Caution: Spoilers ahead for Gotham season 5, episode 7.
Gotham season 5 delivered a huge twist this week, revealing that Bruce Wayne himself is partly responsible for creating the show's version of the Joker. Despite being the most iconic villain in Batman history, and arguably the entire comic book medium, Joker's status in Gotham has always been unclear. Viewers initially suspected that a menacing young character by that name of Jerome Valeska would ultimately prove to be Gotham's Joker, but despite numerous teases, Jerome's twin brother Jeremiah eventually took on the mantle and adopted even more Jokerisms, including the famous pale make-up, a penchant for deadly practical jokes and a female assistant that calls everyone "puddin'."
Despite the multitude of similarities, Gotham has refused to definitively name Jeremiah as "The Joker," a decision reportedly forced upon the show's production team from upon high. As Jerome and Jeremiah's transformations have progressed, fans have continuously speculated whether the villain they are seeing on screen is finally, truly the Clown Prince of Crime.
In its final season, Gotham has pitched Jeremiah as one of the show's most formidable final villains but, as promised by the Gotham creative team last year, there was one more transformation in store for the character. That happened in episode 7 and, this time, viewers have almost certainly witnessed the true birth of the Joker, and the moment comes courtesy of a surprising source: Batman himself. Here's how the action played out and what it means for Gotham's overall narrative.
This week's main story saw Jeremiah execute his most twisted plan yet, painstakingly recreating the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, forcing the superhero-in-training to relive his darkest day by surgically altering random strangers to look like Martha and Thomas Wayne and having Mad Hatter hypnotize Alfred into playing along. The charade was eventually thwarted and the episode reached a crescendo with Bruce and Jeremiah battling it out on a raised platform above a precariously positioned vat of bubbling green chemicals. Obviously, Jeremiah fell in.
The episode ends with Bruce and Selina Kyle standing over Jeremiah's hospital bed, confirming that while their nemesis is technically still alive, Doctors have found no brain activity. Bruce believes the threat is over, but is it?
In fact, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that this scene didn't represent the end of Gotham's Joker at all, but the birth of the true Batman Joker. Firstly, Jeremiah's fall takes place in the Ace Chemicals plant - a location that will be very familiar to readers of the Batman comics. While Joker's origin story is contested, remodeled and mutated with each incarnation of the character, Batman: The Killing Joke contains arguably the most widely acknowledged version of his beginning. Here, a down-on-his-luck comedian desperately turns to criminality as part of the Red Hood gang, but jumps into a vat of chemicals after Batman intervenes in the group's scheme.
Gotham is clearly mirroring The Killing Joke with its latest Joker origin and although the fated battle is with a young Bruce Wayne rather than a grizzled and grown-up Batman, the bones of the story remain the same. It's not clear whether or not Jeremiah will return in Gotham's remaining few episodes but, assuming his story ends here, there is a clear implication that at some point in the future, when David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne has become Gotham City's most fearsome vigilante, Jeremiah will regain consciousness, adopt the persona of the Joker and wreak havoc once again.
This scenario would also cover up a long-running Gotham plot hole. In Batman lore, the mystery behind Joker's real identity is a key part of the villain's character, but as Jerome and Jeremiah's crimes grew in notoriety, fans began wondering how, in Gotham's future, Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon could possibly fail to connect Joker's crimes to those committed by the Valeska brothers in the past. Hardly the work of two master detectives. If Gotham does end with everyone believing Jeremiah to be braindead, however, then this inconsistency can be considered more or less covered.
Of course, this doesn't change the shocking truth that Bruce Wayne himself essentially creates the villain who will torment both him and his loved ones in years to come. And in an interesting twist, Gotham's version of events makes Bruce Wayne far less blameworthy than the original tale in The Killing Joke. While the comics see Batman accidentally turn a budding criminal into a homicidal sociopath, Gotham's Bruce Wayne is still a youngster finding his feet, while Jeremiah is already a despicable and cunning adversary.
Gotham continues with "Nothing's Shocking" February 28th on Fox.