[SPOILERS ahead for Gotham season 1, episode 16.]
The transformation of Gotham began weeks ago with Falcone’s grasp for power, then continuing on to the two-part introduction of the psyche of Scarecrow. It’s now time for the Joker to have his day in the city, and this week series creator Bruno Heller returns to write the character reveal fans have been asking about from the start. Just don’t call it a comeback.
In “The Blind Fortune Teller”, Heller walks us through a murderous tale which circles the vibrant circus world – a place that, one day, will birth Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) partner, Robin. This is largely a Joker episode though, make no mistake; and no matter how inviting the environment we find ourselves in, it’s impossible not to recognize that such a heavy-handed focus on such a seemingly new character feels like a departure from the realistic, cohesive world that Gotham is erecting with each passing week. The “problem”: Cameron Monaghan is too strong of an actor as Jerome (Joker?), and he delivers the best scene the series may ever see.
Monaghan joins Gotham fresh from the Showtime’s award-winning comedy/drama Shameless; which, among many things, is known for having an exceptional cast of young actors – who essentially carried the weight of the show through much of its first, star-studded season. Monaghan comes with a well-earned level of confidence from the school of John Wells (West Wing, ER) and more or less telegraphs the superficial requirements of him through much of this episode. That is, until the final interrogation scene changes everything.
At some point during Gordon’s romantic awakening, Fish Mooney’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) homeless conquering, and Cobblepot’s (Robin Lord Taylor) floundering Freud-inspired business endeavor, the star-crossed circus lover story (involving Robin’s parents) falls away enough to allow for the convenient investigation to circle back to its final purpose: for the Joker to be born. And born he was, surprisingly – too surprisingly. Laugh after laugh, grin after grin – it’s clear Monaghan is inspired by all of the many interactions of the Joker we’ve seen on film and television. Much like his character on Shameless, Monaghan is able to provide an earnest, sometimes terrifying twist to character traits and tv tropes which have being recycled infinitely. So when it comes to the Joker, it’s no surprise that Monaghan can shine when the time comes. Whether or not he’d fit as a recurring character is another story.
With much of the weight of the episode placed on Jerome’s shoulders, it’s no surprise that the few fixer-upper story-arcs attached this week are, more or less, trying to service the larger story – which they arguably do to some success – without actually trying to impact the main plot thread in “The Blind Fortune Teller”. This, again, is not ideal, and extremely noticeable to everyone watching at home; however, slightly pushing Barbara (Erin Richards) back towards Gordon (Ben McKenzie) , and Bruce towards Wayne Enterprises, helps maintain the semblance of a world that exists while the Joker is being conceived at the fairgrounds. Also, Barbara Kean does need to come back sometime.
For all intents and purposes, Gotham is still a mix back as an entity, overall, as there are still too many possibilities to use big names and heavy-handed reveals to help smooth out what would otherwise be considered structure problems. That being said, someone who works casting at Gotham is not getting paid enough for the excellent job they’re doing with each and every guest star (as well as most every recurring role).
At this point, Gotham can easily become “Little Batman: The Show” and likely pull it off; the pieces Heller and his writing staff already have in place are more than powerful enough to carry an audience interested in such a story. Even so, it’s clear that’s not where the future of the series lies; and as such, one must applaud the work that’s being done to continue to develop the many pieces of the show’s growing world, while also serving up a youthful “Mr. J” to delight viewers while doing so.
Gotham returns next Monday with “Red Hood” @9pm on Fox.