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Gotham Postmortem: Cameron Monaghan Breaks Down Jerome's "Last Laugh"

What does it mean for the Joker's future on the show?

Adam Bryant

Well, the joke was on us!

On Monday's Gotham, the show abruptly ended its time with breakout villain Jerome Valeska (guest star Cameron Monaghan) when he met a surprising and untimely death at the hands of his mentor/benefactor Theo Galavan (James Frain). While we knew Monaghan's regular gig on Shameless would preclude him from appearing continually on Gotham, the show was leaning so heavily on Jerome's Joker-isms that we didn't expect the show to shuffle him off the stage so permanently.

Although Monaghan knew his character's fate before filming on Season 2 began, he was thrilled with the bold choice. "The show really is stepping it up in the second season. They're not afraid to knock down the cards that they have stacked previously," Monaghan tells TVGuide.com. "They're not pulling punches. I think that is what makes for really exciting television when it is dangerous and it's unpredictable like that. And it was great to have a knowledge of that final moment because then I could build an arc according to it and know what beats I wanted to hit in each episode to be able to lead up to that climax."

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But Jerome had an eventful outing before his death. First, he paid a visit to his father Paul Cicero (guest star Mark Margolis) to give him the same treatment he gave his mother last season. But before Jerome killed his blind dad - and narrowly escaped Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who was visiting Cicero looking for a lead on Jerome -- Cicero gave his son a vicious warning. "You will be a curse upon Gotham," he said. "Children will wake from sleep screaming at the thought of you. Your legacy will be death and madness."

Undeterred, Jerome crashed the Gotham Children's Hospital Gala as The Great Rudolfo. But, with the help of Barbara (Erin Richards), his magic act soon turned violent as he held Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) hostage as live news cameras rolled. But just as Jerome, Gordon and Alfred (Sean Pertwee) became locked in a standoff, Theo stabbed his supposed ally in madness in the neck, apologizing for not sticking to what the duo had rehearsed. (Instead, he's clearly playing the hero in order to win the hearts of the Gothamites he ultimately wants to destroy.)

"Theo becomes kind of this twisted father figure character to Jerome in a certain way and it's a really nice reflection to have Jerome murder his father and then his father figure to murder him within the same episode," Monaghan says, noting that Theo ultimately realized that his goals could be better achieved without Jerome as a wild card.

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"Jerome is extremely dangerous and extremely volatile," Monaghan says. "I think one of the defining factors of him is that he doesn't take a step back and because of that, he's extremely unpredictable. I think Theo had an awareness of that and utilized it to his advantage. But he knew that if he kept him around for any longer, his own self would probably be in jeopardy as well. So, he had to take out the free radical in the situation."

As for the experience of playing a proto-Joker, Monaghan, who identifies himself as a "massive fan" of Batman and the Joker, says he was as terrified as he was honored to take on the role last season. As such, he took even more time to prepare before his Season 2 arc, which involved some long conversations with executive producer Danny Cannon about who Jerome would be.

"I remember something that was really important to me was the fact that there should be nothing about him that strikes you as immediately intimidating," Monaghan says. "What's insidious about him is that his insanity is what makes him so dangerous. I had just read this story about Jeffrey Dahmer in prison and how all the other prisoners who were much bigger, much scarier were afraid of him because he was so nonchalantly insane. ... That dark thought kind of led to the conversation of making sure that what made him scary was the fact that he wasn't innately scary."

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But that's not to say that Monaghan wasn't aware of previous portrayals of the Joker. While Monaghan tried to put the live-action performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger out of his mind ("It was important to me to try to find moments where it was different because I'm playing Jerome at the end of the day. I have to treat him as his own man, as his own character," Monaghan says) it was the animated version of the character voiced by Mark Hamill that spoke to the actor most anyway. "What I could take was his virtuosity and the levels that he takes everything he does," he says. "Every time he laughs, there's always something different. That's something I really admire about him. And even just the way that the character was drawn in the animated series -- that's something I always admired, and something I tried to bring into a live-action context when I was filming."
As for what Jerome's death means for the show, Monaghan says he has no qualms with his early departure. Rather, he's excited to see how Jerome's madness, as prophesied by his father, spreads all over Gotham, ultimately infecting the future Joker that Batman will eventually battle.

"I think we saw Jerome find his meaning," Monaghan says. "He finds his purpose within the first episode after meeting Galavan and admiring his grandiosity, his using of the entire world as his stage. I think from the moment he saw that, he instantly had a purpose in life and he fulfilled it beautifully. I think he knew exactly what he was doing. He says he's going to spread across the city like a virus and I think he would be riveted. It would be a joy to him to see just how deep his effects and influence will run."
Gotham airs Mondays at 8/7c on Fox. What did you think of Jerome's death?