Spoilers below for "Penguin, Our Hero," the latest episode of Gotham, so be sure to catch up before reading on.
Gotham's Selina and Bruce served as a fan surrogate in the latest episode as she went off in search of mayhem maestro Jeremiah Valeska. Though Cameron Monaghan's iniquitous villain remained undiscovered, Francesca Root-Dodson's Ecco made a refreshing return that finally embraced the Harley Quinn characteristics that had long been teased, complete with a revamped origin story. Gotham showrunner John Stephen talked with CinemaBlend about bringing the show's version of Harley Quinn to life through the puddin-tastic Ecco.
A lot of it was like, I'd seen that actress for the first time last year, just seeing the range she has and how good she was working sort of as Jeremiah's henchman. Because we could never do the Joker-Joker, we could also never do Harley Quinn. Well, we thought, 'If we can do a proto-Joker who's not quite the Joker, but who we could draw antecedence to, why couldn't we do the same thing with Harley?' And so we started taking a lot of the same elements of madness and anarchy, and the sort of mad love that Harley has, and placing it into the Ecco character. She plays through the entire season, you know, with Jeremiah, and it's just a really fun, twisted, energizing relationship with the series ending.
Hooray for more Ecco! I can't imagine there were too many Gotham fans out there that were genuinely worried about Ecco possibly meeting her maker in the nearest of futures. After all, she showed off her batty nature during a scene involving a cooperative take on Russian Roulette, which isn't the most fate-friendly game out there.
Speaking of that not-at-all-innocent activity, Ecco got to deliver her quasi-origin story to Selina during the ordeal. She didn't wax on about having been a psychologist within the Arkham system, though the Arleen Sorkin option is still on the table. Instead, Ecco manically showed Selina that her unique mindset comes from the bullet currently stuck in her head.
While we're not quite sure yet what was happening in this woman's life in years previous, it's pretty clear that things took a more villainous turn after she crossed paths with Jeremiah. Ecco was more of the silent type when first introduced, adopting the Mummer mask, but once Jerome's gift unlocked Jeremiah's inner...potential, we'll call it...Ecco's dramatic devolution followed suit.
At some point, Ecco was tasked with proving her devotion to Jeremiah by joining the gun circle, which she survived even though she was one of the unlucky victims. It would definitely be more interesting if that moment did happen only as the No Man's Land arc came into being, in that it would further prove Jeremiah to be heartless and callous even to those in his closest circle.
When speaking with executive producer and showrunner John Stephens about Ecco's Quinn-tessential role in the episode, I asked him if he enjoyed being able to bring various Harley Quinn elements to Ecco's character without needing to adhere to every single familiar detail. His answer:
Oh yeah, absolutely, because you're building on so much.You have so much that came before in all the different versions that you can then, by tweaking certain small elements, you can send it in a very different way. So it's existing not just as this thing itself, but also existing in relationship to what it's commenting upon that came before. So it has this great texture, both as writers when you're working with it, and I think for viewers when they come to it fully informed by the history and that character.
Quite the admirably heady take on adapting an animated character for live-action, wouldn't you say? It does make sense, of course. Gotham as a whole has deconstructed the Batman mythos in order to build it back up in specifically warped ways. But whereas this Bruce Wayne actually will turn into Batman down the road, Ecco and Jeremiah are but stepping stones.
With Ecco, John Stephens and the writers stripped Harley Quinn down to her most essential elements, and repurposed them unto a character meant to serve as a direct inspiration to whoever the "real" Harley will be. Much like how Jerome and Jeremiah's more disturbing characteristics are intended to preface the rise of The Joker proper. (Which obviously still needs to be portrayed by Cameron Monaghan, even if it makes zero logical sense.)
I'm sure all involved at Gotham would love to have been able to please fans by introducing The Joker and Harley Quinn years ago in the same way that the show has been able to use Penguin, Riddler, Mr. Freeze and other iconic villains. Unfortunately, myriad rights and licensing issues have gotten in the way, thanks to theatrical DCEU projects getting preferential treatment. Things are slightly different in Season 5, thanks to DC easing off, but still.
In a way, though, Jeremiah and Ecco can be just as enjoyable, if not more so, than the villains they're representing. After all, they also get to do things that wouldn't even fit the character profiles for Joker and Harley Quinn, which is always fun to see. And that, rather than crafting comic-perfect character adaptations, is one of the main goals in all of this for John Stephens.
That's what it comes down to at the end of the day: it's just fun to watch. It's fun to see that, however canonically pure it might be or not.
I'd also talked with John Stephens about Jeremiah's current whereabouts, and he told me we should expect to see Jeremiah soon, but that we'll actually see his big new plan coming to light before he arrives. And beyond Selina's claw-some turn as Catwoman, Gotham will also be delivering Shane West's Bane to fans very soon, along with more surprises that no one will be able to figure out.
Gotham will continue its final season's reign on Fox every Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. To see what other new and returning shows are coming to primetime and beyond soon, head to our midseason premiere schedule.