There is a flimsy but almost-thoughtful reason why the villain of the week on last night’s Gotham is called the Goat: Gotham comes from the Middle English word for “Goat’s Town.” Washington Irving didn’t coin the term, but he is credited as the first person to use it in association with New York City. Prior to that, British fairy-tales refer to Gotham as the home of madmen, simpletons, and fools. So it stands to reason that the bad guy in “Spirit of the Goat,” a serial killer who ostensibly represents the city rebelling against its more wealthy patrons, is the Goat. Once you know who he is and why he does what he does, you can read all sorts of things into the Goat’s name.
Don’t get me wrong: A serial killer called the Goat is spectacularly dorky. But it makes sense in the context of a show that, at this point in time, is stuck between straightforward, albeit cartoon-y, detective stories, and Dickensian, pseudo-adult gangster drama. That context is key when judging tonight’s episode, since it is, all things considered, better than much of what we’ve seen so far (yes, “The Balloonman” is still a series highlight, and no, that’s not a joke). It’s a mixed bag, but at least there are some good ideas scattered throughout, even if they’re not expressed particularly well or in service of a memorable idea or character arc.
Case in point: This week’s episode was all about conspiracies and shaky allegiances. Not exactly a striking theme, since virtually every episode of Gotham is about conspiracies and shaky allegiances. But it felt like the last part of season one’s prolonged opening act. The war that Cobblepot promised in the series premiere is finally about to begin, and all it took was his miraculous return from the grave. Unfortunately, that war won’t start until next week (or so says the “Next Week on Gotham” preview).
In the meantime, Harvey Bullock mulls over conspiracy theories after the Goat, a killer Bullock dispatched ten years ago with ex-partner Dix (guest-star Dan Hedaya), returns to Gotham. The public murder of 21-year-old socialite Amanda Hastings sends Bullock a clear message: This is not the work of a copycat. Bullock knows this because Hastings had an 1813 Liberty penny stitched into the base of her skull, a detail that was previously undisclosed to the press. So Bullock must listen to Dix, who suggests that a “conspiracy” is the only logical explanation for the Goat’s return.
Bullock’s investigation is the best mystery of the week so far, though not because it’s a character-driven search for answers. We still don’t know why Bullock stopped being a crusading do-gooder like Gordon, but we do now have a clearer idea of what a show that’s not all about James Gordon might look like. The scene where Bullock reunites with Dix is especially good because here, both Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie serve as foils to Hedaya, an experienced and totally charming character actor. Christopher Norr’s moody cinematography sets the scene with polished, Fincher-worthy medium close-ups of characters in conversation. But Hedaya owns his scene, confirming that Gotham is at its best when its guest-stars are given enough room to work.
Sadly, the worst of tonight’s lackluster subplots was Gordon and Barbara Kean’s reunion. It starts off promising enough, but then, characteristically, goes nowhere productive. After giving Gordon one more chance, Kean gets her fiancé to stop being such a baby and promise to share some of his secrets with her. Like, for example, who Oswald Cobblepot is, and why he’s so important to Gordon. But after Gordon and Kean patch things up, Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen suddenly find a witness to Cobblepot’s shooting and come after Gordon. Which is a problem, since it distracts Gordon long enough that he doesn’t have to share anything with Kean.
Gordon’s an essentially — and understandably — paranoid character, but tonight’s episode lets him off the hook too easily. When Allen and Montoya come to arrest him, Gordon doesn’t assume that there’s a conspiracy afoot. Instead, he howls that “we’re on the same side,” a far cry from his usual persecuted-loner schtick. Gordon’s right to think that he can’t trust anyone, and therefore must wage a personal war on Gotham. But hey, somehow, being arrested makes Gordon forget his feelings of persecution and trust that the system works. So, once again, major characters’ motives are determined on a scene-by-scene basis, leaving one to wonder if the show’s story editor isn’t asleep at the wheel.
The biggest surprise wasn’t the pokey but perfectly okay Cobblepot/Missus Cobblepot family reunion, but rather Edward Nygma’s courtship of fellow GCPD office-worker Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack). Nygma’s oblivious attempts at catching Kringle’s eyes are kind of funny, though mostly thanks to Spack’s deft comic timing. But his story doesn’t add up to much, since anyone with eyes knows he’ll inevitably strike out because, well, he’s a sociopathic nerd. You know the story: Boy sees girl, boy wants girl, boy fails to get girl because he’s too stupid to listen to girl when she says, “Don’t organize my files and stop with the riddles, for pity’s sake.” There’s a funny comedy of manners here, and Spack rises to the occasion. But who cares about a decent setup when the punch line is this dull?
- Gertrude Kapelput to Oswald Cobblepot: “You got tangled in some hussy’s demon-purse!” Oh, Carol Kane, you’re wonderful.”The bullets, again!”
- Harvey Bullock: “We Easter-egged it.” No. Just no.
- The funniest line in last night’s episode: “Those are awful magazines, Detective.”
- No Fish Mooney this week, but it’s still fun to say her name.
- Is Renee Montoya ever going to get to be anything other than a lesbian concern troll?
- James Gordon to Renee Montoya: “We’re fighting the same war, and damn it, I’m getting somewhere.” That’s debatable.