Gotham, Ep. 1.14, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” weakly introduces an iconic villain

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Gotham Season 1, Episode 14: “The Fearsome Dr. Crane”
Written by John Stephens
Directed by John Behring
Airs Mondays at 8pm (ET) on FOX

Following the winding down of “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon”, the season continues with an episode that stabilizes the narrative with a case of the week hinting at the iconic Batman villain, The Scarecrow. Unfortunately his characterization is undermined with a poorly-executed exposition dump that feels unearned and unclear; the episode is much more concerned with reinforcing the shifted dynamics that were established in the previous episode. It’s not uncommon for a series to spin its wheels at times during a 22 episode season, but what is disappointing is that it does so here without giving a worthwhile character his due.

This is not to say the episode is a poor one, as it does create good character moments for all of the already established characters. Although it completely ignores the final beat of last week’s episode (where Detective Delaware begs Gordon not to harm his family), it still manages to develop Gordon’s story, showing him work better with the GCPD team, particularly his ally and love interest Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

On the mob side of Gotham, the friend ‘ship’ has pretty much sailed for Sal Maroni and The Penguin due to Fish Mooney’s interference. It’s almost too perfect a parallel to the concluding collaboration between Bruce and Gordon prompted by Cat’s dishonesty. The conclusion is satisfying, reopening plot developments that occurred in “Penguin’s Umbrella” and formally closing arcs that were established in “Pilot” and “Harvey Dent.”

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Character Study

The highlight of this episode is Harvey Bullock and the clear through line and characterization he’s given, which feels utterly natural. We’ve seen Bullock change a lot in this series, the highlight being “Spirit of the Goat”, which saw him have a sudden change of heart and actually join Gordon on his mission to clean up the GCPD. Since then Bullock has been a supporting character in every sense, but hasn’t been given much more to do, until now. Here we see Bullock with a goal of his own that is clearly defined and falls just enough out of line with Gordon’s that it shows that Bullock does have a mind of his own. His goal is, of course, to court Miss Mullins, a contact of the case of the week. Donal Logue perfectly presents Bullock’s determination to get a date with Ms. Mullins, balancing persistence with professionalism. His monologue on his fear of dying in an alley is incredibly told in a way that seems both honest and an obvious plea for sympathy from Ms. Mullins, who is played by very talented actress Maria Thayer.

We, as an audience, have spent very little time with Gordon and Barbara as a happy couple, which is why it is so hard to want them back together, especially after seeing how miserable they were. At this stage in Gordon’s career for him to have a romantic relationship with anyone outside of the GCPD would be a mistake. His mission would take up a lot of his time and so having him begin a relationship with Dr. Leslie Thompkins makes a lot of sense. The episode shows how good their chemistry is and also how they can work well together in Gordon’s mission. Gordon may very well at some later date return to Barbara, and hopefully when it does eventually happen, it’s believable and organic. But for now, it is great to see Gordon and Leslie hitting it off so well. This romantic arc for Gordon gives Ben Mckenzie something much more fun to play. His scenes with Morena Baccarin bring life to both characters and a joy and zeal to the series that we haven’t had the chance to see too frequently.

The arc of the Penguin and Maroni’s allegiance has been clumsily handled recently, which reflects poorly on both the Penguin’s ability to stealthily outwit and manipulate players as well as Maroni’s ability to intelligently read people. This episode addresses those issues with Maroni testing the Penguin after learning the truth from Mooney. It is a bit disappointing that Maroni had to be told of the Penguin’s deceptive nature, especially when the Penguin has been so sloppy, but in the end it works out fair enough, as Maroni proves his intelligence by not allowing the Penguin a way out from his wrath. The episode also proves the Penguin’s ingenuity by having him be savvy enough to get out of the situation. David Zayas convincingly plays Maroni’s reactions to Penguin’s betrayal and gives weight to some poorly scripted dialogue. Robin Lord Taylor has the uncanny ability to portray pathetic and triumphant with grand conviction and it is still fun to watch as he shifts from emotion to emotion.

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The Case File: The Cortisol Thief

The case of the week features the origin of notable Batman villain The Scarecrow. As mentioned earlier, this is the weakest aspect of the episode, as there is nothing that really reveals how Gotham will utilize this character’s legacy. What we do learn is given as random exposition in a scene that really doesn’t make sense for the character but is necessary for the narrative to get along. Although not clarified in the episode, the Cortisol thief is Gerald Crane (who is going under the name of Todd) and he is subjecting people to their greatest phobias in order to extract their cortisol fluids for reasons unknown. There is far too much mystery to the character and it’s not intriguing as much as undeveloped. Hopefully by next week’s episode the writers will have figured out more about the character.

This episode is written by third time credited scribe John Stephens, who has also contributed scripts for “The Balloonman” and “The Mask.” Integrating the case of the week into the serialized narrative has never been a strong suit for Stephens but he does understand the dynamics of Gotham characters and does a great job making moments for individual characters. Nice touches, like when Gordon and Leslie kiss in front of the GCPD prompting Nygma to visit his crush, give the episode a clever emotional flow. The episode is very nicely directed by John Behring, particularly in the performances and his decision to linger on moments such as when Gordon gives Bullock his leads as Bullock watches Ms. Mullins walk off. These are nice character moments that don’t lose the pacing of the story.  Also notable is the music during particular sequences, like Nygma framing the Medical Examiner and the Penguin’s escape from Maroni. The scoring adds a bit of charm that gives an interesting sense of those characters.

Detective’s Notes

  •  It would be nice to get a better understanding of “The Crane Scale.”
  • Bruce fired Gordon from investigating his parent’s murder; does this mean we won’t be getting more Lil’ Bruce Wayne adventures?
  • “Hey Sleepy head!” – Maroni to Penguin. Could this be a shout out to fans of fellow FOX series Sleepy Hollow, which also features a character with the Crane moniker?
  • Writer Joseph Stephens might be a fan of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert-created Batman villain Professor Pyg, as this is the second time we see a pig masked character in his scripted episode.
  • Nygma returns Kringle’s pencil. It seems like Miss Kringle is warming up to him.
  • On Gordon’s date with Leslie, the background music playing is Nouvelle’s Vague’s cover of Joy Division song “Love will tear us apart.” This may be foreshadowing for their inevitable doomed relationship.
  • “You know I don’t start drinking ’til noon.” – Bullock to Cpt. Essen.

-JP

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