There’s basically nothing I can say about The Last Laugh in the intro that isn’t a spoiler, so instead, here’s a thing that happened to me this weekend. Saturday night, I was at a sports bar near my house. (Not to watch sports. I like their food.) As per usual, I was wearing a Batman shirt. My waitress asked if I watch Gotham and, you know, of course. She told me her friend had a question and brought another employee over. She wanted to know if “the bald guy who works with Penguin” was Mr. Freeze. And that question actually makes sense when you think about it. Bald guy named Victor, works with the Penguin so you’ve already got that “cold” theme. So I explained who Zsasz is and that Mr. Freeze is a different guy, and then we talked about Gotham some more.

My point, beside the fact that my Internet persona has bled over to the real world, is this: There are people watching and enjoying this show who haven’t read hundreds, or even any, Batman comics. And that’s awesome. So if sometimes it gets a little heavy-handed with reminding you who these people are or who they’ll be in the future, that’s for the benefit of those people. Not everybody knows that “Edward Nygma” is the Riddler, so it’s useful to them when Ed has a question mark coffee mug. Good job, Gotham! And now, we’ll get to the episode.

Gordon and Bullock go question some guys about the whereabouts of Jerome They’re smacking people around and tossing them out windows, and that’s the cold open. Shortest in the history of this show, I bet.

Barbara and Tabitha make out for a bit, which makes Theo noticeably uncomfortable. Eveybody else? Totally cool with it. Tabitha heads out and Theo warns Barbara how fragile she is before praising Barbara for how she handled her part of the Maniax attack – Gordon survived the attack because she lured him away. All part of the plan.

Back at the GCPD, Gordon and Bullock talk about checking with Penguin. Gordon tells Alvarez to follow up with the circus – hey, Alvarez survived! We don’t really know anything about him, but he seems to be one of the good cops and Gordon’s always handing stuff off to him. Anyway, Gordon yells at a uniformed officer who tries to take the crime scene tape off of Essen’s office – it’s staying up until her killer is caught. Gordon yells at the whole office about how serious this is, then Leslie arrives to calm him down.

They talk a little and she reminds him about the event she’s hosting for the Children’s Hospital. She says there’s going to be a magician, and I swear the writers were taking dares to see how many times they could mention the magician in the script. Do not turn it into a drinking game. Gordon perks up a little and they kiss just as Bullock walks in and rightly calls them out for an ill-timed makeout session. He’s got an address on Jerome’s dad – the blind fortune teller.

Speaking of, he comes back home and I giggle because my friend Sam nicknamed him “Uncle Ding-Ding” when he was on Breaking Bad. I can’t think of anything else. Tabitha and Jerome are waiting for him, and they easily overpower an elderly blind man. Sometimes they’re not villains so much as bullies.

Once he’s tied up, Jerome reminisces about his childhood and while he’s going on, Tabitha just roots through the fridge for something to eat. Hee! I think Jessica Lucas is really doing a good job on this show, and I especially love that she’s always in scenes with people who are cranked to 11 and her character can’t even be bothered. Tabitha is not impressed by how big everybody else is willing to go, and it’s so much fun.

Uncle Ding-Ding responds to the diatribe with “You will be a curse upon Gotham. Children will wake from sleep screaming at the thought of you. Your legacy will be death and madness.” This is exactly what Jerome wants to hear, and just before he can stab his dad in the face, Gordon knocks on the door. When they hear a commotion, he and Bullock kick in the door. Jerome’s dad is dead with a bad case of knife to the eye, and his body is rigged with that blue gas, so Harvey passes out almost immediately. Gordon tries to get him to safety, but he gets a whiff so Tabitha and Jerome get the jump on him. Tabitha insists that nobody kill him

Charity Ball! Alfred and Bruce are in attendance, even though Bruce hates magicians. I was hoping so hard for a Zatanna references, and it didn’t happened. Leslie introduces herself to the pair – she’s heard Gordon talk about them. There’s something that’s really funny here, where Leslie is totally cool with the fact that her boyfriend’s best non-Bullock friend is a child. Dude needs to get out more. Bruce offers to get Leslie a drink because he’s smitten, and then Alfred starts flirting with her. Hee!

Bruce spots Selina, who’s picking pockets and acting all distant. She blows him off. Back in the Galavan penthouse, Theo explains to Barbara that Gotham wants a hero and he’s going to give them one. At the ball, the magician had to drop out (he’s tied up in a trunk) so Jerome in a hilarious disguise steps in to replace him. He’s got a funny beard and he’s doing an accent, and it’s kinda cracking me up.

Theo arrives at the ball and chats with Deputy Mayor Kane. Kane is friendly and wants to know things about Theo, and Tabitha just says he’s great in the sack. I’m starting to think they may not be brother and sister. I was going to let the fact that they’re of different races slide, but I don’t think a network show is going to go with sibling incest implications. Well, the CW. Sure. That’s literally the only thing that’s on the CW. Tabitha leaves the ball, possibly because she got a heads up that Alfred is on the prowl.

Speaking of, Alfred is putting the full-court press on Leslie, and because he’s British, she’s quite charmed. Bruce returns and he wants to leave, but Alfred won’t allow it. It’s time for the magic show, with Leslie as the emcee. She introduces the magician, and Jerome goes into his act. Barbara serves as his assistant, hiding her identity with a mask.

Jerome calls up Bruce to be his assistant and it’s the old “sawing the lady in half” trick. The way it’s staged had both me and Alfred convinced that he was actually going to cut Bruce in half, but it’s a legitimate trick.

At GCPD, an exhausted Gordon sends an even more exhausted Bullock home after agreeing that they’ll check with Penguin in the morning. At the magic show, Jerome puts Bruce back together and Barbara leads him back to Alfred. Up close, Leslie clearly recognizes her but can’t put her finger on it. Jerome calls Deputy Mayor Kane to the stage just as Leslie realizes who she’s looking at. She calls Gordon, but somebody grabs her before she can tell him everything.

The show goes on with Jerome announcing that nobody is getting out alive and then stabbing Kane in the heart. Gunmen open fire and Alfred just beats on one of them. Bruce rushes over to protect Selina and the both of them end up ducking behind a curtain. Gordon arrives on the scene just in time to get a call from Jerome. He’s on live TV and he’s strapped Leslie to that wheel that knife throwers use. Barbara, by the way, is going full Harley Quinn here, and it’s fantastic. Jerome has demands, but they’re all ridiculous. One of those demands, by the way, is forty-seven million dollars and that is definitely a Ren & Stimpy reference, bless their crazy hearts.

Inside, while the cameras roll, Theo stands up to Jerome and tries to talk him down. He offers to be a hostage if Jerome will release everybody else and I feel like it’s a bold move to count on Jerome sticking to a plan. Bruce and Selina skitter away backstage, but Bruce realizes he can’t leave if Alfred is still in danger so he heads right back to the shooting gallery.

Inside, Jerome shoots an apple off of a man’s head and demands applause. Barbara threatens Leslie and guarantees she and Gordon will be back together in a year Leslie kicks her right in the babymaker and Jerome announces that it’s time to kill Bruce Wayne, who’s watching from behind a curtain.   Jerome unravels when he can’t find him and decides to kill Alfred instead. Bruce tries to run to save him, but Gordon stops him Finally Bruce runs out to Alfred and tells him there’s a gun in his jacket and Gordon’s waiting. Alfred grabs the gun as Jerome puts a knife to Bruce’s throat and they both open fire on the gunmen. Jerome won’t let Bruce go, but then Theo comes up behind him and stabs Jerome in the neck. Jerome is more surprised than anybody, and that guy is bleeding out. Theo apologizes and told him he had real talent, but it’s time to move on.

Guys? You know how they’ve been setting Jerome up as definitely the Joker? Nope. That dude is dead as hell.

Barbara uses a magic trick to get away, which is great. Crisis averted! So let’s check in with Bullock, who’s off to see Penguin. Bullock taunts him by bringing up his past as an umbrella holder and Penguin just tries to dismiss him. This is a great interaction – the last think Oswald wants is to be reminded of who he really is, but he can’t go killing a cop for that. He’s so rattled and it reminds me of how great Robin Lord Taylor is. Bullock drinks Penguin’s wine and threatens to beat him with a garbage can before telling him to stay away from Gordon. “If you come after Gordon, you gotta come after me. And I still owe you for Fish.” Awesome. All Penguin can do is rage silently.

The carnage at the Ball wraps up with Gordon, Alfred, and Bruce realizing that they make a pretty good team. They all thank Theo for his courage and that guy’s plan is working. Alfred hits on Leslie one last time and realizes as they’re leaving that she’s Gordon’s girlfriend. Hee! Back at the office, Jim takes down the police tape on Essen’s office.

Tabitha gets some dead eyes watching Barbara flirt with her “brother”. Or brother without air quotes. I’m just speculating. There’s a montage of people watching footage of Jerome and laughing out loud, some of them committing violent acts immediately after. And as we see his body on the morgue slab, we hear his father’s words about a curse on Gotham as the episode ends.

–Remember how it looked like the whole season was going to be built around Jerome and he’d probably turn out to be the Joker? I had my suspicions that he was going to die before the season was over to throw all of that into disarray, but I never could have guessed that it would happen by episode three. I just can’t believe how fast this show moves and how willing they are to make big moves week after week. They could have easily turned these first three episodes of the season into six or more and they still would have seemed fast-paced.

I think I got most of my feelings out during the recap itself – I thought it was great and there were some fantastic moments. Bullock bringing up Fish, magician Jerome, Flirty Alfred. It was so much fun and l loved it.

It was great to see Gordon, Alfred, and Bruce as a crimefighting team. Selina coming back to see if Bruce was OK was a nice moment, too. Man, I just love this show.

Alfred hitting on Leslie was kind of neat – in the comics, she has a romantic past with him and not with Gordon.

Here’s my main thought about this episode that isn’t just a smiley emoji. The end of the episode implies that the Joker is ultimately just a guy who follows Jerome’s example. Ordinarily, that would irritate me. It’s one of the reasons I never liked Smallville – that show was desperate to make Superman the least important character in the Superman story. There were other issues with Smallville, but that’s not why we’re here.

And yeah, as much as the Batman fan in me doesn’t want the Joker to have a predecessor, this isn’t a show about Batman and the Joker. It’s about what came before, and for that story to matter, the people making the show need to treat these characters as the most important characters in that universe. Otherwise, they’re telling stories about placeholders, and that’s not going to be compelling in any way. If they want to tell me that the Joker is going to follow in Jerome’s footsteps, I’ll buy in because that’s the story I’m watching this show to see.

Also, for the last 20 years or so there’s been this idea in the comics that bats were a pervasive symbol in Gotham even before Batman. Burning Jerome’s crimes into the memories of every lawbreaker in the city establishes a similar mythological grounding for the Joker

For a character I didn’t want to see on the show, Jerome ended up being a real pleasure to watch and now I’m actually going to miss the guy. Yes, there’s only one way he could have ended up but I didn’t expect it to be this soon.

Next week, we finally get Michael Chiklis! At the rate they’re killing off characters, they have to refresh occasionally.

–For this week’s Recommended Reading, why not try out a swell Joker story. I recommend 2005’s Batman: The Man Who Laughs. Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke tell an updated version of the first time Batman fought the Joker, and it hits just the right Joker balance. He’s crazy and terrifying, but not an unstoppable force of nature. It’s a good one, and Mahnke draws one of my favorite versions of Joker.

 

See you next week!

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