SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “The Fear Repear,” tonight’s episode of Gotham, which as of publication has not yet aired on the west coast.
Fox’s pre-Batman drama Gotham always wears its influences on its sleeve, from Batman ’66-style performances to Tim Burton-inspired set design. But in the second outing of its fourth season — titled “The Fear Reaper” — the show has started to pull from one source in particular.
That’s because at this point in its “A Dark Knight” story arc, the show is going the full Nolan. In fact, Gotham has been working overtime to borrow elements from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy that cast Christian Bale in the cape and cowl – particularly 2005’s Batman Begins.
The similarities kick off this week with the title threat of the “Fear the Reaper” episode. While the supervillain Scarecrow has been a part of Batman’s world since 1941 (thanks to co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane), the character earned its widest pop culture exposure in Christopher Nolan’s initial superhero adaptation. The master of fear was tapped to be a part of Batman’s film franchise years before when he was planned to be featured in a sequel to follow directly on the heels of 1997’s Batman & Robin, but of course that era of the Batman film franchise didn’t continue beyond that point.
Of course, when Jonathan Crane finally made his big screen debut in the hands of Cillian Murphy, the character was far from its comic origins. Now, Scarecrow was a mobbed-up menace who both served as the first true supervillain Batman faces and tied the hero’s early years to the legacy of Ra’s al Ghul. Gotham seems to be pushing things in that direction as well, but along with setting Scarecrow in a familiar milieu, the show is aping a lot about the presentation of the villain directly from Begins.
It’s been noted before, but the look and feel of Scarecrow’s fear toxin is just one way in which the TV series copies Nolan’s version of the character. From the thin green mist of the gas itself to the special effects of its hallucinations, every toxin attack on this series feels like a less-than-memorable deleted scene from the movie. And with Scarecrow’s costumed debut, Gotham borrowed both the look of Crane’s eye-popping mask and the stilted cadence of Murphy’s “Irishman doing a standard American accent” dialogue delivery. What’s more, Crane’s method of punishing those who stand in his way (here an Arkham warden whose fear of clowns sees him morph into a maniac a bit too inspired by Heath Ledger’s Joker) matches the Nolan movies far more than the research angle that’s dominated comic narratives.
But the comparisons between the current Gotham run and Batman Begins don’t stop with the villain. Actually, the show seems more and more ready to play their take on Bruce Wayne in the exact same style as the origin flick. This week, the core of the young billionaire’s journey involved the not-so-secret aide of ousted Wayne Industries scientist Lucius Fox on his vigilante ways.
In the comics, Fox was traditionally a business type who played a daytime foil to the Dark Knight’s alter ego. But Nolan recast the character as an ally who was ready to look the other way while funneling company tech to Bruce. This week’s Gotham pulls that exact take to the fore for the first time, complete with an “I hope your rock climbing hobby goes well” joke that’s a few words away from Begins‘ now classic “Don’t tell me you’re just base-jumping” routine.
Add in an Alfred who is equally trying to save Bruce from his more destructive impulses while wholeheartedly supporting his quest, and the scenes of the show where Lucius appears to give young Bruce a lightweight, bulletproof costume, the show feels more like Nolan-light than ever before.
The future of this season is looking more and more to the Nolan canon and Begins to make its story work, too. Gotham is finally leaning into Jim Gordon as a good cop who’s fully alone in the GCPD. It’s getting ready for a full-on Ra’s Al Ghul arc that feels Liam Neeson-y in the hands of Alexander Siddig. And most of all, the show has shifted fully into “Batman origin” mode after years of dancing around the idea.
This stuff isn’t necessarily bad for the series. The beginning of Season 4 has been better than plenty of Gotham arcs before now. And when hope is lost that the series will put a truly original spin on the Bat Mythos, “borrowing” things from one of the most beloved adaptations ever is better than nothing. But still, we think Gotham‘s best bet is to continue to mix in all aspects of Batmedia past rather than pull from such an iconic (and truly recent) take on the franchise.
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