No Joke, ‘Gotham’s ‘Last Laugh’ is Both the Best, and Worst Episode of the Series
WARNING - SPOILERS BELOW FOR LAST NIGHT'S GOTHAM, “THE LAST LAUGH”
Schrödinger’s Gotham. An episode of TV that rests within a box, and is, from the standpoint of quantum mechanics, simultaneously both alive and dead, until you’re forced to actually observe the damn thing. Open “The Last Laugh,” and judgment is your own.
Look, Jerome had to die. Narratively speaking, Gotham had no other options. I don’t think it’s projecting to suppose that the character’s Season 1 introduction and subsequent “No Joke” marketing were borne of early desperation for Gotham to make a bigger splash, and thereby, its biggest mistake. Given the show’s very concept, introduction of the Joker should represent the last, largest card available for producers to play before Batman himself. The problem lay in execution, as with so many Gotham rogues, Cameron Monaghan’s Jerome quickly ended up a fully-formed Joker, in all but name.
Realistically, the only remaining option lay in Gotham killing Jerome off as a fake-out, and while I admire the writers for recognizing it as such, it still creates a much larger problem down the line. It’d be one thing if the series pulled back, offered some subtle intimation of an unseen figure chuckling at Jerome’s on-screen antics, but this is Gotham. One doesn’t simply hit the nail on the head, one takes the hammer into an orbital skydive, and obliterates that poor nail with the force of a 900-kiloton nuclear blast.
And where now could Gotham take the character down the line for a proper introduction? Will writers have any card left to play but another cackling madman, who, by implication, watched another man laughing on TV, once? Does Season 2 actually intend to explore the consequences of this apparent Joker virus spreading through the city?
You might recall us opting out of future Gotham writing beyond the inaugural two installments, at least until FOX’s Batty prequel drama provided something worthy of discussion, and that’s exactly what made “The Last Laugh” so intrinsically polarizing. In truth, there’s much stronger work at play through the hour than we’ve come to expect from the series; character-building, call and response, even some genuine levity! It’s all the more frustrating that the hour couldn’t leave well-enough alone with Jerome’s legacy, spending the final minutes regurgitating his fortune-teller father’s premonition, and its effects on criminals throughout the city, presuming us incapable of recognizing the implication for ourselves.
More surprising than anything, “The Last Laugh” actually shines in certain regards, outside of a few moments of camp nonsense. Gordon steps into a leadership role in the wake of Essen’s demise, galvanizing the “brothers” of a listless GCPD, in a way that actually makes sense for the character! Penguin’s scant appearance doesn’t go to waste, showcasing Bullock’s protective nature, cleverness to play on the crime boss’ insecurity, and some logical bitterness over Fish! Even Selina serves a narrative purpose, both emotional and functional, rather than her window dressing appearance of the premiere!
Let’s keep going! Cute call and response between Leslie and Jim! Escalating jokes about magicians! Alfred a surly badass one moment, and flustered by Morena Baccarin the next! She even seemingly entertains the thought of his advances! Ambiguity! Conflict! New relationship dynamics, with roots in the comics! Why can’t Gotham get that right every week?
There is, of course, the requisite insanity. Leslie’s first thought to call Jim after recognizing Barbara, rather than “HEY EVERYONE, CRIMINALS.” Gotham’s troublesome insinuation that two bisexual characters must of course get together, and kiss for the camera. The further disregard for Barbara’s individual identity, by way of homicidal fixation on stealing back her boyfriend from a “man-eating harpy,” even after earlier demonstration of a new love interest.
We also garner at least some definition of Theo Galavan’s plans and personal vendetta against the city, a much needed, apropos development to play on the city’s need for a hero, but still one Gotham doesn’t know how to support. Forget the character’s obvious mugging for the camera when standing up to Jerome, a display no one in their right mind should buy into — why does Gordon fall for it, when the very first scene of the hour saw he and Bullock tossing criminals out a window for far less obvious subversion? Did no one notice Galavan very audibly implicating himself in Jerome’s final moments?
In earnest, there’s no end to the amount of frustration Gotham will inspire for yours truly, though “The Last Laugh” was at least worthy of a few thoughts, both for solving some narrative problems, and ably making use of existing character arcs, even if the approach felt spectacularly heavy-handed. Jerome has left the building, and we can (hopefully) dispense with any more manipulative mystery to the character, provided Gotham isn’t crazy enough to linger on a city’s worth of potential Jokers. Again.
– CUT TO –
GOTHAM, SEASON 12
COMMISSIONER GORDON: “Good work, everyone! We finally caught the actual, honest-to-goodness Joker. You know, he almost reminds me of that kid we arrested a decade back, Jerome something. He laughed on TV once.”
JOKER: “I watched that!”
AND ANOTHER THING …
- To sum up Gotham’s biggest contribution to Batman mythology to date: The Joker, clown prince of crime, and undoubtedly one of the most iconic villains in comic history, was inspired by a guy named Jerome, who laughed on TV.
- Let it never be said that Cameron Monaghan hasn’t performed fine work, but Jerome proves far more menacing in the moments not visibly designed to ape past Joker performances.
- So … as with Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara this past summer, there’s no reason to question the idea of James Frain and Jessica Lucas as siblings. That said, are we to read into her snide “monster in the sack” comment, or the three-way jealousy now swirling about with Barbara in the mix?
- Incidentally, I will throw my television out the window if the writers spin Barbara as intentionally dividing Theo and Tabitha, as part of some long-gestating redemptive sting operation. Seriously. I will comply with any and all safety measures required, and hurl my television to the street below.
- No one is clapping for a magician who pulls a flower from a scarf.
- “It’s about to get very butler-brainy out here!” — an actual line, written and spoken by humans employed in television.
Gotham Season 2 continues next Monday with “Strike Force.” Get it?
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