This Week on TV, Sept. 30, 2017

Spoiler Alert!

It has begun. 🙂

Gotham delighted this week, not slowing down for a moment after last week’s explosive premiere.

I also wanted to start my commentary on Inhumans this week. But I seem to have routine problems these days with getting to anything that broadcasts between Friday evening and Monday morning. I may need to alter my approach a little, so, for the moment, I am nudging the weekend shows to the next week for commentary.

Gotham

4.02 “The Fear Reaper”

Odd. We’ve had early versions of Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, even the Joker, and others on the show already, but… I don’t know, I can’t quite describe how, but something feels a little different about the Scarecrow’s first official appearance. For a moment I caught myself thinking, “It’s our first official Batman villain!” before I remembered all the rest we’ve already seen. I don’t know why. Hmmm, maybe it’ll come to me later.

So, hot on the heels of last week’s season premiere, we have the GCPD descending on the old, ramshackle house where the robbers were hiding out and keeping Crane. They arrive to find the house devoid of people, but filled with proof of Crane’s production of the fear gas. The last robber, the one who got away, is tied up like a scarecrow, outfit and all, in the back yard, screaming his head off in terror, “Scarecrow! Scarecrow!”

The Scarecrow in question has already made his way back to Arkham, there to begin what he believes is a visionary undertaking. He sees his father as a good man, a pioneer who fought against fear itself. The younger Crane, not exactly stable in the head, forgets that his lack of fear got his father killed, because he walked straight into gunfire. As terrible as fear is, it can also be quite useful, so getting rid of it completely, and artificially, just leaves you weak and vulnerable.

Even more, the Scarecrow is wrong about how to deal with fear. He met his nightmare by becoming it, but that is a flawed approach. Becoming what you fear is not overcoming it, that’s giving in to it. Overcoming it means moving past it, and acting in spite of it.

But Scarecrow wants to do things the easy way, the bloody way, by bringing everyone’s worst fear to life for them to face. …well, almost everyone. He wants the GCPD, the men who killed his father, to pay with their lives first. To which end, he gases Arkham’s warden and dozens, reportedly a hundred or more, of the inmates, to be his army.

Over at the GCPD, Bruce and Alfred are offering explanations for Bruce’s presence at a crime in progress, which neither Gordon or Fox are buying. Then it seems Penguin has apparently made a speedy recovery after his exposure to the gas, and he’s right back to work trying to put the city under his thumb, starting with James Gordon and the GCPD. He waltzes in, slings insults, makes demands, and preaches about how great he’s making things. The only one it’s great for is him, but the city, especially the cops, are too defeated to stand up right away.

Much like in real life, the badge the officers are currently dishonoring does little for them besides get them spat on and shot at every day. Penguin is promising a greater payday and a chance to live in “peace” for a little while. It’s at the expense of the city’s innocent people and the complete loss of any lingering faith the people might have in them, but they’ve been beaten down so hard, so many times, that they’ve lost faith.

I talked about Scylla and Charybdis last week. While taking the path where fewer die immediately seems like Scylla, the utter darkness of lost faith, and the eventual crumbling of society, which will sweep an untold multitude into the jaws of upheaval, that is Charybdis. To choose Scylla is to choose to put yourself on the line alongside everyone else, and that is what the GCPD, and all of Gotham, is failing to do right now.

When the word comes from Arkham that there’s a riot underway, Gordon finds himself even worse off than he was when he first arrived in Gotham. Not only does no one follow him, or listen to him, they openly ignore and oppose him. He is going to war with Penguin, and, more immediately, going to battle with Scarecrow at Arkham, and he is going alone. Not even Bullock comes with him this time.

Bullock makes a hard call as a leader at that moment. It’s painful, but I think it was the right one this time. Gordon represents the need to stand up and fight, and he needs to continue with that, but if no one else follows him, then neither can Bullock. He’s followed Gordon for so long, and he was the first to do so, but he’s not a follower now, he’s a captain. His role is different, and he’s thinking about the big picture, the ongoing war with Penguin. They need an army to take on Penguin and his assembled crime syndicate, and the GCPD is the only army they have. But an army doesn’t follow you is no army you can rely on.

If Bullock went with Gordon, that, right there, would have been the end of the war, in Penguin’s favor. Gordon doesn’t have the hearts and minds of his comrades right now, and Bullock would have suffered the same. Instead he trusted that Gordon would survive the night on his own, and preserved his connection with the rest of the officers. If he hadn’t, he’d have been ousted as captain soon enough, and one of Penguin’s lackeys would have been appointed in his place. And then it would have been Gordon and Bullock alone against both the cops and the criminals.

Many things they are, but they are not Batman.

Sometimes you have to accept that you’ve lost a battle, and retreat, live to fight another day. That is very different from giving up the whole war. Bullock and Gordon have both made the right call, as one is navigating the immediate crisis and the other is maneuvering with a long-term goal in mind. For the moment, though, this limits their ability to back each other up.

So, on one side, a horde of crazy people hopped up on fear gas, with Scarecrow directing them. And on the other, Gordon. Not excellent odds, but Gordon has a knack for those. He manages to make his way through the belly of the beast, either beating down or scaring away anyone who comes at him, until he makes it to Crane himself, who is army with his gas and a sickle.

Gordon handles the sickle well enough, but the gas brings to life a vision of his beloved Leslie Thompkins, committing suicide to get away from him. His greatest fear made manifest, with the Scarecrow whispering in his ear, urging him to do the same: kill himself, for her.

But, ah… just as Gordon is doing it, pressing the blade against his wrist, drawing blood and coming dangerously close to the appropriate blood vessel… his own voice, the voice of reason, rises, and persists, and breaks the spell.

He stops being afraid. (very Batman-esque of him)

Which Crane can’t handle, he can’t handle the idea that it’s possible to stop being afraid. He is broken and cannot accept the idea of someone who is whole. So he flees and rouses the inmates to attack Gordon. He defends himself, and realizes that water somehow counteracts the effects of the toxin, so he sets off the sprinklers. Crane escapes, but Gordon has saved the day.

Elsewhere on the crime-fighting front, Bruce and Alfred are having a dispute. It seems to be the first time that Alfred is beginning his usual role of keeping the house and preparing the food with Bruce is out. It’s his way of protesting the idea of Bruce going out when he’s clearly not ready yet, making rookie mistakes and challenging people who have guns when he has none. Still, he can’t stop Bruce, and he won’t, because this is giving Bruce something he needs. Which, I’m not so sure about.

Bruce says he feels more alive than ever before when he’s out on the street. But that’s not what Batman is about. Batman goes through great, heaping piles of pain and effort because he cares about others far more than himself. It’s not about feeling alive, it’s about protecting others. Still, he’s only just starting, and the initial euphoria of heroism can take some time to settle down into disciplined direction and focus. It’s not like they haven’t already taken liberties on the show, so we’ll have to wait and see where they take this.

Bruce finds the gang he crashed in on before, but he makes another rookie mistake and walks into a trap. They deliberately drew him in, and he fell for it easily. He’ll be learning from that, I think. First thing’s first, though, he thinks his way out of the situation at hand, escaping the criminals’ lair with his life. Mind you, he landed outside at the mercy of yet another criminal, at which point Alfred hit the man on the head with a tire iron.

Good man, Alfred! Good man!

Bruce is displaying his usual inflexibility, frustrating for Alfred who had hoped that a dose of reality would give him some leverage in their argument, but no such luck. They’re interrupted by Fox, who arrives with a first-generation suit for the fledgling vigilante… er, I mean, for “rock climbing.” LOL! I love that! Especially the little callback to Batman Begins, with Bruce borrowing all that gear for “spelunking” and “base-jumping.” Love it!

So, the suit is lightweight, strong, bulletproof, has a mask and a two-way radio, and even has gloves which adhere to surfaces to enable climbing. Very cool. 🙂

Finally, on the criminal side of things, Selina and Tabitha have received mysterious invitations, with only the words, “Opportunity waits,” written on them. They show up separately, not knowing they were both invited, and enter together. And they are greeted by their hostess, which… my reaction was a bit like:

“Buh-wha-huh?! Barbara’s alive?!

Yes, apparently. She explains her survival simply with advice to check for a pulse next time, especially in a city where dead people seem to come back to life so much, but there’s clearly something else going on. Her look has changed a bit, and her mannerisms as well. She’s calm and collected, even quiet, almost like she’s halfway sane again. She’s more refined and dignified, and more subtle. Interesting. Oh, and she has a plan to deal in weaponry for Gotham’s criminals, which will not only be quite profitable, but give them an ear with which to hear everything the criminal underground is doing, as well as when and where. This is her scheme to get back on top of the city.

Tabitha, understandably, is more inclined to just kill Barbara where she stands than sign up with her. They ended on really bad terms last season, what with Barbara supposedly killing Butch and Tabitha supposedly killing Barbara. Very hard to imagine a worse place for picking up where one left off.

Selina is more inclined to sign up with Barbara. She doesn’t have the baggage Tabitha carries, and, even more, she wants to move up in the world. She wants to get her own back on the guys who have looked down on her, underestimated her, treated her like crap. And she’s clever, she sees the potential of the three girls working together. She can cause mischief, yes. With Barbara, she might be able to do more. With Barbara and Tabitha, all three working together… oh, they can definitely give everyone else a run for their money, especially Penguin.

Tabitha finally agrees, but after she gets something from Barbara: her hand. As she explains it, it makes a certain amount of perverse sense, and it ultimately serves to prove what Barbara will give up to earn Tabitha’s trust back. Selina is shocked and surprised and a bit hesitant about this, like any sane person would be, but Barbara accepts the terms, and offers her hand. Fortunately, Tabitha does not go through with it, bringing the blade down just shy of the fingertips. (whew!) And they’re in business together, starting Monday.

Selina isn’t alone in wanting more and wanting to get back at everyone, as Ivy, who Penguin treats like crap now – and after she pulled him back from imminent demise and got him back on his feet too, last season, but Penguin knows nothing like gratitude – and who we already saw lash out last episode, wants very much the same. She goes to Tabitha and Selina, wanting to sign on with them and Barbara, but Tabitha dismisses her, not trusting her. Selina is more open, and Barbara noticed the rotted relationship as well. If they played that right, they could have a valuable insider right next to Penguin himself. For the moment, though, she’s taking matters into her own hands, invading an oriental shop and stealing mystical potions to drink and make herself strong.

So, it would seem Poison Ivy is due to arrive soon as well. Gotham’s first introduction to another of Batman’s most classic and powerful enemies. That can’t be good!

Though, with what we saw the potions doing to her face, I’m wondering what she’s going to look like when it’s over. Are we changing the actress again or something?

Lastly, Penguin visits Barbara’s new shop, pre-opening day, and lays down the law. They need a license, and they need to pay a tax to him. Not much to ask, it would seem, but he asserts a dominant position, as he can send Zasz to level the place with Barbara’s own merchandise if she does not cooperate.

Oh, and he’s not completely stupid. He knows she had nothing like the finances to start this up, so, the question is… who’s her backer?

I wonder if it’s Falcone. He would be interested in that sort of thing, especially if he wants an advantage against Penguin and is setting up the girls to spy for him and do the dirty work while he watches behind the scenes. He certainly can’t like what Penguin is doing, a fact which Gordon and Bullock recall as they’re having a drink, which gives Gordon the idea of getting an army to go up against Penguin by going to Falcone. Small detail: he kind of killed Falcone’s son last season. It may have been to save Leslie, but, still, Falcone is not the kind to forgive even small slights, let alone the murder of his son.

So, in summary: Gordon is considering making another deal with a devil who wants to kill him, because his own army, the GCPD, is practically impotent; Barbara, Tabitha, and Selina are going into the arms business together with the hopes of taking over Gotham; Scarecrow has arrived and is running loose; Poison Ivy is about to arrive as well; Penguin rules the city; and Bruce is last seen testing out his new suit, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, Alfred in his ear, standing in a mask to behold the city below.

The seed of Batman is planted in rich soil, and growing.

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