I had high hopes for the second season of Gotham — maybe that was my downfall. The show struggled to find its tone in season one, but a couple episodes into season two, it had finally settled for a kooky, Batman Forever feel. (Listen, that movie has its merits.) The Penguin's big arc from season one was wrapped up and now he's a glorified background character, which is exactly where I want him. Still, the fact that several new actors joined the crowded show gave me reason to pause. The teaser warned that monsters were coming, and Theo Galavan (James Frain) and Tigress (Jessica Lucas) would be among them.
That's cool and all, but since last season had teased us with possible glimpses of the Joker, one might assume that he would be the new big bad. Cameron Monaghan, whose character, Jerome, had been the primary candidate for Joker-hood, posted a picture of himself during season two production that basically confirmed his status. Indeed, he plays a big role in the first episodes of the second season, then in episode three, Theo Galavan stabs him in the back. More literally, he stabs him in the neck, but the point is that the Joker, if he even really was the Joker, is dead.
Earlier in the episode, Jerome visits his blind fortune-teller father, who tells Jerome that his legacy would be "death and madness." Before the episode's end, we see several of Gotham's young men watching Jerome on various TVs, re-creating his infamous cackle. Get it? Jerome is dead, and he has inspired madness. So does that mean Jerome isn't the Joker? Is the actual Joker just inspired by Jerome's madness? If that's the case, why is the episode titled "The Last Laugh"? Wouldn't that ostensibly close the door on further Jokers to come? Or does that mean Jerome gets the last laugh by inspiring another young man to take over in his evil stead?
The bigger question is: why do this at all? Monaghan's Jermone/Maybe Joker is by far the most entertaining character on the show right now, but instead of having him carry the season, the writers have him shine bright only to burn out. It feels like a cruel bait-and-switch to tease Batman's biggest nemesis, then have him immediately murdered by a less interesting villain. It doesn't make sense that Gotham would strive for such an eccentric tone, then determine that instead of an insane, chaos-craving maniac, the big bad would be a buttoned-up businessman. Granted, his sister is Tigress, but even she's no match for the Joker. For your reference, the guy above is the one we're supposed to be afraid of now.
Now, there are reasons that Monaghan would have left. He was only ever billed as a guest star, and he has a recurring role on Shameless. He's also filming a miniseries called Mercy Street for PBS. It's very possible that his shooting schedule could have conflicted with Gotham's, but that doesn't mean his character has to die. For those of you wondering if he really dies, rest assured that the episode ends with a close-up of Jerome's twisted smile, which is affixed to his face permanently in the afterlife. The boy is dead.
RIP, dear Jerome. You'll probably always be the best part of Gotham.