Batwoman is a series I continue to watch because turning off my television after Legends Of Tomorrow is too hard. Its sophomore season just concluded. SPOILERS for a review that’s less belated than my cold take of The Mandalorian with images of Count Dookula.
Batman being a bandage solution to Gotham City’s systemic socioeconomic flaws is a frequent criticism. If Bruce Wayne completely overhauled Arkham Asylum with reliable doctors & security, his archenemies could be rehabilitated or at least not escape constantly. If Wayne Enterprises created more jobs, impoverished Gothamites wouldn’t have to turn to crime. Ryan Wilder is doing her part by opening a community outreach center to keep wayward youths out of trouble. This is commendable, yet only slightly more interesting than seeing Bruce sign a stack of charity checks. Judging by her obituary referencing her affordable housing efforts & the commercial of her giving a homeless woman her Rolex that enraged YouTube commenters, Kate Kane would’ve also gone further with social justice this season had she remained the lead. Whereas Batwoman borrows a lot from Arrow which stole a lot from Batman, helping the downtrodden is something that should’ve been adapted for Oliver Queen to make him more unique & comics accurate.
Wallis Day’s portrayal of Kate Kane is less stiff than Rose’s. She has more experience disguising her accent without undermining her performance. So this show found a perfect Kate Kane replacement & naturally had her be Kate Kane as little as possible. Day auditioned soon after Ruby Rose’s departure. So they just opted to drag out the recasting process to make everything as convoluted as possible. (Rose congratulated both Javicia Leslie & Day because she’s not a sore quitter.) Since this was the least clean break possible, this all distracts from Ryan Wilder as the new star of the series. Every time rookie Ryan was growing on me as a replacement, the series insisted on dangling her predecessor at viewers.
Kate Kane has been brainwashed into thinking she’s the late Circe Sionis, whom was trampled to death in the latest Arkham breakout. Does wearing Circe’s death mask make her White Mask? Kate’s voice box has been damaged. All her tats got burnt off (The makeup department is either relived or disappointed it can’t show off.), but Janus super cosmetics flawlessly repaired the dermal damage. Her fingerprints remain conveniently undamaged. (Circe was Black Mask’s ex-lover in the comics, not the Wonder Woman foe though, which adds an unnecessary icky Elektra connotation once you learn this.) Roman is using rehab as an excuse for his daughter’s reappearance, but there there was an official death certificate to go with her corpse.
Alice rivals Malcolm Merlyn in the heroes letting their archnemesis have way too much liberty. They’re all too broken up by the Kate debacle to bother trying to apprehend her. Then they team up with her for dubious reasons. Only Batwoman 2.0 has the gumption to abandon her to White Mask. This leads to Alice giving Kate her new visage. The show also tries to make Alice seem more redeemable by giving her a boyfriend, Ocean, & insisting that Enigma erasing her memories of him was what truly pushed her to becoming a terrorist. A devoted boyfriend would’ve kept her from going on murderous tantrums?
Since Ryan Wilder has Stephanie Brown’s spunky irreverent personality, Stephanie Brown was made a serious cryptographer. Brunettes have been stealing roles from gingers, but now the gingers have begun stealing roles from blondes! She doesn’t become Spoiler or Batgirl yet, but Margo Kohan dons a lovely purple trenchcoat. Although she gets damseled twice, it still felt like a backdoor pilot for a Spoiler series. It also managed the rare feat of making Crowphie Moore look cool.
Steph’s dad put on his Cluemaster suit just to attempt suicide? For someone who was outraged at Quiz Bowl’s writers dumbing down questions, Cluemaster sure asks some basic Batman questions. (Does Sophie’s comment about Mr. Freeze mean Crisis put Nora Fries back in the refrigerator after Elseworlds? The Medusa Mask popped up in Central City sans Psycho Pirate, which implies this show has no plans to reference the crossover.) If not MIT, where did Luke Fox attend university?
The show kind of responded to my criticism of how it handles the GCPD & Crows. Ryan, Luke, & even Sophie are arrested at The Hold Up fundraiser on racist trumped up charges by the GCPD. This is a much more on point look at police abusing power than CCPD arresting Killer Frost. Rather than continue with this theme, it unfortunately shifts the Crows’ crimes back into focus. As acting commander, Sophie orders the Crows to contain the outbreak of Snakebite users turned cannibals despite it being outside their jurisdiction. Although Batwoman has an antidote, the Crows field team led by Russell Tavaroff just inject the hungry addicts with hot lead. This spurs a regretful Sophie to resign, which sadly ends the superb Crowphie nickname. Then Tavaroff shoots Luke Fox when he foolishly intercedes in a carjacking.
Both the GCPD & the Crows can be bad, but it seems disingenuous to call for social justice reform when the one that gets the most attention is an extra step removed from reality. They finally get around to showing the GCPD is monstrously corrupt, but only after disbanding Crows. A better series could’ve shown both simultaneously.
Ocean kills Enigma right before she can give Alice the trigger word to un-brainwash Kate. I guess it wasn’t important that she was Riddler’s daughter! They didn’t bother confirming until the episode after she was killed. Will season three be about Riddler seeking vengeance on Ocean for something the audience was actually aware of?
All it took for Jacob to finally disband Crows was his agents trying to kill him in a coup. He wasn’t even that upset about Luke getting shot. He was only mildly suspicious of Tavaroff’s testimony against Luke instead of instantly being outraged by his obvious bullshit. Killing a bunch of people after he’d been instructed to use non-lethal force didn’t even garner an automatic suspension? Jacob even put two armed guards on Luke’s hospital room when doctors were unsure he’d survive.
Lube Man Wolf Spider got Luke the desert rose serum in a fun sequence. This is depressingly undercut by Luke saying he didn’t want to pull through because he’d rather be with his ghost dad than put up with more systemic racism.
Diggle popped up for a superfluous cameo, but I can’t be mad at seeing David Ramsey again. It’s nice to have some connectivity since COVID kiboshed the Superman & Lois crossover. Of course if Kate had jotted down Martian Manhunter’s contact deets in the Bat-Rolodex after Crisis, her fellow Paragon could’ve gotten her mind right pronto.
Much like the Beeboverse’s lousy Ra’s al Ghul, Queen Safiyah Sohail enters the picture cicuitously & hangs around long past her welcome. She understandably wants Coryana & its desert roses left in peace. Her unrequited thirstiness for Alice, who’s replaced her sister’s connection to Safiyah & Coryana from the comics, compels her to needlessly be an antagonist. Shivani Ghai’s regal performance is hamstrung by the bland material she’s given. Even her passion for Alice is too restrained for her to generate much interest. Safiyah deserves credit for seeking Alice’s consent rather than having Enigma hypnotize it into her, although that rapey plan makes more sense than anything she does.
Caroline Dries promised us lesbian pirates in season two! The Vorpal Blade airship may be too pricey, but we don’t even see Safiyah’s nautical ships attack Gotham Harbor! There’s only a reference to Alice arriving at Coryana as a stowaway on a yacht the Coryanans hijacked. Meanwhile The Flash, which has also been ropey this season, provided an invisible dirigible for an episode.
Circe Sionis was sexually harassed by a CEO, so she gouged out his eyes. (Without a flashback for objective context, it’s a questionable #MeToo moment.) Roman Sionis blames the Crows, which Janus Corp also employs, for sending her to Arkham Asylum. So that’s why Roman has a vendetta against Jacob Kane. It still doesn’t know how he found out Kate Kane was Batwoman as soon as his daughter was trampled to death in the Arkham escape Alice instigated. It’s not the first time a supervillain has blamed the wrong people for a loved one’s death (i.e. Deathstroke), but it feels extra jumbled here. How could he cover up the incident if he wasn’t influential enough to have Circe avoid sentencing? Based on the narrative’s timetable, he’d only have a few days to plan the kidnapping, plane bombing, & brainwashing.
Safiyah & Black Mask form an alliance. They don’t seem like the types to seek each other out, but it’s convenient for the writers to put all the villains together. Apparently Safiyah told Sionis about Kate’s travel itinerary, but why would she have heard about his irrational beef with the Kanes all the way over in Coryana? If she wanted to use Kate as a bargaining chip for Alice’s allegiance, why involve some rando instead of having The Many Arms Of Death do the kidnapping for her? You might reason that Enigma put them in contact with each other since she was unethical, yet she never told Roman that Alice was Kate’s sister despite being hired to research the Kanes for him. I tried rewatching scenes to make sense of the clues I might’ve missed. The details still didn’t add up
Team Batwoman forgot to take a cutting of Ryan’s potted Coryana desert rose before trading it to Safiyah for Alice on the grounds Kate needs her. Safiyah still has Tatiana kill Ocean for real this time. Alice puts Tatiana the Whisper & her stupid accent out of our misery. (We never get confirmation of whether she’s a lackluster original character or a botched adaptation of Tahani the Knife or Whisper A’Daire.) Safiyah wants to use Poison Ivy’s vines to jumpstanrt the desert roses that Alice torched to extinction (inadvertently killing eight Coryanans), which is not villainous. She is still thinking below the belt when she asks Alice to come back to Coryana while spreading Ocean’s ashes into the ocean. Her unrequited love stabs her with the absurd knife that heals all punctures when removed. Hasn’t all the desert rose juice on its blade dried up by now? So does Ryan get her plant back? Now who’ll run Coryana?
The season picks up a bit once they put the Kate Kane cards on the table. The stuff before that is still a messy waste of time. The ante-penultimate episode passes Kate/Circe back & forth between parties & allegiances at bewildering speed. Jacob gets arrested for abetting Alice while they rescued/kidnapped Kate from Sionis. He gets remanded to Blackgate instantly. Meanwhile Tavaroff got out on bail for a much longer list of crimes including attempted & mass murder.
Tavaroff & the freshly unemployed Crows are recruited by Sionis. He appeals to them by saying the Defund The
Police Crows movement is the real enemy since it cares too much about civil liberties of criminals. (Not that either Batwoman is big on civil liberties either.) Since he’s encouraging them to become armed vigilantes, won’t they just kill his Snakebite pushers & buyers? That wouldn’t be good for business. Now that he’s outed himself as Black Mask before vetting them, what’s to stop them from reclaiming the city’s approval by whacking Gotham’s top crimester with his own weapons?
After Batwoman steals the laptop of Black Mask’s accountant, Ryan is immediately framed & arrested at her van. Since these are his dirty cops, there’s no reason why they don’t just kill her there instead of bringing her all the way down to the station. Sionis gives Ryan a very half-hearted “We’re not so different, you & I speech.” Her upset parole officer helps her escape after she fesses up to being Batwoman.
There’s a ten hour gap between Kate stabbing Roman in the hand & her going on a bender at The Hold Up. I thought this was more sloppy writing since the last time they left a big narrative lacuna. This time it’s an intentional misdirect. We learn Kate didn’t overcome the Circe programming & is still working with her dad to undermine the Bat-team. Rather than rescue Ryan, she takes down Mary, Luke, & Sophie.
Evil Kate walking around the Batcave unlocks new rooms we’ve never glimpsed before. It’s like the reverse of Superman going to The Fortress Of Solitude on S&L. So Mad Hatter did exist in the Beeboverse. It’s still weird that Jervis Tetch wasn’t August Cartwright or Enigma. Why were his hat, Killer Croc’s tooth, Penguin’s umbrella, Mr. Freeze’s cryo-gun, Joker’s acid-squirting flower & joy buzzer, Poison Ivy’s roots, Bane’s Venom, Clayface’s mud, & Kryptonite in cold bio-hazard storage when barely any of them would be considered bio-hazards or perishable? (Fear gas isn’t present because it’s widely available in Gotham.) Sionis turns Tavaroff into
Knockoff Bane Menace by equipping him with Venom combined with Snakebite.
I wasn’t even that invested in Kate, & I found the extended torture & brainwashing into a supervilainess to be unsavory. Maybe if they’d wrapped it up within two episodes it’d feel like an invigorating spin on an old trope. Evil Kate isn’t even an intriguing manifestation of her own darkness like Supergirl exposed to red Kryptonite. (The show honestly believing a dead woman’s personality could be accurately hypnotized into a stranger tracks with its concept of realism.) The hardcore “Kate Kane is Batwoman” crew must feel incredibly betrayed.
Amidst all my complaints, it must be acknowledged that Black Mask is a highlight. Peter Outerbridge is disingenuously smarmy as Roman Sionis whereas his masked alter ego (complete with widow’s peak) is metaphorically his true face. Not since Liquidator has there been a more marketing obsessed foe. He may not be a top tier Bat-rogue, but he’s effective as a corrupter. His touch is much more personal than just Jokerizing everyone. He’s a great foil to Wilder’s efforts to rehabilitate Gotham City from the ground up. His debonair suits aren’t as stylish, but this may be an even better portrayal than BOP’s. Since he’s just an evil rich guy, you don’t need to feel conflicted about him getting his comeuppance as you might with supervillains on the mentally unstable or poor sides. You just need to ignore how wonky the set-up for him is.
Black Mask shuts down the city’s power & tells everyone to
be gay, do crimes overthrow Gotham’s government because it sucks. Gothamites eagerly await the declaration of each year’s Riot Night! Even though this is an annual occurrence, the Batcave doesn’t have a generator?
The season finale crams in the transformations of Circe/Kate to evil Batwoman, Tavaroff to Menace, & Luke to Batwing. Only Batwing has some oomph, but that was still deflated by The CW spoiling the surprise. (Camrus Johnson wrote a story for Batman: Urban Legends #4.) Luke’s Batwing armor looks rad considering the TV budget & is based on his childhood drawings. It evokes a prototype for the Batman Beyond suit. Its biggest issue is its lack of bat wings. He anticlimactically defeats Menace with a single punch. (Sionis had earlier tossed him in the the trash where he belongs.) “Circe” customizes the stolen Batwoman-suit by slashing it up with Kryptonite. That’s both try-hard & tactically unsound to ruin nigh-impervious armor. What is even the point when Ryan doesn’t wear another Batwoman suit in any of their scuffles?
Sionis plans to become the city’s white knight by executing a decoy Black Mask the next day. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy is a standard mayoral campaign strategy in Gotham. Ryan & Alice infiltrate his latest lair wearing freebie black masks, not that it had any security. In the finale’s best moment, Alice foils his scheme by melting the Black Mask onto his face. So he gets the Baron Zemo treatment before Baron Zemo.
Mary hypothesizes they can restore Kate’s memories by spraying her with Snakebite gas. She & Alice (who conveniently knew where the Batmobile would be after they separated) go over a bridge together, but Alice pulls her ashore. Kate doesn’t even get to do a heroic save upon regaining her memory. Immediately after Ryan & Alice give Kate CPR, cops who randomly strolled by the riverbank arrest Alice.
As expected, Kate gives Ryan her blessing to continue being the city’s only Batwoman. (Not that Ryan needed it by then.) We don’t know if her death declaration is reversed. After a farewll kiss with Sophie, she departs to look for Bruce Wayne. If Kate shows up for guest appearances without Bruce in tow, she’s gonna look like a failure. (The WB won’t let Bruce be Batman on TV anymore, so him not suiting up won’t please anyone.) After all that trouble restoring her & finding an actress the fandom & cast clicks with better, the showrunner is officially kicking Kate Kane to the curb. If Kate doesn’t even exit on a triumphant note, why bother dragging her through all this suffering? Why no dynamic Batwoman duo? They didn’t have to dishonor her to make way for her successor. Death would’ve been more dignified than being thrown under the bus & sent packing.
Ryan gets released from parole early despite smugly telling off the parole board. The Batwoman suit is magically back in one piece in the Batcave. The riots just stopped. Black Mask & Alice are locked away in Arkham. None of Jacob’s daughters care he’s in prison. (Dougray Scott will not be returning as a series regular.) This would also be a natural endpoint for Alice, but the writers decided there’s no show without her. Alice tells Ryan that her biological mother, that she’d previously mocked Ryan for killing in childbirth, is actually alive. She’ll probably be a supervillain. Batman’s rogues trophies are released into the wild to empower knockoff baddies for next season. WB is probably not going to let them use genuine Poison Ivy unless it’s part of a homophobic plan to keep her from romancing Harley Quinn on the big screen. (DC used an altered panel of Poison-Quinn awkwardly kissing cheek not mouth to denounce queerbaiting, but Ivy grasping Harley’s butt was untouched.) We’ll probably meet The Gardener, Ferak, Louie the Lilac, or Floronic Man instead. Maybe it’s for the best Swamp Thing’s danglers won’t be resolved here.
Can Mary upgrade to Bat-Girl, Flamebird, or Hawkfire next season? (Was Alice being Beth Kane meant to be a grimdark revamp of Bette Kane before comics writers remembered she already existed Post-Crisis?) Mary Hamilton-Kane, Thea Queen, Jennifer Pierce, Nia Nal, & Sara Lance would be a cool younger sisters squad. Willa Holland & China Anne McClain appear to be done with the Beeboverse though, so I don’t expect to see a team-up episode. Sophie’s codename could be Gun-Show & her supersuit ought be sleeveless. Sleeves would disguise her distinctive deltoids as a civilian. Get to lifting, Meagan Tandy!
Even Black Lightning struggled to incorporate real world issues with superheroics, & I’d say it had better writers. So much of Batwoman feels slapdash. (Perhaps I was too harsh on early Supergirl?) The areas that the writers best convey are depressing racial injustice & grody physical torture. If the quality of the surrounding writing was better, this would feel less exploitative. It rarely has the gonzo gusto of Gotham. Juggling weighty topics & sci-fi is difficult but not an impossible balancing act as demonstrated in HBO’s Watchmen.
While most of the season felt unhinged, the finale was pretty predictable. They didn’t even get shorted any episodes yet it was underwhelming. I guess that’s better than being an utter trainwreck. Now the second season as a whole might be dumpster fire…