[This review contains SPOILERS for Gotham season 1, episode 14.]
There’s no doubt about it: Gotham is on the rise. This week’s tale gives audiences a taste of the new soul being breathed in to DC Comics' infamous city. Though it may be the Scarecrow’s tale over the next two weeks, it’s the city that continues to shine brightest, making for an exciting future to come.
In this week’s episode, "The Fearsome Dr. Crane" written by executive producer John Stephens, a fear-loving madman targets individuals with severe phobias, forcing Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) to search the depths of the city for answers. Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and Maroni (David Zayas) take a trip to the country, all to play a game of secrets; Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) reveals what she really knows about the Waynes' murderer; Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) removes a burden from Gordon’s shoulders; and Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) readies her fighting stance. Elsewhere, Edward Nigma (Cory Michael Smith) is rewarded for bending the rules.
In the episode (the first in a two-part adventure), we see a city which has come alive, growing to support the weight of its many familiar characters; instead of the other way around, which was the uphill battle the series has been facing since its premiere. The familiar Scarecrow is present, if largely absent and silent - and most importantly, he's not at all the focus the story.
Rather, it’s the story of the future Scarcrow's father, Dr. Gerald Crane, who guides us through the terror that exists in Gotham’s darkest corners, allowing us to revel in a character’s creation instead of simply celebrating its existence. Things may ultimately become “like father, like son” with Jonathan Crane - but right now, before that happens, we have a real sense as to why, and we’re able to now explore that question further, in next week’s episode.
Gordon, too, is much more than the grizzled voice and stern face we’re used to seeing during his Arkham Asylum strolls. Whether it’s because Bullock is putting in some extra overtime because of his “big heart” or because actress Morena Baccarin (as Dr. Leslie Thompkins) is asserting her dominance in a largely female-light cast, there is a weight lifted from James Gordon, all-around, and every element of the series is better because of it. Now that stoicism is out of fashion at the GCPD, Gordon is able to come alive as a real character that makes real decisions and lives with real consequences, good or bad. There is no requirement for him to be “correct” or “honorable” in this episode, just merely a participant in the chaos of Gotham City. Unlike most characters in the series, Gordon can speak through his actions - and now with a happy partner and girlfriend, his actions can be more calculated and less of a requirement. Of course, Barbara will return.
Fish Mooney will return, as well; so will Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, and the Wayne Murder. In total, we find a large majority of the series’ story-arcs are now untethered from the responsibilities of previous episodes, allowing for a new foundation to establish itself, as of just a few weeks ago. Similar to Gordon, these (largely) ornamental characters are gently nudged into their own direction here, away from the ties that bind them - and because of it, they are now able to grow into their own. Mooney is still a part of the “connected” Gotham City underground, however, but now she must prove herself – to the city. She must now prove her worth in order to exist, and this week’s cliffhanger sets up her challenge perfectly.
With fear taking over Gotham, Edward Nigma is slyly poking at his morals, unhappy with the path he sees such ideals leading towards. After removing many hands of the deceased - which, like his accompanying “villain” music, is a bit forced - Nigma is well on his way to embracing the darkness soon. Or maybe not – perhaps he’s done enough to win the heart of his co-worker. With so many options now available to him, it will be through Nigma's action that we may see one of Gotham’s pure-hearts fall to the dark truths of corruption.
Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot and Maroni simply have a conversation. There is no weight of Maroni’s restaurant, or that of “Cobblepot’s club”, to throw at the scene to quickly move it along. We simply have a cabin, in the middle of nowhere, a couple of chairs, and secrets to tell. Conversations like that between Cobblepot and Maroni simple cannot happen in Gotham City; the city has become too large, too fast for story-arcs to play out this cleanly. Sure, it may all come to an end with a convenient gospel choir, but Penguin is, if anything, a man with unintentional style and panache.
All in all, Gotham appears to have figured out a way to manage its characters, and we are now able to see the success in the slight nudges over the courses of the recent weeks. Ben Edlund and John Stephens appear to be tying these loose threads together here, figuring out all of the potential that they can squeeze out of this TV series, even while creator Bruno Heller promises to introduce the Joker storyline soon. Still, with the earnest turnaround the series had made, it might be interesting to see what Edlund and Stephens can make out of the requirements of a show called Gotham.
Gotham returns next Monday with "The Scarecrow” @8pm on Fox. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: