Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“I’m a cop. The only thing I’m afraid of is decaf coffee.” – Harvey Bullock
Let’s get one thing out of the way: it is extremely easy to hear a title like “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” and immediately knuckle down for some serious spinoff-shaming – i.e mocking this series for how it leans harder on the Batman mythos than Christopher Nolan does on dead wives –but the surprise twist this week is that the title couldn’t be more misleading! Yes, there is a character named Doctor Crane who makes an appearance, but if you count the hanging apparatus in the opening scene, he is only one of three Cranes that make an appearance during the course of this episode, and despite being the antagonist of the week, his appearance is rather slight. Fortunately this is not an episode meant to introduce “the man who will become Scarecrow”, so much as an episode where that man is a specter on the horizon, not obnoxiously popping his head around the corner to tantalize thirsty Batman fans.
The special for the week, as you can surmise from the title and a touch of insight, is fear. The eponymous doctor is out murdering folks in ways that conform to their worst phobias, in a plot not unlike David Fincher’s Halloween parties. Throughout the investigation, Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) are in the constant shadow of police aggression, having recently arrested Arnold Flass on corruption charges. But that is not the whole meal, just the sauce drizzled on top. The investigation itself is colored by a trio of love lives – Gordon & Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin), Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) & Kristen Kringle, and Harvey Bullock & a person of interest in the case. The last is the most entertaining to watch, as seeing Bullock attempt to be a righteous police officer in order to get into a woman’s pants ads another humorously cynical layer to his character.
Nygma’s subplot with Kristen Kringle has been something of a sticking point with the latest couple of episodes, second only in pointlessness to Barbara Kean’s angst (The best thing the absentee Barbara has to contribute to this episode is an indication that Gordon is moving on with his life, much to the relief of audience members worldwide). For the first time in perhaps the whole series, Nygma feels at home in his own little chunk of the investigation, which involves three cases of black comedy, and a few of awkward flirtation – the fact that his subplot this time informs the investigation as a whole is simply a bonus, given how fun it is to see Cory Michael Smith relishing his character’s sociopathic innocence.
In the aftermath of last week’s chaos in mafia-land, many of the heavily involved Gangsters, such as Don Falcone and Victor Zsasz, have fallen back into the shadows, while the focus shifts to Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and Salvatore Maroni (David Zayas), who is given reason to suspect his lackey’s loyalties. This leads the two of them on a road trip into the wilderness, where Maroni can challenge Penguin to reveal his secrets or face death. The scenes here play out with wit and suspense, and rarely feel contrived. The conclusion of this interrogation once again showcases Robin Lord Taylor as this series’ ace in the hole – he is no Walter White, but watching him use his wits to escape his boss’ traps is as thrilling as anything else in this tense hour of television. Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) spends most of her time on a ship sailing away from Gotham (insert fish pun here), which by the end of the episode finds itself hijacked by pirates. It is perhaps to the show’s credit that the first thing that comes to mind is a strikingly similar part of Hamlet – in which disgraced royalty gets captured by pirates while fleeing an abusive family.
In many ways, this is the most edgy episode Gotham has yet to deliver. From Gordon & Bullock’s frank conversations about relationships to Nygma’s creative repurposing of body parts, it feels the creators of this show are finally trying to step outside of their comfort zone and stop tiptoeing around elements that give the show personality and spice – more so than the consistently gorgeous cinematography & production design, and eccentric soundtrack choices. What may be the most astounding part of this episode is in the small scenes between Gordon and Thompkins, which rely on two things this series has historically been very hesitant about – genuine chemistry between actors, and believable dialogue. Sure, it’s taken Gotham 13 episodes to make us believe Gordon & Bullock as human beings with interests outside of the plot, but now that its happened, it is delightful to watch.
It is easy to get jaded about a show like Gotham – gimmicky plots, surface-level subtext, and a crippling over-reliance on source material so far has kept the show from being anything other than a pretty novelty so far – but with episodes like “The Fearsome Doctor Crane”, we finally get to see how fun this series can be when it manages to find its niche. Everything clicks together in a very satisfying way, and finally the series achieves a sense of confidence that only comes when a show recognizes its own weaknesses and acts accordingly. Has it finally got to that point yet? Well, the next episode is entitled “The Scarecrow”, so probably not.
Overall Episode Grade: A-