Harvey Bullock takes the spotlight in “Spirit Of The Goat,” and Gotham is all the better for it. I’ve mentioned quite a few times in these reviews that the series needs to spend more time fleshing out the history of its characters, and this week’s episode takes a break from the overarching mob war storyline to focus on Bullock’s character and how he’s changed from his early days on the GCPD. The result is a considerable improvement over the last few weeks, although this episode still has its fair share of problems.
“Spirit Of The Goat” begins with a flashback to 10 years ago, with Detectives Bullock and Dix (the always welcome Dan Hedaya, playing the type of curmudgeon he’s typically cast as) investigating the last killing by Randall Milke, a serial killer that believes he’s been possessed by an ancient murdering goat spirit. We learn that back then, Bullock was a valiant young cop much like Jim Gordon, eager to charge into battle without back-up if it means saving a life. Dix plays the part of the present-day Harvey Bullock, telling his partner to tone it down and teaching him Gotham’s golden rule: “No. Heroes.”
Yes, it’s all very on the nose and yet another wink to Gotham’s vigilante-laden future, but at least it gives the audience some context for why Harvey Bullock acts the way he does with Jim. Bullock’s eagerness does help him stop a killer, but it also puts his partner in a wheelchair when the Goat (I’m not going to disrespect Will Eisner by calling this guy the Spirit) opens a trap door underneath Dix that sends him crashing to the ground, breaking his legs and putting him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Bullock endures the negative consequences of his heroic actions, setting him on a path that will eventually lead to the slovenly, lackadaisical person he is today.
Thankfully, Bullock’s personal connection to the Goat puts a fire under his ass when he discovers a new body that fits the M.O. of the past killer, right down to the Liberty Penny sewn into the head of his victims. Bullock is hungry to track down this new killer, and he finally starts acting like a real detective in order to accomplish his goal. That’s important, because it shows that Bullock’s former hero self still exists somewhere inside of him. When Gordon and Bullock meet up with Dix for information, Dix tells Jim that Harvey is a white knight, always jumping into the breach. Jim is surprised, but we see that Bullock hasn’t completely given up on that old character thanks to his dedication to solving the case this week. (He’s also paying for Dix’s living arrangements, which includes a regular supply of dirty magazines. That Harvey Bullock is a swell guy when he wants to be.)
After Bullock and Gordon arrest the new Goat by going to the same abandoned theater used by the original serial killer 10 years ago, Bullock is able to piece together the rest of this mystery by observing the perp’s behavior in the interrogation room. Bullock realizes that the man’s repetitive clenching and unclenching of his fist suggests that he’s been conditioned to act on his compulsions with this motion, which leads Bullock to believe that the man has been hypnotized by the therapist that treats Gotham’s elite as well as less fortunate people thanks to her pro bono work.
The conclusion of the story is rushed and Dr. Marks (Susan Misner) confesses awfully quickly to Bullock’s accusations, but it’s nice to see Bullock score a win and the plot does ultimately tie in to the larger narrative. Dr. Marks believes that killing Gotham’s wealthy children is a kind of therapy for the city, which, combined with Dix’s comments about some sort of conspiracy in Gotham, makes me think that there’s a secret group of people trying to heal the city through less than admirable means. Perhaps we can expect to see the Court Of Owls from Scott Snyder’s current Batman run show up on this series at some point, which could be cool if the writers don’t mess it up.
The tonal shifts of this series are still very jarring. One on end you have a villain whose design evokes memories of torture porn horror films like Saw and Hostel and who strings up his victims in a way that will be very familiar to fans of True Detective and Hannibal. (All of those victims are female, even though the character hunts down the oldest child of Gotham’s wealthy families, so there’s no reason for every victim to be a woman. This show is not very kind to the ladies.) On the other end you have goofy scenes of Edward Nygma trying and failing to flirt with a coworker whose name is Kristen Kringle, complete with whimsical music in the background to make sure the audience doesn’t take these moments too seriously.
What this episode reveals is that this show would be much more focused if it trimmed down its cast, or at least didn’t try to pack so many characters in every episode. Mooney, Falcone, and Maroni don’t appear at all, and Selina, Bruce, and Alfred don’t do much of anything in the few moments they have on screen. Alfred tells Bruce that maybe they should leave Gotham while a serial killer is hunting down the first-born of city’s well-off families, but Bruce refuses to leave because what’s the harm of getting snatched by the Goat when life is a hopeless downward spiral of despair? While Bruce is sleeping, Selina Kyle makes her requisite silent appearance by creeping into his house, and then she’s gone because this show has no idea what to do with her. All those scenes could have been cut, and it would have zero impact on the narrative.
As a gay man, I’m starting to have some serious issues with the depiction of Oswald Cobblepot on this series. While the show isn’t explicitly stating that the character is homosexual, it certainly feels like the writers are implying that with their unpleasant, dated stereotypes. He’s a man with no interest in the opposite sex—he flat-out tells his mother this week that he doesn’t date the women she’s constantly accusing him of seeing—and his obsession with a straight man pushes him to act irrationally. And then there’s his twisted Oedipal relationship with a mother that fawns over him and still washes him in the bathtub despite him being a full-grown adult. Combine all that with Robin Lord Taylor’s effete performance and you have the kind of demonized gay character that was largely accepted in the years before the gay liberation movement and subsequent LGBTQ campaigns to change public perceptions of non-straight individuals.
Thank god Oswald Cobblepot appears at GCPD headquarters at the end of this week’s episode because it becomes harder to swallow the Montoya/Allen investigation subplot when Oswald is up and running in Gotham City. Oswald Cobblepot has not been in hiding; he’s been walking around Gotham City doing exactly what he did before, except now he’s working for a new boss. And yet Montoya and Allen are still convinced that Gordon has killed this man thanks to incredibly unreliable witnesses like Fish Mooney and the homeless guy at the dock, who may or may not have been at the scene of the alleged crime but has no problem fingering Gordon as the shooter.
Oswald’s appearance at GCPD finally puts a pin in that storyline, and also adds another layer of conflict to the Gordon/Bullock relationship, ending the episode with the two partners at each other’s throats. There’s now a lot for this show to address in the next episode, and the Gotham Central fan in me is desperately hoping that Montoya and Allen will get some better material now that they’re unshackled from this unfortunate story. This show still has quite a bit to fix before it becomes a fully captivating drama, but a streamlined focus and more attention to detail makes “Spirit Of The Goat” the highlight of the season thus far.
- While it’s fun to see Carol Kane ham it up as Gertrud Kapelput, it’s unfortunate that she’s stuck in such a thankless role. That said, she’s pretty damn committed to her ridiculous dialogue.
- This week’s episode is written by Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick and a writer for shows like Angel (he wrote and directed the excellent “Smile Time”), Supernatural, and Revolution. I’m not surprised his first episode is the show’s strongest outing yet.
- “Humor is so important, don’t you think?” This one line reveals so much about Nygma’s characterization on this show. He’s actively trying to bring humor into all this fraught cop business, and when a person casts himself as the comic relief, it reads as incredibly obnoxious.
- “Hi mom. I’m alive.” I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have started phone conversations with my mother with that exact sequence of sentences.
- “Let the Goat take me. There’s nowhere to take me from.” Good ole’ emo Bruce, being emo. Alfred’s face in response is pretty heartbreaking, though. “What about me?” Sean Pertwee silently asks from behind his puppy dog eyes.