At this point, I think it’s safe to say someone very important in Gotham’s creative team views the 2002 M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs as the height of creative storytelling. Remember Signs? In which a race of aliens deathly allergic to water invade a planet made of 70-percent water, therefore allowing the human race to defeat them via garden hose and/or Super Soaker? Someone on Team Gotham took a very specific lesson from that film, because “The Fear Reaper” marks the third–the third–as in one, two, three times this show has ramped up the tension only to Signs its way out of it.
You may remember back in Season 2, when a man calling himself The Electrocutioner incapacitated the entire GCPD before Jim Gordon … threw a mug of water on him. Or, the Season 2 finale, when a literal nuclear bomb was set to go off underneath Gotham City before Jim Gordon … threw a glass of water on it. Here, to complete the H2O trilogy of bad writing, Jim Gordon foregoes the glassware and simply ignites Arkham Asylum’s sprinkler system, which somehow counteracts the effects of Jonathan Crane’s fear toxin on an army of mental patients. I swear, the dude says, out loud, “water, right.” I am 100-percent sure that was just a note on the script that turned into dialogue, because “Write water” is the only note these writers apparently ever get.
Really, the water issue is just indicative of “The Fear Reaper” as a whole, which is as lazy an episode of Gotham as you’re ever going to get. Whenever I recommend this show to people—which I do often, usually more aggressively than the situation calls for—I always mention the radical uptick in quality from first-half Season 1 onward. When Gotham first began, it was a hot mess of tonal shifts and inconsistent, logic-jumping storytelling that the audience was supposed to accept because every episode featured a glimpse of, like, Killer Croc as a baby getting his diaper changed. “The Fear Reaper” felt like early Gotham, an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle of unearned tension and irrational decisions that ended with the Big Reveal of Bruce Wayne’s proto-Batsuit, which proved that he somehow looked more like a goober before adding pointy ears to the mask.
Nothing feels less earned than Gotham’s sudden insistence that the GCPD is a respected pinnacle of the city whose reputation is at stake. The GCPD is a respected police force the same way Olive Garden is a respected art museum. That’s the entire point, not only through three seasons of Gotham, but 75-plus years of Batman. Jim Gordon is the One Good Cop, and the rest are nameless extras who can’t get a cat out of a tree without soiling themselves and dying, and not always in that order. They know the deal. Penguin knows the deal. Hell, Jim knows—and has always known—the deal.
But because Jim is that special mixture of very brave and very stupid usually reserved for young children fighting evil on their bicycles in the 1980s, he responds to Penguin’s incredibly accurate shit-talking by basically saying, “I am okay with probably dying if it means people like the GCPD again.” No one likes the GCPD, Jim, and you know this. You let a child with his face stapled in place murder a good twenty percent of the city.
Nothing that happens inside Arkham Asylum is bad, really, just lifeless and ultimately a waste of time. Charlie Tahan makes a fine enough Scarecrow; he’s certainly gangly enough, and he throws in some fun vocal tics that sound like Jonathan Crane fighting with his own darker half mid-sentence, a terrified teenager battling a Scarecrow demon word-by-word. But what a rushed storyline; from the moment he walks in until the moment he leaves Jim goes through a season-long character arc, mostly by shaking his head real hard and pouring water on his face. I don’t fully believe that Jim Gordon’s deepest fear wouldn’t manifest as army of jaywalkers going un-ticketed, but it is intriguing that his incredibly specific nightmare scenario is Lee Thompkins killing herself because of his actions. So, of course, he donks himself on the forehead a few times and gets over it, simple as stretching after a light jog. The stakes of a fear toxin lower real fast when the two cures are “dunk your head in water” and “just get over it.” That’s the storytelling equivalent of telling a person with depression to take a long nap and watch a sitcom.
Elsewhere, Bruce Wayne is hard at work ensuring that one day, Gotham City’s best protector won’t be a well-meaning cop whose plans usually start and ends with firing his gun wildly into a crowd of civilians. I’d be lying if I said there’s no warm and fuzzy thrill involved in seeing the seeds of what will become one hell of an ass-kicking team; Bruce flying across rooftops, Lucius Fox enabling his boss’ suicidal night job by providing bulletproof body armor, Alfred Pennyworth just sort of being a cheeky bastard about the whole thing. But Gotham is at its best when it’s more than just an extended preview for comic books first published in the 40s. To quote one of history’s most famous philosophers, “Nobody cared who I was until I put on the mask.” Gotham just put on its mask, but it can’t think that’s a good enough reason to care.
Rating: ★★ Fair
– I love how nine times out of ten in Gotham City dying just means going away for a while to get a new hair style. Fish Mooney did it, Theo Galavan did it, Captain Barnes would probably do it if he was capable of growing hair. Now Barbara Kean has returned from her electric-shock induced death from last season, with a warehouse full of guns, a mysterious benefactor, and a haircut that she definitely styled after Diane from Twin Peaks: The Return.
– If this show’s writers think Ivy stealing “ancient, mystical potions” from Gotham’s resident racist Asian stereotype is going to make me forget they also aged the character up so she could be hotter, they are incorrect.
– Jessica Lucas deserves either a raise or an award for making the phrase “Nygma’s Machiavellian war games” sound close to natural.
– Not to turn a space usually reserved for jokes about Batman’s dick into something political, but I couldn’t help but notice Jonathan Crane—a villain most known for spreading fear—has the inmate number 1109. I also couldn’t help but notice Arkham cell C-313 prominently in the background on more than one occasion. Now, November 9th is the 313th day of the year. It also just happens to be the day our current president officially won the 2016 election. Surely, a coincidence.