“Rise of the Villains: The Last Laugh” – aired 10/5/2015 – ***** stars
Written by John Stephens
Directed by Eagle Egilsson
*Spoilers are contained within
The second season of Fox’s Gotham has been a remarkable way to start each week of television for fans and critics. The strengths of its sophomore year shows an assured sense of pacing and of its placement within the DC television universe. While season one came across unbalanced at times, season two of Gotham has demonstrated a clear understanding of its characters and city, and of why this should always have been appointment television. Redubbed “Rise of the Villains”, each episode has fallen under that banner and has greatly tied into what pretty much any and every cast and crew member has said about the chief focus of the show going into its second year. Gotham is primarily a show about the people who make up a city; a city that one day will be in need of a dark knight. If ever that motif was true, “The Last Laugh” is the perfect episode to illustrate what the series is all about.
A Simplicity Almost Mythological .
Gotham knows how to begin and close an episode. Each episode is primarily bookended with the simple usage of a title card that reads: Gotham. Nothing more and nothing less, the Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon created series opts out of the big fanfare that many of us are accustomed to with series intros and instead follows in the footsteps of fellow DC based programs The Flash and Arrow. “The Last Laugh” opens with Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bullock (Donal Logue) throwing people out of a window in an attempt to threaten the whereabouts of Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) out of some disposable thugs. It’s a forceful way to start an episode, especially as the initial body flies out the window, we don’t necessarily associate it with Gordon. It works in very much the same way that we don’t associate a television show airing at 8 pm ET to have such a violent and brutal tone. In just the same way that every episode of Gotham begins with a sense of immediacy, every ending follows suit. “The Last Laugh” concludes on the promise of a curse upon the city. It gives the series a near biblical and positively mythological underpinning that reminds us that this is all based on a DC Comic series with a 76 year history. We don’t necessarily need to tune in next week, but we almost have to due to no longer a sense of obligation, but a sense of this working as modern-day appointment television.
“A legacy of death and madness.”
The blind fortune-teller and Jerome’s father speaks a curse upon his soon early on in “The Last Laugh.” He says that Jerome will be “a curse upon Gotham. A legacy of death and madness.” It’s spooky in the sense that his father was believed to have psychic abilities and also possibly due to the performance by Mark Margolis as Paul Cicero. (Let’s not forget he was also on an episode of last year’s short-lived NBC series Constantine.) Before Gordon and Bullock arrive to apprehend Jerome, we get a very exposition heavy scene that involves a son speaking of his disturbed childhood and his father’s lack of love. It borders on territory that feels almost like a self-serving wagon hitched ride to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, specifically Heath Ledger’s Joker. Especially with the knives! However, Cameron Monaghan has become a MVP of Gotham and has reached a height of popularity that may have even surpassed Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin at this point. He’s that good in the role and knows how to capture your attention in the way that an actor playing the Joker would need to. However and almost comically tragic is of how immediate Jerome is killed off within the final part of “The Last Laugh.” Cameron Monaghan, an actor just moments prior seen as an MVP, is no longer with the show. While his death in the third episode ties back to the idea that no one is safe from being killed off, just like Captain Essen’s death in the last episode, it does serve the story and mythology in a great way. While various citizens watch the news and see Jerome’s reign of terror replayed, we see how his villainous level of theatricality inspires the depraved. Countless citizens start laughing, some kill others and we see how Jerome’s “legacy of death and madness” has become “a curse upon Gotham.”
In speaking with a friend and fan of Gotham, Joseph G of Maspeth, he had the following to say: “I love how they didn’t make the Joker a person… they made him an entity. It ties into Joker’s lack of a backstory.”
“Am I a hero?”
Theo Galavan (James Frain) has become the resident bad guy for season two’s Rise of the Villains. We don’t know all that much about him, whereas last season’s primary arch characters were Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith), Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), and the mob; we knew plenty about them. So here’s some food for thought: Is Theo Galavan a smoke screen for an actual DC Comics villain?
Much like the Harrison Wells/Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne gambit of season one on The CW’s The Flash, I think it’s possible that the villain James Frain is playing could be more than just one created for the sake of the series. Yes, Fish Mooney was an original character, but would they follow that up with another original character?
“The Last Laugh” is framed around Theo Galavan using Jerome and the charity ball as a way to gain favor in the public eye. He stages the event to look as if he’s the only one brave enough to confront Jerome and save Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and after the conflict is resolved (Theo kills Jerome) he asks Barbara is he’s a hero. He’s not so much playing the torn and conflicted villain, but more so the calculating master planner concerned if his antics went over well.
I very much enjoy James Frain and his reserved psychopathic performance. He’s an excellent actor and addition to the cast and let’s not forget his role in the film Reindeer Games, which starred Ben Affleck. Theo Galavan is a villain bent on cleansing Gotham City and ensuring that Gordon is destroyed “body and soul.” He briefly speaks with Barbara (Erin Richards) about his past early in the episode and the immediate thought is of how his family must have ties to the Court of Owls. Or that he’s Ra’s Al Ghul.
Or Theo Galavan is just Theo Galavan.
“The Last Laugh” closes its doors on Captain Essen’s death, Gordon and Bullock’s anger, and the Jerome is the Joker story. While season two continues the “Rise of the Villains” theme, it would appear as if the next episode is heading in a more GCPD focused direction while the law begins to mount their case against The Penguin. Season two has been highly rewarding to those that have continued watching from season one and is sure likely going to buy the show more fans. Overall, the writing is considerably more focused and tighter with character arcs developing in a more complete way. I’d like to point out David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, Sean Pertwee as Alfred, and Erin Richards as Barbara. All three actors have grown their characters in a terrific way since season one and are possibly the most fun to watch.
Gotham airs Monday nights on FOX at 8 pm ET. Check your local listings.