There was one announcement eagerly anticipated by nearly every Batman fan once the Gotham writers wasted no time in introducing the likes of Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and most recently, the Scarecrow. And after last week's episode, it was finally confirmed: the Joker is on his way to Gotham, and far sooner than fans assumed. At least, that's what was implied.
At the time we warned that there was a risk of a bait and switch in the name of 'teasing' or 'playing' with fan expectations, and we obviously weren't alone. Executive producer Bruno Heller he remains coy, confirming that the minds behind the series are thinking long-term with Batman's archnemesis - but it does seem that the red-haired young man known as 'Jerome' will become the Joker "we all know and love."
For those who may have missed the Joker's first official tease, it came in the form of a TV spot for Episode 16 ("The Blind Fortune Teller") warning that the next DC Comics villain was "no joke", with actor Cameron Monaghan (Shameless) laughing maniacally. Despite the obvious references made, Heller explains to THR that the cat isn't out of the bag just yet:
"He may or may not be The Joker... All I can promise is that's not a bait and switch. It's a long game we're playing here."
Heller's choice of words will likely confuse, since his claim that the "no joke" tease is NOT a feint or misdirection seems to make it quite clear that Monaghan is, in fact, playing the boy who becomes the Joker. For now all that's known is that Jerome has a connection to the circus which includes The Flying Graysons, and some circumstances bring him face to face with a young Jim Gordon.
Those not already on board with Gotham's willingness to break from comic canon may view the entire prospect of a teenage Joker with skepticism, since both he and Bruce Wayne are still - traditionally - years away from forming their alter egos. Yet all things considered, any hint at a version of Joker in Gotham was going to be met with some serious challenges.
Heller confirmed early on that there would be multiple Joker hints to keep fans guessing, which ran the risk of distracting from the stories told week to week. Casting an original villain caused speculation over a potential Joker-in-the-making, which risks detracting from the new character's own qualities.
Heller explains why the Joker's comic book origin provides some creative freedom, but reminds fans that Monaghan's performance should be judged entirely on its own:
"The great fun of this show is that it's the origin story of these famous characters, and with The Joker, the wonderful thing is that nobody knows where he came from and what his genesis was... What I can guarantee is that you have to follow that brilliant young actor Cameron Monaghan down the line, and you will see how this leads to the character we all know and love.
"When the episode is aired, people will see it's not an imitation of somebody else or an homage to anyone. It's a performance in and of itself."
It's hard to agree with Heller's assertion that part of the fun for the cast is providing "hints" of the comic villains they will grow to become, since more often than not, they are too on-the-nose for even casual movie fans to miss. Even if the executive producer has his hands tied when it comes to spoiling the show's take on Joker, skeptics will be pleased to hear that he knows the core of the character lies with Batman, and not before him:
"In the pantheon of villains, he's the dark king of this world, so it would be cheating the audience if we didn't get into that. On the other hand, as those who are deep into the mythology know, the actual Joker — the full-on villain himself — does not appear until after Batman appears. That's both a narrative opportunity and a narrative problem at the same time."
What do you think of Heller's comments on the matter of the showrunners' plans for Joker? Does it seem that Monaghan will give the first of potentially several performances taking Jerome closer and closer to becoming the Clown Prince of Crime years down the road? Or do the creator's previous claims that he would "fool people in the end" when it came to the Joker leave you with doubts? Sound off with your own thoughts in the comments.
Gotham airs Mondays @8pm on Fox.