Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Gotham season 3's midseason finale
When Gotham’s concept of a Batman prequel series featuring younger versions of the franchise’s prime villains was announced, fans quickly began to speculate as to how the famous character of the Joker would be approached. Since the very early days, the show’s executive producers have always claimed their Joker storyline would be a slow burn that would keep viewers guessing as to the iconic Batman villain’s true identity. They’ve certainly been true to their word and, deep into Gotham’s third season, there is still no confirmed version of the Joker on the show’s radar.
In recent episodes, long-time prime suspect Jerome Valeska continues to be heavily linked as the villain, although the possibility still remains that he could be more of a ‘Proto-Joker’ rather than the real deal himself - especially when you consider how well-known the character has become in Gotham City in his own right. It seems somewhat implausible that if Jerome were to re-emerge as the Joker, he wouldn’t be immediately recognized.
Whether Jerome is indeed the real deal or simply the inspiration for another character to take up the Joker mantle, the evil, red-haired lunatic has formed one of Gotham’s longest-running arcs and the show’s most recent episode – "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" – brought his story to another (likely temporary) close after Bruce Wayne managed to apprehend the criminal and send him off to Arkham. As a result, Gotham now has a sizeable villain-shaped hole left to fill, and the latest episode left a few dangling clues as to where the show may head next.
A New Villain
With the dust finally beginning to settle on this chapter of the Jerome arc, Gotham fans may be a little tired of the Joker-esque shtick and might not have the appetite for another character in the same type of unhinged madman vein. Whatever the future holds for Mr. Valeska, he has certainly at least acted like The Joker, with his disturbing laughter and penchant for the circus, so if another character comes along with a similar gimmick they may fall flat. It would perhaps be wise to instead introduce an antagonist who is the complete opposite to the crazy, chaotic Jerome Valeska... and Gotham might have already sown the seeds for such a villain.
The sinister Court of Owls has been bubbling away in the background for some time now, and it has been strongly implied that Jim Gordon’s own family was heavily involved with the shady group. Although this subplot has yet to develop much further, the Court of Owls could scarcely be more different from Jerome or the Joker. The group operate from the shadows, eschewing publicity and controversy, and have a methodical, professional approach to their business.
With the promise that both Gordon and Bruce Wayne will have a personal interest in apprehending the Court, there will be plenty at stake and, after disposing of Jerome, it could be the perfect time to light the fuse on this story proper and establish a very different kind of villain. The Court’s appearance during Jerome’s recent reign of terror proved they are still very much an active piece on Gotham’s board, and the final moments of "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" seemed to show the organization putting some kind of plan into place by visiting Jim Gordon and prepping their Bruce Wayne doppelganger.
Of course, Gotham’s producers may intend the Court of Owls storyline to be another arc that develops more gradually and, if that is the case, there are plenty of faces in the current Gotham cast that could move into a more central antagonist position in the meantime Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) has been seen in trailers sporting a Riddler costume in forthcoming episodes, suggesting that the veteran character could finally evolve into his fully fledged villain persona. Nygma’s recent battle with The Penguin is likely to have serious consequences and it would be satisfying for viewers to finally get to see the character cut loose since, although The Riddler certainly matches Jerome for instability, he’s a far more cerebral entity. Also, Gotham's next episode is titled "How The Riddler Got His Name," so that's a fairly big clue.
Alternatively, the show’s producers have stated that Harley Quinn will be making an appearance come season’s end, and have also implied she’ll likely be a character viewers are already familiar with. It wouldn't be out of the question to suggest that Gotham may want to capitalize on the character's current popularity by setting Quinn up as the main villain for a potential fourth season. Both The Riddler and Harley Quinn would be welcome follow ups to the Jerome material and could set up a major new threat without the need to delve into any back-story – something the show has already done this season with Jervis Tetch.
Speaking of Tetch, the Mad Hatter was a hotly anticipated addition to Gotham in the lead up to its third term but lasted less than half a season before he was swiftly condemned to Arkham Asylum, despite a mesmerizing performance from Benedict Samuel. Given the character’s mental prowess and the fact he and Jerome are now housemates, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see him break out, and there’s certainly plenty of mileage left in the character - particularly if he forms a partnership with an already established foe.
Carrying on the joke
Where the show heads next may largely depend on whether Jerome is intended to be the Joker. If the Proto-Joker theory is confirmed, and Jerome merely influences another budding maniac, then it would be natural to assume that Gotham could continue its long running Joker storyline with a brand new character now that Jerome is in Arkham. After all, it would make little sense for Gotham to drop the presence of the Batman universe’s most infamous baddie, given that the show has spent almost three seasons teasing his appearance.
The Joker story arc has been heavily built up and, with Jerome now incapacitated, a possible real Joker could be primed to step into the breach and terrorize Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne with a whole new set of clown-based weaponry. If performed by a talented actor with a solid handle on the role, Gotham could easily eke a season’s worth of material out of the Joker in a post-Jerome landscape, and it would be highly intriguing to see the character develop into the villain fans are familiar with and slowly succumb to the Valeska influence.
Dark Knight Rising
There is far more to Gotham than just its villains, and the end of Jerome may just leave some space in the narrative to finally give another of the series’ stars some much needed development. Bruce Wayne is naturally integral to any story set in the Batman universe, but Gotham’s version of the character has arguably been one of the show’s less entertaining elements, and young Bruce has shown a Princess Zelda-like knack for getting captured. Very recently, however, Master Wayne has displayed some of the characteristics that fans will recognize as the foundation of his future, and this was especially hammered home in the wake of Jerome’s recent activities and Bruce’s pledge not to kill.
Although the show is inherently built around Jim Gordon rather than Bruce – and that doesn’t need to change – it might be time to start showing some more of the young billionaire’s progression into the Dark Knight. It would also be very fitting if Bruce’s first big step towards putting on the cape and cowl is triggered by Jerome's antics. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Gotham needs to shift its main focus from Gordon and the GCPD to Batman, but bringing in a few more of those characteristics into Bruce’s arc would help him become a much more engaging character.
Whichever route Gotham opts to take, the show’s mixed reviews and modest viewing figures mean that it should pull out something special. Although Tetch was a solid addition to the cast, his story was over far too quickly and the plot that followed was a tedious love triangle combined with an uninspiring rage-virus style drug plot. When the series returned from its winter break and resurrected Jerome, they also partly resurrected the show’s fortunes – enforcing just how superior Gotham is with an entertaining central villain. Whether the series decides to go all-out with The Riddler, pull the trigger on the Court of Owls, unleash Harley Quinn or progress Bruce’s journey towards vigilantism, they’ll need to do something and they’ll need to do it fast.
Gotham returns April 24th with "How The Riddler Got His Name" on Fox.