Sorry, Penguin fans — I still think the best character on Gotham is Harvey Bullock. And last night's episode expanded his character massively, making him way more sympathetic and fascinating. But almost every character got a massive boost from "Spirit of the Goat." Spoilers...
Let's just take this character by character, OK?
Gordon's slovenly, corrupt partner gets his very own flashback, and a whole backstory to go with it. As seen in the clip above, 10 years ago Bullock was a gung-ho idealistic young cop who ignored his more experienced partner's advice to hang back and wait for backup on the hunt for the Goat, a serial killer who targets the children of Gotham's wealthiest citizens. The partner, Dix, warned Bullock that Gotham is no place for heroes — but Bullock didn't listen, and Dix became injured and confined to a sanitarium.
At first, we think Dix is actually dead, until Gordon and Bullock go to visit him — and Dix shocks Gordon by describing the Bullock he used to know, rather than the Bullock that Gordon knows now. That's a really deft touch — as far as Dix knows, Bullock is still a big hero, charging into action. He has no idea that Bullock has become "lackadaisical" and corrupt. (And meanwhile, Bullock is sending him porn. Heh.)
This episode also shows us a more driven Bullock — he took down the Goat 10 years ago, and now somebody is back, committing the same crimes with the same M.O. Including one detail that nobody except Bullock and Dix (and the dead medical examiner) knew about: a coin sewn inside the victims' heads. Bullock is haunted by the idea that they got the wrong guy, or he wasn't working alone, and winds up going to unusual lengths to catch the new guy.
Luckily, this time around, they not only catch the new Goat pretty quickly, but they're able to save his second victim. And then Bullock, who's usually the "declare victory and go home" kind of guy, notices something: a strange twitch in the new Goat's hand, which is the same as the father of one of the victims. Bullock figures out that Dr. Marks, a hypnotherapist who caters to these wealthy families and also did pro bono work with both Goats, is really behind the whole thing.
It's a loopy story, but it's very Gotham: both the slightly outlandish criminal scheme, and the motivation having to do with hatred of the city's corruption and plutocracy.
And then... Bullock found out that Gordon lied to him about killing Oswald Cobblepot, and nearly strangles his own partner. Speaking of which...
Montoya and Allen find a witness who positively IDs Gordon as the murderer of Oswald Cobblepot:
And they get warrants for the arrest of Gordon and Bullock, even though they don't actually have a body. Gordon tries to tell everybody the truth, that he lied about killing Cobblepot, but nobody believes him — until Cobblepot himself shows up at the police station, in the absolute nick of time.
Why does Cobblepot risk his own neck to save Gordon? (And how does he know Gordon needs saving? That's sort of the confusing part.) Cobblepot is hiding out from Fish Mooney and Falcone, who think he's dead — but he's also a crazy SOB who's already visited Gordon's apartment and announced his true identity to Sal Maroni. He's not exactly known for his survival skills. And Oswald's erratic behavior makes him that much more fascinating.
We get a clue to his wonky reasoning earlier in the episode, when Oswald visits his mother — who's convinced that Oswald has taken up with some hussy. Instead, he slowly manages to explain to her that he fell in with some bad people who tried to kill him. But then, Oswald found a real friend — a cop, who's not like the other cops. "He'll help me come out right in the end," Oswald says. And apparently Oswald really believes in Jim Gordon and their lifelong wonderful friendship, to the point where he's willing to waltz into the police station and announce himself. This can't end well.
Gordon and Barbara
Jim Gordon's "only honest cop in Gotham" routine gets shaken up quite a bit this week — he's actually late to the crime scene, and Bullock gets there before "the boy scout." That's because Gordon is too busy having another fight with his girlfriend Barbara.
And luckily, Barbara is slightly more sympathetic this week than in previous weeks — she kind of understands, at last, that Gordon can't tell her everything about his job, but she also knows that he's changed a lot. And she tells him that she just wants half of what he has to carry, not all of it. Which is sort of a sweet moment.
And then Montoya comes to Barbara and tells her that it's not just that Gordon is corrupt and dirty, but what Gordon knows will actually kill her:
Barbara tries to warn Gordon that he's about to be arrested and they should get out of town, and this is the catalyst for Gordon admitting that everything's been more complicated than he expected, and they've tied his hands, and he's lost and so on. But he can't run away with her. The Jim/Barbara scenes are still the weakest part of this episode, but at least we get to see Gordon showing a bit more vulnerability (even before he gets nabbed) and Barbara displaying a bit more backbone and standing up for her man. It's something.
The best Bruce Wayne scene yet
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is not in this episode that much, and he's back in the one room at Wayne Manor, after actually getting out into the world last week. But he does get one terrific scene:
Bruce saying he doesn't know why the Goatman "chose an ungulate for his totem" is pretty priceless — and then he hits us with the saddest little coda. Why would the Goat take him, when there's nobody to take him from. The Goat only wants to take people who will be missed, and the only people who would really miss Bruce are dead. The look on Alfred's face is nuts.
Later, Catgirl sneaks into Wayne Manor and steals a silver box out from under a sleeping Bruce's nose — she's still spying on Bruce, but she hasn't approached him to tell him what she saw in Crime Alley yet, because this show hasn't reached midseason yet. She also gets a good look at Bruce's crime wall.
And... the Riddler
Another proto-Bat-villain gets a bit of an upgrade this week. He's still lurking around crime scenes and trying to get Bullock to answer his riddles. But Edward Nygma also has a weird subplot where he's kind of stalking the nerdy girl who works in the filing room, Kristin Kryngle, and making inappropriate remarks about her name. It's almost endearing, except that it's really creepy and messed up — writer Ben Edlund manages to show how this might seem sweet or romantic in Nygma's messed-up brain, but it's just... not.
And then there's the insane scene where Nygma has reorganized Kryngle's files, and he keeps saying the new system will be "rhizomatic" and "lateral" and "like peat moss." And he does this intensely creeptastic thing with his fingers as he repeats the word "laterally" over and over. This needs to be a GIF.
All in all, this was a terrific episode for Bullock, laying the groundwork for him to become a good cop again by showing that he was a good cop once. And it was a pretty good episode for everybody else. On a show that still has too many Batman characters waiting for the Caped Crusader, this put most of them to pretty good use.