Despite my initial skepticism, I have thoroughly enjoyed these first few episodes of Gotham’s second season. My further investment in this season will definitely be put to the test now that a key component of my enjoyment is apparently gone. After a 3 episode run, it appears we have seen the last of Jerome Valeska. I guess he’s not the eventual Joker that the series has so often hinted at. It’s a darn shame considering his insane antics have brought the right balance of dark comedy this series has lacked. The main set piece of this episode, while problematic, helped to make The Last Laugh one of the most enjoyable episodes of Gotham.
The brunt of this episode occurs during a charity gala hosted by Gordon’s girlfriend, Leslie. Right away, this decision drew my ire. Over the last few weeks, Gotham City has been under attack by escaped mental patients. They haven’t hesitated to commit horrid crimes, but no one second guesses hosting this event in the first place. Gordon freely allows her to attend this event knowing that she could be a potential target. Given what we’ve seen from his ex-girlfriend Barbara, she clearly has her sights set on Leslie. This entire set-up was hard to buy into.
The antics of Jerome and Barbara at the gala were both fun and a surprisingly clever subversion of the Batman lore. Their dynamic felt like an early model of Joker and Harley Quinn. It’s much cleverer than the episodes featuring Jonathan Crane for example. I would rather see models for future characters as opposed to the real ones designed for fan service. Given the parameters of this series, we most likely will not see the real Joker and Harley Quinn. However, this episode did an excellent job of showing how those characters could eventually come into existence. We see at the end that Jerome’s legacy may one day inspire someone to become Joker. I’ve always preferred Joker’s origin to be shrouded in mystery, but I also feel Gotham shouldn’t restrict itself to any sort of canon. I never felt like I was being cheated but it does call into question whether or not the eventual Joker would just be a cheap knockoff.
Jerome’s demise was a genuinely shocking moment. After presenting himself as a hero during the gala, Theo Galavan betrays and fatally stabs Jerome to add legitimacy to his new image. Earlier on in the episode, Galavan finally opens up about his aspirations. He blames Gotham City for ruining his family’s reputation and he’s back for revenge. His demeanor doesn’t possess the spark or charisma of Jerome or Penguin, but I like his methodical approach thus far. We also see him introduce himself to Bruce Wayne, potentially planting the seeds for these two to take on a mentor/pupil relationship. At least this would finally do something worthwhile with Bruce.
For lack of better wording, Bruce finally grew a spine in this episode. After Jerome and Barbara take over the gala, he willingly allows himself to be taken hostage in place of Alfred. He’s berated for this by Alfred, but he also sneaks a gun to him via Gordon. After his actions last week, it was rewarding to see Bruce demonstrate how much Alfred means to him. It’s about time Bruce became much more proactive in the public eye. Much like earlier this season, my only concern is where Bruce’s story goes from here.
Gotham has generally succeeded this season with focusing on the big picture. This episode, the first in a while, also succeeded at little moments. Alfred making romantic passes at Leslie, Bullock threatening a possibly inebriated Penguin, Barbara punching Leslie, etc. These moments helped to make all these characters feel important. I’m glad that they’ve shifted away from focusing on too many superfluous characters. Instead, they’re finally making everyone feel important. For the first time in a while, I am fully on board with Gotham.