I’m not going to pretend that the villain on this week’s Gotham is a surprise, given that his name is in the title of the episode. However, I will say that it’s not the Doctor Crane that you’re probably expecting because they don’t want Scarecrow to be sixty years old when Batman starts fighting him. And because it’s Gotham, ongoing storylines move forward in a hurry. There’s a lot this week, so let’s get to “The Fearsome Dr. Crane”.

Also, I’ll note right now that Maria Thayer is in the opening credits for this episode. Folks? I love Maria Thayer. Strangers with Candy and Eagleheart are two of my favorite shows ever, and she’s amazing in both of them. She’s been one of my top TV crushes since the Strangers days, and I have nothing but good things to say about her. So you can imagine my glee when she popped up here.

We’re off to a weird start. There’s a guy with a complicated contraption on a roof. Basically, he has another guy strapped to a chair and there’s a noose around his neck. The noose seems to be attached to a pulley, and the dude is understandably freaking out. Shadowy figure punts him off the roof and snaps his neck.

Opening credits! Shortest cold open ever? I think so!

Penguin and Maroni celebrate the defeat of Fish Mooney. Yeah, Oswald isn’t done trying to play both ends. Maroni thinks they can use this to take down Falcone because he doesn’t even know that Fish was the problem. Then he gets a phone call. From Fish! She’s calling to let him know she’s alive and that Penguin’s been working for Falcone the whole time. Maroni tries to keep it vague since he’s looking right at Penguin the whole time. Meanwhile, Oswald complains about a smudge on the cutlery. Maroni invites him to come upstate and “see a guy about a thing”, and they have to leave now. I love the way they play Maroni as kind of dumb. Not quick on his feet, that one.

Bullock and Essen investigate the dead body on the rooftop. Whoever killed him dragged his body back up to the roof. Nygma points out a post-mortem surgical incision on the victim and offers to check it out back at the station. Essen reminds him that he’s not the medical examiner and he has to stop messing with bodies. The actual medical examiner has made formal complaints and everything. Essen also advises Bullock not to stand too close to the edge – she thinks Flass’ friends have it in for all of them. And yeah, they have cops there who look like they’d just love to drop somebody off a building.

Gordon finally returns to Barbara’s apartment, where Selina is eating some Fruit Brute cereal. She tries to sneak out, but he catches her. He just came by to drop off his keys, so I think we can officially say that he doesn’t have any ownership there, but it’s where he stays. He also seems surprised that Barbara isn’t there. I’m guessing they haven’t talked. Gordon offers to bring Selina someplace safe, and then she tells him what she told Bruce – she can’t identify the Wayne’s killer. Still don’t know if she’s telling the truth or not. With that, she jumps out the window and gets away.

Gordon goes to see Bruce, and the kid basically fires him. It’s really well-staged, all “thank you for your interest in solving my parents’ murder, but we’ll be pursuing other options”. It’s a little bit heartbreaking. In Bruce’s mind, Gordon failed. I need for them to be friends!

Penguin wakes up in the car after a long drive and it looks like this is going to be the “Pine Barrens” episode of Gotham. Maroni leads him to a cabin for some coffee and oatmeal. Then he brings up Indian Hill – remember the useless property he traded to Falcone in exchange for Penguin’s life? Well, now that we know (and Maroni knows) that Oswald and Falcone were in it together, we have to wonder why that happened. Penguin even suggested Indian Hill, so it must be something that Falcone wants.

Of course, Maroni doesn’t admit to what he knows, he just talks about it like it’s a weird puzzle. Penguin does not seem fooled. Maroni also mentions how his guy Frankie got killed by Nikolai – but it was a gunfight and he was stabbed. Kind of seems like Maroni should have put that together sooner. Maroni steps outside to wait for the guy, and Penguin is clearly shaken.

Over at GCPD, Scottie Mullen shows up to talk to Bullock. She’s Maria Thayer’s character, so obviously Harv is immediately smitten. Scottie knows the victim – they’re in a support group for people with phobias. I have no idea if this kind of thing really exists, but we’ve had super strength drugs and multiple balloon murders on this show. Frankly, they probably need this support group. She explains that the victim was afraid of heights and Bullock thinks it might be somebody from the support group. Bullock asks her to dinner, hypothetically and says he might have to attend the meeting tonight.

Gordon tries to catch Harvey up, but he’s still watching Scottie leave. Their only lead is the manufacturer of the chair the guy was tied to – the company that made it has been closed for years but they might as well check it out because that’s all they’ve got.

This is amazing A guy walks out of a building and sees a creepy looking guy holding a tiny pig. He freaks out and runs away, right into a huge guy who tazes him and tosses him in a van. And the whole time, the creepy guy is stroking the pig like it’s Blofeld’s cat.

Nygma is, against orders, playing with the dead body. He digs into the wound and makes a discovery, but then the actual examiner and Essen show up. Essen suspends him for his behavior, which is actually pretty reasonable. Hey – just noticed. The real examiner wears blue scrubs, but Nygma’s are green. He’s already got his color scheme!

Bullock and Gordon get to the furniture manufacturer and Bullock pumps him for information about Thompkins. Bullock says that he thought Gordon was raising hell and making speeches because he wasn’t getting laid and now he’s worried about what Gordon will do if he blows it with Thompkins right after losing Barbara. Damn, I love Harvey Bullock. They hear a scream and find a room where a dude in a pig mask is coaxing actual pigs toward the guy who was abducted. Bullock shoot the pig guy dead when he rushes them.

For the record, this is now two characters who’ve worn a pig mask in the course of committing crimes. Neither of them have actually been Professor Pyg. Why do you taunt me, Gotham?

Let’s check in with Fish! She’s out to sea on a fairly nice boat. The captain checks in on her and that’s that. For now.

Gordon and Bullock talk to Essen. They confirm that the guy they saved is afraid of pigs. That is an unusual phobia and they just used it to dash my hopes! Bullock says the guy they shot was definitely their killer and he was definitely working alone so he’s just going to drop by the support group and let everybody know. Hee! Gordon’s not convinced and wants to know about the incision on the victim. He’s not buying the ME’s report, because that’s the same guy who, last week, said that Gordon’s witness stabbed himself in the back of the head with an icepick. Yeah, the Riddler is actually the most trustworthy lab guy in the precinct. Ed goes to the record room to tell Kristen that he’s on suspension. She’s crying and won’t say why. Nygma returns a pencil that he took. (“It used to be longer.” HA!) She says she wishes she could do something.

Back up at the cabin, Penguin grabs a gun from Maroni’s bag. When Maroni comes back, he sits Penguin down for a talk. It’s time for honesty. There is no guy with a thing. Also, he talked to Fish Mooney and he knows that Penguin’s a traitor. And so Penguin pulls the gun and shoots Maroni. Full of blanks, by the way. Maroni knocks Oswald out.

Leslie meets Gordon at a restaurant. I know. “Call me Lee”. But I’ve known her as Leslie Thompkins since I started reading comics at the tender age of three. (Explains a lot, doesn’t it?) I feel weird calling her anything else. She thinks it’s a date but he wants to get her input on the case. But when she calls him out, he says that was a pretext and he just wanted to see her. And now she’s interested in the case. Mars and Venus, am I right? Then Gordon gets a call – the pig victim woke up and said he was abducted by two men. They’ve still got a killer on the loose. Gordon calls Harvey but has to leave a voicemail.

Bullock, as it turns out, is too busy hitting on Maria Thayer to answer his phone. I get that. He accompanies her to the group meeting so he can tell everybody what happened. She mentions that she’s terrified of swimming pools. Harvey: “I can see how that could be a thing.” HA! And then Harvey comes up with a new approach and asks if he can share his fears with the group. Oh Donal Logue, you are a delight. Before the meeting, he runs into the guy we saw holding the pig. If he’d still had his pig with him, they could have wrapped this up.

Maroni and Penguin end up at a salvage yard. He wants Penguin to climb into a car which will them be crushed. Penguin begs and even admits there’s more to Indian Hill than Maroni knows. Doesn’t work. Yeah, he actually tried to shoot the guy. This may be beyond Oswald’s formidable weaseling skills.

Nygma sneaks into the locker room at the GCPD and picks a lock. Bullock tells the group how he’s afraid that he’ll die alone in an alley instead of in the arms of a beautiful woman. HA! Pig Guy, who Maria Thayer identifies as “Todd” asks to speak He says that he’s terrified of failure and he’s afraid of passing that on to his son. Todd gets choked up and leaves Maria follows him out, and I keep forgetting her character name so just let me have this.

Back in the junkyard, that car is getting awfully small. Penguin calls Maroni to beg some more, which is pretty funny. Even better, he then calls the salvage yard and gets the guy operating the crusher. He goes from craven to imperious in .2 seconds flat as he tells him that Falcone knows what’s happening and if his “right hand man dies”, the salvage yard guy’s whole family dies. It works. The guy stops the crusher and runs away. Penguin escapes and gives Maroni the slip.

At the group meeting, Bullock worries that Todd and Maria Thayer have been gone for too long. He goes outside just in time to see a car pulling away in a suspicious manner. Back at GCPD, medical examiner Guerra opens his locker and a bunch of severed limbs pour out in full view of a couple of uniformed officers.

Gordon fills Essen in on the case while Bullock makes some calls – he learns that Maria Thayer almost drowned in a particular pool when she was seven, so that’s where they’re headed. Cut to the pool where Todd has Maria Thayer tied up and he’s ranking her fear on “the Crane Scale”. A teenage boy runs in to tell his dad that the parking meter ran out, and Crane tells Jonathan to wait in the van and gives him some change. So we know who we’re dealing with now. Crane tosses Maria Thayer in the pool. Just as she stops struggling, Gordon and Bullock show up. Gordon chases Crane while Bullock jumps into the pool. Bullock rescues Maria Thayer, but Crane manages to escape.

The next morning, Penguin wakes up outside – he fell asleep hiding. Some women from a church bus find him and offer him a ride back to Gotham. Hee! This could not be more ridiculous and cartoony (they actually sing a gospel number as he boards the bus) and I love it.

Wrap-up time! Leslie comes to GCPD and tells Gordon that Crane removed his victim’s adrenal glands. They produce adrenaline and Thompkins calls it the “fear gland”. When somebody is most terrified, those glands work overtime, but it’s not clear to her why that matters to anybody because she doesn’t have access to Batman comics. She thinks the killer must be a doctor.

Gordon tells her the medical examiner was fired for stealing body parts, and she may be the perfect replacement. Woo! They make dinner plans and kiss, and I’m totally rooting for these two.

Nygma tells Kristen that he’s been reinstated and she’s cold but then says he owes her a new pencil. And then, in the last scene, it gets crazy as hell. On the boat, Fish wakes up to the sound of gunfire. They’ve been attacked by pirates! The captain offers to hide her, then dies. A big pirate dude strides in, then he and Fish both growl and run straight at one another like the opening of a fighting game and then we cut to the credits! Fantastic.

–Oh, this episode was a delight even beyond the appearance of Maria Thayer. The people who are always great were great once again. Robin Lord Taylor was especially awesome – the car crushing scene was so good. There’s nobody who does abject terror quite like him. I also really liked David Zayas’ Maroni this week. I like that they’ve settled on Maroni being cagey but also kind of dumb. He actually feels like an extension of Zayas’ Morales on Oz. They’ve done such a good job with the mob character and really distinguishing them.

Little Bruce was really good this week. It was just that one scene of him laying off Gordon and then going back to work, and he really sold it. More and more, he really seems like he’s going to grow up to be Batman, and I love that. Once they got past the sulking of the early episodes, he really came together.

Great week for Nygma, too. Getting a rival fired in the creepiest way possible is actually a much better starting point for the Riddler than his traditional origin. And the genuinely weird bits like the piglet and the pirate attack no longer seem out of place. They’ve really figured out the tone of the show and worked out how far they can go.

I honestly can’t decide if Selina was lying before or she’s lying now. At the time, it seemed like she couldn’t have seen anything from where she was, but now I can’t decide. This is baffling. And now that the mystery of Indian Hill is back in play, it seems like we’ll be getting back to exactly why Arkham is so important. I think it’s a measure of how enjoyable the last several episodes have been that I hadn’t thought about that dropped storyline until Maroni brought it up again. And that’s usually the kind of thing I obsess over!

–Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the major character introduced here. The Scarecrow is Jonathan Crane, which makes him the kid who was worried about feeding the meter. That’s a pretty neat way of bringing in a big name but still making sure he can be Batman’s contemporary. By the way, the elder Crane’s first name totally isn’t Todd. According to IMDB, it’s Gerald. Presumably they’ll get into that when he returns next week.

Scarecrow first appeared in 1941 – he’s one of Batman’s earliest villains but somehow he never made it to the Adam West TV series. It’s possible that they couldn’t figure out a way to translate his whole fear gimmick to TV, but that’s me speculating. He and Riddler were the only Batman villains to join the Legion of Doom on Super Friends. There was a separate Batman cartoon at the time that got to use all of the other villains, which is very much in keeping with DC’s bizarre approach to licensing. On that show, all he did was control a flock of crows.

Interestingly, on a later incarnation of Super Friends (Super Powers: Galactic Guardians if you want to be pedantic), Scarecrow stars in an episode titled “The Fear” which represented the first time Batman’s origin was portrayed outside of comics. It’s actually surprisingly good despite the notoriously bland Super Friends approach. He later appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, but because of his appearance in Batman Begins, he was prohibited from appearing on Justice League or The Batman. (Again, DC is weird about this stuff.) He made a couple of appearances on The Brave and the Bold later.

As noted, he’s in Batman Begins where he’s played by Cillian Murphy. He actually appears in all three movies in the trilogy, but two of those are Scarecrowcameos. He doesn’t really wear a costume and commit crimes there – he just uses toxins and a terrifying mask to manipulate people. He’s also in a bunch of videogames, including as the boss in the hardest level of the Batman: The Animated Series game for the Super Nintendo. He has a major role in Arkham Asylum and he’s said to be the major antagonist in the upcoming Arkham Knight. You’ll also see Scarecrow in the LEGO Batman games.

I’m a big fan of Scarecrow, even though they seem to want to reboot him every few years. The core is basically the same – he’s consistently a weird professor who uses fear gas, but sometimes he’s a physical threat, sometimes he talks only in nursery rhymes, sometimes he turns into a monster called the Scarebeast. Those tweaks usually don’t last.

His origin also changes. A lot. Sometimes he had an abusive father, sometimes he was raised by a religious grandmother. Sometimes his story begins when he’s a professor at Gotham State University. With a fluid background like that, I think it works that they made his father his inspiration. I really like that bit where Gerald tells Jonathan about the important work they’re doing; it’s like they’re a deranged version of Phil and Luke Dunphy. I don’t know that the Scarecrow needs to be a mantle that’s passed down from father to son, but they actually haven’t done that yet so I’ll shut up.

Of course, next week’s episode is titled “Scarecrow”. So we’ll see what they do with that. Given that they’ve managed to get me on board with a Zsasz who’s going to be an old man when Batman shows up, I’m cautiously optimistic.

I forgot the Recommended Reading last week, and for that I apologize.  This time, it’s one of the iconic Scarecrow stories.  Detective Comics #571, “Fear for Sale”.  It’s Crane’s first appearance after the big Crisis on Infinite Earth continuity reboot.  This time, Scarecrow’s updated his fear toxin to remove fear.  That’s a pretty great idea, but when Batman gets dosed things get crazy awesome.  Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis are at their best here.

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