Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gotham Recap: 2x03 The Last Laugh

Gotham’s much talked-about "The Last Laugh" has finally aired, and we’re here to recap this controversial episode. I’ll be giving my reaction to the episode’s surprising events and delve into where the series could – and should – take the story next. Before we jump in, I’d like to remind readers that Gotham contains adult content and viewer discretion is advised. Content/trigger warning for language, sexuality, death, and blood.

With Jerome Valeska running loose around Gotham, causing chaos everywhere he goes, Jim and Harvey are working hard to track him down. Their first step is to find out who broke Jerome out of Arkham Asylum in the first place. Jim’s tactics are getting much more desperate, throwing homeless people out of windows to try to scare people into talking. Harvey suggests they get help from Penguin, as he’s the one who usually has the inside scoop on what’s happening in Gotham. But to his surprise, Jim is reluctant to visit Oswald.

At the station, Jim is assigning tasks to the remaining cops at the GCPD, having them search for members of the carnival Jerome used to travel with, as well as Aaron Helzinger who has gone missing. He scolds an officer who attempts to take the crime scene tape off of Essen’s office door and says it isn’t coming down until Essen’s killer is brought to justice.


Noticing that Jim is very uptight, Lee tries to comfort him and invites him to a children’s charity gala she helped organize, so he can get away from work for awhile. Jim refuses to stop working until the case is closed.


Harvey approaches them and announces that Alvarez has gotten the address for Paul Cisero, Jerome’s father.

Jerome pays a visit to Paul Cisero to remind him what a terrible father he’s been.


He tells him that he’s met a man, Theo Galavan, who believes in him and is going to make him a star. Cisero, who is a fortuneteller, foresees that everything Jerome is will one day become a terror to the city.


Jerome plants evidence in the apartment to make it look like his father was the one who broke him out of Arkham, so that the GCPD won’t suspect the Galavans. He then kills his father just as Jim and Harvey arrive. When Harvey inspects Cisero’s body, he accidentally triggers a device Jerome left on him, filling the room with gas. Jim helps Harvey out of the apartment. When Jim sees Jerome in the hallway, he tries to take him down but is too affected by the gas.


Tabitha Galavan comes up from behind him and knocks Jim out.

Barbara and Tabitha are now an item, and Tabitha seems to make a point of kissing her in front of her brother.


When alone with Barbara, Theo says he’s glad she’s getting along so well with his sister. The two start talking about his plan. He talks about how his ancestors built Gotham, but their legacy has been forgotten. He wants to punish Gotham and reclaim it.


Theo also tells Barbara that, once Jim has outlived his usefulness, he’ll help Barbara destroy him body and soul. Galavan helps Jerome and Barbara infiltrate the magic show at the children’s charity gala. He says he has a secret plan to give Gotham a hero.


Alfred takes Bruce Wayne to the children’s charity gala against his will, due to the fact that his parents were patrons of the children’s hospital. Once there, they meet Lee, and Alfred starts flirting with her.


Bruce catches a glimpse of Cat pickpocketing the crowd. He catches up to her and reminds her that the people she’s robbing are here for a good cause, but she doesn’t seem to care.


Bruce is happy to see her, but she doesn’t seem too thrilled to talk to him and makes excuses to leave.

When Bruce comes back to Alfred and Lee, he wants to leave the gala. But Alfred insists on staying because he’s interested in Lee. The magic show starts, performed by Jerome and Barbara in disguise. They bring Bruce up as a volunteer, and pretend to saw him in half. Lee notices they look familiar and realizes one of them is Barbara when her mask slips.


Meanwhile, Jim and Harvey are at the station recovering from the gas. Jim says he doesn’t believe it was Paul Cisero who broke Jerome out of Arkham. He’s willing to see Oswald now but still seems somewhat reluctant, which strikes Harvey as odd. Jim gets a phone call from Lee, saying Barbara has infiltrated the magic show at the gala, but the call is suddenly broken off. Jim heads for the gala.

Jerome asks the deputy mayor to come up as volunteer. He unveils an array of knives and threatens the audience, which they take as a joke.


But he suddenly throws one of the knives at the deputy mayor. A man who works for Jerome comes in and starts shooting up the place. Chaos ensues as everyone panics. Bruce follows Cat, who leads him through a secret passageway. Bruce says he has to go back because he can’t leave Alfred.


He tells her he misses her before going back to the gala.

Jim arrives at the scene, but security won’t let him in. He gets a phone call from Lee’s number, but it’s Jerome, who has taken Lee’s phone from her. He says he is now on live TV, and Jim goes to a news van to watch the live footage. Jerome makes fake demands that are impossible to fulfill, and says he’ll start killing people unless the demands are met in ten minutes.


Suddenly, Theo Galavan takes the spotlight and pretends to stand up to Jerome.


Barbara knocks Theo out (or pretends to, assumably) with a Harley Quinn-esque hammer.

Looking away from the television, Jim sees Cat sneaking out of a secret passageway and decides to get into the gala that way.

Meanwhile, a drunk and annoyed Oswald is jealously watching all the attention Jerome is getting on the news.


Harvey, still concerned about Jim’s apparent fear of the Penguin, pays him a visit, threatening him and telling him that Oswald and Jim better remain friends.


Jerome has fun terrifying the guests by pretending he‘s going to kill them.


And Barbara starts taunting Lee, telling her that she and Jim are going to get back together one day because, deep down, Jim is just as bad as Barbara.


Lee kicks Barbara, and Barbara tries to stab her. Jerome stops her, so she settles for punching Lee instead.

Jerome announces that it’s time for the first live televised killing of the night.


He asks Bruce Wayne to come up and says if he won’t, he’ll kill Alfred instead. Jim tries to stop Bruce from revealing himself, but Bruce refuses to let Alfred be killed. Just as they are about to shoot Alfred, Bruce steps out into the open, and is taken up on stage. Jim comes out from behind the curtain and shoots some of Jerome’s men and points his gun at Jerome. Alfred grabs a gun from one of the fallen men and points it at Jerome too. But neither of them can shoot Jerome because he’s using Bruce as a shield while holding a knife to his throat.


Galavan gets up and stabs Jerome in the neck. Jerome looks confused, terrified, and betrayed, as the knife is real, and not what he and Galavan had planned out beforehand.


Theo, without telling anyone else, planned all along to turn Jerome into a monster to terrorize Gotham for awhile, only to kill Jerome at the gala on live television in order to make himself a hero of Gotham city.

When Barbara sees what has happened, she runs and escapes from Jim by disappearing through a secret passageway in the stage floor.

Alfred and Bruce thank Theo Galavan for saving Bruce’s life. Alfred flirts a bit more with Lee, this time in front of Jim, not realizing the two are dating. Later, he sees the two kissing and, embarrassed, realizes the truth.

Back at the GCPD, Jim takes the crime scene tape off Essen’s office door, now that Jerome has been killed.

Barbara, watching the news footage, tells Theo it was unfortunate that he killed Jerome. Theo agrees, but says Jerome was limited and wasn’t going to last long anyway. Barbara disagrees with this, however.


Barbara kisses Theo, and Tabitha angrily and secretly watches them.

Citizens of Gotham watch the news footage of Jerome and suddenly begin laughing maniacally and committing crimes.


Final Thoughts:

First, let’s get the minor things out of the way before we address the giant elephant in the room. I loved the scene of Oswald being jealous of Jerome while watching him on TV and considering getting a new laugh. It looks like I’m in the minority here, but I also loved seeing Alfred and Lee together. I loved the nod to their future relationship (assuming they follow the comics). And it was funny to see Alfred embarrass himself by flirting with a woman who, unbeknownst to him, is already taken by one of his close acquaintances. I was a bit disappointed in Lee, however, that she would consider going out with him just to get into a restaurant she’s curious about when she’s already exclusively dating Jim.

I found it interesting they made mention that Aaron Helzinger has gone missing. I wonder what they plan to do with his character now that he's the only living member of the Maniax left besides Barbara. Perhaps the rumors about him being Amygdala are true.

I was surprised when the show did exactly what they said they wouldn’t do by adding an incestuous angle to the Galavan siblings’ relationship. An incest angle was long suspected when the characters were announced, but both actors insisted they were playing it as the most typical sibling relationship one could imagine. Yet, while talking to the deputy mayor, Tabitha Galavan said her brother was “a monster in the sack." Incest or not, I haven’t been impressed with the love triangle between them and Barbara so far. They appear to be playing up the lesbian angle for the sake of sexualizing them and appealing to male viewership, rather than real representation or quality narrative. What’s more, the acting for them and Barbara is often far more over the top than makes sense in the context of their scenes. I’m interested in the possible Court of Owls storyline that lies in the Galavans’ history, but other than that, I don’t find them to be compelling characters overall.

With all of that out of the way, it’s time to delve into the big plot twist at the end of the episode. So, the big reveal of "The Last Laugh" is that, not only is Jerome not the Joker, not only does Jerome get killed by Theo Galavan, it is Jerome’s ideology that lives on and affects all the criminals who see him on the news. And one day, one of those criminals will take up the identity Jerome left behind and become the real king of evil laughter, the genuine Joker himself.

Unfortunately, this plot twist is not going down with fans quite so well as the showrunners hoped. The large portion of the fanbase has erupted into boycotts, people are leaving the fanbase, and others are just doing all they can to make their complaints heard.


I believe these fans’ complaints are justified. The plot twist was not a good choice. I don’t say this because I was attached to Jerome as a character (though he was fantastic). I don’t say this because it went against my expectations (I always knew Jerome was not going to be the actual Joker. I’ve reported on this blog many times that it was the spread of his ideology they were emphasizing. And I said before that I suspected he would die in this episode). Rather, I say this because the plot twist was a bad idea in itself, and the way they carried it out was even worse.

Here are ten reasons why this plot twist is a bad idea:

1. They’re wasting Cameron Monaghan’s talent by ditching his character after only 4 episodes.
Cameron Monaghan gave a legendary performance as the very Joker-like character Jerome Valeska. In fact, many people have said his performance was equal, or at the very least second-only to, Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. Jerome was a favorite character to an overwhelming majority of viewers. It’s one thing to kill a favorite character off after having them around for four seasons or so. But four episodes? Really, Gotham? Really? The amount of untapped potential there is unbelievable. But his short time on the show is also a huge problem because…

2. Jerome was not around long enough for his ideology to realistically take root as they’re portraying.
People in Gotham commit crazy crimes and get on the news all the time, and nothing happens. But Jerome commits a few crimes and gets on TV, and suddenly everyone loses their minds. (See what I did there.) But seriously, as great a character as he was for viewers, what did Jerome really do that would cause the spirit of the Joker to spread all around Gotham like a virus? He was only in the public eye a handful of times. People read in the papers that a gang he was in dropped some people off a building, they heard in the news he had killed a bunch of cops, he made a brief appearance on TV telling citizens that it’s more fun to be free than be a cog in a machine, and then they saw him stabbed in the neck after briefly holding charity-goers hostage. This definitely shows he was dangerous and crazy. But it’s a bit much to think that this would begin any kind of Joker-like revolution in the city. Why would this stand out in Gotham citizen’s minds any more than the man who killed crooked cops by sending them into the sky via hot air balloon, or the Don Juan killer who fixed his notoriously ogre-like face only to control the GCPD for years by romancing and killing the officers’ loved ones? Why would one anarchic boy holding hostages at a magic show suddenly cause citizens of Gotham to randomly begin laughing maniacally at their television screens as if they’ve suddenly been possessed by a Joker demon? It makes no sense. In fact…

3. It didn’t work out anything like the way the showrunners intended.
Showrunner Bruno Heller has, in multiple interviews, told how he thought this plot twist would work out on screen. He’s said that the Joker persona isn’t something that someone can just be born with or invent on their own; that the plot twist they reveal in the third episode involving Jerome would tie the Joker’s identity to the city, so that Gotham City itself creates the Joker in an organic way. But if the “real” Joker is unable to be “born that way” or invent the persona himself, how was Jerome born that way? How was he able to invent that persona himself? Why was it possible for him and not the person who will one day be the “real” Joker? And how did the city create the Joker organically? People saw Jerome on TV and suddenly started committing random crimes and trying to imitate his laugh (rather badly, I might add). That’s about as organic as a room full of Elvis impersonators. Which brings us to the next problem…

4. There’s nothing original about the “real” Joker at all once he arrives.
Jerome was everything the Joker will ever be. He was written like the Joker. The actor played him as the Joker, and drew everything he put into the character from comic books about the Joker and portrayals of the Joker in media. Aside from the hair and makeup (though, the makeup he had in the magic show was already getting pretty close), Jerome Valeska possessed every staple of the Joker, down to the philosophy, the laugh, the grin, the movements and the expressions. There’s nothing original the “real” Joker can add to make it his own. At least, not without deviating from the source material and just making a brand new kind of character unlike the Joker. So what’s happening now is, a bunch of unoriginal posers and Jerome-wannabes are rising up in Gotham, and one of those posers will become powerful enough for Batman to fight. And that will be our legendary Joker? One of the most popular, one-of-a-kind characters in DC Comics’ history? No one is happy about this turn of events. There’s a small portion of fans willing to reluctantly accept it. But the majority is livid about what this means for the Joker’s legacy. In fact…

5. This Joker origin story appeals to no one except the Gotham showrunners.
Gotham fans are divided into two basic groups – 1.) Those who didn’t want the Joker to be on Gotham at all, because they didn’t want him to have a backstory, and because they think he should only be present when Batman is also present; and 2.) Those who wanted Jerome to be the Joker. The direction the show has taken spits in the face of both of these groups. The showrunners, it seems, are trying to appeal to some third group that either doesn’t exist, or is too small to be of much consequence to them. It is the least tactical move they could have made. The showrunners are moving in a direction opposite to what will bring in more viewers. Which brings us to the fact that…

6. Jerome brought something much needed to the show.
Despite the fact that many people didn’t like the idea of bringing in the Joker so early, there’s one fact you can’t deny: you can’t have a story about Gotham City without bringing up the Joker. They just go together. Even before there was ever news of Jerome’s arrival, people were caught up in Joker speculation from the very start of the show. Fans’ minds automatically go there, and you can’t stop it. And when Jerome finally came, bringing in that Joker-like spirit, that’s when the show’s popularity finally started to rise. People who had no interest in Gotham before started tuning in because Jerome had caught their interest, and people who had given up on the show last season gave it a second chance just so they could see him. Even those who believed there was little chance of him being the “real” Joker appreciated him as a Joker-like character to tide us over in the absence of the genuine article. Because, like it or not, we need that presence there. Whenever we’re in Gotham City, we need that unpredictable element, that chaos, that goes along with the idea of the Joker. Ratings show that the more Jerome was featured, the more people enjoyed the episode. Permanently taking him off the show is the worst thing they could have done.

(Source: Rotten Tomatoes' Ratings for Gotham S2 Episodes)

Jerome shouldn’t be there all the time, of course, because then he would constantly overshadow everyone else, and eventually they would run out of things for him to do. But we need him there as a possibility. There’s something vital about wondering when he’ll come back to make another guest appearance. And viewers are better able to enjoy the other characters on the show more when they know there’s someone bigger than them that could return at any moment. Whereas, if you’re looking at the current villains thinking, “this is it, this is the biggest thing we’re going to get on the show”, that’s disappointing. There’s not enough room for possibility without Jerome. Which brings me to the next point…

7. There’s now nowhere for the show to go but down.
The Joker is the biggest character you can ever bring onto the show. They brought on a character exactly like the Joker, made viewers fall in love with him, and then took him away for good, and showed the “real” Joker to be nothing but a copycat of that character. Now everything else feels smaller and hollow in comparison to what we got from Jerome, and everything new that’s brought to the show feels like a weak substitute to what could have been. Even if they try to make the show interesting again by bringing in a new possible Joker…

8. Anything involving the Joker will be a sore spot from now on.
Fans are angry about what was done with Jerome, and they don’t want to forget about it. Anytime the Joker is mentioned on the show again, if that Joker is not Jerome, it will only open old wounds. People fell in love with Cameron Monaghan’s performance. As I mentioned before, many viewed it as equal with Ledger’s – a performance previously thought impossible to match. It would be virtually impossible to find an actor who could play the part better than Monaghan, and most viewers don’t want them to try. Fans have gotten too attached to Cameron Monaghan to want to see the Joker played by anyone else on this show.

9. The show stopped Jerome’s story short in favor of using him as a tool to further Theo Galavan’s story.
And no one cares about Theo Galavan. Even with rumors circulating about him possibly being either Court of Owls or Ra’s Al Ghul, very few fans have found him to be a compelling character or care much about where his story leads. Neither his talk about cleansing the city with monsters and reclaiming what he’s lost, nor his creepy love triangle with his sister and Barbara has caused viewers to get attached to him like they did to Jerome. And if it had been left up to fans, I think most would have preferred sacrificing him to further Jerome’s story, rather than the other way around.

10. This “plot twist” isn’t really a plot twist.
I’m sure there were many viewers who don’t regularly follow Gotham news who were surprised by the events of this episode. But the showrunners promised that, even for us fans who do follow the news, there would be something in the episode that would take us by surprise. They told us that this would be Jerome’s last episode, so we knew he would be taken off the show permanently, most likely by getting killed. They told us that the Joker was more of an idea than a person, so we knew Jerome wasn’t really the Joker. They told us that Jerome would inspire the “real” future Joker by spreading his ideology like a disease, so we knew the citizens of Gotham would start copying him in his absence. But they also told us there was a huge plot twist we’d never see coming. But nope. That was it. It all went according to expectation. The only surprise was that it looked infinitely worse when we actually saw it on screen.

What’s more, Jerome’s death scene seemed weirdly out of character. The Joker, who cares only about chaos, usually takes an almost Peter Pan-like view of death – “to die would be an awfully big adventure”. He’ll face anything, even death, if he thinks it will give better impact to one of his jokes, or get a bigger reaction out of his audience. I think the Joker would have seen something appealing about dying on live TV. Jerome, on the other hand, was horrified to see his life taken from him, regardless of the shock factor it would have on the audience. This would have worked well in a “See, Jerome isn’t so much like the Joker after all! He’s afraid of dying!” kind of way, if it weren’t for the fact they had established the exact opposite last episode. In the Russian Roulette scene in episode two, Jerome proves that, just like the Joker, he will risk anything for the sake of performance.


Many people are saying that Jerome wasn’t the Joker after all, that it turns out he was just some random kid who was like the Joker in many ways. I’d like to get one thing straight: Jerome is the Joker. Not in the way that he’s the person who one day fights Batman. But he was played by the actor as the Joker. And everything we know about the Joker came from him in this continuity. He’s the one who created the persona and released it into the world. He’s the original.

Jerome’s character is so much like the Joker, in fact, that it doesn’t look like he’s a character fans are willing to just let go of without a fight. The backlash against his death has been extreme. For all shows, there are mistakes made by the showrunners, plot twists that make fans angry and lead them to complain. But this is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It doesn’t look like this is something fans are willing to forgive.

(Source: Herinteractive Nancy Drew PC Games)

Luckily, it’s not too late to turn this around, if the Gotham showrunners are willing to admit this was a mistake and have a desire to fix it. Many fans have written whole lists of ways Jerome could be brought back to the show. Some of these, besides the obvious of revealing that Galavan somehow faked Jerome’s death, include bringing him back to life using the Lazarus Pit. The Dollmaker is a character who also claims to have the power of bringing the dead back to life, as does Hugo Strange who will be joining the cast shortly.

There are countless ways of bringing Jerome back. And once he’s on the show again, there are countless things they could do with him. They could change from their current course and actually decide to make him the Joker. One fan suggested they could even have him lose his memory through his death and resurrection and go with the traditional Killing Joke backstory.

(Source: DC Comics)

But even if they don’t want to deviate from their current plan – even if they really want the “real” Joker to be inspired by Jerome – bringing Jerome back won’t stop them. They’ve shown how Jerome’s ideology has infected other people. Now that they’ve opened that door, bringing Jerome back will not close it. In fact, bringing Jerome back would only solidify it, as he would be able to infect Gotham further with that ideology – possibly in new ways, depending on how he’s resurrected. Or, if they went the amnesia route, he could become a character in his own right. And they could explore how seeing the ideology of his past life spreading to other people affects him now. Does he recognize the ideology as his own? Does it still appeal to him? It would be a very interesting subject to delve into.

What’s more, if they wanted, they could keep his status as the Joker ambiguous. They could make people ask, “Now that Jerome is back, does that mean he is the real Joker? Or is the real Joker someone he inspired, like we saw at the end of The Last Laugh?” It would bring speculation back, make it fun again, erase the anger, let both Cameron Monaghan and his character leave a bigger mark on the show, and still allow the showrunners to eventually go the original route they wanted to go if that’s still where they want to take it.

Overall, bringing Cameron Monaghan back to the show in some way is the best choice they could make next.

Regardless of what they decide to do, I am at least glad we got the privilege of meeting Jerome, and seeing him played by the phenomenal Cameron Monaghan. That’s the one thing in this whole subplot that I firmly believe was not a mistake. He was amazing, and he will always be my favorite character. And although I hope the showrunners do more to make this subplot work in a way fans enjoy, I’m glad such a memorable character got to be part of the Joker’s legacy in some way.


What’s To Come:

News has been slow this week, as the majority of sources are focused solely on the Jerome-related backlash and haven‘t been discussing any other aspects of the show. However, I have managed to discover that Tommy Flanagan of Sons of Anarchy has been cast in a so-far unidentified role.


Also, it has finally been revealed that we will meet Hugo Strange and Mr. Freeze when, later in the show, a secret lab will be revealed, located on the much-talked-of Indian Hill.

The synopsis for Gotham's 6th episode, "By Fire", has finally been released:

"After Bridgit Pike (guest star Michelle Veintimilla) rejoins her brothers, a new spark of courage ignites within her, as she chooses to take control of her future. Meanwhile, Kringle and Nygma's relationship will take a new step and Penguin and Galavan continue to battle for control of Gotham City's underworld."

Finally, here are the promos and sneak peeks that have been released for tomorrow’s episode:

See you next week!


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