One of the reasons why I enjoy Gotham so much is the way it embraces both darkness and camp in equal amounts. It mixed them both gloriously well in “The Blind Fortune Teller,” and never better than in the scene in which we get our very first glimpse of the young lad who will eventually become the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker. Somebody get actor Cameron Monaghan an award shaped like chattering teeth.
In just a few minutes of a single scene, Monaghan manages to become one of the most captivating characters in Gotham’s first season, which is no small feat given the revolving door of bad guys the show utilizes for its semi-procedural storytelling. How did he do it? By spinning a Primal Fear-style character reversal where he goes from playing shocked orphan to the conniving murderous bastard child of a blind psychic. I mean, who does that?
When circus performer Lila is found dead – following a performance involving the Flying Graysons, for all the Robin fans out there – Gordon and the inquisitive Dr. Thompkins follow a bum lead from Mark Margolis’ blind psychic Paul Cicero, which inspires Gordon to put him in the same room with Jerome, Lila’s son. It’s revealed that Cicero is Jerome’s father, and that Gordon knows Jerome killed his own mother. And that’s when Monaghan starts flipping switches. Enough so that he already made the character feel like some kind of a criminal mastermind; the kind that would definitely know who his real father was despite his loose mother’s lies, but I’m not even sure if was actually surprised by his fraternal heritage. Damn you, Joker.
The fact that this episode gives an origin story of sorts to The Joker, a character that has long retained fan favoritism partly because of his mysterious past, might seem like something to get miffed by. But even though Gotham is filling in some of the blanks, it’s doing it in all the expected ways. Namely by making him a duplicitous psycho who likes to tell stories where he’s the only source of information. (Plus, it’s just a TV show that doesn’t change the comic history.) Here’s how he explained his mother-killing motivations to Gordon.
Oh, you know how mothers are. She just…kept…pushing. And I’m like, ‘Fine, Mom. Be a whore. Be a drunken whore, even. But don’t be a nagging drunken whore. You know? Don’t come yelling at me to do the dishes if you’ve been banging a clown in the next room! You know?
That’s when he lets loose with the signature Joker cackle, and it’s ridiculously over the top and it’s wonderful. We knew this was coming in some form, thanks to creator Bruno Heller revealing the Joker’s origin story would be hit upon during Season 1. And even if we don’t get to see a painted, scarred-up face yet – as Heller has stated we’re still Gotham-years away from the full-blown Joker persona – I couldn’t be more pleased that this initial introduction was so effective, if unfortunately brief.
So now we know that Gotham is capable of pulling off a pre-Joker that works as well as Robin Lord Taylor’s pre-Penguin. Your move, pre-Riddler.