This review contains spoilers.
2.3 The Last Laugh
The Last Laugh promised us a lot. As the third part of the ‘Rise Of The Villains’ trilogy that has started season two, it had the small task of following two of the best Gotham episodes ever. Also, we were promised a magician several times.
And, boy oh boy, that promise was fulfilled. By putting Cameron Monaghan at centre stage and giving him a truly theatrical and twisted scheme to enact, writer John Stephens has crafted Gotham’s best episode yet. As the scribe who also penned my least favourite episode ever, The Balloonman, that’s quite a turnaround.
The set-up for this episode was simple enough: Jim is on the hunt for Jerome, but by rejecting a social invitation from Leigh, he actually nearly misses his next attention-seeking criminal activity. Thanks to Theo Galavan’s outlandish plan, the proto-Joker wreaks deadly havoc at a children’s hospital fundraiser, whose guest list just so happens to include Bruce Wayne, Alfred, Leigh and Selina.
Although the non-magician-act scenes were fairly impressive in of themselves (Jerome killing his dad, some sweet Leigh/Jim material, the burgeoning love triangle between Barbara and the Galavans, Harvey threatening Penguin), The Last Laugh will undoubtedly be remembered for Jerome’s on-stage performance as The Great Rudolpho and, essentially, Gotham’s first incarnation of The Joker.
He’ll certainly be a hard act to follow. In these well-written scenes, Mr Monaghan truly sizzled as the laughing lunatic, throwing knives at deputy mayors, threatening to kill Bruce (“his parents died in an alley!”), lapping up the press attention with some stellar showmanship and – to our great enjoyment – actually performed some genuine magic tricks.
Killing him off was an interesting choice. While we’ll miss Monaghan’s ever-improving performance, killing off a core villain could be exactly what Gotham needed. Now, all the bets are off. From now on, we’ll be seeing several copycat Jokers (in everything but name and make-up design, at this stage) giggling and murdering their way around town.
While Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman and Scarecrow’s arcs are predictable enough from this point onwards, there’s no guessing who might die and who might flourish in a ‘who’s the real Joker?’ plot strand. Indeed, we might not ever get an answer to that question. That’s a hook that the show can really run with.
Adoring admirer/sassy sidekick/lunatic love interest Harley Quinn is rarely far from The Joker in the comics these days, and it was terrific to see Barbara Kean embrace that kind of role in The Last Laugh – dressing up, flirting with everyone, embracing the theatricality of the scheme and openly expressing her romantic dreams (albeit focusing on Jim, not Jerome – but still).
Erin Richards has more than earned some praise here, turning a dull character into an immensely intriguing one. With several suitors and a collection of chips on her shoulder, I’m genuinely interested to see where the writers take her going forward. That’s really saying something given how much I wanted her ditched from the show last year.
It’s worth mentioning David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee before we wrap things up. It was great to see them involved in the main action this week. Although Bruce was a bit of a knob to abandon Alfred during a hostage situation, the suggestion that the two of them had now become members of a ‘team’ with Jim was enough to send shivers down my spine.
Also, as Jerome shouted out for the hidden-behind-a-curtain Bruce, I really got a sense that the young Master Bruce could have it in him to become the Batman. That doesn’t happen very often. Mazouz’s conflicted performance was brilliant, though – I half expected him to stealthily diffuse the situation himself. The ‘split personality’ joke was great too, as were Alfred’s hopeless attempts at flirting with Leigh.
So, with this whopping opening trio of episodes, Gotham has teed up season 2 very well. Bruno Heller and co. have introduced a new baddie (James Frain, who continues to impress), set up some interesting side arcs (Harvey and Penguin has us excited, as does Barbara’s unpredictable strand) and established the could-be-brilliant concept of copycat Jeromes, all of which could make for great viewing if the standard of writing stays this high. We really hope it does.
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