Jerome Valeska is not The Joker. We’ve known that for a while. While that information could have been disappointing, Cameron Monaghan’s performance was so good; it didn’t matter. While last night’s episode didn’t completely nail its big reveal of the Clown Prince of Crime, I’m happy to know Monaghan’s not going anywhere. And he has some great moments in this episode. The choas begins with the interim mayor of Gotham meeting with the city’s political elite in a meeting that you just know is going to turn bad from the beginning. And sure enough, all the villains are here to kidnap the mayor. Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, Firefly, The Mad Hatter, even the Penguin has joined Jerome’s cause, it seems. We get another terrifying display of the new Joker Toxin, just in case that nightmarish smile had left our dreams since last
It doesn’t just freak us out, either. Penguin isn’t as on board with Jerome’s plan as he first appears. He contacts Gordon, warning him of Jerome’s plans. At least as far as he knows what they are. The little information Penguin has isn’t all that useful right now, but at least there’s one criminal element Gordon can count on. Jim doesn’t have much time to process the new information before Bullock interrupts with Jerome’s location. The clown has interrupted a street music festival, threatening to start blowing off heads if he doesn’t get what he wants. He means it too. When Gordon refuses to bring him his brother and Bruce Wayne, he sets off some explosives around a hostages neck. This season of Gotham gets especially brutal.
Meanwhile, over at Wayne Manor, it’s Bruce’s birthday. Things are starting to look a little more like Batman. At least, they are in the garage. Alfred got him a new car. It’s not quite the Batmobile, but it is fast, black and bulletproof. It’s a start, but it looks too much like an actual car. Maybe it’ll be outfitted with some wings and sharp edges to make it look more bat-like at some point. Unfortunately, Gordon interrupts the celebrations to ask for his help. Jerome is going to keep decapitating people if he doesn’t see his brother and Bruce. Fledgling vigilante that he is, Bruce agrees to be used as bait. They’ll carry a device that’ll disable Jerome’s remote-controlled explosives. From there, Gordon hopes the GCPD snipers will take care of things. We’ve all been watching this show long enough to know this is going to go horribly wrong. Almost instantly, it turns out.
Jerome saw the sniper play coming. (Duh.) His men were waiting for the police to take their positions before shooting them all with sawed-offs. There’s no backup coming, either. Gordon had already sent Bullock with a team to investigate an attack at a chemical lab. Jerome’s accomplices are creating more Joker toxin. I like that we finally get an episode with all these villains working in concert. Their stories have felt disjointed the last few weeks, and we’re finally starting to see their plan take shape. That’s enjoyable; I really like this aspect of the episode. I’m not a fan of Jerome’s seemingly psychic nature, though. I can accept predicting the Snipers, that’s a total Joker move. But predicting Penguin’s betrayal, and warning the other villains offscreen… it’s not so much calculated as convenient. It feels cheap. Like Penguin is only in the group at the beginning because Gordon needed to find out about the Toxin somehow.
The show does use him well in the end, though. Even if the way it gets there is suspect. After knocking him out, the rest of the villains put him on the blimp with the toxin for some reason. I guess they’re expecting the blimp to crash and kill both Penguin and the pilot? It’s a lame justification for getting him on the blimp, but on the bright side, we get to see him be a hero for once. It’s fun to watch him panic as he steers the Toxin-filled blimp to the river. It’s even better when Gordon lets him stew up there while they weight to get a replacement pilot up there.
But let’s talk about the big moment of the episode. The death of Jerome. It’s a weird time to kill off such a major character, but it appears he never really was meant to be the big bad of his half of the season. We’ve known for a while now that he was never meant to be the actual Joker. Just a prototype. This episode introduced the actual Joker. I’m not thrilled with the way this played out. For such an unpredictable character, this was a remarkably predictable way to introduce him. After Jerome falls to his death just to mess with Gordon (which I gotta admit is a very Joker way to go), his brother returns home with the promise that Bruce Wayne will fund his research. He finds a package that says it’s from Wayne Industries, but come on. We know it’s from Jerome. For a brilliant scientist, this dude is shockingly dumb. He opens the package, and a jack-in-the-box sprays him in the face with a special blend of Joker Toxin. One that permanently turns him into an insane, laughing clown.
So, I get that the whole point of Gotham is showing us the origins of all the Batman villains. But this was the one villain we didn’t need or want a backstory for. Having the Joker, the scariest villain Gotham’s ever seen, be some dude forced to take after his brother? There’s no way for that not to be lame compared to what we’ve seen in the comics and movies. Jack Nicholson’s gangster take on the character has since been overshadowed, but I’d vastly prefer a riff on that version to this. At least his Joker had agency in his actions. This is where Gotham explains too much, and takes some of the terror out of character. And as much as I love the way the Toxin looks on this show, I vastly preferred the smile being created from cuts and scars. It was generally more unsettling. That’s not to say this development is all bad. It’s still Cameron Monaghan playing the role, and he’s a great Joker. This character’s past is also slightly more of a mystery. Jerome spent the last couple episodes hinting that he was just as much of a monster as a child. Maybe that uncertainty will make this new character a better Joker than I expect. In any case, Gotham has its joker. That on its own is pretty cool.
And then there’s Barbara’s story. She’s the head of the League of Shadows now, which gives the Sirens a little more confidence. A group of thugs who show up to murder her and Tabitha are quickly brought down with some well-placed ninja stars. Those won’t ever not be cool. But the story can’t just be Barbara sending assassins after whoever crosses her path. As cool as that would be, the show does have to continue Ra’s Al Ghul’s story. They lead Barbara to a secret chamber where she finds… an old painting of a woman with her face. Yeah, I’m not so sure about this plot, you guys.
It doesn’t get much better from there. Maybe I’m just done with Ra’s Al Guhl on this show, maybe it just hasn’t done anything interesting with the character, but this is the only storyline that’s not clicking at all. Tabitha expresses some doubts about this whole League of Shadows business, and is violently thrown out of the group. After a weirdly prolonged beat-down, another group of men shows up. They want Tabitha to help them take down Barbara because they actually serve Ra’s Al Guhl. Yeah, this plot lost me a while ago. The constant introduction of new Ra’s Al Guhl followers, no but for real this time, is exhausting. Maybe it’ll get better next week, as it appears to be a main focus of that episode. Some real time dedicated to fleshing it out might do this story some good. And it appears tied to Bruce Wayne’s evolution into the Dark Knight. So that could be fun.
Though I have mixed feelings about the way they introduced the Joker, the way the episode got there was enjoyable. It totally fits that a Gotham City street music festival would be as bleak and depressing as it was before Jerome took it over. The hostage situation was fun and gruesome, even if Jerome’s plan made absolutely no sense in the end. Was his intention to get all his henchmen killed, commit suicide and turn his brother with a gassed up jack-in-the-box? Because that’s a really bad plan. Gotham can sometimes feel like the writers are making it up as they go without bothering to check back to see that everything ties together. That was basically this whole episode. It was nonsense, but at least it was fun nonsense.
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