The reason the world of Batman is ripe for a television adaptation is because of its villains. You will not to find another character, in either Marvel or DC’s stable of spandex-clad heroes, that has a more eclectic, fun, and terrifying group of baddies. This not only gives showrunners tons of fodder for interesting stories, but in the case of Gotham, viewers get to see their favorite villains’ origin stories, how they became the psychotic killers, cat burglars, or riddle-obsessed outsiders many of us know and love. “The Scarecrow” is the beginning of one of Gotham’s greatest madmen, Jonathan Crane, and within the episode’s 45 minutes, Gotham finally does an origin story right.
“The Scarecrow” rightfully starts off like a horror film. An unsuspecting victim enters his dark apartment. With a classic hint of “he’s right behind you!” terror, the victim is murdered, cut open, and left bleeding out on a kitchen table.
But before Gordon and Bullock can show up at this murder display, Gotham takes a moment to check in with Fish Mooney, who has definitely been in better circumstances. Last week, Mooney spent the whole episode, only a couple dozen seconds total, in the hull of some boat. Who’s boat was it? Where was it going? Who captured it? These are great questions that are never answered, but Mooney awakens in a dungeon of some sort, or maybe a dank and deserted basement in one of Gotham’s several abandoned warehouses.
Mooney’s narrative thread this week is minor and pretty predictable. After chasing off what the show not-so-subtly alludes to as two disgusting rapists, Mooney surveys her dingy surroundings and quickly identifies this pseudo-prison’s top dog, a rather unimposing man nicknamed Mace. Now, the well-traveled plot reveals itself. Mooney uses her seductive ways to get close to Mace—who turns out to only be the boss because he’s got the only weapon—steals said weapon, and inserts it vigorously into his jugular until he’s mortally challenged. By traditional prison rules, that means Mooney is now the boss, which doesn’t make complete sense because there’s no way that teeny weapon would even stop some of the roided out linebackers that are in this prison basement, but for the sake of the narrative let’s say it does.
Mooney isn’t head honcho long before she faces her first big problem. And it’s a weird one. An unnamed prisoner returns from who knows where missing both her eyes. W. T. F? Not exactly sure what’s going on here, but it will be interesting to see if and how Mooney will escape this cold, concrete version of hell.
NEXT: Love and revenge[pagebreak]
For now, let’s leave Mooney in her dire circumstances and talk about love! What a transition!
The James Gordon and Leslie Thompkins’ subplot continues as the fledgling relationship tries to ford the hazardous river of office romance, which has drowned so many before. Thompkins officially takes up the medical examiner position left vacant by Nygma’s mischievous doings last episode that implied necrophilia. Gordon is awkwardly taken aback by Thompkins’ pronouncement that she’s going to take the job, which was kind of weird to watch considering he was the one that suggested she take it in the first place.
Gordon in a relationship is a complete conundrum. It’s easy to see what the show is going for, a little dynamic character development. The confident and action-driven Jim Gordon is a puddle of mumbled words and embarrassing missteps when charged with being a boyfriend. In contrast, Thompkins’ is just confident through and through, which is the best thing about her. Real relationships work best when each person has something to offer the other, which was something that was missing from the Gordon/Barbara get together. The audience never got a real understanding of who Barbara was. Clearly Gordon gave her stability, but she always just seemed to be there so Gordon could talk about work.
The chemistry between Gordon and Thompkins is waaaay better. They actually feel like two people who like each other, even when Gordon is acting like an idiot, rather than two people who are just tolerating each other. If established canon wins out, Thompkins and Gordon are doomed, Barbara will come back, and that will be that, but man… that really sucks.
Bruce Wayne gets a little screen time as he continues his journey to becoming Batman. This episode, he goes on some kind of spirit journey, a hike in the woods he’d usually do with his father. During the trip he falls down a hill slope and sprains his ankle. Unable to walk he must now climb his way back up the hill. This falls in line with other Batman origin stories about all the “we only fall so we can pick ourselves back up” thing. It’s an important lesson in self-reliance that Batman will need to survive.
When Bruce eventually reaches the summit, Alfred is just sitting there waiting for him. Alfred and Bruce’s relationship is so great because it’s so complex. Alfred is equally caring but also firm while Bruce sees him as a father figure but also a caretaker. It’s one of the better relationships on Gotham, and one I hope the show continues to develop.
The only other mini subplot that pops up during “The Scarecrow” is the aftermath of Penguin’s escape from Maroni’s vengeful grip. But the most interesting character isn’t Penguin or Maroni, instead the magnetic actor to watch is Carmine Falcone. The last time we saw Carmine, he was busy choking out Liza, a woman he loved or at the very least cared for, and then tried to kill Mooney. This seems like an important subtext. Before Liza’s betrayal, Falcone questioned his purpose in Gotham. Why he was struggling against the family for control of the city and if respect was really worth happiness. All of that second guessing is gone now. Falcone is resolute. Cruel. A mobster of legend. As penguin pleads for protection against Maroni, he ignores his pleas and tells him to just focus on cleaning up the club. As Maroni thirsts for blood, he delivers him a pain-in-the-ass district judge, bound and humiliated, before his feet.
Falcone is in charge and there is no denying it. Maroni makes that certain near the end of the episode when he tells Penguin that if Falcone were to ever unfortunately kick the bucket, Cobblepot would be next. So for now, Penguin’s climb up the organized crime social ladder seems stalled. The only complaint you could make during the underworld portion of “The Scarecrow” is Gotham decision to name Penguin’s club “Oswald’s” instead of the “The Iceberg Lounge.” Seems like a missed opportunity.
Next: If I only had a brain…[pagebreak]
But the main traffic of our stage, as it should be considering the episode’s title, is Scarecrow. Making his debut in last week’s episode, Jonathan Crane is the unfortunate son of Gerald Crane, a crazed biologist obsessed with overcoming fear. Through the show’s 45 minutes, Gordon and Bullock piece together that Gerald is wracked with guilt over the death of his wife, who was killed in a fire that Gerald was too afraid to save her from. Because of his guilt, he’s theorized that fear is an evolutionary flaw and that he is going to “cure” himself of it.
How do you do this, you ask? Simple. Inject yourself with fluid from human adrenal glands. Because he’s obsessed with a sick delusion, he forces his own son to partake in “treatments” as well. The “fear trips,” for lack of a better phrase, are styled similar to Batman Begins. Things get dim and blurry and the world slowly pulsates. That’s what fears like? Who knows.
Gordon and Bullock figure out the Cranes’ old address and interrupt Gerald before he can give his son the last fear inoculation. In his haste, Gerald over estimates how much fear vaccine he gives his kid (which could be some kind of cultural take on the anti-vaccination debate, but I really, really, really am not going to go there) and he slips into a permanent state of fear. Gerald and Jonathan Crane try to flee from the pursuing officers but only get as far as the cornfield that has, you guessed it, a scarecrow. As Gerald is subsequently killed and Jonathan convulses in a nearby haystack, he stares up into the uncaring eyes of the scarecrow and you can almost see his new identity begin to take shape.
This is an important moment for Gotham because this was an absolutely great villain origin story. For one, it toys enough with the original that it stands on its own, but it also turns The Scarecrow into a tragic figure, especially after you see Jonathan writhing on the hospital bed as the doctors tell the detectives that he’ll be forever lost into an endless loop of nightmares. It’s all believable, well thought-out, and succinct—the kind of storytelling Gotham needs more of.
“The Scarecrow” is one of Gotham’s best episodes in the latter half of the first season. But time and again, Gotham shows that it can rarely cast its dramatic momentum across more than two episodes, hopefully the show is out to prove otherwise.