Gotham Explores Bullock’s Past

sarah essen gotham spirit of the goat

The “Spirit of the Goat” reminds Bullock of the cop he used to be.

Advertised as Gotham’s frightening, Halloween episode, “Spirit of the Goat” will likely disappoint viewers hoping for a scare. However, it still serves as a great episode compared to the rest of the new series.

Removing itself largely from the criminal underworld of Gotham City, “Spirit of the Goat” focuses instead on a copycat killer inspired by a serial murderer killed by Harvey Bulllock, Jim Gordon’s partner, ten years earlier. By not focusing as much on the global narrative of the series, this episode is able to tell a story that actually works. “Spirit” also works to illustrate that Bullock was not always the “slovenly, lackadaisical cynic” Gordon sees him as.

The shift is quality is likely thanks to writer Ben Edlund. It’s his first script for Gotham, but along with creating The Tick character and writing a couple episodes of Firefly, Edlund spent seven years as a staff writer for Supernatural. Granted, “Spirit of the Goat” doesn’t exactly have the humor of “Jaynestown” or “The French Mistake” but it’s still more functional than the previous episodes of Gotham.

The show hasn’t completely abandoned the supporting cast and seasonal arcs in favor of Harvey Bullock’s narrative. There are scenes in which Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot do things, but they’re compact don’t interrupt the flow too much. Edward Nygma, however, has a pair of scenes which do nothing to serve the plot and otherwise just waste time trying to characterize the man who would be Riddler.

Gotham City’s Major Crimes Unit is still pursuing the murder of Cobblepot (even though he isn’t dead), and Gordon’s fiancée is still mucking about. Her and Renee Montoya are rather inconsistent in their attitudes compared to earlier episodes. In fact, they’re inconsistent just in “Spirit” alone. By the end of this episode though, MCU’s investigation gets to a point that will have some unavoidable consequences, and it will be interesting to see where things go next week. Are we already building up to a mid-season finale?

Still far from perfect, Gotham is at least providing the occasional acceptable episode, and “Spirit of the Goat” is definitely one of them. Gotham is on Fox, Monday nights at 8/7c. It’s also available to view on Fox’s website and Hulu.

Spoilers ahead!

Bullock used to be an okay guy:

Bullock has played dirty because it’s the only way to get anything done in Gotham City, but Donal Logue has brought enough nuance to the seemingly simple character to tell that the cop still kind of hates it all. “Spirit of the Goat” served as the first glimpse into Bullock’s past as a bright-eyed, optimistic detective. Ten years ago he worked with his own cynical partner in pursuit of a serial killer, whom Bullock killed.

Now a new killer has emerged that follows the exact same modus operandi, including details that no one could know. Gordon is surprised to hear from Bullock’s old partner that Bullock was once a “boy scout”, a term used to describe Gordon frequently. Combined with his heavy investment in the case, “Spirit of the Goat” gets to show off that at one point that this guy once cared about his job and the people of Gotham.

Bullock’s lazy work ethic and use of police brutality isn’t justified by the events of ten years ago, but “Spirit of the Goat” still serves to show who the man once was and what he might return to. Ideally, we’ll get more backstory on Bullock and his turn to the less-than-perfect cop we know now. It makes sense that it wouldn’t be a single event (the first Spirit of the Goat) that changed him. Rather, Bullock’s integrity and compassion was likely a victim of Gotham City, something that could be explored via flashbacks throughout the series.

Spirit of the Goat:

The killers themselves provide a sufficient mystery to keep the audience invested in the story. While their connections and motives aren’t explained until the end, unlike earlier episodes of Gotham, it connects logically to other elements from the story. Bullock’s inability to make the connection sooner makes sense, and the conclusion is satisfying for the single-episode arc. It’s one of Gotham’s few, fully functional episodes.

There is some comic book style logic in play. Both killers were mental health patients manipulated by the same therapist, one who used hypnotism to turn them into murderers. The reasoning behind these actions is flawed, but Gotham City is made up of people that aren’t entirely stable, including its mental health professionals. One criticism to be brought up is that the episode could have used at least one direct comment on the victimization of the mentally and emotionally unwell.

Closing in on Gordon:

After episodes of MCU hunting down evidence of Gordon killing Cobblepot (he faked it), Montoya and Allen solve the case when they simply ask a guy that was standing nearby at the time. A cheap and illogical leap, but it gets us rolling.

Just as the Spirit of the Goat case comes to a close, Montoya and Allen come in to arrest Gordon for the crime. The room explodes into shouts as Captain Essen protests the arrest, Bullock is placed into custody for acting as an accomplice, and the consequences of being a cop in Gotham weigh on Gordon.

If he remains silent, he could face prison (even though there is no body) or at least losing his job. If he admits to faking the murder and reveals that Cobblepot is alive, not only would Bullock be more than a little disappointed in him, the Falcone crime family will call for the execution of them both. There’s really no acceptable solution.

And then Cobblepot walks through the door.

Handcuffed, Gordon and Bullock move to clash with one another, and the episode cuts to black. It leaves us in the most suspenseful moment so far this season, and the fallout should be spectacular. Next week promises some serious action, including the appearance of Batman killer, Victor Zsasz.

Bottom line: Definitely a step up in writing for Gotham, and the ending promises something explosive next week.

Recommendation: “Spirit of the Goat” isn’t really necessary to follow the lore of the show, but it’s a worthy story on its own.




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