Written by Michael Cole
*Note: This article was written before the announcement that Ruby Rose, the actress who plays Batwoman, has left the series and will be replaced in Season 2.
Batwoman Season 1 ended almost two weeks ago, and I had intended to write a review on here when that happened, but I hadn’t realized the season had ended because it was an abrupt, COVID interrupted season. I won’t hold that against Batwoman obviously, and please don’t hold my tardiness on this subject against me.
I’m going to be frank with you, and tell you that while I might be in the minority, I really enjoyed Batwoman. I think there was a ton of things that were done really well. I also recognize that it had several faults, and I’m not blind to those. I think, for the sake of redemption, I will start us off with the parts that I don’t like, and work towards the things that made this show work for me.
I think it was back before the mid-season break, I had a conversation with Paul about the show, and one of the things that he pointed out that made no sense what-so-ever was the idea of The Crows. As I watched the second half of the season with this in mind, I realized he was completely right. The Crows, are Gotham’s premium and private ‘police’ service. They don’t exist in place of The GCPD, but in addition to it. They’re essentially independent contractors acting like Police, but with less restriction, and seemingly less self-restraint. A local law enforcement version of Blackwater.
At best, their existence doesn’t make any sense. With the appearance of Batwoman, a vigilante acting outside of the law, of course The Crows declare her to be a dangerous criminal who must be brought to justice. Complicating matters, The Crows are lead by Commander Jacob Kane (Batwoman’s father, who has no idea that his daughter is the vigilante). In similar situations like Arrow, Batman, or even Spider-Man, if a hero or vigilante is seen as a criminal, they’re usually being accused as such by the police. While there is room for argument on the morality of vigilante justice on either side, the legality of the situation is clear because The Police Dept., The D.A., are all part of law enforcement that governments put in place to protect the public. It all makes some sense. This isn’t the case in Batwoman with The Crows because they’re a private company, not operating with any kind of government oversight. The potentially interesting morality/logic of that dynamic isn’t really touched upon until the last episode or two, and even then only in passing.
Along with The Crows and their non-sensical existence, is Commander Kane. I think he fails on pretty much every front. I think the performance, with him trying to sound grizzly and hardened comes off as two dimensional and uninteresting. As for the characterization, he’s written to have the same black and white moral code that someone like Quentin Lance on Arrow had, but again Lance existed within a real Police Dept which made much more sense. Also, while Lance may have been tough on his children and perhaps a bit too rigid, he never really wrote them off. Whereas Kane’s love is barely existent at best, and far from unconditional. Do I think we need to portray every parent as having unconditional love for their children? No, but in these types of characters and stories it leads to some interesting inner conflict. Trying to justify your unconditional love for your children, when your children test your own moral code, makes for fascinating character drama. Commander Kane doesn’t do that. There are very few, if any, moments when it appears that indicate if he finds out his daughter Kate is Batwoman, that he’ll hesitate to treat her like any other criminal.
My last complaint about the show will probably be more controversial and this is way more a matter of opinion, but Kate sporadically write’s letters to the missing Bruce Wayne. It’s not the idea that she’s writing them that doesn’t work for me, it’s more a matter of delivery. There is something about it that comes across as awkward and unnatural, it interrupts the flow of the show. I think it is possible that it’s Ruby Rose, who is Australian, trying to do an American accent in these long slow, uber-articulated monologues, that doesn’t work.
Three characters work perfectly for me on this show, there will be some mild-spoilers.
I think The Big-Bad, Alice, head of the Wonderland Gang, works perfectly. I would make the argument that she may be the best villain in The Arrowverse this season. Alice, as we learn very early on, is Kate’s twin sister, Beth. Beth was believed to be killed in a car accident when they were both 12 or 13. As the season plays out, we get to see how Alice isn’t just a menacing thug, but a deeply troubled (and for good reason) woman, who is trying to get reconcile a sense of normalcy with her sister and revenge with her father, step-mother and sister. Every emotional twist and turn is believable within the circumstances, and the performance by Rachel Skarsten rides those emotions completely and makes you feel genuine empathy for her, while also understanding that she must be stopped. I would argue that her character’s complexity exacerbates how poorly Commander Kane’s character is developed.
Alice’s right-hand man, is Mouse, who we learn is the son of the man who took Beth from the accident, and through neglect and abuse, turned her into Alice. Mouse is himself a very damaged man from his father, in addition to some physical scarring. Mouse has the ability to mimic any voice, and with Beth’s help, to make skin masks. He can turn into nearly any one within the show. It’s not Mouse’s abilities that make him interesting though. It’s his relationship with Alice/Beth. He starts off as her best friend, trying to help her exact her revenge. But as soon as Alices plan shifts from revenge to reconciliation, he begins to fear she’ll abandon him for not being enough. As well as expressing his own desire to eventually get away from Gotham and the chaos and pain he sees as being a symptom of the place.
Lastly, is Mary, Kate’s step-sister. Mary starts the show off appearing to be a vapid socialite, but its quickly revealed that she’s actually running an underground clinic for those who cannot afford emergency medical attention. She helps Batwoman early on, making something of a connection with her. Even as she struggles throughout the season with her relationship with Kate, which is strained by Kate’s distance, and Kate’s inability to let go of Beth. Mary’s feelings of inadequacy and longing to bond with Kate are well developed and expressed, and it comes to a head when she finds out Kate is Batwoman and Kate still refuses to tell Mary her secret.
How to Move Forward
The other three main characters in the show are a bit of a mixed bag for me. I think Ruby Rose as Kate is very good at the aloof part of the character, but in the genuine moments of connection, I think she’s still seems to struggle. It’s likely that they are trying to draw a parallel between her and Bruce Wayne, (but as someone who knows very little of the comic version of Bruce Wayne, take that with a grain of salt). However when you have so many characters who do have an emotional connection with Kate, like her sisters, her father, Luke Fox , or Sophie (her ex-girlfriend who works for her father on The Crows) the performance doesn’t work as well for me.
I think Luke had a pretty good second half of the season, but he didn’t start off great. There was a flatness in the character or the performance and it just didn’t work. What eventually won me over, is two-fold, Luke is very clearly the voice for the absent Bruce. As his relationship to Kate developed, he even shares things that perhaps he never would, about his loneliness, his responsibility. We also see Luke’s own dedication and search for justice by finding his father Lucius’s killer, and how he will risk his own life in order to protect his father’s secrets. As a small side note, Luke is the guy back at HQ role, so I like that he is very different from similar characters in The Arrowverse like Cisco, Felicity, and even Winn.
Sophie probably would have made the first section, except that I’m not sure she’s made enough of an impact on the show yet to say she’s failing. Sophie is kind of a bland character, who’s at her most interesting as we see her and Kate struggle throughout the beginning of the series. With Sophie being closeted and Kate being out, how this tore them apart in military academy, and is married to a man. On top of all that she also works for Kate’s father, it’s impossibly complicated between the two of them. The writers seem to have trouble picking a lane with Sophie, she’s not bold and empowered, nor is she timid and weak. She kind of flip-flops back and forth.
Going forward, into season 2, I think that these three characters can all be improved and really work for the show. I think with Kate, they were starting to work on the aloofness problem in the last couple of episodes, (maybe if they’d been given the whole season run I wouldn’t have this complaint at all). The same can be said with Luke, I think he was a slow start, but they’re getting there, and I hope that they go even further with him. With Sophie, I think she kind of has to embrace herself more in season 2, even if she goes a bit overboard at first, it would make sense, and propel her forward.
I think they should find someway in season 2 (and I kind of think they may have been working toward this at the end of season 1) of getting rid of The Crows. They just don’t work. Getting rid of them wouldn’t be difficult from a writing stand-point, and I would argue that if you just put one character in (a Mayor or something) who realizes how ridiculous they are, dismantling them could take a couple of episodes tops.
As for Commander Kane, there are three options that I see, they could kill him off, try to turn him into a human with emotions (I don’t really think this works without ignoring some of what we already have seen of him), or lastly make him outright a villain. The series could dismantle The Crows and Kane could become a vigilante hell bent on avenging them, it’s the only way I think you can keep him on the show and have him work. I just really think the dude is broken beyond repair.
The letters to Bruce Wayne are maybe the toughest fix. I think the series has been fairly inconsistent in doing them to be completely honest, I think maybe they should just get rid of them altogether. At the end of the finale, Alice has transformed the villain Hush, into a doppelgänger of Bruce Wayne. I think having a few episodes of ‘Bruce Wayne’ around will make the letters redundant. Unless Kate knows right off the bat (I swear that wasn’t intended) that he’s not the real Bruce.
The show has a lot of potential, and needs a lot of growth, but I think it’s a worthy inclusion to The Arrowverse. If they work out the kinks in Season 2, there could be some really cool opportunities for interesting character work. Don’t go in expecting a finely tuned machine, but a diamond in the rough.
Article by Michael Cole