Thinking critically about a TV drama often involves adhering to a wait-and-see policy — after all, this week's issues could be next week's drama. "The Scarecrow" is in that sense simultaneously a stand-alone narrative and a bookend to the investigation-of-the-week story that started on last week's episode. Unfortunately, tonight's Gotham stinks on both levels.
While "The Fearsome Dr. Crane" was an elaborate setup for future events, "The Scarecrow" rushes to resolve outstanding problems with the most trite solutions. So "The Scarecrow" is not only dissatisfying because it feels like an episode-long anti-climax; it's also sucky because its creators seem to have done an extraordinarily lazy job.
The dismal hunt for Gerald Crane is easily the worst part of "The Scarecrow." Even Gordon seems frustrated with his inexplicably poor detective work when Harvey Bullock rhetorically complains that they won't find Crane in the police station. In the face of Bullock's skepticism, Gordon attempts to analyze Crane in the second-worst example of policework-for-dummies on Gotham yet (the worst is that scene where Nygma seriously asks Gordon if he should check for prints on a severed finger he finds stuffed in a victim's mouth). It's not like Gordon is Sherlock Holmes, but watching him discover that Crane was ashamed about his wife's accidental death is disappointing in every respect. Episode writer Ken Woodruff underestimates his audience's intelligence, and that's unfortunately not an episode- or subplot-specific problem.
Then again, Gotham is the kind of show that seems to have been written with easily distracted audience members in mind (as demonstrated when Alfred parrots back everything Bruce Wayne has already explained to him through expository dialogue: "Do you want to go home? Or do you want to stay and watch the sunrise? Like you did with your dad"). So it's not that surprising that the major breakthrough in the Gerald Crane case is Psychology 101: What Does Crane Want? Adrenal glands, which are mistakenly identified here as a source of fear-inducing hormones (the adrenal gland's secretions are a product, not a cause, of fear).
Crane's character is, thanks to the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, popular enough to be recognized, so his more famous post-Gotham identity is common knowledge. So it's that much more disappointing to see that Crane's problems are, in Gotham's version of events, caused by an abusive father ("I wouldn't do anything to harm you, son, except maybe force you to take an experimental drug that hasn't gone through trial experimentation by a group of my peers!") who is, in turn, acting out of fear of his dead wife. Who wrote this episode, M. Night Shyamalan?
Anyway, Gordon's discovery of Crane's dead-wife story eventually leads to a thoroughly underwhelming CGI arson reenactment. Karen Crane may have died a violent death, but, in her husband's fear-induced memories, she just looks annoyed and aflame.
More important, Crane's interactions with son Jonathan are a complete waste of a perfectly good Julian Sands performance. As Gerald, Sands's awed line-reading of "I'm glorious" hinted at a stronger, more memorably batshit story that we never got. Instead, Jonathan's story goes exactly where you might expect a subplot involving a character who viewers know will someday become the fear-toxin-spraying Scarecrow will go.
Other fear-centric subplots on tonight's episode are also disappointing, though none is as bad as Crane's. Watching Don Maroni forgive Oswald Cobblepot — but only after Carmine Falcone brokers a deal with Maroni involving a harsh judge — isn't exactly riveting. But that's mostly because Robin Lord Taylor doesn't get to do anything here except prepare for a celebration that is barely mentioned beyond a lousy dress-rehearsal cover of the Stranglers' "No More Heroes." (I'm guessing the big celebration will be in next week's episode.)
As Maroni, David Zayas nails the episode's best line when confronting Cobblepot before opening night: "Look at you: from the trunk of my corner to running your own club." The rest of Cobblepot's story, however, revolves around not knowing whether Falcone would be a man of his word, and frankly, the answer to that question is predictable.
By contrast, the two least offensive story lines in "The Scarecrow" are the most unpredictable. Bruce deals with his grief by going alone on a hike that he and his dad used to take together. This story, however, then unfortunately devolves into Bruce pitching a fit, hurting himself, and then limping back to Alfred's comforting arms: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Likewise, while Fish Mooney's story is delightfully outre — she wakes up in a dank prison cell and becomes the prison's capo by taking out knife-wielding leader Mace (Babs Olusanmokun) — it was also the most brainless. Watching Jada Pinkett-Smith deliver overcooked one-liners is bad enough, especially when Mace compares her to a "firecracker," and she splutters back, "A firecracker goes off once and then just lies there. What you're looking at is the Fourth of July." But then seeing Mooney rise to power by slitting Mace's throat, then wielding a teeny-tiny knife in a room full of hardened criminals? Far, far worse. I'm sorry, I had hoped to leave the nerdy nitpicking to Bat-Bullets, but seriously? Mooney’s surrounded by men almost three times her size, and she becomes their ruler because she's got a knife? Sorry, but some ideas are just top-to-bottom bad, and "The Scarecrow" has several.
- Alfred to Bruce: "Master B." Master B?! What the hell kind of rap group is Bruce going to front with a name like that?
- Mace: "You think you're worth protecting." Mooney: "You have no idea." What does this even mean?
- Last week, some viewers complained that Gordon and Doctor Caliente don't have chemistry in "The Fearsome Dr. Crane," saying that Ben McKenzie doesn't seem at all invested in Morena Baccarin. Tonight's episode addressed that concern, though I'm betting we find out why Gordon's really freaking out over his workplace romance with Caliente next week. I bet he's thinking about Barbara Kean and is anticipating her return.
- Why did they treat Cobblepot and Nygma's first meeting like a momentous, worlds-collide-type moment? Other than the obvious fact that, someday, they will both fight Batman?
- Time for: Fanboy-ish Speculation! The preview for next week's episode promises a first glimpse at the Joker. It's official: Gotham is Batman Muppet Babies.