Gotham: The Last Laugh Review

Gotham delivers one of its best episodes yet with a bold death that upsets comic book canon in "The Last Laugh."

This Gotham review contains spoilers.

Gotham: Season 2, Episode 3 

That’s more like it, Gotham!From its onset, this comic book show has wasted its potential by refusing to distance itself from its source material canon. With the death of The Joker in tonight’s ep, Gotham has finally declared itself as a show willing to color outside of the lines. And, thank god. It’s so much more fun outside of the lines.

The first three episodes of this second season could really be viewed as a trilogy. Let’s call it “The Rise and Fall of The Joker.” Though the first two installments of season 2 have been enjoyable and have benefitted from Gotham’s streamlining of its many season 1 plots, it wasn’t until “The Last Laugh” that it all came together. It wasn’t until “The Last Laugh” that the shape of Gotham’s new season really started to take shape. It wasn’t until “The Last Laugh” that this show really made me sit up and take notice.

The death of The Joker.

Jerome’s death was the perfect example of what a TV show based on previous source material should do: Pay homage to the original, sure. Be inspired by it. But don’t treat it as gospel. Otherwise, why retell the story at all? Through his death, Jerome has inspired countless others to pick up the villany torch where he dropped it. Perhaps one of them will become the “true” Joker. Perhaps Jerome is the only Joker this branch of the DC Comics fictional universe will ever see.

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Either way, he has succeeded in his purpose: ensuring that his reputation for villainy will live forever. If that’s all he ever does, Gotham will have paid sufficient homage to this iconic character.

Within the immediate plot, Jerome’s death serves a much larger purpose, of course. With it, Theo Galavan has ingratiated himself to the inner circle of Gotham’s crime-fighting elite. Bruce, Jim, and Alfred all basically pledged their allegiance to him. They all feel as if they owe him a favor and, as we know from Penguin and Jim’s “friendship,” a favor is something this city — and this show — takes very seriously. In this city, a favor is everything. It is one of the only things that seemingly both ends of the hero-villain spectrum respect.

A (mostly) streamlined plot.

Something else this episode did splendidly? Bring most of its disparate storylines together. If you told me last season that Gotham would be able to bring almost all of its characters together in a believable and compelling way, then I wouldn’t have believed you. But, oddly, the Children’s Hospital Gala and Jerome’s takeover of the event did just that. It makes sense that Alfred would drag Bruce there, and Bruce’s initial declaration of hate for magicians, followed by his begrudging enjoyment in the show was classic.

I liked the check-in with the Bruce and Selina dynamic, as well. As for the mechanics of the magic show itself, it worked well given Jerome’s upbringing with the circus. Barbara was sufficiently hidden and then sufficiently maniacal. And the overall tone of campy horror was exactly the kind of signature vibe I have begun to expect and, dare I say, look forward to from this show.

The exception to the impressive plot streamlining of this episode was Penguin, who continues to hang out in his lair, drinking wine and receiving guests. So far, it’s one of the weakest components of this season, which is a shame, really, because Penguin was one of the best parts of season 1. When no other characters seemed to be making bold moves that stuck, Penguin was killing and lying and scheming left and right.

I’m not saying the show no longer knows what to do with him — it’s too early in the season for that declaration — but, in tonight’s episode, his scenes and mentions seemed shoehorned into what was otherwise an efficient plot. (This show isn’t traditionally known for its efficient plots, though it seems to be getting better at them.) Now that much of the other mobster stuff is gone (thankfully) and Theo Galavan is the one plotting behind the scenes, Penguin doesn’t have much to do. It’s lonely and boring at the top — both for a mobster within in Gotham and for a villain within this narrative.

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4 out of 5