Gotham Succumbs to a Serial Killer

The sixth episode offered more evidence that the show needs to drop the cop-TV cliches.

Jessica Miglio/Fox

The last thing Gotham needed, at least this early during its run, was a serial killer. I’ve been entreating the show to embrace its comic-book origins and get wacky. Instead, last night’s episode “Spirit of the Goat” embraced Gotham’s cop-show dressing and gave viewers a thinly sketched yarn about a leather-sack-wearing murderer of women called the Spirit of The Goat. It was particularly unfortunate that this was the episode the show decided to devote to Harvey Bullock’s crime-fighting skills, giving him a personal stake by flashing back to The Goat’s earlier crimes, which included crippling Bullock’s partner.

I love Donal Logue and thought he was perfect casting for Bullock, who in the comics is drawn as a burly, surly fella with a buried heart of gold; Logue struck that exact balance in FX’s canceled-too-soon Terriers. But so far he’s been given disappointingly little to do on this show except growl at Jim Gordon for being such a good, eager cop. I imagine Gotham is building to a deeper understanding between Bullock and Gordon, and character development beyond “corrupt lazy cop” for one of our two leads, but so far, there’s been little on that front.

Instead Bullock has been saddled with every cop-show cliché imaginable. He lost his partner (a cantankerous coot) at the hands of the demented Goat, a rambling psychotic who would ritualistically string up young women after killing them. He still visits said partner (who is not dead, but in a wheelchair) in his retirement home, keeping hold of one last shred of humanity. And he still has deductive skills, though he rarely uses them, cracking open the case of Goat copycat killer who turns out to be under the hypnotic control of a society lady who led the first crime spree years before as some metaphorical punishment for the elite’s sins.

Surprisingly, this episode was written by Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick, producer on the very enjoyable Supernatural, and scripter of one of the most original episodes of television ever aired, Angel’s “Smile Time” (it’s the one where Angel turns into a Muppet). “Spirit of the Goat” had the cute twist that a rich, well-dressed lady was behind all the killing, but it was delivered in a drawing-room confession that was twice as boring as it was long. Bullock explained this woman’s scheme to her while she sat in a chair plotting her next move; anyone who’s ever seen a TV show has to know that’s a bad idea (don’t worry, they got her in the end).

Aside from this week’s plodding, Bullock’s big moment on Gotham so far has been forcing Gordon to execute the Penguin on Fish Mooney’s behalf in the pilot episode. That plot arc was disappointingly recalled in this episode as Gordon was almost arrested by the Major Crimes cops for the killing, before the Penguin showed up in the precinct to dispel rumors of his death. One would have thought they’d wait for the Penguin’s body to show up before confirming him dead and hunting for his murderer, particularly since he returned to the Gotham underworld within a couple episodes of his mock “execution” and has once again been making a name for himself.

Otherwise Gordon’s work in this episode boiled down to a lot of staring out the window at the cursed city he’s sworn to protect, muttering that it “needs something.” Maybe a certain bat-shaped something. Too bad that’s not coming for another 10 years at the very least. Gordon remains an appreciably solid, flinty lead to build a wacky show around, but it’s tough when he’s paired onscreen with his dull-as-a-board fiancée Barbara.

Still, Gotham is pointed in a promising direction for next week. With Penguin officially back on the scene and requiring the use of a cane, the mob war can accelerate beyond mere skirmishes and give Bullock and all the other corrupt cops something to worry about. The image of the Penguin (who remains the show’s most visually arresting character) stalking into the police precinct gave me an excited little chill. Here's hoping that Gotham has more material like that in the future, and keeps the half-baked serial killers to an absolute minimum.