Watching Vincent D'Onofrio's Det. Robert Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Sundays at 9 pm/ET, USA) is a deliciously unsettling experience. We love the awkward mannerisms, the halting yet penetrating speech, the craned neck bend he performs when grilling suspects. He's brilliant, insightful, riveting. But, frankly, he seems a few sandwiches short of a picnic, if you know what we mean….
For example: In "Untethered," D'Onofrio's last episode before the writers' strike, Goren went undercover in a mental ward to expose prisoner abuse. Instead, he fell prey to the sadistic mind games and emerged from the ordeal near-catatonic. In the first post-strike episode, "Purgatory," the suspended Goren got reinstated, but we never witnessed the psych evaluation that was required to get his shield and gun back. This was no accident: Turns out D'Onofrio's loathe to have his alter ego follow a certain powerful, neurotic Italian-American to the couch. "The Sopranos did it so perfectly that if you take a strong character like mine and put him with a shrink, it's going to be a copy," says the actor. "So we won't go there."
Actually, dude, we will.
Diagnosis: Abandonment Issues
Goren's major malfunction in a nutshell: His father, a compulsive gambler and serial adulterer, walked out when his son was 11. Four years earlier, his mother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. As he put it in a rare soul-baring moment, "She's been slipping away from me my whole life." In Season 6, before Mama Goren (Rita Moreno) finally succumbed to lymphoma, she let it be known that she favored his shiftless brother, Frank (Tony Goldwyn), another gambling addict who's spent most of his recent life homeless. So it's quite an understatement when D'Onofrio says, "Goren's very damaged." In some ways, it's what makes him a better cop. He's lost everyone close to him (save for partner Alexandra Eames, played by Kathryn Erbe) but refuses to lose a suspect once in his grasp. Our conclusion? That obsession is his way of exerting a degree of control that he never had growing up.
Diagnosis: Paternal Neglect
Did someone say "daddy issues"? Goren's mother informed him on her deathbed that the louse he thought was his father may not be his father. Instead, it may be the louse she was bonking back in 1960, a serial killer named Mark Ford Brady. As a result, says D'Onofrio, "Goren is lost and has to find his way." The show's consulting producer René Balcer is more direct: "He's always looking for a father figure." But Balcer also points out "that [neglected boys] tend to have a lot of problems with older males and authority issues." That's our boy!
Diagnosis: Post-romantic Stress Syndrome
OK, we made that one up. But it's the best way to describe the psychological morass that is Goren's relationship with criminal mastermind Nicole Wallace (Olivia d'Abo). Sure, she's a purring, pillow-lipped blonde, but it's her mind that tortures our hero. She's the only person who can go head case to head case in the interrogation room and get the better of Goren, taunting "Bubby" in her Australian patois and seeing right through his protective shell to all that pain. "That's the only true relationship with a woman that he's had in the last seven years other than his mom," notes D'Onofrio. "Which is very screwed up."
Diagnosis: Repressed Sociopathy
"Manipulation is a symptom of the psychopathic personality," Goren once observed of a suspect. That's the cop calling the kettle black! His ability to guilt-trip, distract and befuddle suspects into a confession makes you wonder what path Goren might have followed if not law enforcement. "He walks that line of being able to enter that criminal world and think like a criminal," D'Onofrio observes. Balcer concurs: "There but for the grace of God goes Goren."
Diagnosis: Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
A more taciturn, less flaky Goren of the past few seasons was an attempt, as D'Onofrio said, to "internalize" the character. "The guy couldn't be so quirky that he wouldn't be allowed to be a cop." That recalibration seemed to have come full circle when we saw a scruffy, puffy Goren at the beginning of "Purgatory," brooding at the end of a bar. So who knows? Maybe he will go completely off the rails someday. Until that happens, Goren will remain a work in progress. "The last episode this season will revisit his past in a very literal way," reveals D'Onofrio. "He'll be pulled out of a nosedive," adds Balcer. OK, just don't go making him normal or anything.
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