Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 8
“A Mad Tea Party”
Batwoman wraps up for midseason with Alice executing her master plan and a paradigm shift for all of the characters in different ways.
In one form or another this episode is all about relationships and how events can change them. The Kate/Alice relationship has been a cornerstone of the series with Kate’s blind spot for her sister proving to be a massive liability when it comes to dealing with her. Kate is convinced that the woman who was once her twin sister Beth can be redeemed and her sister can come back to her. Her actions consistently suggest the opposite and Kate is unable to see it because she chooses to have hope. This means that a dangerous criminal is allowed to run riot across the city because Kate refuses to do what’s necessary to bring her down. It’s not a good stance for a costumed hero to take but Kate’s perspective is also understandable given who Alice is.
It was inevitable that something would take place that forces a change whether that be Alice’s redemption or Kate realising that she is someone who has to be stopped. Alice chooses an event honouring Catherine to make her point and the episode takes its time detailing what that point is. The previous episode revealed that Jacob has been replaced by Mouse and this episode has the real Jacob captured by Alice who has the opportunity to confront her father about giving up on her. The have a brief but emotionally raw conversation where Alice looks to understand how Jacob could give up on her on the word of a woman he barely knew. At first Jacob tries to justify it by saying he had no reason to believe Catherine was lying but quickly admits how ashamed he is of the decisions he made back then. He knows that he should have had the DNA tested himself to verify the information but it was also easier for him to believe that she was dead rather than constantly holding out hope for something that might never come to pass. Jacob made a selfish decision to believe that his daughter was dead so that he could move on with his life and now he is being faced with the consequences of that decision in the form of a corrupted version of the daughter he lost.
Recently Jacob has become more interesting because of insight into the pain he keeps buried deep inside him. The moments of vulnerability we see are excellently done and reveal his gruff exterior to be a well cultivated defence mechanism that allows him to function. There are ways to get through that barrier as has been seen and this is a particularly strong example of that. Looking his daughter in the eye and telling her that he knows he failed her is brutal honesty from him and Dougray Scott’s performance suggests that this is something he doesn’t want to admit to himself. In many ways his life has been defined by his decision to take Catherine’s findings at face value and now he struggles to live with himself for giving up on his daughter all those years ago because the consequence of that is the unhinged villain that stands before him.
It’s a revealing conversation for Alice as well because she gets to directly confront her father in his most vulnerable state to hear him admit how he really feels about the decision he made to abandon his search for her. It’s something she needed to hear and it briefly makes her slip out of the Alice persona to react. Rachel Skarsten portrays the shift from Alice to Beth with flawless subtlety before returning to the theatrical Alice persona. Little acting details like this massively elevate the material to create something truly memorable. In this scene I’m fully sold on the anguish both parties are experiencing and it makes for a truly heartbreaking interaction.
Alice specifically references Jacob believing Catherine despite knowing her for less than a year at that point. There is clear resentment of Catherine and the role she has taken in Jacob’s life. She holds Catherine responsible for Jacob giving up and wants to punish her for that fact as well as remove any distractions her family have from recognising what she believes to be their true family. It’s a really twisted cry for help on Alice’s part but it all stems from her abandonment issues being corrupted to the point that Alice is now. Her Mad Tea Party is about attacking Catherine because of what she did. The first thing she does is force her to admit the truth about her hidden arms deals which shines an unflattering spotlight on her in front of the people of Gotham which could have the consequence of completely discrediting her company to the point that they are unable to function. It also highlights that Catherine is a duplicitous figure who is receiving the honour under false pretences. This ties into the overall theme of corruption within Gotham City and how the rich can do whatever they want without suffering any negative consequences. An attack on Catherine is an attack on that societal elite and shows that there are those who won’t stand for it. Of course for Alice it’s a personal attack but the people don’t know that and it will only inflame the rich/poor divide that definitely exists within the city. It’s not something that receives a lot of specific attention but it’s in the background thanks to radio broadcasts discussing the fallout of the event.
Catherine’s death doesn’t have the impact that the writers want it to have because of how problematic the character is but it’s important for a variety of reasons due to what it represents. It’s also a good idea for the show to shed the dead weight that was dragging it down. She wasn’t being used well and nothing was making her feel like an essential part element in the world of the show so it makes sense to get rid of her and use her death for an important purpose. The main thing her death achieves is convincing both Kate and Jacob to see her as a dangerous criminal that needs to be brought down. Her actions provoke a complete loss of faith in both of them and they agree that she needs to be dealt with like any other criminal in the city. Jacob promises to bring her down and Kate promises that she isn’t going to stop them so they’re going into the second half of the season with a renewed determination to not let Alice hurt anyone else. It’s unlikely to be as simple as that as there is clearly an internal conflict within Alice at play so I suspect the next step will be that she tries to find redemption but it isn’t believed to be genuine until some sort of revelatory moment later in the season.
This episode makes it clear that Kate’s change in attitude is significant as she begins the episode full of hope that her sister is still in there and can be reached. Her hope is reinforced when she goes to Alice’s lair completely unarmed to ask about the weapon that should have killed her and didn’t. Alice confirms to her that she took steps to ensure that the weapon would be unable to threaten her ever again which tells Kate that she cares about her and keeping pictures of the two of them as children only adds to the possibility of redemption. This is built up only to be torn apart when Kate is forced to admit that Alice is beyond redemption. She grudgingly admits to Mary that Alice isn’t worth it and flips her previous stance on how to deal with her.
Kate’s stance is interesting given that her initial motivation for going down the route of being a vigilante was to save her sister. Since that point her mission evolved to being in service of the city as the symbol many of the people in it need to inspire them but her initial reasoning was to wear a protective costume in her pursuit of Alice. It’s fitting that her perspective on Alice would shift so completely as her identity as Batwoman represents so much more than she ever assumed it would. By cutting Alice slack she’s doing a disservice to those she protects by putting them in more danger than is necessary. We shall see if this less forgiving attitude is something she follows through on in later episodes.
Mary continues to be a strong fixture and her presence adds far more weight to Catherine’s death. Even though Catherine is far from a well developed character it’s clear that Mary has a strong connection to her and some time is taken to reaffirm that connection by showing them spending time together as a family. There’s a comfort and familiarity to Nicole Kang’s performance in these moments which quickly paints a picture of a strong familial connection that is being repaired. Nicole Kang absolutely delivers in the scenes where Catherine’s life is ebbing way. There’s a mix of distress and professionalism in her performance as Mary struggles to reassure her dying mother while holding back the fact that she wants nothing more than to break down. Her fearless handling of Alice as she gloats about what she has done and the sadistic choice being presented to them is brilliant as well. There has been a consistent rivalry between them as both want to be the dominant sister so play off each other with that goal in mind. Alice poisoning both Catherine and Mary is her way of removing the competition that prevents her version of the family unit she wants from existing. Allowing one of them to live through taking the antidote is just another way of torturing the stepfamily and serves as a reminder that she will continue to gun for them.
Mary taking the antidote makes sense on a narrative level as she is the character with the most to give in the broader context of the show but also makes emotional sense as it allows Catherine’s final act to be that of a mother ensuring the safety of her child. She also gets the opportunity to tell Mary how proud she is of what she’s accomplished with the clinic that she already knows about. It’s a heartfelt exchange that is wonderfully acted and takes full advantage of the mother/daughter connection. Strong performances compensate for the lack of background development and Nicole Kang fully commits to the wide range of emotions being felt by Mary. The loss of Catherine has the potential to have consequences in her relationship with Kate and I’m all for it because it provides more nuanced material for Mary.
Taking the time for Sophie and Tyler to talk about their relationship in the midst of this rapidly escalating situation is a puzzling choice as they should be more focused on the problem at hand given their occupations. Tyler is finding it difficult to process the fact that his wife had a three year relationship with Kate that she didn’t tell him about and isn’t willing to take her assertion that he’s the one she wants to be with at face value. He confronts her about it and asks for more a more detailed explanation as to what went on and what it really meant to her. It’s not a conversation Sophie feels comfortable having which says a lot about how much Kate actually meant to her as well as how much Kate probably still does mean to her. These scenes aren’t easy to watch because they’re so hopelessly derivative with the Tyler character only existing to keep Kate and Sophie apart for a period of time before they have the opportunity to resolve their feelings for one another. Greyston Holt is doing a fine job with the material he has and Tyler seems like a genuinely reasonable guy who unfortunately fell for a woman that doesn’t feel the same about him. To his credit he handles this with grace and maturity; he outlines what he wants from the relationship and asks her what it is she wants from it then gives her the space and time she needs to come up with an answer. It isn’t going to end well for Tyler that much is clear which makes the whole plot feel tedious as it’s wasting a character who acts as little more than a means to an end.
A strong episode that moves many of the characters forward in very definitive ways and delivers really strong emotional moments that showcase the talents of the cast. The major development for Kate is moving past the blind spot she has for Alice where her actions are excused under the assumption that her sister can be redeemed. There is evidence that the Beth persona still exists thanks to the subtleties within Rachel Skarsten’s performance during the scenes Alice shares with Kate and Jacob but this episode marks the point where the danger that Alice represents can no longer be ignored regardless of that familial connection. The death of Catherine allows Jacob and Kate to realise this and both resolve to bring her down. Catherine’s death feels necessary for the progression of the characters and allows the writers to naturally shed some dead weight in the cast that wasn’t working due to how underdeveloped she was. She is much better used here through her connections to the other characters such as Mary who shares some really moving moments with her. Nicole Kang’s performance is excellent with a wide variety of emotions being expressed as her mother clings to life. It’s clearly a defining experience for her and proper closure on their relationship is quickly established.
Less effective is the time spent exploring Sophie and Tyler’s relationship. These scenes are hard to watch because both of the characters should be focused on the problem at hand rather than the emotional rift that is developing between them. It also doesn’t help that Tyler is little more than a means to an end designed to keep Sophie and Kate apart for a period of time before they inevitably reconcile. Tyler seems like a reasonable and decent guy who just wants to understand why he was lied to for so long and when faced with the reality of losing his wife because she wants different things from him he gives her the time and space to figure things out. It’s clear where this is going so it feels as if the show is going through the motions in order to get to that point which does a disservice to Tyler as a character and wastes Greyston Holt as an actor.
- focusing on how various characters relate to Alice and using that to move them forward in definitive ways
- Alice and Jacob’s scene where Jacob admits to seeing himself as a failure
- the subtleties in Rachel Skarsten’s performance allowing the Beth persona to creep through periodically
- Kate’s realisation that she can’t continue to hope for Alice’s redemption
- Mary’s powerful final moments with Catherine and the showcase of their relationship
- Catherine’s death serving an important narrative purpose
- Nicole Kang’s rich and varied performance
- the focus on Tyler and Sophie’s relationship coming at the wrong time
- Tyler feeling like a means to an end which makes for a waste of a character and a talented actor
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