People don’t often compare Gotham to Game of Thrones, which, trust me, is totally fair. The two series are a little different: One is a 13-time Emmy winner, the other holds the record for Most Extras Wearing Cop Outfits Murdered in a Single Take. One is praised by both critics and viewers as a Prestige Drama in the ‘Golden Age of TV’, the other had an entire episode centered around balloon-themed murder. One is actually a Batman prequel, the other is only a Batman prequel in my 10,000+ word fanfic (working title: The Stark Knight Rises).
However, one piece of praise heaped on Game of Thrones (rightfully so) was the series’ uncanny ability to find young actors–Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, etc etc–that not only transcended the “annoying kid” trope but also more than held their own, often going toe-to-toe with their formidable adult peers. With that said, it’s clear that over the course of three seasons Gotham, under-the-radar and unheralded, has managed to pull off the same feat. Last night’s madcap episode, titled “Smile Like You Mean It” in honor of the recent Presidential Inauguration, was completely stolen by David Mazouz, Camren Bicondova and returning guest star Cameron Monaghan.
Let’s start with Monaghan, who thanks to some Doctor Fuckedenstein lab experiments returns to Gotham City as formerly dead proto-Joker, Jerome Valeska. Now, I went to Catholic school for 12 years and the only firm belief I have is that the Joker shouldn’t have an origin story. Alan Moore is an insane forest recluse that most likely practices the Dark Arts on woodland creatures, but on this, we agree. But if we must have one, if Gotham must do this, then I’ll admit Monaghan is a fantastic actor who does more for the character in a minute of screentime than Jared Leto did in his entire Suicide Squad performance, and Monaghan didn’t even have to harass Viola Davis to pull it off (I assume…I hope). There’s an unpredictable recklessness to Monaghan’s Jerome that combines the best of the impish clown from the 1940s with Mark Hamill’s violent, animated menace (the actor does have a tendency to slip dangerously close to a Heath Ledger impression, but I think that’s because Ledger’s Joker is basically the standard at this point).
When I spoke to Monaghan before last night’s Gotham, he said he approached playing Jerome by going “off-script,” and keeping his co-stars “off-balance,” and nothing will convince me he wasn’t referring directly to the moment Jerome pretended a pistol was his dick:
Now, before we get to the episode’s actual plot (which was just okay, and featured much Jim Gordon mumble-grumble), I want to talk about one particular scene between Mazouz’s Bruce Wayne and Bicondova’s Selina Kyle. Overall, you couldn’t pay me double whatever Bruce paid Balding McGreasygangster to care about this storyline. Basically, Selina’s mom only returned to Gotham City to double-swerve her own daughter for a briefcase full of money because, womp-womp, orphan’s lives are only good in musicals. But what followed–Selina confronting Bruce over how much he understood about her mother’s intentions–was so pitch-perfect I have to assume executive producers and this episode’s writers Bryan Wynbrandt and Steve Lilien have either a deep fondness or deep understanding of these two characters.
Bicondova has, in the past, been given some truly terrible, faux-cool material to work with. “Watup nerdballs, got any Tang?” is something I 100 percent believe Selina Kyle has said on this show before. But here, she couldn’t be more on-point, all fire to Mazouz’s stone. She’s pissed, he’s stoic. She wants to fight, he understands there’s no point. She accuses him of lying, and he responds, “I didn’t tell you the truth.” That is an incredibly on-brand justification for a boy who will one day split his mornings and nights between running a billion-dollar public company and dressing up as a bat to karate kick muggers. It’s great–from the writing, to the performances, to the attention to detail–just great.
Elsewhere, Gotham City is the corrupt, awful, dangerous place it usually is. Oswald Cobblepot’s empire is crumbling on both fronts–the newspapers are calling him Mayor Crumblepot because Gotham’s newspapers are run by toddlers, and the five criminal families refuse to work for him anymore–and the distraction is leading him right into the complex trap Eddie Nygma and Co. have set for him. I know there’s only one more episode before YET ANOTHER break but, much like Barbara Kean, I’d like it if Robin Lord Taylor got to spend more than 10 percent of his screen time out of a bathrobe in his mansion’s living room.
As for Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock, they’re a bit busy with the painted up, Jerome-worshipping cult that’s been worming its way into every facet of society, including the GCPD. Tip for the Jerome Cult: When recruiting police officer moles, recruit one who can run faster than -3 miles per hour.
De facto cult leader Dwight Pollard has a problem: Jerome’s corpse, no matter how many volts of electricity Dwight pumps into it, will not rise from the dead. So Dwight, doing what any enterprising self-starter would do, cuts Jerome’s face off and wears it as his own, declaring that not only is her Jerome, but everyone’s Jerome. Jerome is not a person, Dwight says, he is a way of life, like Crossfit or My Little Pony fandom. Because he’s speaking to a cult, this line of reasoning works, and the cult takes over Channel 9 news to spread their message.
Tip for the unnamed Channel 9 news anchor: When the GCPD tells you “everything is under control,” everything is not under control, and you’re about to be killed with a machine gun.
The GCPD, thanks to zero actual police work and A LOT of firing guns randomly into a crowd, eventually subdues the cult. But woops, turns out Jerome is alive, sans a face, and the croak-laughing, gun-dick-swinging maniac quickly kidnaps Dwight and staples his own mug back onto his skull. As Jokers are wont to do, Jerome immediately commandeers a TV camera and announces to Gotham he’s turning off the city’s lights for the night, during which all crime is allowed. Basically, it’s Purge night in Gotham, a town that runs on a 24/7 Purge schedule already.
“Smile Like You Mean It” ends with Jim Gordon watching from the GCPD rooftop as Gotham’s lights blink out and whispering, “Oh my God.” Whether he’s slowly comprehending the horror of his situation, or realizing how easy it would be to jerk off into Leslie Thompkin’s locker with all the lights turned out, remains to be seen.
As always, let’s run down every reference, fact, and nugget of Bat-history brought up in season 3, episode 13, “Smile Like You Mean It.”
Three Nines, and Joker’s Wild
This episode opens on two security guards (one of whom is secretly a Jerome cult member) playing cards. One of them, who dies soon after, says this:
And then, throughout the episode, we get one nine…
A second nine…
And then a third…
Before, finally…Joker’s wild:
“Joker’s Wild” is also the title of a Batman: The Animated Series episode, which debuted on November 19, 1992. That…probably doesn’t mean anything. Really all you need to know is that episode is delightful, and featured the Joker playing Blackjack with Bruce Wayne.
Death of the Family
Someone on the Gotham writing staff is obviously a fan of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s Batman run that started in 2011. The show has already featured Snyder and Capullo created creations The Court of Owls and The Whisper Gang, and now it’s borrowing from the team’s big Joker arc, “Death of The Family.” The story actually started in Detective Comics Vol. 2 #1 (written and drawn by Tony S. Daniel), which ended with Dollmaker removing the Joker’s face, by request:
When Snyder and Capullo brought the Joker back to Gotham, the character had re-attached his face with a belt-loop, because he only removed it in the first place because of, like, symbolism or something. Doesn’t matter. It ruled. Trust me, it ruled. Go read it. And while Gotham doesn’t play out this exact scenario, there are…certain similarities: