‘Gotham’ Weekly Review: Fear and Loathing in the City

By February 4, 2015

One of my absolute favorite Batman villains has always been Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow. Despite that, though, solid appearances for the character outside of the comics were few and far between for the longest time. His appearances on “Batman: The Animated Series” were memorable but infrequent, and it wasn’t until the 2005 release of Batman Begins that I truly felt that my Scarecrow itch was scratched, at least for awhile.

One of the greatest appearances by the character ever has been in the 2009 video game Batman: Arkham Asylum, which featured mind-bending levels, puzzles, and scenarios for the player as if they were affected by Scarecrow’s famous and potent fear toxin. His appearance in that game depicted the character at the height of his criminal career, and in my estimation is the single most successful translation of Scarecrow outside of the comics. So, when I learned that the title of this week’s episode of “Gotham” was “The Fearsome Dr. Crane,” I was immediately skeptical. Thankfully, though, I was ignorant of one very important aspect: the “fearsome” Crane here is not the Crane that will one day face off against the Dark Knight.

Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow, is one of Batman's most deceptively formidable adversaries. Thankfully, "Gotham" is only setting up his loose origins here.

Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow, is one of Batman’s most deceptively formidable adversaries. Thankfully, “Gotham” is only setting up his loose origins here.

The primary plot concerns people being abducted by the eponymous doctor, who then murders them in a manner aligning with each of his victims’ greatest fears. This obviously leads to a strong of connected murders that Bullock and Gordon must try and put a stop to, but in a weird way, this “primary” plot took kind of a backseat to the other subplots threading through the episode. Circumstances surrounding the Penguin, for instance, have taken yet another dramatic turn, and it looks as though his days standing on the shoulders of at least two giants in Gotham’s underworld have come to an end.

One particularly pleasant surprise was a bit more exploration of Edward Nygma, since Cory Michael Smith’s performance seems to maintain a reserved quirkiness that he finally gets to let out a bit in a form of gruesome, but at the same time relatively harmless, retaliation toward a workplace rival.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred also get a little bit of airtime, but their appearance here only reinforces some things we learned at the end of last week. Overall, the biggest takeaways from the latest outing revolve around two primary things: fear and loathing.

Fear because of the work of the Cranes. As a peek into the past of the DC Universe’s master of fear himself, “Gotham” provides probably the most satisfying early glimpse at a character’s backstory that I’ve seen in awhile, largely because it’s so ambiguous at this point. We have an idea of who Jonathan Crane was before he decided to become one of Batman’s most formidable enemies, but just a little more explanation to the “why” of his future behavior, beyond “he’s crazy,” is potentially beneficial from the standpoint of Batman canon.

Loathing, because Penguin is starting to make a lot of powerful enemies in the Gotham underworld, and his equation by episode’s end is left very unbalanced. We began our look at this iteration of Oswald Cobblepot having the perspective of a master manipulator. While you can still see that he has his effective methods of pulling strings, his lies are becoming inconsistent, and they’ve led to him being surrounded by enemies instead of allies. The next few weeks should prove to be an interesting look at what Cobblepot will have to do to wriggle his way out of his new status quo, but if he’s anything like the pompous, waddling, master of foul play that I know so well, he’ll find a way.

So, in the end, there were some elements here that could’ve been better, but as a Scarecrow fan and as a viewer engaged with the power struggle of the Gotham underworld, I’ll mark this one down as a win. Not as solid of a win as I’d like, but a win nonetheless.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.