prequel show. We didn't tune in to Gotham to play the "how many Batman villains can we pointlessly squeeze into every episode" game. We watched it to see the psychological origins of villains. Gotham may be entertaining at points, but it's failing at its entire raison d'etre.
-I don't have too much of an opinion on the Bullock/Scottie romance, although their dynamic, and especially her no-nonsense attitude, was appealing and got a few laughs. ("Don't be an ass." "Unless she's the killer, I think I'm in there.")
-We didn't see much of Bruce, but David Mazouz did a great job with what he was given, as usual. The scene in which he releases Gordon from the promise to find his parents' killer is sad on so many levels. First, Bruce is just a tragic character, especially when he's trying to seem grown-up. And the scene also served as a nice meta-commentary on how terrible all the cops are, Gordon included. But most of all, it reminded me of the trajectory I thought Gotham would take when I first started watching. I thought it would be an origin story for the city itself, where Gotham loses its innocence with the death of the Waynes and that event serves as the emotional core for the portrayal of a city in decline. Where did that go, Gotham?
-The Thompkins/Gordon romance remains relatively strong, although "relatively" when the alternative is Barbara is not saying very much. When Leslie cuts through the subtext, it feels like something that would happen in a real-life mating ritual, rather than just the writers not understanding what subtext is.
-LOVED the line: "I put on lipstick, and you want forensic advice." It was an endearing flirtation moment for the two of them, but more importantly, it spoke volumes to her character. (Although I guess I have Gotham goggles on if I think that counts as significant character development.)
-That being said, the kissing in the middle of Gotham Central was not believable, especially since she had just expressed interest in a job there.
-What on Earth was that ending? Are we supposed to know or care about the person Fish attacks? Why were they both making ridiculous animal noises? WHY??