[This is a Review of 'Gotham' Season 1, Episode 6. There Will Be SPOILERS!]
After taking a turn towards comic book superpowers, Gotham returns to its foundations of street-level crime and the twisted lust for vengeance creeping behind the gilded gates and posh neighborhoods of the city. By focusing on the other half of the show's core duo for a change, the series takes a strong step forward; a step that's tainted by a need to pay lip service to other subplots.
In "Spirit of the Goat," written by producer Ben Edlund (Supernatural, Revolution), Detective Bullock (Donal Logue) realizes that a past case may not be truly closed when Gotham socialites start disappearing in a similar manner. Meanwhile the case against Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) in the 'death' of Oswald Cobblepot comes to a head, with his fiancé Barbara (Erin Richards) the only soul in Gotham willing to help him keep his head above water.
The series may have troubled some viewers when it shifted from grounded vigilantes and sinister criminals to superpower-granting drugs, but "Spirit of the Goat" delivers a return to form, while still maintaining an air of 'comic book' logic to give the series an unexpected twist. It's a formula that works far better in action than it may have seemed on the page, with credit due to both Ben Edlund's veteran experience in serialized drama, and a much-needed chance for Donal Logue to flex his own thespian muscles.
With previous episodes reducing Bullock to a handful of quips (or shouts), it would be an understatement to say that the detective's motivations were unclear. This episode may not make all of his dated or offbeat dialogue easier to take, but it gives one of the cast's proven stars a compelling subplot to take hold of, and attempts to show that while they may seem to reside at opposite ends of a spectrum, there's more common ground between Bullock and Gordon than either would likely wish to concede.
The case of the 'Goat' killer itself is also another safe play on Gotham's early framework. A serial killer copycat isn't groundbreaking for any police procedural, but the mythology behind the killer's methods - down to the smallest detail - is enough of a step off the beaten path to keep things fresh. Again, much of that strength lies with Edlund, as Supernatural alone is proof that in the right hands, even a stable premise and 'monster of the week' plot structure can deliver a satisfying hour of television.
"Spirit of the Goat" is also hands-down the best looking episode of Gotham yet seen, with veteran director TJ Scott (Orphan Black, Constantine) putting the show's production values and sets to work. From lighting to shot composition (and nuanced performances from the cast), the episode possesses a clearer visual style than ever (the final showdown between Bullock and the 'Goat's mastermind is a particularly inspired sequence).
Unfortunately, the sheer number of "Batman" characters, subplots, and on-the-nose foreshadowing that drew criticism of Gotham's premiere continues to prove a problem, as the showrunners seem to believe that each is as interesting as any other. Setting Gordon's own troubles at home, and Barbara's attempt to protect him as best she can alongside Bullock's investigation is a strong enough spine for the story. But saddled with a romantic subplot focused on Ed Nygma, an out of place bathtub scene starring Penguin, and a completely pointless appearance by 'Cat' (Selina Kyle), it again seems that the minds behind Gotham still aren't quite sure what's working, and what isn't.
That isn't to say that those scenes are meaningless to their respective characters, or that it's a struggle unique to Gotham (even HBO's Game of Thrones has shown how connective tissue in a drama series can only be stretched so far). But their significance here is questionable at the very least, and we would wager that the existing fans would be willing to go a week without Penguin or Bruce, if it meant a more sizeable and unbroken look at their surrounding cast members.
If Gotham simply cast off the belief that it can successfully tell a half a dozen stories at once, each subplot might have the chance to take on a consistent tone. As "Spirit of the Goat" seeks to create an identity for Harvey Bullock - a task it mostly succeeds at - the time and focus granted to a single player is proved a worthwhile endeavor. Hopefully, the showrunners realize that as well.
Gotham returns next Monday with “The Penguin's Umbrella” @8pm on FOX. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below:
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Gotham as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.