Gotham Debuts a Mini-Heath Ledger, Nails a Perfect Simpsons Gag

By  · Published on February 17th, 2015

Fox Television

Anyone else noticing a pattern here? Ever since Gotham returned from its winter hiatus, it’s been caught in a weirdly specific cycle- one knockout hour of goofy insanity, then an hour that Bruno Heller and co. seemed to have sleepwalked through.

“Rogue’s Gallery:” Arkham Asylum breakout. Meh.

“What the Little Bird Told Him:” Electrified rampage, comic bliss.

“Welcome Back, Jim Gordon:” Police corruption. Meh.

“The Fearsome Dr. Crane:” Micropig used as murder weapon. Micropig used as a murder weapon!

“The Scarecrow:” Same micropig killer, total lack of micropigs. Meh.

At least Gotham’s consistent. And at least we’re on the upswing of this pendulum of quality, as “The Blind Fortune Teller” is everything Gotham’s supposed to be: brimming with a slightly unhinged, goofy gothic quality, clown fistfights, supervillain origins and some stuff I can’t even comprehend.

Seriously, I have no idea what’s going on with Fish Mooney right now. So let’s start there.

When last we saw Fish, she had risen to the top of some unexplained dungeon that may or may not be purgatory, only to find that a band of mercenaries was stealing people’s eyeballs. Now, between the end of last week’s hour and the beginning of this week’s, Fish has merged these disparate peoples into a loving family, and she is their courageous leader. Also, this whole thing is just Snowpiercer, with the “lining up the poor and disenfranchised every morning and selecting a few to serve as spare parts” routine.

I’m torn, because this storyline is one of the most crazy/stupid/entertaining things Gotham’s done in its entire run… and yet part (ok, all) of the reason it’s such a treat is because it makes absolutely no goddamn sense. How did Fish turn a bunch of beaten-down prisoners into an organized force in what seems like one, maybe two days tops? Shouldn’t the mercenaries have heard Fish and her group loudly planning their mutiny when they came downstairs to grab another prisoner? Why on earth would Fish’s plan be “let’s murder each other” and not “let’s use our obviously superior numbers to overwhelm the four or five dudes with guns?” That’s what I figured she was talking about when the whole “not all of you will make it” subject came up.

This is the second week in a row where Fish Mooney’s portion of Gotham has existed in a little corner of the universe where human logic no longer applies. Objectively, we should reprimand the show for this. Solid TV writing doesn’t include giant gaps of exposition between episodes, so we have to scramble to figure out why Fish was on a boat attacked by a random boatjacker, and now we’re in what may be purgatory. Or why we can go from what looks like a crack den to a perfectly organized militia in the little space between this week and last week. But Gotham still struggles to balance its own internal weirdness, and if Fish’s journeys in la-la-land can give us a regular shot of crazy when the show’s running low, then I’m all for letting the cannonball-sized plotholes slide.

Also, there’s one other moment of Fish’s storyline this week that’s worth mentioning. It’s actually the reason I bumped Fish up to the front instead of the Joker (who probably deserves top billing on name alone). Did anyone notice, back when Fish was giving her “We are family” rallying speech, that one guy wasn’t buying into it?

Fish: “Those people are using us as transplant donors! We are simply spare parts! Unless… Unless we do something about it!”

Random Dude in the Back: No!

And at this point I paused my Gotham screener, as I was laughing so hard my eyes started to water and I was temporarily blind. What was that? Was that supposed to be funny? Was it an intentional Simpsons reference? Because it comes off like one.

The actor behind the “no” doesn’t sound serious at all. He sounds like he’s playing the line for a laugh (and honestly, he sounds a lot like Hank Azaria doing his Raphael voice). And the only explanation for it is that Gotham was building to its powerful (also, very cliched) rallying cry moment, and decided to purposefully torpedo the whole thing with a single word of unintentional comedy. Bizarre, isn’t it?

Ok, now on to the entree portion of “The Blind Fortune-Teller,” which was just as insane, but actually took place within the bounds of reality. Kinda- apparently, Gordon’s perfectly fine with using a snake as a bloodhound to find its human master (what) but relying on a mystical fortune teller is a step too far. Jim’s right in both cases, of course, because that’s the kind of shaky comic book/real word ground that Gotham navigates. If it sounds made-up, like talking to the dead, it’s a no. If it almost sounds like real life, like super-intelligent dog snakes, then go nuts.

That level of weirdness carries through to our case of the week- which, in “The Blind Fortune Teller,” is a circus-themed Romeo and Juliet (the Capulets, of course, are clowns; the Montagues are acrobats). All of which is a framework for Gotham’s usual “Before They Were Batman” character: the Flying Graysons. Who, in classic Batman lore, eventually give birth to a Dick Grayson. Then die. Then provide young Dick with the perfect level of dead-parent angst to fit in with an equally angsty Batman.

Although “The Blind Fortune-Teller” doesn’t do much (or anything, really) with the Graysons, other then use them as a setup for a murder that ends up having nothing to do with the Graysons. And then a quick wink-and-a-nudge ending tag where a young John and Mary talk about their future son. Instead, their presence is really just a launching pad for Gotham’s Joker origin story. Which makes sense, because if you’re going to prioritize one over the other, Joker’s the way to go. Slapping “The Flying Graysons” on a TV spot gets you a handful of extra viewers, tops. Even the vaguest hint of Joker is bound to draw a crowd.

Here’s the weird part. Gotham’s Joker- that is, the cackling killer boy who kept talking about clowns last night- might not actually be the Joker. At least, not according to Heller. “He may or may not be The Joker,” Heller told The Hollywood Reporter, refusing to say any more than that. “All I can promise is that’s not a bait and switch. It’s a long game we’re playing here.”

What Heller’s saying and what’s showing up onscreen seem like two different things. If Jerome Llloyd is the Joker, then he seems pretty fully-formed. Actor Cameron Monaghan spent the better part of his confession monologue doing a dead-on Heath Ledger impression- the switch between sing-song cackle and guttural growling, the hah hah, ho ho, hee hee laugh and that face. This face, even if what’s linked makes Monaghan look more like a Chucky doll. It’s better in the episode. He’s already the perfect summation of a young Dark Knight Joker by the end of last night’s hour, so a “long game” doesn’t seem possible.

And if he’s not the Joker, and Monaghan spent so much time perfecting his Heath Ledger just to be some token character who, oh I don’t know, pushes the real Joker into a vat of chemicals later on in the season, it’s going to feel like a huge waste of time. A “bait and switch,” as Heller puts it. Honestly, Gotham has a pretty abysmal track record with debuting Batman heavyweights as non-regular roles. Scarecrow started strong but fizzled last week, and we haven’t seen Harvey Dent since 2014. But that’s probably for the best, as Gotham’s Harvey Dent was about as exciting as wallpaper paste. At least Monaghan has charisma, and boatloads of it. Bring him back! Just think what Gotham could accomplish by placing young Bruce and young Joker in the same room.

Also, if Monaghan is our official Joker (and come on, look at the TV spots. Look at that tweet above. How could he not be?), then Heller’s skipped over a pretty crucial part of most Joker origin stories: the reason he puts on the clown paint. Yeah, sure, Dark Knight played ambiguous with it, and Dark Knight has been our cultural arbiter of everything Batman for decade, rarely do the classic comic origins go that route. For example:

“Batman #1”, the 1940 comic that first debuted the Clown Prince of Crime. Here, there’s no origin. Joker is a serial killer. He likes to wear clown paint. Also, from his very first comic he was leaving his victims with rigor mortis smiles. And that’s it, really.

“Detective Comics #168”, which created the closest thing Joker has to a classic backstory. Here, the Joker was originally the Red Hood, a petty crook wearing a perfectly tube-shaped mask with no eyeholes in it. Batman and Robin caught the Red Hood mid-crime, Red Hood slipped and fell into a “deadly chemical mixture” that gave him a permanent clown face. It was about that time that he went completely insane.

“The Killing Joke,” Alan Moore’s 1988 Batman classic, which adds another layer of melodrama to “Detective Comics #168.” Now, the Joker’s a failed standup comedian who can’t make ends meet for his wife and unborn child. He’s roped into a robbery scheme to keep his family afloat, meets Batman, slips, and so forth. Oh, and also his wife and child die, compounding on his craziness.

“Endgame,” Scott Snyder’s arc in current Batman comics, that seems to be pointing in a very different direction- that the Joker is an elder, immortal being with deep ties to Gotham city Could be interesting. Or it could be a fake-out, as “Endgame” isn’t over yet.

You’ve also got your lesser-known origins, like the one in the anthology “Batman Black and White,” that implied Joker wasn’t actually crazy, just a career crook who faked super-deadly insanity to avoid the death penalty. Or a young Joker in the origin-ish “Batman Confidential,” who pushed a young Batman too far and took a Batarang to the face, giving him a Glasgow smile. There’s also Joker’s actual origin, via Jerry Robinson, Bob Kane and Bill Finger: a combination of a Joker playing card they saw one time, and Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs.

In short- what’s the point of throwing us a Joker origin, Gotham, if you’re not gonna give us the “origin” part? Hopefully Heller’s on the money with his “long game” stuff (and as next week’s episode is titled “Red Hood,” he just might be).

Outside of Fish and the circus, there wasn’t much going on in “The Blind Fortune-Teller.” Everyone else got two quick scenes apiece. Barbara met up with Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy, then made a move to win back Jim- only to realize that Jim and the entire Gotham audience have moved on to a more likable leading lady. Penguin ran his club into the ground by making his mother the headlining act, then got a helping hand in the form of a newly brainwashed Butch (so much potential for weirdness here, especially with Butch’s dance moves). And Bruce wanted to talk to the board at Wayne Enterprises. So he did. Other than dancing Butch, there’s not much to report.

If my own fortune-telling skills are worth anything, next week’s Gotham will be somewhere below average (that patter up at the top hasn’t failed so far), but I’m willing to stay optimistic. We could be getting more Joker action (although… how? Jerome Lloyd’s going to be in juvie jail for a looooooong time), and Fish will probably do something that stretches the bonds of reason. Other comic book shows might be more consistent, but how many of those shows can pull off a laugh like Random Dude in the Back?