Gotham Review: 'The Scarecrow'
I'm going to go a little easy on Gotham this week. Maybe I'm in a good mood, or maybe I'm drunk, or maybe I'm just glad this episode was fun and exciting enough to be a guilty pleasure, which is all I can expect at this point. But the Scarecrow storyline was engaging and brought up some interesting questions (if only by accident), Fish's imprisonment in a mysterious prison is genuinely intriguing, Bruce Wayne's mini hero's journey broke my little heart, and Leslie Thompkins is- not Barbara, which is all you need.
First of all, this was one of the darkest, most disturbing episodes yet, between the disgusting process of liquifying adrenal glands, to the implied rapes in Fish's prison, to the truly terrifying hallucinations of demonic scarecrows. Darkness is obviously not all a show needs, but at least it kept me awake, and oftentimes had a real purpose. The unsettling body horror in the Scarecrow plotline made Jonathan Crane a much scarier villain, and it also made the audience feel even more sympathetic towards young Johnny, who will grow up to be the real supervillain of Gotham. And while the near-rape storyline could have felt gratuitous, I was actually glad it was there. It's obviously counterproductive to use rape as a means of sensationalizing fiction, but it's also counterproductive to avoid the topic when it would clearly be an issue in real life.
Once again, and I'm still surprised whenever I say this, baby Batman's plotline was the most consistently well-done, in large part because the relationship between Bruce and Alfred is the only one that goes through any real development. Gordon and Bullock have, I suppose, gone from oil-and-water-type partners to actual partners, but their relationship still doesn't approach anything resembling complex. But between Sean Pertwee and David Mazouz's superb acting to the slightly better writing in their scenes, the show has built a real relationship here. Bruce is clearly still a vulnerable child who desperately needs a parent, but hardly ever admits it, and Alfred has a tough love exterior that only occasionally breaks down into overt affection. The fact that Alfred is technically employed by Bruce is secondary, but it's still there, and it gives Bruce an excuse to act like he's much less starved for love than he actually is. Luckily, Alfred still recognizes it, and this journey they took in the woods was a beautiful give-and-take in which Bruce accepted Alfred as a father figure, if not a father replacement.
Also, this KILLED me. Too cute.
Now let's talk about what was wrong with this episode, which is still a lot, even with my newfound generosity. The Scarecrow plotline was interesting at times, especially the assertion that fear causes all war, violence, and other human ills, but it also represented the most egregious missed opportunity. The entire time I was watching the juxtaposition of young Scarecrow with young Bruce Wayne, all I could think was, "Wasn't Batman's origin story about overcoming fear or something? Wasn't that a thing?" Fear is such a universal emotion, it would have been laughably easy, maybe even too easy, to make this episode thematically tie together. It wouldn't have even taken very much effort. But instead, the writers were content to let this episode be just another Gotham episode- disparate strands of almost unrelated but entertaining fluff.
The fact that the Scarecrow's origin story is so interesting and sympathetic also showed a big picture opportunity that Gotham is squandering. It could have been a more character-focused drama, in which it focused on one or two (maybe three, but good Lord not fifteen like they're doing now) villains, drew parallels between Bruce and his future nemeses, and just generally took its time letting us get to know them rather than wasting huge villains on these two-episode one-offs. That's why Penguin has been widely hailed as the best part of this show, because the writers are allowing his storyline to breathe, they're allowing the viewer to get to know him, and they're allowing his relationship with Gordon to become complex and interesting. I could imagine an entire season- or maybe half a season- about poor young Scarecrow. Then the show could have explored real questions about fear; many human ills are caused by fear, this is absolutely true, but psychopaths are also known to be lacking fear responses. So what kind of fear is good and what kind of fear is bad? Or, more likely, what kind of response to fear makes a person braver and more resilient, like Bruce Wayne, and what kind of response to fear causes a person to enter a perpetual state of pre-emptive strike? I promised to expect less this week, but these missed opportunities are so glaring, I couldn't resist.
Procedurals are a guilty pleasure of mine, so as long as I'm accepting Gotham as a guilty pleasure, the procedural part was fun enough. But even going by those very low Law and Order-type standards, there were a couple contrivances that were too distracting to ignore. The worst offender was probably the principal at Crane's school immediately guessing that her coworker was murdering people in a horrific manner and conveniently handing over Crane's entire manifesto, complete with his planned murder methods. Good thing villains are dumb sometimes, right? The explanation of Crane's motivation was also extremely trite, as though people ever have only one motivation for something as psychologically complex and weird as what Crane was doing, and delivered as the worst kind of clunky exposition.
The mob/Penguin storyline, which was so note-perfect last week, suffered in "The Scarecrow," essentially undoing all of the conflict and tension created in that episode. Maroni just kind of lets Penguin off the hook, and there's some relatively entertaining mob stuff in between, but I couldn't find it in myself to care all that much. This was the perfect example of why Gotham should stick to an A, B, and C plot, at most, rather than throwing in a D plot, because one of them will almost always feel extraneous and take away from the development of the other stories.
-Gotham has spent all this time redeeming Bullock in the audience's eyes, just to have him make a ridiculously inappropriate and creepy joke about high school girls? Not funny, and gross.
-Leslie and Jim are fine, although their relationship seems both too stable and too unstable to be realistic. They seem very comfortable with each other for people who are in that uncertain beginning stage, and yet they're having conflicts about things that are extremely minor, things that people would probably just let go of in that beginning stage. Why does Gordon care so much about kissing Leslie in public when he literally just did it last episode? Even if Gordon is being silly, why would Leslie care enough to push it at this juncture? Why should we care about this again?
-So glad no one cares about Barbara anymore. Don't even care that it's not realistic for her to just disappear, just keep her away.
-Next week, the Joker!!