[This is a review of Gotham season 2, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
Gotham finally provided fans with a definitive answer to the question of whether maniacal fan-favorite Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) grows up to be the Joker. Following the emergence of the Maniax in last week's episode, the show boldly pushes its mythology forward in "The Last Laugh". Let's discuss the game-changing revelations the latest Gotham has brought to light, starting (of course) with Jerome himself.
LAUGHTER AND LEGACY
At the end of the previous episode, Jerome murdered Commissioner Essen, and as "The Last Laugh" opens, the search is on for Jerome. His next move is -- at Theo Galavan's (James Frain) instruction -- for Jerome to frame his father (first seen in last season's "The Blind Fortune Teller") for helping him escape Arkham. After a scene reminiscent of Heath Ledger's Joker -- complete with an dark childhood story -- Jerome asks his psychic father to look into his future, wherein he declares that Jerome will be "a curse on Gotham" and leave behind a legacy of "death and madness". Pleased with this, Jerome kills his father, and he and Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) narrowly escape from the arriving Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue).
As many of the show's characters make their way to a benefit for the Gotham Children's Hospital, Jerome and Barbara (Erin Richards) take over for the magician scheduled to perform and, in doing so, wreak havoc on the trapped crowd, killing the deputy mayor and even calling Bruce (David Mazouz) up to volunteer for a magic trick (no disappearing pencils in this act though). Ultimately, Jerome and Barbara - who came off very much like Harley Quinn in this episode -- hold Leslie (Morena Baccarin) and then Bruce himself hostage, and it falls to Theo to save the day, grandly sneaking up on Jerome and stabbing him in the neck (more on that shocking development in a moment).With his last breath, Jerome begins to exclaim that he thought Theo was going to make him a star, a smile spreading across his bloodied face as he dies.
The show's decision to kill Jerome might prove a controversial one with some fans, but his final moment in the episode did illustrate how his unpolished persona and sense of theatrical mayhem will infect the city's criminal element, eventually leading up to the emergence of the real Joker. In the meantime, this story development opens up the doors for a series of Jerome copycat killers to emerge and stir up chaos and anarchy throughout the streets of Gotham. In the short term, the loss of Monaghan may disappoint some viewers, but this season's main arc is focused on the Galavans' (and their rumored ties to the comics' Court of Owls). Jerome's antics likely would have distracted from that story. As it stands, his death now adds interesting new dimension to Theo and his master plan for the city.
A HERO RISES
So we learn early on that Tabitha and Barbara are "getting along", as Theo puts it, and the show is clearly building a rift between the Galavans that will no doubt come to a head in future episodes. In the meantime, Theo says that he will help Barbara destroy, not kill, Gordon body and soul once phase one is complete. First, Theo must give Gotham what it so desperately wants: a hero. At the benefit, Theo stands up to Jerome on-camera and is quickly knocked out, only to awaken minutes later and kill Jerome, double-crossing him and sacrificing him to make himself look like Gotham's savior.
Theo's tactics make for an interesting evolution of the hero that Bruce will ultimately become to protect Gotham. In this very episode, he turns himself over to Jerome to protect Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and searches through the panicked crowd for Selina (Camren Bicondova) to ensure her safety, though she is the one to help him hide. The show does well in continuing to establish that Bruce and Selina care for each other (she even stayed behind to secretly make sure Bruce survived the ordeal) as well as the fact that she has far more street smarts than he does at this point. As for Theo's "heroic" turn, it's smart, ironic storytelling that Gotham should find a false hero, even as its real one is blossoming before its very eyes.
Now that Bullock is back on the force, he and Gordon are hellbent on finding Essen's killer. Their investigation, of course, centers on locating Jerome and presents Gordon with the best opportunity he's had yet to take charge of the GCPD like never before. Despite Jerome's efforts to frame his father for his own escape from Arkham, Gordon sees right through it but hesitates when Bullock suggests they go see if Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) knows anything. During the benefit, Leslie recognizes Barbara and calls Gordon to save the day, though Theo is really the "hero" of the night. With Jerome dead, Gordon removes the crime scene tape from her office doors, indicating that the case is closed, presumably setting the stage for Michael Chiklis' Captain Barnes to join the cast.
Gordon's storyline this episode was a bit more reactive than it usually is, since he ultimately doesn't really solve or triumph over anything himself. Still, there's tons of under-the-surface storytelling happening here, from Gordon's continued realization that he can't count on the GCPD officers to back him up to further strain on his relationship with Leslie. From day one, he has been so devoted to his job that his relationships -- from Barbara to Leslie -- have suffered. Expect the show to toy more with the hint of a connection to Alfred, as the pair are romantically linked in the comics. It's also reassuring to note that the show is continuing to develop the repercussions from Gordon's actions in the season premiere, roping Bullock into that plot as well.
Bonus points to the show too for having Penguin comment on Jerome's "chaos for chaos' sake" mentality and then immediately commenting that perhaps he needs to work on his laugh.
What did you think of "The Last Laugh"? Share your thoughts on the episode in the comments section below.
Gotham returns with "Strike Force" next Monday at 8pm on FOX.