|Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska|
Brothers Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska
|First appearance||"The Blind Fortune Teller" (Jerome) |
"Mandatory Brunch Meeting" (Jeremiah)
|Last appearance||"That Old Corpse" (Jerome) |
"The Beginning..." (Jeremiah)
|Created by||Bruno Heller|
|Portrayed by||Cameron Monaghan|
|Family||Lila Valeska (mother)†|
Paul Cicero (father)†
Zachary Trumble (uncle)†
|Significant other||Ecco (Jeremiah)†|
Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska are fictional characters appearing in the FOX television series Gotham, developed by Bruno Heller and based upon the Batman mythos originating from comic books published by DC Comics. Unable to utilize Batman's nemesis the Joker directly, the series uses Proto-Jokers (played by Cameron Monaghan) to create a cultural lineage for the supervillain. Both adapt different characteristics of the Joker, which are intended to lead to the character's origin story later in the show's universe.
Jerome acts as a nihilistic cult leader, spreading anarchy in Gotham City until his eventual death, while his twin brother Jeremiah is depicted as a more obsessive and calculating mastermind. The two characters have spawned a myriad of fanatic followers in the series, who continue their ideology. An evolved version of Jeremiah briefly referred to as "J", appeared in the series finale set ten years later, serving as a figurative amalgamation of both Valeska twins. The showrunners have since refused to confirm whether Jeremiah becomes the Joker himself later on or inspires a separate character entirely.
In its earliest stages, Gotham was intended to stray from the superhero roots of the Batman comic books, instead opting to be a more grounded crime drama focusing on James Gordon and the origins of Gotham City's inhabitants before the emergence of costumed personas. As such, executive producer Bruno Heller didn't want to approach the backstory of Batman's nemesis the Joker until further into the series (at a point when they were more sure of themselves). Believing that the Joker should not precede Batman himself, one of the earlier ideas was to implant minor characters throughout the first season who could go on to become the supervillain. The first occurrence of this was the cameo of a comedian in the pilot episode. Later into the season, Heller changed his mind and decided to more directly approach the character because he thought that American audiences would not want to wait.
—Showrunner Bruno Heller
With potential copyright restrictions in mind, the showrunners figured that there may have been characters that existed before the Joker that would have informed his eventual identity. Heller explained that, through the series' run, "people will see how a kind of cultural mien is created... There's a tradition in forebears and ancestors of those characters that went into creating them." He felt that the Joker would not be someone who invented himself out of nothing, and that his origin should be more interesting than an ordinary man falling into a vat of chemicals (a recurring explanation in the comics). Instead, they decided on unraveling a secret history and philosophical ancestry, which Heller likens to Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley. The precursors to the character would become known as "Proto-Jokers".
The first Proto-Joker, a character named Jerome Valeska, made his debut in the Season 1 episode "The Blind Fortune Teller" played by Cameron Monaghan. He is portrayed as the psychopathic, anarchist son of a circus performer, who murders her out of spite. He initially attempts to cover his tracks, but eventually breaks down in laughter and admits his actions to the Gotham City Police Department. He is consequently sent to Arkham Asylum. The character returned for a three-episode arc at the beginning of Season 2, which had him leading a team of Arkham escapees under the guidance of the corrupt politician Theo Galavan, who wants to spread fear in his plan to become mayor. During his reign of terror, Jerome murders GCPD captain Sarah Essen and his own father. He is killed off by Galavan in the third episode, during which various characters observe his actions and begin following in his footsteps. They did not wait for a finale to kill Jerome because Heller thought that audiences would respond negatively if they spent the entire season believing he was the Joker. Following Jerome's death, the showrunners revealed that they were considering a female precursor to the Joker for Season 2. Such a character named Jeri (played by Lori Petty) made an appearance in the episode "This Ball of Mud and Meanness", running a nightclub catering to Jerome's sympathizers. This served as her sole appearance in the series.
Jerome's laugh was briefly inserted into the Season 2 finale, as a means to keep the threat of the Joker present and to tease the third season. According to executive producer Ken Woodruff, Season 3 was meant to not only further elaborate on the character's mythology, but also "characters that may or may not be the Joker" that may be "an amalgamation of what we'll come to know as the Joker." In another three-episode arc, the season details how Jerome's growing band of sympathizers had culminated into a cult bent on resurrecting him (which they accomplish), setting the stage for Season 4. Jerome played a much larger role in the fourth season, described as the main antagonist of the second half by executive producer Bryan Wynbrandt. Monaghan had pitched a storyline at the start of the season, which the showrunners declined but took ideas from. As the arc unfolded, Jerome once again escapes incarceration and gathers a team of supervillains to spread chaos in Gotham City. Jerome is killed a second time, shortly after a second Proto-Joker debuts – his identical twin brother Jeremiah Valeska. He was introduced as a civil engineer who assists Gordon in stopping his brother. However, he becomes a villainous presence after being sprayed with chemicals developed by Jerome, causing him to undergo a Joker-like transformation.
—Showrunner John Stephens
As with Jerome, Jeremiah was not meant to be the Joker himself. Showrunner John Stephens explained that they felt that they had taken Jerome's character as far as he could go, and they wanted to develop another who would embody a different aspect of Batman's arch-foe. In contrast to his anarchistic brother, Jeremiah was a much quieter version of a lunatic that Stephens compared to Hannibal Lecter. The showrunners took various characteristics of the Joker, and parsed them out, with each individual precursor representing a different element of the Joker. Wynbrandt added that "Joker's so iconic that it feels like we don't want to get to [him] ever", and because Monaghan personified Jerome in a certain way, "what makes him so exciting is that he's not the Joker. He is Jerome." The series was subsequently cancelled, being renewed only for a shortened final season. Jeremiah returned as a recurring character, serving as an adversary to Bruce Wayne. In a confrontation with Wayne, he is knocked into a vat of chemicals, causing him to undergo another substantial transformation that alters his psyche into becoming what Monaghan describes as a "third character". However, although Jeremiah evolves, he does not become the Joker. Stephens explained that he becomes "amalgam of Jeremiah and Jerome that I think audiences are gonna look at and say, 'If it's not the Joker then it's definitely an antecedent that lives there.'" Although he was conceived to eventually inspire a separate character into becoming the Joker, the showrunners kept the series finale intentionally ambiguous as to whether he becomes the Joker later on or serves as yet another predecessor.
—Cameron Monaghan, October 2015
Jerome is a nihilistic anarchist, sharing many similarities with the Joker. When Monaghan was cast as Jerome in "The Blind Fortune Teller", he avoided drawing inspiration from the actors who had played the Joker throughout the various Batman films. However, he did take inspiration from Mark Hamill's voice performance, in addition to reading as many comics featuring the character as he could to prepare for the role. After breaking him out of Arkham, Theo Galavan served as a mentor and father figure to Jerome, shaping his viewpoint of the world as a performance stage for evil. This stopped Jerome from limiting himself to smaller-scale acts of crime. A recurring theme on the show is how the Joker's ideology acts like a virus that can be spread through multiple characters, which executive producer Danny Cannon describes as "the opposite of Bruce Wayne, somebody who just wants to destroy... that could be anyone." Before leaping to his death in the Season 4 episode "That's Entertainment", Jerome warns Jim Gordon that others would follow in his footsteps.
In contrast to his violent and assertive brother, Jeremiah is depicted as a more methodical and calculating criminal mastermind. Monaghan described Jerome as the "chain saw" and Jeremiah as the "scalpel". Jeremiah is just as insane as his brother, but channels it in a calm and quieter manner. He is obsessed with Bruce Wayne, the future Batman, whom he sees as his surrogate brother after rejecting Jerome. The fifth and final season sees Jeremiah growing more unhinged after his plan to transform Gotham into an isolated ruin succeeds in Season 4. He is viewed by the characters within Gotham City as a boogeyman figure and he revels in the infamy, but is discontent with his failed attempts to bond with Bruce. In the episode "Ace Chemicals", he comes to the conclusion that Bruce is defined by the trauma of his parents death, and so he creates duplicates of them to force him to relive his trauma so that they can be bonded as enemies. This plan ultimately fails. Jeremiah has rejected the notion that he is insane, believing himself to be vastly more ordered and intelligent than his brother. Because he does not see himself as bad or evil, Monaghan opined that he is irredeemable. He is more flamboyant in Season 5, with the actor taking inspiration from David Bowie and Tim Curry in his performance.
Another feature of the Joker character displayed in the Jeremiah character was that of a clown-like female accomplice akin to - but not the same as - the Batman character Harley Quinn. Ecco is Jeremiah's psychotic, utterly devoted henchwoman and the leader of the cult that worships him in the aftermath of Gotham becoming isolated from the rest of the world. Jeremiah kills Ecco and declares that he'll replace her (which some critics speculated would pave the way for Quinn in the series' continuity).
The final iteration of Jeremiah seen in the series finale was the coalescence of all the Joker traits previously seen in series, with additional characteristics of his own. According to Stephens, "When you look at the Joker and you cleave off certain character traits, some of those character traits we gave to Jerome. Some to Jeremiah. But, there were still some leftover character traits that we said, we haven't used these elements yet. Specifically to me, horror or terror." He is more horrific than Jerome and his former self, with Stephens referring to him as a "nightmare". He is also more insane than his predecessors, and struggles to recall which of his memories from before his chemical accident are real. His obsession with Bruce is so embedded that he pretended to be comatose for years, waiting for him to return to Gotham after spending a decade abroad.
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