The Killing Joke: Gotham, “The Blind Fortune Teller”

According to Gotham’s showrunners, this week’s episode “The Blind Fortune Teller” almost certainly did not not give us a possible definite origin for The Joker, maybe, and it may or may not probably involve the character of Jerome (played by Cameron Monaghan), who was featured in all of the previews clips and production stills, cackling wildly, almost like a crazy man laughing at a joke.

But this is all an obvious red herring, as evidenced by Jerome’s red hair—the real Joker would not be above such a delightful pun, and seeing as next week’s episode is titled “The Red Hood,” that means there’s only true answer to the identity of the Joker, and it’s been staring us in the face all along:

It’s Barbara, you guys. That explains everything.

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

Okay, enough with the trolling. “The Blind Fortune Teller” takes to Haly’s Circus, where Jim “Jim” Gordon and Leslie “Lee” Thompkins are enjoying a nice romantic evening—that is, until a brawl breaks out in the circus ring between the acrobats and the clowns. Nothing’s ever easy for a cop off the clock, so Gordon shows his badge and breaks up the fight while Leslie tends to the wounds of those involved. It seems that the Flying Graysons (they of the “Dick” variety) and the Lloyds (they of the, uh, clown variety?) have a longstanding familial feud going back generations, something about a horse that was stolen before the Great War. This time, however, the bloodshed is over a woman: Lyla, the snake charmer, and the object of the affections of each clan’s respective patriarch.

But Lyla has gone missing, and Gotham lets us know in no uncertain terms that she’s a big ol’ drunken ho-bag—a fact which her son, Jerome, is um, rather nonchalant and candid about: “If not for my mother’s love life, I wouldn’t be here, would I?” he explains. “Sex is a healthy human activity.” Well, he’s not wrong, anyway.

Gordon goes back to basics when he investigates the circus camp…by letting Lyla’s snake out of its cage to crawl around and find her. Which it does, in the back of a circus cart, where Lyla is already dead. The ringmaster admits that her body was found earlier, he just didn’t report it because they like to keep these things in the family (I’ve never watched Carnivale but I’m assuming that show is all about the true crime intra-judicial system of circus families).

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

There’s some more investigating (including another whacky Gordon interrogation montage), and overall a delightful chunk of screen time where the brightly colored circus costumes all get hauled down to GCPDHQ, much to the disdain of, well, everyone who’s not Gordon (that guy really does not know how to make friends). The circus folk are all pointing fingers, mostly across the Lloyd-Grayson threshold, but Jerome still seems the most suspect. The only reason you’re given not to think that Jerome committed matricide is when the circus’s Blind Fortune Teller, Cicero, shows up with a message from Lyla from beyond the grave: “The serpent of the devil lies in the garden of the iron sisters.” Gordon thinks that Cicero is a fraud, but Thompkins is a believer, being the resident scientist and all. Thompkins has put up with a lot of Gordon’s crap since she started her job at GCPD, but his refusal to believe the cryptic rantings of a self-proclaimed psychic drives the largest wedge into their relationship so far. (It’s also not clear why no one asked for Nygma’s help in solving the riddle)

Thompkins invites Gordon back to her place for dinner, but she can’t get her mind off the case. She realizes that Cicero’s riddle referred to the park beneath the Arkham bridge, and she encourages Gordon to ditch the delicious meal that she prepared for him to go on an off-duty investigation in the dark, during which she berates him for being a hypocrite who claims he wants a strong woman but really wants a stay-at-home broad to make him dinner (which might be a valid observation, had we ever actually seen anything vaguely resembling a relationship between Jim and Barbara). At the park, Gordon finds a ritualistic axe that once belonged to a group of Satanists called the Hell Fire Club, who haven’t actually killed anyone in at least a decade and are definitely not at all related to the Marvel Comics’ Hellfire Club.

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

This is where Gordon reveals his own psychic powers, as the knife makes him realize that Cicero the Blind Fortune Teller was indeed a liar, and that he set them up because he’s secretly Jerome’s father and he was trying to protect his son, who murdered his own mother. Once again, Jim Gordon is right, because Jim Gordon is always right, because this is Gotham. Jerome admits to killing his mother not because she’s a drunken whore, but because she was a nagging drunken whore, always asking him to do the dishes while she was in the next room having sex with every man she’d ever met because that’s what drunken whores do (in Maroni’s absence, the line of the week goes to Jerome: “Don’t come yelling at me to do the dishes when you’ve been banging a clown in the next room!”). Jerome starts laughing maniacally and even if the whole thing is a little ridiculous, Cameron Monaghan does a great job of freaking me the hell out.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well in the circus, I guess, especially for the star-crossed lovers of John Grayson and Mary Lloyd, who have re-kindled their romance and promise to name their son after Jim Gordon, unless they name him “Richard” first. Once again, Gordon and Thompkins play a little tonsil hockey in the middle of the office—and Barbara walks in just in time to see it happen. WHOOPS.

Yes, that’s right, folks: Barbara Kean is back! She stumbles drunkenly into her apartment to find Ivy and Selina hanging around inside and eating cereal. So she does what any wealthy and inebriated art dealer does when she finds two teenage runaways squatting in her penthouse apartment: she does a fashion show for them and they have girl time that just stops short of doing each others’ nails while she asks them for advice on how to win back her beau. Ugh.

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

Meanwhile, in sub-plot land:

  • Penguin’s club is doing rather poorly, much to Falcone’s chagrin. This probably has to do with the fact that he hires his mother to provide the nightly entertainment. Victor Zsasz shows up with a brainwashed Butch Gilzean, whom he offers to Penguin as a new assistant (allegedly because Butch knows a lot about the club scene even though he’s basically a zombie now? Whatever, at least he can dance).
  • Bruce shows up at a corporate board meeting for Wayne Enterprises and basically accuses everyone of being corrupt white collar criminals, thanks to their crooked dealings in the Arkham project and Wysanse chemical. He threatens to reveal incriminating evidence to the shareholders if the rest of the executives don’t clean up their act. Bruce scenes are the best scenes.
  • Fish Mooney stops short of performing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” as she rallies her fellow prisoners together with an admittedly well executed St. Crispin’s speech. The prisoners are essentially being used as unwilling organ donors, and Fish uses her Fish powers to open up negotiations with the mysterious “The Manager.” I’m pretty sure this is all just an allegory for the organized labor movement, but I’m weirdly on board with it for now (maybe that’s just ‘cause I’ve been listening to lots of Billy Bragg lately).

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

“The Blind Fortune Teller” was a solid marriage of Gotham’s camp side with its procedural cop drama side. Like I said, I really kind of enjoyed the silliness of all the circus stuff, especially as the colors juxtaposed with the greys and browns of the police station (the visuals on this show are consistently delightful). I still don’t understand why it was called “The Blind Fortune Teller,” instead of something more circus- or joker-y. I guess because Jerome’s paternity was the big twist of the episode (since Jerome as the killer was certainly not)? But in that case, making it the title of the episode makes it that much more obvious. I don’t know. I think it’s time for me to admit defeat and to give up on trying to understand the etymology of Gotham episodes.

Obviously the clown part and the Graysons have intrinsic ties to the Bat-mythos, so I understand the compulsion to do a circus episode (even though circus themes tend to be the very last desperate straw for already-faltering shows *cough*Heroes*cough*). I don’t personally know that many people raised in circus families, but I could understand if they were unhappy with their depiction as swindling, feral, drunken sex-fiends. I mean, that’s pretty much the standard depiction of any lower-class social groups, deemed “uncivilized” by those of us who live in “normal society.” We’ve seen that before, especially with circus people.

Then again, I could be reading too much into it. I guess I’m still hoping sometimes that Gotham will do better than taking the easy, over-simplistic, stereotypical road every time.

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

This is reflected in most of the procedural aspects of the show, and “The Blind Fortune Teller” is no exception. Most of the week-by-week cases are fairly straight-forward, relying more on convenience and coincidence than compelling crime writing. Like the frequent use of the Jim Gordon Interrogation Montage; it’s almost played like a joke at this point that every investigation is going to go by the books. They look around the crime scene, interrogate a few people, go to one or two locations, and bam, done. Even Law & Order does a better job of mixing it up and surprising viewers from time to time.

So that’s my complaint for today: the Gotham writing staff doesn’t strive much for cleverness or originality in their investigation procedures, or in their depictions of circus families / corrupt cops / etc. Maybe I’m finally putting on my finger on the source of my disappointment. The basic legwork for the show was already done for them—the beloved characters and their perceived arcs, a built-in audience of eager fans. So with the extra reserves of brainpower leftover from not having to create a new universe, how do they use it? Thinking of silly ways to deliver fan service (like that recent Penguin-Riddler meetup), instead of expending any of that creativity towards more interesting or challenging plots and characterizations. It’s the easy road, all the way through to the end.

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE JOKER JEROME

First, let’s get this out of the way: he’s basically just Rorschach from Watchmen. I mean, socially awkward misogynistic redhead whose sociopathy is directly related to his mother’s sex work? The difference being that Rorschach turns out somewhat altruistic.

Will Jerome grow up to be the Joker? Should Jerome grow up to be the Joker? Does it matter if Jerome is meant to be the Joker or not? Does anyone actually need to see the Joker’s tragic childhood, how his whoring mother (his words, not mine) drove him to insanity? Or is it better that we leave the Joker as a generic two-bit criminal who is somehow turned into a sociopathic force of pure amorality and chaos?

My answer to these questions, in order is: I’m ambivalent, I’m ambivalent, I’m ambivalent, emphatic No, and Yes. Your mileage may vary. In fact, I suspect that the entire point of this exercise to inspire conversation, to get the buzz going about the show. Which is what I hope you’ll do in the comments below!

For the record, I always thought it’d be more interesting if they had kept with the subtle-Joker-cameo-or-reference-in-every-episode. This to me hammered home the uncontrollable, unknowable aspects of the Joker that I find appealing. But the whole topic of The Joker and Identity is one for another time and post. Anyway, we’ll see what happens next week with the Red Hood…

LET’S TALK ABOUT THE LADIES

Gotham The Blind Fortune Teller

No one on this show knows how to write female characters, and it was no more glaringly obvious than this episode, where Jerome’s mother is killed for her promiscuity and nagging, and no one questions any of it (like the Lloyd and Grayson patriarchs, who both have kids who presumably have mothers, and yet no one questions them for having sex with the snake charmer while her son is the next room?).

I’ve said before that Morena Baccarin could charm a brick wall, but Leslie Thompkins is written so, so poorly. Jim treats her like crap, which might work if they had any chemistry. But she’s just there to smile pretty-like and drive the plot. Seriously, does no one else find it weird how Leslie is always trying to make out with Jim at work? What is the source of her compulsive PDA? Oh, I know; it makes things awkward for Jim. That’s it. It has nothing to do with her or her desires. She’s there to be the perfect in-office girlfriend, so that Gordon has something to do. Let’s turn it around and imagine the show if Gordon was the one eager for some inner-office smooching, but Leslie was all, “Hey now, let’s be professionals about this. We’re both grown-ups here and don’t need to act like teenagers at the movies on a Friday night. Do your job and stop being a jerk” (she does touch on that last point in this episode, but it felt tacked on).

And then there’s Barbara. Oh, Barbara.


Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. Thom enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey and robots). He is a graduate of Clarion Writer’s Workshop at UCSD, and he firmly believes that Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is the single worst atrocity committed against mankind. Find out more at thomdunn.net

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