Gotham 1.15: “The Scarecrow”

With the help of Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith, C), Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, R) set out to stop a biology teacher who has been harvesting the glands of his murder victims in the "The Scarecrow" episode of GOTHAM.
With the help of Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith, C), Detectives James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, R) set out to stop a biology teacher who has been harvesting the glands of his murder victims.

Gotham has been a roller coaster ride most of this season, its overly-fast pacing covering over its many flaws. But now that we’re at Episode 15, it’s time to decide whether this show is worth watching next season or not.

I’m on the fence and it’s for a reason I never imagined when the show as first announced:

This show has a hole at the center and its name is Jim Gordon.

Why can’t we get this Jim Gordon?
I adore comic book Jim Gordon. I have no less than three DC Comics figures of my Jimmy, one from Batman: Dark Victory, one from Batman: Hush, one recent one designed by artist Greg Capullo, plus Jim from the DC Comics Batman chess set.

What makes the comic book Gordon so compelling is that he’s Batman’s conscience. He’s the honest man in Gotham who knows where the line is and demands that his cops never cross it. He even makes Batman think twice about crossing it. In Batman: Year One, this is because he’s trying to be a good man for his pregnant wife and provide a role model for his soon-to-be-born son. He’s had a chance previously but something happened in Chicago and he muffed it. Gotham is Gordon’s last chance.

He’s flawed and imperfect but he tries to work within the system. His arc in Year One is to realize he needs help from outside the system.

Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) has no arc in Gotham. He’s one-note.

He started as an angry man determined to do things by the law while working in a corrupt and incompetent system. He hasn’t changed one bit since the first episode.  Oh, he acknowledges the issues with long-term change but his methods haven’t been altered by this realization, save his one attempt to use Oswald. This week’s episode is back to status quo instead of building on that.

The audience also doesn’t know why Gordon’s determined to do this thing that caused his girlfriend to be kidnapped, almost killed his partner, and nearly cost him his job. Yes, he’s honest. We get that. Yes, he’s annoyed at everyone who isn’t. We get that. He’s also stubborn. We get that.

And that’s all we get. There’s very little warmth in the character, there’s very little intelligence in the way he does his job, and there’s very little indication he’s capable of learning new ways to get what he wants. Ben McKenzie has little to work with.

We know something of Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and why he’s so cynical. We know a great deal about why Oswald (Robin Lord Taylor) is such a hot mess. We have background on Fish (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Falcone (John Doman). All we know about Gordon is that his father was a lawyer and died in a car crash. We don’t know how this affected him, we don’t know how his time in the military affect him, and we barely know how Barbara’s leaving affected him since he’s as wound tightly without her as he was with her around.

Unless Gotham gives more depth to this character, the show is never going to get better.

Moving onto the episode….

The Scarecrow is one of the best of Batman’s villains and, to me, superior to the Joker. The Scarecrow’s best stories with the villain show how our heroes can be heroes despite their fears. I’d expected that Gordon and Bullock would have to face their fears in order to overcome Gerald Crane (Julian Sands), perhaps giving us a chance to see inside Gordon for once.

Gerald Crane (guest star Julian Sands, L) tries to comfort his son Jonathan (guest star Charlie Tahan, R) in the "Scarecrow" episode of GOTHAM.
Gerald Crane (Julian Sands, L) tries to comfort his son Jonathan (Charlie Tahan, R).

But, no, the episode is mostly taken up with the origin of Jonathan Crane (Charlie Tahan), Gerald’s son, and why he will eventually become the Scarecrow that opposes Batman. I suppose the writers get points for not doing the expected but, in this case, the expected could have gone a long way to showing the audience what makes Gordon do what he does.

Dr. Leslie Thompkins (guest star Morena Baccarin, R) visits Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, L) at the GCPD precinct in the "The Scarecrow" episode of GOTHAM.
Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) visits Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) at the GCPD precinct.
Gordon does get some light thrown on his personal life in his banter with new medical examiner, Dr. Lee Thompkins (Morena Baccarin). The pair have more chemistry than Barbara (Erin Richards) and Gordon but this relationship seems doomed to fail too, given how oogy Gordon is about showing affection in public. I admit, he has a point, but he’s hardly endearing himself to Lee.

Much of the rest of this episode is taken up with Gerald Crane terrorizing people, including himself and his son. It’s well done but having Gerald die like a chump, is disappointing and anti-climactic. At no point does anyone voice the legitimate point that fear sometimes keeps us alive. Or that Gerald’s science is dangerous and wonky. Instead, his ideas seem to be treated as possible. So weird.

Fish, however, has more down-to-earth concerns, as she’s trapped in a prison. Clearly, she has great confidence in those amazingly toned arms of hers, as she chases off a couple of potential rapists right away. Why the men waited until she was awake to go after her is a question the show doesn’t answer. Or why the guy in charge of the prison, Mace (Babs Olusanmokun), is such an idiot. I’m guessing because there needed to be a fast way for Fish to end up in charge. I like her as the underdog but I became distracted sorting out exactly where the prison was located. Santa Prisca, perhaps, as I guessed last week? If so, expect to see a little boy with mad ninja skills show up next week as a proto-Bane.

Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) takes a treacherous hike in the "The Scarecrow" episode of GOTHAM.
Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) takes a treacherous hike.

The rest of the episode concerns young Bruce (David Mazouz) attempting a hike alone in the woods to honor his father. I thought it might tie-in thematically with “facing one’s fear” but the segment doesn’t quite get there. Nice appearance by Alfred (Sean Pertwee), however, who wouldn’t let his charge out of his sight for that long.

And in the most WTF Segment of the episode, Falcone presents Maroni (David Zayas) with the gift of a hard-charging judge under glass. The judge, despite his harsh sentences for criminals, has a BDSM fetish. Falcone and Maroni droll (figuratively) over the now-captive judge. Me? I only shook my head and wondered if this would pay off in perhaps getting Flass released down the line. Or it may be just more of Gotham’s randomness.

Oswald doesn’t get to kill anyone this episode, which might have livened things up. But Maroni agrees to leave him alone and Oswald makes Fish’s former club his own. Oswald hand-delivers a special invitation to opening night to Gordon, but Gordon rebuffs those advances, which is predictable, but set up an encounter between Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Oswald that, again, only seems to exist to evoke the future and how the older Nygma and Oswald eventually become Riddler and Penguin.

If only the show took such joy in fleshing out the characters who move the story happening right now.

Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog atWired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.

Read all posts by Corrina Lawson for Criminal Element.