Gotham S02E03 “The Last Laugh” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel 5, Mondays, 10pm
Writer: John Stephens
Directors: Eagle Egilsson
Essential Plot Points:
- Literally the first thing we see this episode is a man being hurled from a window. Jim and Harvey interrogate his terrified friend and he offers to help. They tell him to put the word out that the GCPD are coming for Jerome. Then throw him out of the window too. Never switch to decaf, Jim!
- MEANWHILE, AT EVIL TOWERS! Barbara and Tabitha have, it’s implied, spent the night together. Tabitha is getting suited up to go clean up a loose end. And, this being Gotham, her idea of incognito is bullwhip, knives, all-leather catsuit and stiletto heels. Barbara kisses her, tells her to bring back bagels and then has breakfast delivered by Theo. Tabitha does not look happy. Neither do we.
- Theo, whose toast rack is awesome by the way, explains that the Maniax are just stage one and Barbara will be front and centre for stage two. He explains his family built Gotham and have been forgotten and he plans to change that.
- Back at the GCPD, Gordon coordinates the surviving officers. They chase down leads on the circus Jerome grew up in. Gordon sees someone take down the crime scene tape over Essen’s office and he cooks off, yelling at the other cops.
- Leslie finds him and they chat. She reminds him of the charity gala that night and Jim flatly states he can’t go. She jokingly mentions there’ll be a magician and he relaxes for a moment. They kiss and Harvey appears to explain they have a lead. Jerome’s dad left the circus and is still in the city…
- At Jerome’s dad’s apartment, the blind old man is met by his son and Tabitha. Jerome torments his father, explaining that his callous worldview is what made Jerome what he is. He plants plans for Arkham, knockout gas and letters with secret coded escape instructions and prepares to kill the old man. Defiantly, his father tells Jerome he’s a curse and…
- …Jim and Harvey knock on the door. They hear a scream and kick it in to see Jerome’s father dead with a knife sticking out of his eye. Jim runs for the window, Harvey disturbs the knockout gas boobytrap on the body and they stagger outside. Jerome and Tabitha attack them but Tabitha warns the young man off. She calls dibs, kicks Jim in the face because that’s pretty much all she’ll get to do this episode and they leave.
- MEANWHILE, AT THE GALA! Alfred and Bruce rock up. Bruce complains that he has to be there and Alfred points out the Waynes were patrons of the charity so he has no choice. Leslie greets them, looking stunning and Alfred clearly forgets how to think anything other than ‘…’ for several seconds.
- He recovers, sends Bruce for a water for Leslie and flirts with her in a surprisingly good natured and charming way.
- The Galavans are talking to the deputy mayor who good naturedly drills Theo on his past and how he does everything he does. Tabitha replies, “He’s a monster in the sack.” In other words, “My brother is excellent at sex and I MIGHT have firsthand knowledge of that.” The deputy mayor gets the hell out of dodge as Theo wonders what’s got into Tabitha and we wonder if this show is ever going to write a non-hetero woman who isn’t a ravening psychopath.
- Anyhoo, nearby Bruce spots Selina and tries to make up. The young thief is busy working and shuts him down, hard. Alfred suffers the same fate and when Bruce returns he asks to leave. The butler turns him down and, with Leslie on MC duties, she persuades them to stay,
- Backstage, an aide asks someone how he knew their magician had had to cancel. Jerome, in a frankly hilarious beard, replies, “Magic!”
- The show begins and there’s a neat fakeout where it looks like Jerome and Barbara as his lovely assistant are about to cut Bruce in two. Instead the young boy escapes unscathed. Then, Jerome calls the deputy mayor to the stage…
- Back at the GCPD, Jim and Harvey are resting up from the effects of the knockout gas. Harvey politely calls his partner on his, “I AM THE NIGHT, I AM JUSTICE!” schtick and points out that not only did he know Essen longer, but he owed her more.
- At the gala, the mayor heads to the stage. Barbara bows, her mask falls off and she winks at Leslie. Leslie calls Jim and is immediately kidnapped as, on stage, Jerome murders the deputy mayor. His henchman lock the doors and all Hell breaks loose.
- As does Alfred who kick so much arse to get Bruce clear. Bruce instantly spoils this by going after Selina and Alfred gets knocked out. The Bat-Teen and his not-quite-girlfriend escape though.
- Jim rolls up and tries to call Leslie. Instead he finds himself negotiating with Jerome who is still broadcasting live. Leslie is now tied up on one of those spinning wheels magicians throw knives at and Jim decides to go in to get them. The GCPD officer on site, not unreasonably, points out that Jerome murdered a lot of his friends and they’re not equipped to deal with him. Jim spots Selina emerging from the entrance she snuck in through and decides to go it alone.
- Theo Galavan makes his move trying to talk Jerome down. He gets knocked out for his trouble, after begging for the audience to be released.
- Bruce, who refused to leave without Alfred, watches as Jerome threatens his butler with death unless Bruce reveals himself. He’s just about to when Gordon, who snuck in with Selina’s help, stops him. He gives the teenager a gun and sends him out. Alfred hugs him, takes the gun and Bruce takes to the stage. Jerome sends someone to check behind the curtain and…
- ACTION! Jim and Alfred demolish Jerome’s cronies but he still has Bruce. Neither man has a clear shot and it’s a standoff until Jerome is stabbed in the neck… BY THEO GALAVAN!
- EPIC TWIST! Galavan apologises to the confused young psychopath as he dies. He had other plans…
- Barbara makes a run for it and, magnificently, escapes via one of the magic tricks. Evil Debbie McGee lives to fight another day.
- Nearby, the Penguin watches in disgust as Jerome dominates the air waves. Harvey arrives and threatens him, telling the new King of Gotham to leave Jim Gordon alone. As he leaves, he reminds the Penguin that Harvey still owes him for Fish Mooney…
- As the scene is cleared, Jim and Leslie thank Galavan and Alfred for their help. Bruce points out he, Alfred and Jim are a team and Jim, in an ever so slightly creepy moment, tells Leslie to kiss him. She does so and Alfred gets the point. The audience breathes a sigh of relief as one love triangle is exorcised before it can fully form.
- At Evil Towers, Theo and Barbara watch the news, pleased with how things went. Tabitha watches as they kiss and the audience screams as the worst version of a love triangle takes form in front of us! NOOOOO!
- At the GCPD, Jim and Leslie take down the tape over Essen’s office.
- All over the city, news of Jerome’s death is greeted with relief by some and horrible joy by others. We watch as his maniacal laugh is adopted by murderers, thugs and monstrous pieces of humanity. We cut to the Gotham morgue and Jerome’s face, frozen in a terrifyingly familiar grin as his father’s line about him being a curse plays one more time…
Well that escalated quickly. Jerome is no more, but the Joker is alive and well and everywhere. We’ll get to Gotham’s treatment of that in a moment. First, the very good and the very, very bad.
I cannot say enough nice things about the direction on this show. Eagle Egilsson does great work this episode and the final scene in particular is a brilliantly handled piece of bottled-up action direction. It’s also just a little bit over-the-top, and Egilsson has a lot of fun with slow motion, intense perspectives and close-ups. Plus it fits absolutely with the previous two episodes. This is a show that has a really strong visual identity and that helps paper over the cracks that are starting to form in the story arc.
Thankfully none of those cracks involve the central characters. Jim Gordon, grumpiest man in Gotham is being particularly well served so far. Ben Mackenzie’s always been great in the role but this episode sees him start to step into a leadership role and has the courage to show him not being very good at it. Jim is a weird combination of a ruthlessly efficient soldier and a slightly demented gunslinger and we get to see them both here. Even better, we also get to see him buy into his own hype and the moment where Harvey gently but firmly calls him on his nonsense is really nicely played.
Even better, Jim and Leslie continue to be an actual couple of actual grown-ups with occasional issues that don’t make you want to put your foot through your screen. Morena Baccarin brings an effortless intelligence and engagement to Leslie Thompkins that would have been all too easy to make passive. Instead, she’s consistently written as a smart, perceptive woman who is acutely aware of the shortcomings in her boyfriend. She doesn’t try and bully him into fixing them either, rather steering Jim towards the best version of himself. It’s a subtle, sweet relationship that anchors the salvation of Jim Gordon without taking anything away from Leslie and the show’s to be applauded for that. Similarly, Harvey’s reinvention as dutiful, if still cheerfully violent, cop is very welcome.
That brings us to the bad guys. Jerome first off, because the little fella wouldn’t want to wait in line. Cameron Monaghan has been a massive asset to this show and it’s been amazing to see him go through the toyboxes of previous Jokers and see what he’s keeping. We’ve had the mannerisms of Nicholson, some of the delivery of Ledger and the gleefully malicious theatricality of Hammill all wrapped around his own unique delivery.
Superficially it’s bad that he’s gone. In practice I think this is the best possible way they could have handled it. The idea that Jerome inflicts the wound on Gotham that becomes the Joker is one the comics have played with before and it’s very well handled here. Jerome, to borrow a line from Nicholson, gave a name to Gotham’s pain. Whoever comes next will give it a face. I don’t envy them given the talent that’s played the role before. Talent Cameron Monaghan deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with.
Elsewhere on the dark side of the street, things take a turn for the worse. Tabitha Galavan is reduced to little more than eye candy, not that she was much more than that previously. Worse still, the show runs exuberantly at the lowest hanging fruit of all drama tropes; the love triangle. I talk in detail about just why this is an awful plan below but one of the largest reasons is also the simplest; it’s boring. Worse still, its ground the show has trodden before during the season long horror fest that Barbara endured last year. She deserves much better, the show deserves much better and so do we. The bag of clichés that the show’s non-heterosexual characters keep pulling from didn’t work last year. This year it’s even worse and, if the show keeps going down this road with Barbara and Tabitha, then it’s going to go very wrong very fast. And when it does, it won’t even have Jerome to use as a distraction.
- Gordon and Harvey do actual police work! That involves actual thinking! As well as throwing guys out of windows!
- Jim and Leslie are just straight up adorable. Plus Leslie’s magician joke makes Jim do this face.
- Alfred’s rabbit-in-headlights reaction to Leslie’s frankly stunning outfit and hairdo is one of the most endearing moments the series has yet produced. There’s the slightest hint that Mr Pennyworth is trying to get more in his life than simply training Bruce. I’d really like that as, out of all the versions of Alfred we’ve seen, this is the one that seems to need it the most.
- Galavan’s turn to camera and introduction during the hostage situation is wonderful. You can almost hear the maniacal chuckle he’s tamping down.
- Alfred and Gordon dismantling the Maniax is both a great action scene and a good character beat. These two guys are ex-soldiers. They will kill to protect their friends and get the job done. Even then, there’s clear distance between them. Gordon is focused entirely on the stage and Alfred, you’ll notice, takes time to shoot a downed criminal in the head. Which is both very very grim and speaks to just what level of bad man he used to be.
- “Bring back bagels.” For a single shining moment it’s just possible Barbara and Tabitha are a happy, if psychotic couple. Then it all goes to hell.
- “We carved the bed rock on which it stands but there is not a bridge, an alley, a DITCH that carries our name.” James Frain is so good here. There’s real malice and intellect below Galavan’s good natured, ebullient psychopathy.
- “Look, I’m just sayin’ I’ll chuck mokes outta windows till the cows come home but at some point we gotta go see Penguin.” Harvey Bullock, Gotham’s Finest.
- “Sarah Essen and nine of your brothers were killed in this house! IN OUR HOUSE! Their murderer stood right there and he LAUGHED AT US! Never forget that!” For the first time, Jim’s starting to feel like a natural leader. He’s a really tightly wound one sure but still.
- The“‘but there’s going to be a magician” running gag is one of those deliciously odd gags that only Gotham can really land. I love how everyone’s so excited about it, even Jerome and Barbara who clearly have huge fun doing the stage act.
- It’s nice too that Bruce and Selina are the only two who don’t dig it. For the adults, the magician is a chance to be a kid again. The children of Gotham have lost their innocence already so they don’t see the point in it.
- Like I say it’s an odd gag but it works. If nothing else for the ludicrously sweet Grumpy Jim/Leslie moment it gives us at the top of the episode.
- “Hiya pops. Long time… NO SEE.” A little on the nose, Jerome but hey, never turn a good pun down.
- “You will be a curse on Gotham. Children will wake from sleep screaming at the thought of you. Your legacy will be DEATH and madness.” Excellent speech you awful awful man.
- Every evil bastard in the world was just a kid once.” This all-new, all-contemplative Harvey is really fun. I hope we get to keep him.
- “Alfred says there’s gonna be a magicia…” “I’m working. And I hate magicians.” Aside from how great the magician running gag is, this piece of delightful teenage awkwardness is just lovely.
- “Well it gets a bit tedious after a while, parachuting into one global hotspot after another, warlords putting ridiculous bounties on your head. Gets a bit boring.” Alfred Pennyworth, international man of mystery ladies and gentlemen
- “YOU SON OF A BITCH!” “True but… not the point.” Oh Jerome. You precious, spiky, terrifying little flower.
- “47 million dollars, a helicopter obviously, the dry cleaning I left at Mr Chang’s – be careful the man is a crook – and oooh, I don’t know… a PONY!” Cameron Monaghan never met a line he didn’t chew up during his run on this show and that’s what makes his proto-Joker so great. This entire speech.
- The seamless gear change from the maniacal laughter to, “I think that well,” is perfect. Oh Jerome, we will miss you.
- “See, someone like that has no interest in building things.” This show is WEIRD. The same episode that deals with Tabitha with all the subtlety of a Whitesnake album cover gives us this. One single line and we know everything that makes the Joker and the Penguin different. Cobblepot wants to build. The Joker, as another version of Alfred says, just wants to watch the world burn.
- “Aw bugger.” “Alfred.” “You knew didn’t you?” “I didn’t know, Alfred.” “You did, you let me make a right mug of meself.” I will take an entire episode of Sean Pertwee and the increasingly great David Mazouz arguing any time you want to produce it, Gotham.
- “Some people say Bruce has a split personality.” On the nose, Jerome. WAY too on the nose.
- The Leslie/Alfred/Bruce love triangle is an awful idea that passed so close to being real we can feel the breeze as it passes by. Thankfully, it leads to a moment that’s actually kind of sweet and funny.
- The Galavans/Barbara love triangle is an awful, AWFUL idea that hits centre mass. Let’s move aside the implication of incest that we pretty clearly get (because EWWWW) and take a look at just why this is rubbish. Firstly, it robs Barbara of pretty much all the agency she spent the entire first season being denied. She’s a pawn, again, this time between two siblings. Now there’s every possibility she’ll either see that or is already playing them off against one another but even that’s a bad move. Because if she is then Barbara is another in the long line of, “bisexual equals slut” pseudo characters that TV inflicts on us every time it tries to be edgy.
- Secondly, it pretty much officially turns Tabitha into this season’s Barbara. Poor bloody Jessica Lucas, playing a character who looks like a 1980s BDSM fantasy, isn’t even given a name for her first episode and whose job appears to be “grumpy horny lesbian sniper”. Tabitha’s an empty space where a character should be and tacking something as cookie cutter as a love triangle onto her only makes that so much worse.
- Right now, Gotham is saying that being bisexual, or a lesbian, means you’re either insane, a criminal or also enjoy sleeping with a relative. The fact that Lucas is now the only non-Caucasian cast member there is upgrades this from simply extremely bad to full on disastrous. Fix the character or write her off and take a third run at writing a non-heterosexual woman who is both sane and defined by something other than her libido.
And the Random:
- Deputy Mayor Harrison Kane is played by Norm Lewis, a giant of Broadway and the first African-American actor in history to play the lead role in Phantom Of The Opera.
- Paul Cicero, the oh so doomed father of the proto-Joker, is played by the magnificent Mark Margolis. He’s been in loads of stuff including recent turns in Elementary and Constantine, a memorable role as Tio Salamanca in Breaking Bad and Antonio Nappa in Oz. He’s also Ace’s landlord in one of my favourite scenes in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.
- The music playing as we see people enter the gala is “The Dirty Boogie” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
- Shot of the week is Theo Galavan’s epic Blue Steel
Review by Alasdair Stuart