Since its return in early January, Gotham has made it a habit to deliver episodes that are, while not the most exciting, generally well focused. There are numerous faces and storylines to keep track of on the Fox drama, and it can get overwhelming. Simplification has been a need since the pilot, and the writers have done a decent job heading the show in that direction without completely cutting out characters (though in some cases, they should) in the last handful of episodes.
Episode 15, “The Scarecrow,” reverted Gotham back to a lot of nasty habits. There were, give or take, five storylines vying for the viewer’s attention last night, none of which were given real top billing. This led to an hour that felt scattered, and ultimately wasted an opportunity to tell a captivating origin story for one of Batman’s better-known villains. The biggest sin, though, was the fact that nearly all of the storylines clogging up the screen had little reason to exist in the first place.
“The Scarecrow” was a continuation of last week’s story, which saw the introduction of Gerald Crane, father of Jonathan (AKA Scarecrow), a fear-obsessed doctor preying on phobia-stricken Gothamites to extract their adrenal glands and essentially harvest them for medical testing. It’s gruesome stuff, really, and the best part of this hour were the sequences in which we saw the world through Crane’s eyes, while he was indoctrinated with his crude version of fear toxin. I haven’t been shy about my desire for Gotham to be a gritty, dark drama that continually pushes the envelope, and the show hasn’t been shy, either. Nearly every episode contains some jarring moment of violence or other twisted imagery, but it hasn’t delivered that ambience consistently enough, causing these moments to feel out of place rather than in line with the tone of the show. The Scarecrow and his fear toxin, which causes victims to hallucinate their deepest fears in the most nightmarish ways, is exactly the type of twisted world Gotham could thrive in, and the episode proved that the show is capable of creating effective dark imagery. Unfortunately, due to the hour’s crowded plot, these moments left more an impression of possibility, rather than anything tangible.
Meanwhile, Fish (who we last saw in the midst of what appeared to be some sort of pirate battle) found herself in a dungeon of sorts, the whereabouts of which remain unclear. I have no idea what the show is doing with this plotline, nor do I really care. Fish has always seemed a nuisance to me, merely a target for Oswald to aim his anger, so unless her rising to power and escaping from this dungeon causes a vengeful return to Gotham that has some real effect on the show then the entire side plot (as far as I’m concerned) is for naught. Back in Gotham, Bruce, who frustratingly remains a key member of the show, headed into the woods this hour. The point of this side plot is also rather muddled, other than the generic “lesson” he learns from the harrowing experience that will surely (or so we are to believe) help him once he dons the Batsuit. Penguin, who last week weaseled his way out of death, found himself gifted Fish’s old club, while his boss, Carmine Falcone, struck a deal with Sal Maroni to keep the trickster alive. Maroni unsurprisingly vows to kill Penguin eventually, once Falcone has been knocked off the mountaintop, but again nothing of real import occurred.
This is one of the most frustrating aspects of Gotham. With its multitude of storylines, somehow the end of every episode feels remarkably similar to the beginning. The status quo is rarely ever shaken, and when it is, it takes no longer than a few scenes the succeeding week for the dust to settle. The biggest change in recent weeks was the banishing of Fish from the city, which, if you’ll recall, happened to Penguin early on in the series, only for him to return shortly after the fact. Right now, the show feels as though it’s plodding along, ever so slowly moving the plot forward without making any big changes. I can only imagine the writers are holding back fireworks for the final few weeks of the season, but until that time comes, we’re stuck in an exasperatingly boring stretch of time. No episode since “Penguin’s Umbrella,” which revealed Oswald’s alliance with Falcone, has shaken Gotham in a way that intrigued me, and it’s starting to frustrate.
Lastly, there’s the issue of the Joker. It has been hinted at, both by Bruno Heller and the general rumor mill, that the Clown Prince of Gotham would be making an appearance at some point this season. In last night’s sneak peek of episode 16, it was revealed that a young Joker is indeed headed to town, in a move that is simply flabbergasting. The speed at which this writing staff has blown through Batman villains is astonishing, and at the rate they’re heading, I sincerely wonder what will be left come Season Two. Unless they plan to bring back some of the characters they’ve introduced in future seasons, or do a time-jump, all the writers are doing with these villains is wasting them. There are so many different DC baddies that could be included, even the opportunity to create new ones, but instead the show is forcing in big name characters, and not doing the proper work to build effective stories for them.
After a string of halfway decent episodes that made Gotham’s second half mostly palatable, “The Scarecrow” marked a low point for the series since its January return to air. The hour was crowded with storylines, most of which were simply not entertaining, and did little to advance the overarching story in any significant manner. Once again, the show continues to exhibit flashes of potential greatness, coming at you this time in the form of devious nightmare hallucinations, but there is still so much fat to trim before the show can even begin to flirt with that stature. I can’t say I’m excited for the Joker next week but, after 15 weeks of mediocre television from this highly anticipated drama, I’m certainly ready for a good laugh.
Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.