Gotham, Season 2, Episode 3, “The Last Laugh”
Written by John Stephens
Directed by Eagle Egilsson
Airs Mondays at 8pm (ET) on Fox
This season of Gotham continues in stride as it brings Jerome’s story arc to a surprisingly definitive close. The series has tweaked the source material before and taken characters that in the comic books are around during Batman’s tenure in Gotham City but ended their stories quite conclusively. Among the gone for good are Sal Maroni, Sarah Essen, and Carmine Falcone (who one can’t imagine will return). But how Gotham handles the Joker persona is different in that it takes out an iteration of the character from the series, but not the villain entirely, much like how they handled the Red Hood legacy last season. The show has made their iterations of these characters inspirations to fuel the madness of the masses with a spirit that will one day stir the real Joker.
This is actually a truly inspired and creative turn to take the origin of the Joker, allowing it to be ambiguous while also delivering a prototype to play with. Although the origin of Jerome appeared simplistic, his being a result of poor parenting and child abuse, it is a version that works well enough—helped greatly by a fine performance from Cameron Monaghan—that it may as well have served as the Joker origin. But Gotham is well aware that part of the allure of the Joker comes from not knowing exactly how the character came to be, as monsters that come from out of nowhere tend to be the most frightening. The show manages to have it both ways by not cementing an actual origin yet also presenting the possibility for future conceptual versions to pop up in Gotham City.
Although Jerome is a truly heinous human being, his story is one of tragedy. Jerome had huge ambitions and wanted to make a name for himself and Theo Galavan made him believe that he was giving him that platform. But the truth is Theo never thought much of Jerome and built him up just to take him down. In the end, Jerome is yet another pawn in Galavan’s greater plan. It seems that Essen was right after all about Jerome’s time in the spotlight being brief, but not about the impression he would make on Gotham, as the Blind Fortune teller foresees the legacy left behind by Jerome. In the final moments of the episode, we can see it begin to invade Gotham City, infectious laughter bringing death and madness in its wake. This may very well be a close for Jerome, but the Joker will certainly have more prototypes in Gotham in time.
A good deal of the comedic relief in this episode comes from the interactions in the meeting between Alfred and Leslie, and it’s done very well. As soon as Alfred sees Leslie, he lays on the charm and boy is it thick. Sean Pertwee is always great playing against Mazouz’s Bruce but the character gets livelier and more interesting when he interacts with other cast members and we get to see other shades of him, such as when he teamed up with Bullock in “Lovecraft”. Baccarin is exceptional here as she portrays the fine line between feeling flattered and trying to let Alfred down easy. Leslie’s eyes widening with Alfred’s proposition of dining at an exclusive restaurant is absolutely priceless.
This is the first time Bruce has spoken to Selina ‘Cat’ Kyle since their falling out in last season’s “Under the Knife”. From how Camren Bicondova is playing Cat, it appears that she’s still a bit miffed at Bruce. It’s a bit strange seeing Cat working her old pick pocket routine, since she’s been rubbing elbows with Gotham’s higher-end criminal element, specifically The Penguin. Is The Penguin not treating Cat to a meal while she’s hanging around his estate? One would think that she would be taking on more advanced criminal activity than stealing from the rich in order to survive. Cat is still a bit of a loner and although Bruce opened her up some, she’s mostly looking out for herself. It’s clear that Bruce still has feelings for Cat and although she tries to be closed off to him, she does show signs of having feelings for him too, as revealed by her checking in on him at the end of the episode. David Mazouz has a few great moments in this episode, one being his declaration to Cat that he misses her and the other being his struggle with the decision to go out and face Jerome to save Alfred. Mazouz does a great job showing a fearful Bruce that then overcomes this by evoking his sense of duty to protect Alfred. Bicondova is always fun to see, but the show needs to give her more to do than just bristle at Bruce’s friendship.
We get to see Bullock back in action mode as he aids Gordon in hunting Jerome and that’s great, but there is something else going on with him too. He sees that Gordon is reluctant to hit up The Penguin for information and that gives Bullock a sign that something is going on between the two. It’s a subtle moment early in the episode that is given a bit more momentum when Bullock last sees Gordon and it totally pays off in the end of the episode with him talking to The Penguin face to face. The Penguin has apparently not done much since last we saw him, other than watch the whole Maniax! debacle on TV along with everyone in Gotham City. Bullock pretty much lays it all out with The Penguin and doesn’t mince words as he goes to bat for Gordon. Bullock also reminds him that they both have unfinished business, in reference to Fish. It’s a good scene which is made even better by Donal Logue’s fine, charismatic performance.
Speaking of performances, let’s hear it for Theo Galavan and his heroic showdown with Jerome. The whole segment plays a bit like a comedic routine or a radio play as Theo takes the stage, Jerome exclaims, “Who are you?!” and then Theo turns to the camera and states his name almost phonetically. It’s clearly a show and James Frain gives a great hammy presentation that doesn’t completely give away that Theo is in on the whole thing, even though he may as well be mugging to the camera. We also learn a bit more about Theo’s plan and his motivation early in the episode, and it’s a decent exposition dump that is played comically, but well in the tone of Gotham. The role that Barbara plays is becoming a bit worrisome though, as her goals are muddled, with her getting mixed up with Theo’s sister Tabitha and then also seducing Theo, all while still thinking she’s getting back together with Gordon. It’s a bit convoluted and seems to be getting more so, as Tabitha looks like she is a little bit jealous when she sees Barbara kissing Theo’s noggin bump.
Case File: The Great Rudolfo
Gordon and Bullock are on the hunt for Sarah Essen’s killer Jerome in this week’s case and when the episode opens, the dynamic duo are without any good leads and resort to shaking down the local punks. It’s never great when Gotham has Gordon and Bullock resort to strong-arming and blatantly beating their criminal contacts, but it is done here to establish that they are desperate for leads and are clearly not in the right state of mind. Gordon is at the brink of scolding just about anyone he comes across, including Leslie. Ben McKenzie does a fine job portraying Gordon’s misplaced anger and then pulling back from it after he barks at Leslie. Baccarin is great in the scene with McKenzie, calming him down from the stress of his hunt by ordering him to kiss her, a gesture that he later returns to her after her wearisome ordeal with Barbara.
Gordon’s investigation leads them to Jerome’s father’s, Mr. Cicero’s, apartment where they find him freshly murdered but also have a brief altercation with Jerome and Tabitha. It’s strange here that Gordon would see Tabitha and not question her role in the Arkham breakout, as well as her association with Jerome. Perhaps Gordon will follow that lead in a future episode, but there is no mention of her in his discussion to Bullock, other than Gordon saying he doesn’t believe in the evidence they found at the crime scene. The sleuthing in this episode isn’t as smart as it could be, but the fun comes mostly during the magic show with Jerome in disguise as The Great Rudolfo. The whole sequence where The Great Rudolfo and his assistant saw Bruce in half is very entertaining. Both Monaghan and Erin Richards are fun on-stage presences in their disguises during the show, as they pantomime their routine, and then even more so after the ruse is exposed and they start holding the room hostage. Richards’ wink to Leslie is an excellent reveal moment.
“The Last Laugh” feels very much like a part two to last week’s episode “Knock, Knock”, as it closes Jerome’s story arc pretty definitively. It is quite fitting that it is written by John Stephens, who often has episodes closely paired alongside Ken Woodruff (writer of “Knock, Knock”), such as The Scarecrow two-parter and the first two The Ogre episodes. Stephens’ strengths are in creating good character moments and fun dialogue, which are both present in this episode. Director Eagle Egilsson does exemplary work realizing Stephens’ script, such as in the presentation of Gordon’s exposure to the knock-out gas and his great composition of scenes like Theo and Barbara staring out the window at Gotham City as the camera zooms in on their reflection. The scene where Jerome does his version of a William Tell is also pretty effective and tense, as the water gun gag could’ve gone either way. The season has been progressing nicely in these first episodes and now with Jerome’s arc closed there’s just no telling exactly what will come next.
- Barbara’s use of the mallet on Theo is somewhat reminiscent of Harley Quinn, an associate of the Joker who’s been known to use a mallet.
- “Some say Bruce has a split personality!”—Jerome.
- Gordon’s facial expressions as Alfred hits on Leslie are great.
- “Great cape!”—Theo compliments Barbara on her formal wear.
- Jerome’s William Tell act is pretty good, but nothing beats the William Tell routine that Forrest MacNeil pulls off on this season of Review.
- “Not to interrupt your weirdly timed make out session but…”—Bullock
- “Perhaps I could use a new laugh.”—Penguin. This is most likely the writers poking a bit of fun in reference to the fan theory that Oswald was actually going to become the Joker.
- This episode is also oddly reminiscent of the song “Death of a Clown” by The Kinks. Listen to the lyrics and tell me there’s no correlation.
- “I still owe you for Fish.”—Bullock
- Yes! Officer Alvarez lives! And is following up leads like nobody’s business.