Monday, October 5, 2015

REVIEW: 'Gotham' - Jim and Alfred Face Off with Jerome and Barbara at a Gala in 'The Last Laugh'

FOX's Gotham - Episode 2.03 "The Last Laugh"

Gordon and Bullock track down a nemesis from the past, leading to a standoff between Jerome and Gordon. Meanwhile, a magic show at the Gotham Children's Hospital gala turns into a hostage situation.

Ever since Cameron Monaghan debuted as Jerome, the audience has been speculating on whether or not he is actually the Joker - Batman's greatest rival in the distant future. The appeal of that character has always been in the chaos of his present and an uncertain past. It's never important where the Joker came from. He's in Gotham and terrorizing it. He doesn't need a tragic backstory like what this show is doing for a number of characters from the Batman universe. It's easy to understand why the show would want to include the Joker in its narrative. He is the most well known of Batman's villains. But he doesn't inherently work in the structure of what the show is trying to do. Gotham is about the fall of the city. This season is the rise of the villains. Jerome is a part of that. That character will have a lasting impact on the city and the show. But it's not surprising when this episode promptly kills him off in the end.

Jerome is not the Joker. He is just a deranged criminal who terrorized the city for a little bit and who will be a big influence for the criminal who will one day become the Joker. The show really isn't subtle at all by having Jerome die with the famous Joker look on his face. There's the creepy smile with blood stains around the mouth. It's a chilling image. But it's also abundantly clear what the show is doing. It's setting up the character's importance for the future. He's the reason why the Joker will eventually become a major villain in Gotham. But that is all a nod to what will come in the future. It's the show doing it's best to address it while still being mindful of living in the moment with these characters. The least engaging thing about this episode is the need to setup the Joker's future. That's certainly not what made Jerome a compelling presence in these first three episodes. Sure, it will be his legacy as Theo has no problem disposing of Jerome to move onto the next stage of his plan. But that's not all that important. What is important is the action the characters take in the moment to stop this lunatic terrorizing the city.

Gordon and Bullock are personally motivated to stopping Jerome and Barbara before they can do any more harm. They are doing their best to honor Essen's memory. They don't want to forget what she did or how tragically she died. It's keeping them from moving on with their lives. Jim is so focused on stopping these criminals that he's more grim and dour than ever before. Lee is doing her best to cheer him up. She wants to lift his spirits for a little while so he can return to the case recharged. Instead, Jim insists on focusing on the search for Jerome above all else. That almost gets him and Harvey killed - except for the fact that Theo needs them alive for whatever he has planned for Gotham next.

The show does have a lot of fun with this magical performance at the Children's Hospital gala. It's a chance to bring a lot of the characters together for this one event. It's wonderful that both Lee and Alfred are able to make jokes about there being a magician. Sure, that only lends itself to the show's twisted sense of humor and despair later on. But those two had fun before things took a turn for the night. Jerome was able to put his showmanship on display once again to a captive audience. It's clear early on that Jerome and Barbara are the magicians on stage. It takes the people at the gala a little while to come to that realization as well. The show gets some very eery tension out of Jerome's whole magic act too. He is going to strike at some point during this gala. Theo has made a big deal out of it being a crucial turning point for the city. But it's also compelling to watch as Jerome performs and waits for his big moment to kill. He lures the audience at the gala in with an aura of safety before completely destroying their lives. He gets Bruce on stage but only does a simple magic trick. He does not strike until the Deputy Mayor is up there. That was an important target for Theo. And then, it created a very delicate hostage situation.

Theo wants to be seen as the hero that stopped this madman from killing any more people in Gotham. He stands up to Jerome in a way that no one else in the audience does. The big standoff between Jerome and Jim happens as Jerome has a knife to Bruce's throat. The Bruce story hasn't been all that great this season. Even his reunion with Selena isn't all that compelling. But the dynamic between Jim, Bruce and Alfred is very palpable. Jim won't let anything happen to either of them. And yet, it's Theo who's the ultimate savior. He attacks Jerome which sets Bruce free. He then drives a knife into Jerome's throat to fully enter the next stage of the plan. Again, Theo is just using these criminals from Arkham to get his way. Barbara is the only special one. She escapes to torment the city another day. But now, Theo has gained the confidence and respect of the city. Jim and Bruce are both indebted to him now. That creates a precarious situation where Jim thinks his biggest enemy is actually his new ally. That's a very enticing direction to take for the next stretch of episodes as the rebuilding begins.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Last Laugh" was written by John Stephens and directed by Eagle Egilsson.
  • It's weird but James Frain's performance is so much better when he just goes full-on evil. When he pretends to be a hero for a little bit, it's a little flatter and not as captivating. That probably won't be a big issue. But it was something that seemed slightly off.
  • Jim was hesitant to reach out to Oswald to get answers on who could have possibly broken the criminals out of Arkham. It's because the last time they interacted things didn't go so well - even though Jim got his badge back because of it. And yet, this story also sets up a Harvey-Oswald animosity that could be worth exploring in the future.
  • Why does everyone want to start a romantic relationship with Barbara all of a sudden? Both Theo and Tabitha are falling for her charms. She's a much more interesting character this season. But those twists felt incredibly forced.
  • It was awesome but somewhat awkward watching as Alfred tried flirting with Lee. It was a humorous exchange that worked to strengthen both characters. Plus, it had a hilarious payoff once Jim and Bruce got involved.
  • The Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Police Commissioner are all gone in Gotham. That makes things ripe for the wrong person to be able to come in and take over the city.