Yes, there’s another serial killer on the loose in this week’s Gotham. This time around, however, the killer bears more attention than usual from Bat fans. For, as its title suggests, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane” reveals the early origins of the Scarecrow. But though we meet the villain’s alter ego Jonathan Crane as a young man, the eponymous villain is actually his father, Dr. Gerald Crane (veteran character actor Julian Sands). Exhibiting the same fascination with fear that his son will one day make his M.O., Crane is taking out members of his therapy group by subjecting them to their worst phobias.
The group’s leader, Scottie Mullen (Maria Thayer), seeks the help of Gordon and Bullock, the latter of whom is immediately smitten with her. After smuggling Fish Mooney out of Gotham at the end of last week’s episode, this marks the second week in a row that the crusty cop has exhibited tenderness towards a member of the opposite sex. Apparently he hates being alone on Valentine’s Day.
Speaking of Fish… We catch up with the former mob boss on board a cargo vessel not far from Gotham harbor. Still smarting from being cast out of town by the Penguin’s antics, she phones Maroni and informs him that Cobblepot is working for Falcone. Enraged, the gangster takes his employee to his hunting cabin to meet someone “about a thing.” Of course, as anyone who’s seen the “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos knows, when criminals go into the woods, it doesn’t end well. The Penguin soon catches on, pulls a gun on Maroni, which turns out to be loaded with blanks, and finds himself stuffed in a car and loaded into a compactor. Before being reduced to the size of his namesake, the ever-resourceful Oswald calls the junkyard’s owner, warns him that Falcone will wreak vengeance upon him and his family if he’s killed, and escapes once more in the nick of time. Robin Lord Taylor delivers his usual flawless performance, making Cobblepot the most crowd-pleasing TV antihero since Michael C. Hall’s Dexter Morgan.
Gordon finally comes to terms with Barbara’s departure, and swings by her apartment one last time to return his keys. He finds Selina there, munching on a fistful of Fruit Brute cereal (yes, they still produce it, but only at Halloween time). She tells him what she told Bruce last week, that she lied about seeing the face of the man who murdered his parents. Gordon then pays young Master Wayne a visit, and is informed by the boy detective that he will continue his own investigation into the matter. Gordon’s fortunes improve, however, when he calls on Dr. Leslie Thompkins’ expertise in the Crane killings. At first disappointed the lawman wants only to discuss the case, she’s clearly delighted when he tells her that the business meeting is mere pretense masking his true intentions. She later swings by police headquarters and demands he kiss her in full view of his colleagues, making their relationship public. For those who claim Gotham is more talk than action, it’s worth nothing that Gordon and Thompkins have now made out as much as they’ve spoken to each other. It would be sickening if they weren’t so adorable together.
Things come to a head when Crane captures Mullen and attempts to drown her in a swimming pool (her worst fear is water). Gordon and Bullock arrive in time to rescue her, but the perp and his son escape. Meanwhile, at sea, Fish’s ship is attacked by pirates!
Though the Scarecrow is a seminal Batman villain, his back story — at least in this episode, the first of a two-parter — is presented routinely, as a standard procedural case, without much of an explanation as to why Gerald commits his murders, beyond the warped research purposes. He extracts the “fear gland” from his victims at the height of their terror and ranks their responses on his “Crane Scale,” which, with a full range of 12, goes one higher than Spinal Tap’s amps.
Fortunately, the procedural elements are minimized in favor of character development. Besides some of the most satisfying Penguin moments we’ve yet had (particularly when screaming at Maroni for calling him a “monkey”), Bruce’s grim determination, and Gordon and Bullock getting genuine love interests, Edward Nygma finds himself with more to do this time around, after getting suspended for playing medical examiner with one of Crane’s victims and stuffing the real examiner’s locker with (admittedly fake-looking) body parts. While Ms. Kringle is happy he’s not fired, Gordon demands Essen reinstate him, since he needs Nygma’s skills and, unlike the real examiner, he isn’t working for the corrupt Flass. I like to call Capt. Essen “Capt. Elsa,” because her constant refrain is “Let it go.”
— I was expecting we’d get a break from Fish for at least one episode. Oh, Fish, how can we miss you if you won’t go away?
— I’m predicting here and now that Essen is going to bite it. I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but since she says it felt good to arrest Flass, odds are she’ll get her comeuppance one day.
— I’m not sure where they’re going by having Selina say she was lying about witnessing the Wayne murders after stringing us along for more than half a season. But I’m worried it’s either gonna end up making Gordon and Bruce look foolish for trusting her or Selina look like an asshole for playing with the emotions of a boy whose parents were just gunned down in front of him.
— There’s an especially great character beat when Bullock tells Gordon not to mess it up with Leslie, lest he become an even looser cannon. The genuine desire to see his friend happy coupled with the fear of an even crazier partner perfectly encapsulates Harvey’s softer side.
— Why is it always a pig mask?! (See Motel Hell, Saw, The Village, The Butcher, etc., etc.)
— That look on the Penguin’s face as he slumps into his seat on the schoolbus full of Gospel-singing churchgoers who’ve picked him up after he escapes Maroni? Priceless.
Next week: Thus far, Gerald Crane’s son Jonathan appears surprisingly well-adjusted considering his dad’s a homicidal maniac. Will we see what pushes him over the edge in “The Scarecrow”? Plus, Oswald Cobblepot and Edward Nygma meet at last!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).