Episode Title: The Last Laugh
Original Airdate: 10-6-15
I’m still neck deep in my love/hate relationship with Gotham even as we round the corner past the first mini-arc of season two. For every character that I love, there’s a character that I equally hate. For every scene that I love, there’s a scene that just rubs me the wrong way. And even in an episode that I really enjoyed overall, there were still a handful of scenes and moments that made me want to shake my head in annoyment. I was honestly on the edge of rage-quitting this show last episode based on all the headway they were making with baby Joker, then I watch this episode and I enjoy almost everything about it. Again, except for the direction that they’re still going with the Joker. It just keeps me hanging on by a thread week after week, though if the ratings continue in their direction this show won’t be around for a third season.
As usual, one of the things that I really love the most about this show is the look and feel of the cinematography and direction. I don’t really know what direction they’re heading with their Barbara storyline, but I am starting to get a feel for the direction they’re heading with Theo Galavan. He makes references to being part of the family that built Gotham from the ground up which is a nice reference to the Court of Owls, something I don’t know much about outside of the animated film Batman vs. Robin, but have heard good things about the comic arc. And he is set up to be a very clever and thoughtful foil for Gordon as he ultimately lets Jerome frame someone else for the Arkham breakout while he sets himself up to be a hero in Gotham’s eyes. There’s also this odd love triangle between himself, his sister, and Barbara. It’s made even more uncomfortable when they toss in a seemingly throwaway comment where his sister mentions that he’s “a monster in the sack”. At first, it’s seemingly just told in jest for her to make him lose face in front of the Deputy Mayor, but there’s a nice visual parallel framed at the start and end of the episode. In the beginning, Barbara and Tabitha share a kiss and the show frames Theo in between them. At the end, Barbara and Theo share a kiss and the show frames Tabitha in between them. But there’s also a stark visual difference where Theo is framed much larger than Tabitha which shows that he’s the more dominant force. It’s moments like these that make me really appreciate the depth of the show’s cinematography and direction even when I very much disagree with some of their other writing decisions.
Which brings me to the part that I don’t like nearly as much. Let’s talk about Jerome. He has been teased as the one who will go on to be the Joker in the future. He’s young, he essentially has the Joker’s personality already, and he’s been featured prominently in these last three episodes. And then they go and kill him. Now, I’m completely fine with his death. It plays into Theo’s plan which I’m currently on board for, and it gets rid of his character which I did not like from square one. No offense towards the actor, Cameron Monaghan, he does a good enough job with what he’s given. He doesn’t try to emulate any specific past Joker performance, but instead mixes it up and takes inspiration from several of them. It’s just the writing for his motivations and character that I didn’t enjoy. They made him too much of a force to be reckoned with. He was practically Batman’s Joker already with the level of misdirection, theatricality, and success of his plans. I did like the lure of the magic show much better than the police station raid, it fit with his character who came from the circus and would likely know some of those simple magic tricks. But what really kills me is how they treated his death and his television appearance as being this major catalyst for the rest of Gotham. His mere presence infects and inspires a large group of potential Jokers down the line, and yet his death leaves him with this bloody grin on his face that very much gives him the look of Batman’s Joker. I can imagine that the writers felt like this would give the show that spread of ambiguity for the Joker’s true origin, while also having something that can be traced back to a specific event in Gotham’s history. I just thought it was a little too convoluted, and just overall way too close to what the Joker is supposed to be after Batman comes to town.
Aside from those two things, there were a few other moments in the episode that I did really enjoy. As usual, two of my favorite characters really delivered here. Alfred was not only a force to be reckoned with during the initial attack, though I thought he was taken out just a little bit too easily, but he was singularly focused on getting Bruce to safety, screw all of the other patrons of the event. And on top of that, I thought his flirting with Lee was utterly hilarious, especially at the very end when he’s arguing with Bruce about how he thought Bruce knew she was dating Gordon. Bullock got my next favorite scene when he goes to confront Penguin, it has all the right beats that I expected from it. There’s the callback to the moment earlier in the episode where he suggests that Gordon should call on Penguin, then later on he changes his mind and gets Gordon to stay away from Penguin. There’s also references made to Fish Mooney and his previous relationship with her, one of the very few good points for Mooney. And just the fact that he completely owns the scene with Penguin at all, it was just a sight to behold. And throughout the episode, Gordon spends it all just being good ol’ Gordon, just with a touch of added darkness that seems to be building throughout this season. It starts with paying off a favor to Penguin, and it’s building with throwing guys out a window for information and intimidation and his killer intent for Jerome, and it will likely build even further as the season goes on. Those are the elements of this show that keep me coming back even as other elements keep trying to drive me off. You get a pass again Gotham, we’ll see how long this one lasts.