"Copygoat": What's working and not working on Gotham

Review: More than halfway through season one, Gotham is still hitting the mark -- kind of. When it works, it works, and when it doesn't, it really doesn't. Here's why. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

So far on Gotham, we've had a murderous balloon vigilante, a hobbling Penguin vigilante and a drug peddling anti-Big Pharma vigilante. In episode six, our vigilante came from a much more unexpected place: the doctor's office.

Ten years ago, Harvey Bullock pursued a serial killer who called himself the "Spirit of the Goat." He killed three of the firstborn female children of Gotham's wealthiest families. Bullock and his then partner, Detective Dix (Dan Hedaya), pursued the suspect to an old theater, where he had strung up his third victim in an act of sacrifice, arms splayed in a Biblical homage. As the killer attacked Bullock, Dix fell through the ceremonial altar and was paralyzed.

Cut to the present day, where Bullock is standing on a bridge looking at much the same scene: a young, wealthy woman murder and hung like an angel. Is this this a copycat killer? Or a copygoat? No. It's a conspiracy 10 years in the making, staged as an act of "therapy" for Gotham.

Dr. Marks (Susan Misner), a beautiful, distinguished hypnotherapist, has hypnotized a series of politically motivated serial killers, aiming to create a fictitious force that "will not tolerate" the greed and corruption of Gotham City's one percent. Gordon and Bullock take her down, of course, and just liked the rest of the series's one-off vigilante killers, we can probably count on not hearing about her ever again. There is no back story for her, no connection to other story arcs.

This flash in the pan method of introducing and disposing of lesser villains is just one of several methods that are not working in this ambitious series. Thankfully, the writers are doing a decent job of propping up some that are.

NOT WORKING: Silly, wordy Bullock-speak

"How the hell did this copygoat know about this?"

Though Bullock only used the word "copygoat" twice in the episode, I laughed so hard at its absurdity that it was the only thing I remembered after the first watch. It would be just campy fun if this series didn't seem to take itself so seriously.

"I'm in a deja vu acid flashback." / "Deja voodoo all day long."

Again, if Gotham's writers would jump off the fence and embrace the camp, I'd be all about this kind of unwieldy showstopper.

"Your bum liver's between you and the bottle. I just busted up your gams and put you in that chair."

It's almost as if Bullock falls somewhere between cowboy anti-hero and True Detective's Marty Hart - predictably damaged, might have had a heart of gold once, but is just kind of a shallow a------. In episode six, we see a bit of Bullock's softer side. He supports his old partner Dix, who now lives in an assisted living facility because of his paralysis, which is partially Bullock's fault. He also sends him dirty magazines and speaks to him with a rude and selfish tone.

"You think you can shrink my head, boy scout? Because you can't. This is the black box, man, and we don't open the black box, ever."

This guy is complex! It would be convincing if it didn't feel so contrived.

NOT WORKING: Ben McKenzie, tortured police man

I've said before that McKenzie's super seriousness doesn't do it for me. Sure, Detective Gordon is a jaded, serious man who just wants to fix this crazy city. That's the Detective Gordon we've always known. But does he have any emotional depth aside from frustration and anger? In this episode, McKenzie has the same demeanor when fighting the copygoat killer as he does when speaking to his girlfriend about their future. His face forms the same contorted expression when the Major Crimes Unit knocks on his door and arrests him for the murder of Oswald Cobblepot, as when Cobblepot shows up alive and well at the station, proving his innocence and revealing that he lied to Bullock. His brow is always furrowed, his eyes always dead.

There needs to be some dynamism in a show's protagonist. If Gordon's emotional state never changes, then it doesn't matter. And if the audience doesn't care about Gordon, the show's supposed anchor floats away, leaving this potentially great series adrift in a sea of rainy streets and bad dialogue.

WORKING: Foreshadowing The Riddler

Edward Nygma is a likable guy. Smart. Socially awkward. Always smiling. But for some reason, all of the jaded, serious people of GCPD seem to find him annoying, a nuisance to be tolerated only for his intelligence. We've begun to see hints of dejection and anger in his reactions to them, though it seems this nerd isn't boiling over any time soon.

This bespectacled schemer's arc is beginning to form just behind Cobblepot's. Like two waves on a dark and stormy night, they seem to be rushing toward Gotham with no rocks to break on, while the young Bruce Wayne is locked away trying to solve Gotham's mysteries with books and brains.

In episode six, we learn a bit about Nygma's personal struggle, in the vein of the stories we've been privy to about Cobblepot. Nygma has a big crush on GCPD record-keeper Kristen Kringle (newcomer Chelsea Spack), but his lack of social graces leads him to show it by reorganizing her meticulously kept files. They're both smart (matching glasses, eh?) and clearly awkward. Poor Nygma. Like every baby villain, he just wants to be loved!

WORKING: Penguin and Mama Penguin

Speaking of villains and love, in episode six, Cobblepot returns home to his overbearing mother Gertrude (Carol Kane). When he tells her that he was almost killed, she assures him that the bullies are just jealous.

"You watch, Mom," Cobblepot says. "I'm gonna be somebody in this town."

"I always know this," she croons.

While this scene came across a bit obvious and trite, it worked by balancing the Penguin (the series' only other anchor besides the rigid Detective Gordon) delicately on a fulcrum between socially stunted mama's boy and conniving, secretive killer. He loves his doting mother but tells her nothing close to the truth. She doesn't ask. It's not clear if he is the way he is because of her indulgence or in spite of it. The chemistry between Robin Lord Taylor and Carol Kane is undeniable, and I hope there is more of it to come…whatever that means for the future of Gotham City.

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