Despite being the titular city's most dangerous criminal, The Joker has taken a relatively background role in Gotham's first two seasons, always bubbling away under the surface but leaving viewers uncertain as to whether they're seeing the crown prince of crime himself, or someone entirely different. The show dropped several hints and red herrings as to who the Joker might be, including season one's 'Red Hood' episode, but it was the character of Jerome (Cameron Monaghan) that really had fans believing the infamous baddie had finally made his Gotham debut.
First appearing in the season 1 episode 'The Blind Fortune Teller', Jerome lived as part of a traveling circus and was discovered to have murdered his own mother. Monaghan's gleefully sadistic performance was rapturously received by fans, and he looked every inch a young version of the Joker. It was no surprise, then, that the character returned in season 2 to terrorize a young Bruce Wayne on live TV, but shockingly Jerome was killed whilst on air in an episode appropriately titled, 'The Last Laugh'. This event caused many of the city's residents who were watching the broadcast to break out into maniacal laughter, suggesting that Jerome was perhaps not the Joker himself, but a source of inspiration for whomever does eventually take up that mantle.
Come the season 2 finale, however, sharp-eared fans noticed that when the bus containing Hugo Strange's experimental patients crashed, a faint, Jerome-esque laugh could be heard as the bus's occupants emptied out into the streets. Speaking with TV Guide, executive producer Ken Woodruff has now confirmed that that the laugh did indeed belong to the red-haired criminal, Jerome Valeska.
"[The laugh] was really to keep Jerome and that threat of the Joker alive. We wanted to make sure fans don't feel that we're completely done because we are 100 percent, absolutely not."
Woodruff also confirmed that the laugh wasn't a mere easter egg, but a sign that there would be a continuation of the Joker's story in season 3. However, the producer maintained that Jerome may still not be the Joker we all know and love:
"We are absolutely planning in Season 3, but primarily in the mid to second half of Season 3, to delve back into the mythology of the Joker, and characters that may or may not be the Joker -- but more likely characters that are an amalgamation of what we'll come to know as the Joker. We're going to see how the cult of the Joker is going to extend and deepen and change a little bit this year. You have these sort of underground movements that have started to talk about Jerome and what he represented and how he's going to come back on the day, sort of like John the Baptist, et cetera."
Woodruff's comments suggest that what viewers saw in 'The Last Laugh' will become highly significant, and also hints that Jerome is perhaps more likely to be an inspirational proto-Joker who will shape another character into eventually becoming the genuine article. Whatever the case, it seems as if the Joker arc is something Gotham is happy to take its time with, although Woodruff reassures fans that the answers will be revealed eventually, as long as the show doesn't get cancelled:
"Perhaps if there's a Season 4 on FOX, hopefully we'll bring that back in a much bigger way and you will see these different versions of the Joker myth that develop next year with Jerome and with other characters. [Then] we can put those pieces together and go, 'Oh,' eventually, 'that's where the Joker himself came from.'"
Whatever path the plot takes, it's refreshing to see a story set in the world of DC, and Batman in particular, that is happy to slowly build on the mystery of the Joker and create a meaningful role for the character, rather than shoehorning him into a plot he doesn't completely fit into.
Gotham season 3 premieres on Fox on September 19th.