During the midseason premiere of Gotham's third season, we saw the long-awaited return of the cult that had formed in the aftermath of Jerome Valeska's (played by Shameless' Cameron Monaghan) death at the hands of Theo Galavan. While Gotham has introduced its own, predominantly younger, versions of classic members of Batman's rogues gallery, like Riddler, Penguin, Mad Hatter, Hugo Strange and Poison Ivy, the series has not yet officially revealed the grandest villain of them all: The Joker.
Now, for all intents and purposes, Jerome has been Gotham's Joker. He preaches chaos, violence, and does a whole lot of laughing. Further, he is certainly the best candidate to date, with our only other options seeming to be a comedian from season 1 and a member of the Red Hood Gang, which lacks any notable members. Still, Jerome has never taken the Joker name and, to this point, has not been officially confirmed as the Clown Prince of Crime.
The Joker is not simply just another Batman villain. He is the Batman villain, and bringing the Joker to the small screen comes with a whole lot of pressure. Should Monaghan in fact be playing the Joker, he will be following classic portrayals of the character by esteemed actors like Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Caesar Romero, and, of course, Mark Hamill, who has voiced the character in several adaptations, most notably Batman: The Animated Series. These are certainly hard acts to follow, but to date, Monaghan has, to his credit, made the character of Jerome his own.
With Valeska now set to return from the dead in tonight's episode, "Smile Like You Mean it," it seems like a good time to answer a particular question once and for all: should Jerome Valeska be Gotham's Joker?
The Joker's Origin
Gotham has never been shy when it comes to taking creative liberties with characters' origins. For instance, most versions of Poison Ivy do not have her becoming an adult following exposure to a powered individual who was resurrected by Hugo Strange (granted, that's a pretty specific description). Several other villains in Gotham have had their origins adjusted as well - some drastically, others just slightly. While this has caused some anger among fans, generally it has not been too big a deal. But messing with the Joker's origin? That could cause trouble. Except... what is the Joker's origin?
The fact of the matter is, the Joker does not have a definitive origin story. This gives Gotham, perhaps paradoxically, more flexibility with him than other villains. You cannot really screw up an origin if there is not one to mess with, right? In Batman: The Killing Joke, Joker said of his past: "Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! HA HA HA!"
Gotham's Jerome may just be one of those multiple choice answers. But even if you do not like that answer, Gotham may have already tied its hands.
The Joker should be unique
There was some speculation after Jerome's death in season 2 that he would not be the Joker, but rather would inspire the future Clown Prince of Crime. That would be a mistake. Even if you do not like Jerome, or frankly, do not love Gotham, its hard to argue that the Joker should be (for lack of a better word) a poser. Do we want any version of the Joker to be someone who just plagiarizes the madness of another man? The Joker should be unique, unlike any other villain in a given universe.
Still, Gotham executive producer Bruno Heller has teased in the past that this could be the way the series would go. Speaking with Deadline shortly after Jerome's death, Heller stated:
"The creation of the Joker is a larger and more epic story than people realize, and this show is very much about kind of the deep, secret history. So, as the show rolls on, people will see how a mythology is born, how a kind of cultural mien is created that will lead us to the Joker himself.
When the Joker appears, he is an inevitable part of the history of Gotham. He’s not someone who created himself out of nothing. He’s part of a whole cultural history, a whole tradition. I know that sounds kind of highfalutin, but that’s what the twist is about."
Should Heller's comments have been referring to the Joker actually being created out of that cult, does that not take away some of the character's intrigue? Even if the hypothetical Joker who rises from the madness turned out to be an incredible take on the character, it would be hard to shake the feeling that he came second. That we lost the original. Since Gotham has positioned Jerome as so much like the Joker, they should just go ahead and confirm it, because to do anything else would dilute the character's intrigue (on the show, of course). Plus...
Cameron Monaghan is a solid Joker
While Cameron Monaghan may never reach the heights of some of the actors mentioned earlier, he still has done a good job making Jerome his own. The actor is an exceptional young talent and has all the makings of a solid Joker. Should Gotham decide that Jerome is not the Joker, they may not be so lucky when it comes to casting the eventual one.
There are certain qualities that are a must if you are to play the Joker. You have to make the audience believe you are mad, and Monaghan's portrayal of Jerome certainly fits that bill. You must have a distinctive laugh. We can probably check that one off as well. Finally, there is a level of energy that must be maintained while playing the Joker. As Heath Ledger's Joker says in The Dark Knight: "I'm a dog chasing cars I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things." While he may have been referring to his lack of a plan, that statement also signals the unique physicality of the role.
Jerome (as played by Monaghan) has shown himself to be like the Joker many times over. Whether it be his message to Gotham City after storming the GCPD, or forgetting that you do not have to take every turn in Russian Roulett, Jerome has consistently been Gotham's Joker. And Monaghan has played the part beautifully. For all the foregoing reasons, it is about time Gotham just confirm what we probably already believe to be true: Jerome is the Joker.
What do you think? Is Jerome Gotham's Joker? Should he be? Let us know in the comments.