There’s a problem with origin stories.
If you’re interpreting them, then you can either get it right or wrong. You can either make a good job of it or you can cock it up.
When you’re inventing an origin story, though, you’re risking something else. If you make a bad job of it, you’ll either lower your version of the character you’re originating, or you cheapen the character itself.
The reason I raise this is the claim that Gotham will give us a Joker origin story. Possibly in this very episode. Now, I’ve never yet met an origin story for Mr J that I actually liked, and part of the fun of the character is that he’s an enigma, a whirlwind of chaos without a past.
I’ve enjoyed Gotham a lot, but this…this might be a step too far…
After a fight breaks out on Jim and Lee’s circus date, the pair discover the body of a murdered snake dancer. Treading between the warring acrobats — the Flying Graysons — and the clowns, the detective and medical examiner investigate. Meanwhile, Fish plays hardball with her captors, and Penguin is really bad at running a nightclub.
So only a few weeks on from the conclusion of American Horror Story: Freak Show, I’m somehow back at the circus. The Graysons, of course, are the family of the future Dick Grayson — better known as Robin. The head of the clown family and the head of the Graysons get into a fistfight over the dead snakedancer, who they were both in love with.
The circus clams up, leaving Jim Gordon — along with Dr Thompkins — with only the lead of a blind psychic. Which, thanks to Lee’s…belief in psychics? leads them to a bloody hatchet thrown from the Gotham bridge, carved with a satanist cult marking. Jim deduces that the psychic is covering for the snakedancer’s meek son, Jerome.
Who goes absolutely nutty when caught. Like, completely off the wall crazypants. It’s never explicitly said that this is the future Joker, but his giggling, psychotic reaction says more than anything more overt could. Honestly, it was fantastic. Out of nowhere, and slipping in without a misstep. And far more subtle than any of the other villain origin stories that Gotham has thusfar done.
It shows the audience a care and understanding of the character and his role in the Batman universe. It’s unconfirmed as yet by the show’s creators — I checked — and I expect it’s something they’ll have more fun with further down the line. But the way it came out of the blue like that was…unexpectedly brilliant.
Meanwhile, having become top dog in the mystery prison last episode, Fish Mooney galvanises her fellow inmates with the promise of freedom, for some of them. Apparently they are being held so that their organs can be harvested, which is a bit of a disappointment really. But when the guards come calling for one of them, Fish has the inmate in question beaten to death when the guards won’t give into her demands.
At the end the “manager” agrees to see her, and she has succeeded in at least getting herself out of the prison. For now.
And the Penguin is atrociously bad at running his new nightclub, Oswald’s. The acts include his mother, himself doing a solo piano routine, and some woman playing the violin. Falcone, apparently, isn’t happy, so sends Zsasz along with a gift — an apparently re-educated Butch, who is completely obedient to Penguin, after whatever Zsasz has been doing to him… But the question still remains how Penguin, after spending so long at Fish’s elbow, can be so bad at this.
And Bruce Wayne finally gets a meeting with the board of Wayne Enterprises about his concerns that evil corporation is evil. It doesn’t really do much other than advance that evil corporation is evil, but he has now threatened some very rich and evil businessmen (And women — Wayne Enterprises isn’t too bad with its gender balance on the board -Ed). Smart, then.
Oh, and Barbara shows up back in Gotham, and makes friends with Cat and Ivy, who are still crashing there. They help her pick out an outfit to go and seduce Jim back to her, but when she gets to GCPD he’s already getting steamy with Dr Thompkins. Which serves her right, really.
This was an odd episode, with a number of different story threads floating around. The central pillar was that maybe-Joker performance, but there’s enough weirdness in the Fish Mooney line to keep it interesting. Part of me wonders if the writers really are just making it up as they go along, but if they are then at least they’re doing it well.
We’re transitioning into the endgame now, with the final six episodes of the series. It’s been a long and deeply weird journey already, but they’re doing an excellent job of making it fit the pitch it was sold on, and keep it fresh at the same time.
- Why is this underground kidnap den suddenly acting like an actual prison? Fish is “in violation”? And how do they know their prisoner numbers?
- Carnies have their own punishments, we’re told. And as fans of Freaks will well know.
- Gordon is a bit of a dick to Dr Thompkins, considering he only gets his lead because of her.
- Why is the Wayne Enterprises board meeting in a glass box room, on an otherwise empty floor of a skyscraper? It definitely looks like someone is going to end up being gassed in there.
- Butch is a hilariously awful dancer. And Zsasz is terrifying.