GOTHAM: SMILE LIKE YOU MEAN IT
Face facts: Gotham is a violent and brilliant show, brought higher by its acting and pretty insane plots. Sometimes it can get a little messy, but Smile Like You Mean It, this Gotham episode, was particularly gruesome and well-crafted.
The deranged Cult that has made a virtual god out of Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan) is still attempting to resurrect him. Their de facto leader, Dwight (David Dasmalchian) decides the time is now. However, this Insane Clown Posse isn't quite ready for prime-time, as the experiments to revive Jerome seem to fail. In desperation, Dwight decides the rational thing to do is to cut Jerome's face off, put it on himself and declare that we are all Jerome.
This "I Am Tyler Durden" business goes surprisingly well among the Cult, making it easier for Dwight to take power and decide to release his brand of anarchy on Gotham. Pity that the real Jerome did manage to wake up, terrorize the Widow Calvi aka Lee Thompkins (Morena Baccarin) and decide to take matters into his own unhinged hands.
Two people who might want to note the ensuing chaos the city will eventually plunge into are too busy with other maters. Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) is attempting to keep Maria Kyle (Ivana Milicevic) safe for the sake of his love, Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). Selina is unhappy to say the least that a.) Maria was using her to get to her real target, the boy billionaire, and b.) Bruce pretty much knew he was a mark but went along with it to keep Maria within Selina's circle.
Mayor Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) is still attempting to recover from his disastrous live interview when unexpected help comes in the form of Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). She appears to try and help Pengy both find his thwarted love Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and keep control of the Underworld. In reality, this is all part of Nygma's elaborate scheme to get back and Pengy for him killing off Isabella.
Then again, Nygma himself is unaware that Barbara is using him to get rid of Penguin, and that once Pengy is permanently iced she, along with Tabitha (Jessica Lucas) and Butch (Drew Powell) will then in turn ice Nygma and take over Gotham's criminal world.
Still, a lot is going on around for Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) or acting Captain Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) to note, let alone care, about the wild machinations at Wayne Manor or The Sirens Club. They have to contend with Jerome making madness and mayhem around Gotham, culminating in him killing Dwight (that face-off didn't please the former) and him plunging the entire city into darkness.
Lights out in Gotham. This can't be good.
At this point I think it is important to note that Camren Bicondova and David Mazouz are among the best things around in Gotham. They have solidified the characters of Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne to where thanks to their interpretation, we can see them eventually growing to be the future frenemies Catwoman and Batman. Bicondova shows that deep vulnerability beneath Selina's tough exterior, the girl who loves and wants to be loved but who continues to find those around her fail her. Mazouz has become so commanding and stoic as Bruce, and they just work so well together.
This is the first time, at least that I can remember, where when it comes to them having to face off in a fight, Bruce can hold his own. In their last scene together, their heartbreak at their actions pulls you in and tears you up.
The performances of RLT and Richards similarly work great. Richards has such a way with her dialogue (at one point, she advises Oswald to pull himself together by bathing and 'doing that Disco Vampire thing with your hair'). Taylor for his part manages to show both sides of our much-tortured Mayor: the lovelorn Pengy obsessed with 'saving' Nygma and the dangerous, murderous Penguin, Dark King of Gotham.
McKenzie, who despite having originally had the show built around him, manages some good moments as well both with others and by himself. In the latter, how he manages to outwit the mole inside the GCPD shows us how he too will be the future Commissioner. In the former, his scenes with Baccarin display strong performances out of both when having to deal with the repercussions of their pasts.
Baccarin even manages some wry humor when working with Monaghan. As she essentially fills him in about the insane goings-on in Gotham, somehow she makes it sound plausible while acknowledging that a lot of it does sound bonkers.
Now, as for Monaghan. I think it will be pretty much impossible to escape the ghost of Heath Ledger and his performance in The Dark Knight. Monaghan isn't attempting to do a full-on Ledger-as-Joker impersonation, but one can see the strains of Ledger's performance in Monaghan's take. He plays Jerome as extremely clever, not insane or unhinged. He knows what he is doing, but his version has no filter. In a sense, he too just wants to watch the world burn.
It doesn't take away from his strong performance, one that is as frightening and intense as other Jokers.
I'll finally touch on the violence of Gotham. It continues to trouble me, and we get a lot of it this time: faces removed, people electrocuted, a lot of the show at times, like Jerome, goes wild with death and destruction. I think the violence on Gotham is something I'll probably touch more on when I do the overview, but for now it was bad but not as bad as I've seen before. I'll also say that Dastmalchian might have been trying a bit too hard to be Jerome/Ledger, but it's not a deal-breaker. Since I think that was the intent, I can go along with it.
Still, with strong performances all around, some funny moments (seeing the headlines refer to 'Mayor Crumblepot' and the whole 'Disco Vampire' thing), and a wild finish, Smile Like You Mean It almost makes you want to sing...
Next Episode: The Gentle Art of Making Enemies