If you’re still following the show every week, you’ve learned that Gotham offers many life lessons. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Steer clear of abandoned buildings. Rich orphans who live with their butlers don’t have to go to school. And of course, the most important Gothamism: Trust no one.

In fact, the most dangerous, vitriolic members of society happen to be those working in the health and science fields. Fields that traditionally serve and help citizens in the community; not harm them. In Gotham, it’s the social workers, psychotherapists, youth advocates, biochemists, professors and the like who find that their trades as brilliant innovators and altruistic helpers inevitably lead them to the same side-gig: Murder.


Bullock’s Flashback


“Spirit of the Goat” starts with a heart-racing flashback of a 10-years-younger Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) working side-by-side with his old partner, Detective Dix (Dan Hedaya). Though Dix is the more cautious, jaded member of the duo, he follows Bullock into an abandoned theater to catch a killer known as “The Spirit of the Goat.”  Unlike previous Gotham villains and their weapons—a social worker obsessed with weather balloons, an octogenarian professor wielding the “Viper” toxin, Steampunk Kaleidoscope Man, etc.—Spirit of the Goat is actually pretty terrifying. There’s something very Silence-of-the-Lambs about this killer. We’re introduced to him as he’s preparing for his next murder: Standing in a dark room, gazing into a mirror and repeating an ominous mantra while in a trance-like state. He slowly places a black leather mask on his head, which covers all but his mouth and eyes.  He then impulsively smashes his own image in the mirror with a hammer.  Yup, disturbing.

What Bullock and Dix find in the abandoned theater is pretty grim. The limp body of a young woman (targeted by The Goat because she was the first-born of Gotham City’s elite) is hanging by the wrists atop a set on the stage. The Goat makes his presence known, and although Dix falls through a trap door on the stage, Bullock manages to shoot and kill the masked assassin. What’s chilling is what The Goat states before Bullock shoots him: “This body will fail but I will not. I will always come back.”


The Goat Returns


Ten years later (present day), Bullock is called to the scene of a grotesque murder. The twenty-something daughter of Robert Hastings, a well-known socialite, was found at the Gotham docks, hanging by her wrists. Bullock’s expression is one of recognition. “She was the oldest in her family” he tells Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). “The Goat always kills the first born. We got a copycat.”

Bullock and Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) visit Mr. and Mrs. Hastings, parents of the young victim, at their home. “The strange, horrible thing is that I’ve been having this dream about a dark, overbearing presence” describes Mr. Hastings. He’s in a trance-like, disoriented state (which could be considered a normal reaction of shock following such a tragedy). What’s bizarre is that his left hand is tense, shaking, as if he’s fighting a physical impulse. Even more bizarre, the Hastings’ family therapist, a very well-dressed and proper-looking Dr. Marks, escorts Mr. Hastings out of the room. “He might not be ready for this,” she explains. Totally understandable. “Mr. Hastings has a very delicate nature.” Okaaay.  “He’s not capable of dealing with this kind of tragedy.” Hmmm.

Bullock isn’t buying it. “No one’s capable of dealing with this kind of tragedy,” he argues. “It’s a freight train. It runs you over.” He implies that it’s up to Mr. Hastings to pick up the broken pieces. In this instance, Bullock takes an approach not dissimilar to Batman’s conceptualization of personal trauma. Tragedy and loss will devastate you, change you. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. The strangely overprotective psychologist sees this as a challenge. “You don’t believe in treatment?” she asks him, calmly. “I believe in the tranquilizers you’ve clobbered Mrs. Hastings with,” he accuses. “So if you’re giving out any samples…” he says, sarcastically, and leaves with suspicion about the doctor’s methods. You can’t help but agree with Bullock. Mistreatment of patients is no way to run a practice.

Something about this case builds a charge within Bullock. It becomes clear that he is deeply disturbed by the idea of another “Spirit of the Goat” murderer. He ensures that he’s present at the autopsy of the Hastings woman, and finds that the copycat placed a penny within the scalp of his victim, a “trademark” that only he and Detective Dix knew about.  He takes Gordon along to a residential care facility to visit Dix, a paraplegic as a result of his fall during the first Goat incident. “You don’t have a copycat killer—you have a conspiracy,” Dix offers. Bullock doesn’t see this as helpful, but the visit adds some texture to Bullock’s personality. We learn that he’s been paying for his old friend’s medical and hospice care for the last ten years. He’s even been sending Dix magazines to keep him occupied.

The Goat 2.0 strikes again, targeting another wealthy twenty-something in uptown Gotham City. Bullock and Gordon follow a one-step trail to the exact theater where Bullock stopped Goat Prime. When they find the copycat, it’s Gordon who punches the criminal repeatedly as Bullock looks on with relief and approval. Throughout the last several episodes, Bullock’s strong allegiance to his partners is made clear. And, like in comics, Bullock isn’t just a “corrupt cop.” His avuncular efforts toward Gordon during troubles with Barbara and his commitment to ensuring Detective Dix’s health and safety confirm that loyalty and protection are values very important to Bullock.

At the station, Bullock eyes the man in custody, realizing some important mental health and behavioral commonalities between the Goats. Both Goats had a history of mental illness and record of public disturbance. Both had occupations in maintenance which gave them keys access to apartment residences. Both seem to experience a trance-like mental state during their crimes. “It’s like something found them…changed them.” Bullock ponders.  The handcuffed man begins to groan with some kind of psychogenic pain, tensing his left hand and muttering. Seeing this, Bullock immediately makes the connection and races to the Hastings’ house.


The Spirit is Revealed 


Bullock literally interrupts a therapy session to confront Dr. Marks. She’s conducting hypnotherapy with Mr. Hastings who is reclined on a couch, facing away from her. Dr. Marks leaves Mr. Hastings to discuss the case with Detective Bullock in another room.  She’s likely getting paid by the hour, so unless there’s a psychiatric crisis, a therapist oughtn’t leave a patient during a session. Furthermore, whether she’s administering hypnotherapy (a very clinician-directed practice) or any other intervention, abandoning the client mid-session can be particularly neglectful, especially if they’re processing traumatic events. Nonetheless, she ditches the guy to chat it up with Bullock.

“I want to ask about one of your pro bono patients,” he alludes to the Goat copycat, a patient in Marks’ outpatient clinic. “Records indicate you’ve seen him a few times.” Dr. Marks acknowledges that this is true, violating another ethical code. Confirming that you’ve treated a patient, even in the past, is considered a violation of their privacy. Without a court order or a release signed by the patient, Dr. Marks shouldn’t answer any of Bullock’s questions from here on out. But of course, this is Gotham, so she does. Bullock explains that he observed Mr. Hastings clench his fists like a nervous compulsion. “If a patient has a compulsion, a bad idea or impulse, the hypnotist will put him under and introduce a physical movement like clenching your fist.” He ties both Spirits of the Goats in to his theory, explaining that they, too, clenched their fists as a replacement to destructive behavior. “I think a hypnotist turned those men completely upside down.”

Dr. Marks nearly congratulates Bullock for discovering her twisted method. “It isn’t an act of murder or madness,” she explains. “It’s an act of therapy. For Gotham.” She believes that the level of greed and power held by the top 1% of the city is pathological, “eating Gotham alive.” Eliminating the offspring of the elite would mean saving the rest of Gotham’s deserving citizens.

Dr. Marks goes on to justify her “altruistic” actions. “You can’t hypnotize someone to do something they don’t want to do. Deep down, we all want to eat the rich.”  Are we meant to envision Penguin’s ascension up the ranks as she says this? And even our enjoyment in watching it?

Bullock attempts to arrest Dr. Marks, but she blurts out, “the Golden Temple is open,” and Mr. Hastings emerges, wild-eyed and growling, ready to attack Bullock. “Now, kill this man,” Marks orders. Though he wrestles with a tranced-out Mr. Hastings, Bullock manages to get the better of him and takes Dr. Marks into custody.


The Truth About Hypnotherapy 


First, hypnotherapy happens to be a true form of psychological intervention, and there is evidence that some types of hypnotherapy can be effective for treating very specific ailments, such as chronic pain, performance anxiety, test anxiety and weight loss. There is little evidence that stand-alone hypnotherapy is effective for treating trauma-related stress or grief (the way that Dr. Marks is using it)—however, self-hypnosis can be taught to enhance self-confidence and personal power, characteristics that may help a person throughout their post-traumatic recovery. The difference is important: something that alleviates an actual psychological symptom or disorder can be called a treatment; something that enhances self-efficacy in times of stress is a coping technique.

The amount of scientific evidence for other types of psychosocial interventions significantly outweighs the available evidence for hypnotherapy, which is one of the reasons it remains a controversial intervention in the field. Another reason: How does it actually work? Hypnotherapy may simply offer the patient a form of deep relaxation and focused attention on the problem or behaviors they would like changed. Just like meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques, hypnotherapy is an altered state of consciousness. The brain does not “shut down” or “reprogram” during hypnosis. In fact, anytime you see a website or article explaining hypnotherapy as part of the brain being “turned off,” you are being misled. When a part of the brain stops working, that’s called a stroke.

Interestingly, Detective Bullock’s flimsy explanation of fist-clenching as a technique to “replace” an impulse is more associated with a treatment for impulse control disorders like Tourette’s Disorder called Habit Reversal Training, not hypnotherapy.

Curative aspects aside, can hypnotherapy be used as mind-control? Brain-washing? According to mentalist Derren Brown (who Gotham’s showrunner Bruno Heller has mentioned as an inspiration for his other show, The Mentalist), a person can indeed be “hypnotized” into committing a crime. Though he describes himself as a hypnotist, Brown prefers the term “psychologically manipulated” over “hypnotized” because of this puzzling truth: There is no physiological or neurological evidence for a hypnotic, trance-like state. As Brown explains, persons who follow directives while under “hypnosis” actually do so on a conscious level (i.e., in a state of awareness), but perform the prescribed acts due to an inclination to perform, to meet the socio-contextual demands of a “show,” or to fulfill deeper wishes. In his captivating television special, “The Experiments: The Assassin,” Brown examines the possible explanations for bizarre, anti-social, and even dangerous behavior exhibited in persons who believe they are hypnotized. Specifically, Brown attempts to disprove the defense of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, who claimed he’d been “programmed” to kill the Presidential candidate.

Brown’s impressive mentalism was also featured in a BBC television special called The Heist, in which he subliminally persuades “normal, non-criminal people” to perform a serious criminal act. In The Heist, Brown demonstrates something that Bullock may have referenced in “The Spirit of the Goat.”  He uses the clenched-fist technique as a self-motivating tool, teaching the method to his clients in order to help them amplify a “darker state,” an inner ability to anchor their mind to a particular experience specific to self-confidence and personal power. Gotham appears to reference another element from The Heist: Brown’s first “mission” is for his clients to challenge their inner power by shoplifting from a local drugstore and then retreat to the pub across the street called “The Goat.”  Do Gotham’s writers favor mentalists over psychologists?

It seems that the power of authority may be more effective than the induction of any “trance-like” state. If you’re still unsure whether “a normal person” can be convinced to engage in anti-social crimes, check out the classic psychology experiment called “The Milgram Obedience Study,” which found that the majority of a sample of “ordinary people” administered what they thought were lethal electric shocks to innocent participants because a man in a white lab coat ordered them to. Like Dr. Marks, people in positions of authority, knowledge, and power can elicit surprising levels of obedience from others.  It’s possible that hypnotherapy works because of that “external,” powerful influence; the patient is given guided permission to reduce unwanted behaviors or increase desirable behaviors.




At this point, I’m observing an emerging theme with Gotham: Professionals with curative roles (psychologists, scientists) are prone to enact vicious crimes, and persons with mental illnesses often serve as casualties.  his isn’t uncommon with Batman villains (see psychiatrist Hugo Strange, psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane, psychiatric intern Harleen Quinzel AKA Harley Quinn). The truth is, the vast majority of persons with mental health disorders are not dangerous nor are easily manipulated, and the people in mental health services are not likely to suffer from such misanthropy and immorality.

The few, minor missteps related to hypnotherapy in this episode are eclipsed by Donal Logue’s performance as Harvey Bullock. His savvy, survivalist personality may be the most believable in this version of Gotham City. Bullock arguably disproves the first Gothamism announced by Detective Dix at the beginning of the episode, “Gotham’s Golden Rule: No heroes.”