Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 17
“A Narrow Escape”
Batwoman returns from a coronavirus inspired hiatus to deal with guilt and the desire for revenge.
Before the hiatus I missed reviews of two episodes; those episodes featured Kate killing Cartwright and then taking steps to cover it up while being concerned about what she might be becoming. I enjoyed these episodes because I felt that they started the exploration of such a difficult and layered subject really well so I’m pleased to see that continue so strongly in this episode.
Alice has been the dark mirror for Kate since this show began. If circumstances were different then Kate could have had Alice’s life and turned out to be as corrupted as she is. Whether you subscribe to the nature or nurture side of the debate it’s undeniable that Kate feels this is true and it’s a prospect she continually struggles with. Cartwright pushed Kate to the edge and she tumbled right over it which all but confirms to her that she and Alice are really no different deep down. This informs her central conflict for this episode as she has now feels like a fraud whenever she suits up as Batwoman since she sees herself as nothing more than a common murderer.
A character with a no killing rule having to deal with the fact that they killed someone has a great deal of storytelling potential as it’s a challenge to their most fundamental value. Superhero media often dodges the issue by having the hero present when the villain dies with the cause being accidental or the villain somehow bringing it on themselves. This means that the development usually amounts to the hero feeling guilty for a little while before realising that it wasn’t their fault and being able to forgive themselves. In this case there’s no ambiguity as Kate choked the life out of Cartwright and looked into his eyes as he died. There’s no excuse that will absolve Kate of any wrongdoing which makes for a really bold and interesting choice on the part of the writers.
Kate having to live with what she’s done is an excellent foundation for character development as it presents a narrative where Kate has to figure out how she will move forward. A major problem for her is that she doesn’t really have anyone she feels that she can confide in. She spends the vast chunk of this episode lying to Luke about Cartwright, can’t turn to Sophie for help, keeps Mary out of the Batwoman part of her life and even rejects Penny’s offer of emotional support. As the episode begins Kate is spiralling and can’t get a grip on reality. She is plagued by several severe panic attacks throughout as the memory of what she has done hits her so she’s very much at the beginning of a very long process.
This is handled brilliantly with a stellar performance from Ruby Rose who fully commits to Kate descending further down a pit of despair. Some of the shorthand to show her inner trauma is a bit obvious such as living in a mess to represent the chaos that is her thoughts and emotions but her performance hits the right notes consistently which makes the situation constantly engaging. Thankfully the episode doesn’t dwell on the kiss Kate and Julia shared in the previous episode; instead passing it off as something that happened between them that doesn’t need extensive coverage. Julia understands what it was and is happy to leave it at that and Kate isn’t able to articulate what her current emotional state is so it’s acknowledged and largely buried. This is a smart decision as it allows Kate’s inner conflict to take precedence without trying to define it through the lens of a mistaken romantic entanglement.
Kate does eventually find a way to continue her role as Batwoman despite what she did. Batwoman is a symbol of hope and justice that remains untainted by the fact that Kate killed someone. Since the murder was covered up and Batwoman wasn’t connected to it she gets to remain the symbol that Gotham needs. The fact that Kate no longer feels that she lives up to that is a separate issue. Part of her problem is that she continues to compare herself to Bruce and his exploits as Batman. He seems to cast a long -bat shaped- shadow of excellence in crime fighting that she can never live up to and the fact that she took a life where he didn’t confirms that in her mind. It isn’t mentioned but the dark and corrupt murderer version of Bruce that she encountered during “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is very much the worst case scenario for her and a physical example of everything she stands against. Her recent experience must have her feeling like she’s heading down that path and the thought that she has it within her to become that is terrifying to her.
Luke helps Kate see that Bruce wasn’t perfect and implies that the reason he’s no longer active as Batman is because he took the Joker’s life and somehow felt that this meant he was no long fit to continue fighting crime. I can see the rationale behind having Kate feel better about failing to live up to her own ideals by allowing her to see that her cousin was flawed in a similar way but I think this show leans too heavily on comparing Kate and Bruce in both positive and negative ways. Many conversations go down the route of point out how she’s living up to or exceeding his example rather than actually focusing on what she does that’s different. Less mentions of Batman would benefit this show massively as it should be about Kate’s journey rather than her journey relative to Bruce Wayne’s. A significant part of the setup has to do with Batman’s disappearance leaving a void waiting to be filled by a new hero but now that this is out of the way it would be better to have Batwoman defined more by her own actions. I think the writers do a great job giving Kate her own identity which only makes the Batman references stand out even more.
In this case Kate is encouraged to be better than her cousin and not give up in the face of a bad decision made in a moment of extreme passion. She may have trouble living with herself but the city still needs a hero and she can still do a lot to protect people. Once again this is fine on the surface but the comparison wasn’t needed especially since Mary made that point very eloquently earlier in the episode. Kate tried to counter it by stating that she isn’t a hero which led to Mary telling her that she doesn’t need to be but she does need to keep going. Mary has a frontline view of what a city without Batwoman looks like with her clinic so she’s in a better position than any other character to talk about the material impact Batwoman’s presence has on the safety of those in the city. It’s very telling that Mary decides to drop the coy game she has been playing and confront Kate with the fact she knows the truth as it shows how serious she situation has been become after only a short period of absence from Batwoman.
Kate and Luke knowing that Mary is in on the secret can only be a good thing. This episode suggests that she will become an active part of Team Batwoman which is something that greatly excites me as Mary enhances any scene that she’s in and already has a fun dynamic with Luke that should now have plenty of opportunity for exploration. Her dynamic with Kate changes and evolves all the time so letting it continue to do so under the new context has a lot of potential. It’s past time to have Mary officially on the team so we shall see how this develops.
Luke’s current plot isn’t quite a mirror of what Kate’s going through but it definitely links to it. He’s consumed with a desire to get justice for his father which means killing the one responsible where Kate understands first hand that killing someone who wronged you accomplishes absolutely nothing. At the beginning of the episode Luke still has to come to that conclusion so spends a lot of time being angry and vengeful as the circumstances of his father’s murder become more complex. There is definitely more to it than he originally thought and the lack of answers continues to frustrate him which only compounds his rage and clouds his judgement even further. This all culminates in a tense moment where Like holds a gun to the head of the man responsible and has to be talked down by Kate who finally confesses to him that she killed Cartwright. This reveal is enough for Luke to snap out of his red mist and start to consider the situation more rationally. Seeing how Kate has been acting lately is enough to convince him that committing murder won’t bring him any form of peace and he stands down; instead choosing to honour his father by trying to make the justice system better.
This episode raises interesting points about Kate and Luke’s partnership. Up until this point they’ve largely kept each other at a professional distance. They trust each other and make a good team but their interactions are largely business focused which means they never cross the border into friendship territory for one reason or another. Luke suggests that their partnership won’t be all it can can be unless he knows what’s going on with her. He feels that he needs to know why she’s so distracted and upset because it’s necessary for maximum efficiency. In his own roundabout way he’s offering himself as the emotional support that she needs when she’s unable to turn to anyone else for support. Nobody else is involved in her Batwoman life to the extent he is so he’s the logical choice for her to turn to when she needs to confide in someone about something that is bothering her in that aspect of her life. Luke has his own issues and is emotionally distant for her own reasons but they have a great deal in common and it makes sense for each of them to make use of that to help each other deal with what they’re going through. Of course this needs to work both ways which will likely come in time. Mary being part of the inner circle opens up the potential for her to offer emotional support in her own unique way but there’s still a sense that Luke and Kate’s partnership is evolving into a true friendship especially after their shared perspective on murder and the consequences of it. This show is enriching the key relationships all the time and it’s playing out nicely.
Speaking of the key relationships; the only Kate/Alice interaction in this episode was through a dream sequence detailing an idealised version of their relationship. The real world focus is actually on Alice and Mouse who are spending their time in an asylum plotting their escape before realising that they’re actually a lot safer in there and can do a lot if they simply take control of the place from within. This seems to be tied to increasing the overall influence of Tommy Elliot (Gabriel Mann) on the ongoing story. He’s part of the Lucius Fox murder in some way and his obsession with Bruce Wayne is still greatly impacting his own sense of identity so it could be that he is being set up to have a more prominent presence through Alice while having some as yet unknown connection to the murder of Lucius Fox.
Once again the villain of the week left a lot to be desired but the impact on the world the show belongs to was strong. I’ve mentioned before that part of the appeal of Batman is that Gotham City is often characterised in its own right and the villain story in this episode is another great example of how that can come across. A villain attaching explosives to people while rigging a building and offering them the choice to save either their own life of the lives of all of the strangers living in that building is an excellently sadistic choice. Those chosen are in positions of public service meaning that their loyalty to the people they protect is being directly tested and their true courage is being proven by their choice. The first immediately chooses to save his own life where the second calls The Crows so that they have a chance to save the people that will be killed by the explosion. Jacob similarly chooses to wait as long as possible though his commitment to saving others has never been in doubt. This is an interesting way of showing the variation in viewpoints within the city while offering some commentary on what motivates the people who live there. The first victim choosing to save himself isn’t something he can really be blamed for as many people would make the same choice when put in that situation but it does give the viewer an idea of how self motivated many people in Gotham are and how they can’t be counted on to do the right thing when placed under a specific kind of stress. This further highlights the need for Batwoman as Kate needs to send a clear example of people being the best and most courageous version of themselves. Everyone doing their part will prove instrumental in saving Gotham’s soul otherwise villains like The Detonator will continue to be a threat. The battle for Gotham’s soul is still very much ongoing.
This episode continues the surprisingly strong Sophie/Julia pairing with them frequently working together throughout the episode before being officially sanctioned to work together once Sophie is reinstated. There are definite flirtatious vibes between them though I’d rather this became more of a close friendship than something romantic as it would only invite the possibility of a love triangle that includes Kate and those are never anything but tedious plus it’s less than interesting if every engaging pairing has to be romantically linked. Friendships are a thing and deserve to be represented.
A strong episode that does an excellent job exploring Kate’s reaction to recently crossing the line while linking it seamlessly to Luke building up to deciding whether he will cross that same line. At some points the visual language showcasing Kate’s inner conflict is a bit obvious but Ruby Rose’ excellent performance more than makes up for this. The frequent panic attacks as she replays the moment in her head and questions what she is becoming are handled brilliantly as is the impact on her as a person. She no longer feels that she can live up to the symbol that is Batwoman and has to be convinced that continuing on is worthwhile. The notion that Kate feels tainted by what she’s done but the idea of Batwoman remains untarnished is an interesting one and Mary advising her that she doesn’t need to be a hero but does need to keep going is spot on. She’s in the perfect position to see how Gotham is negatively affected by the absence of Batwoman and ending her coy game that she was playing with Kate around her knowledge of the truth shows how seriously she is taking the current situation. Mary becoming part of Team Batwoman is long overdue and can only be a good thing now that it has finally happened. Mary’s advice along with Luke’s helps Kate find a way to move forward as Batwoman though it could have been done without inviting yet more comparisons to Batwoman as the mythology of this show is more than strong enough to stand on its own at this point.
Luke’s plot doesn’t quite mirror Kate’s but it definitely connects to it. He is angry and vengeful and she has first hand experience that killing someone who wronged you does absolutely nothing to help in dealing with the issue. It only serves to send someone spiralling down a dark path and Kate would like to avoid that where Luke is concerned so opens up to him about her own experience which gives him enough clarity to realise that he’s approaching this the wrong way. The mystery around Luke’s father’s murder is deepening which only adds to Luke’s frustration but he now seems to have reduced the murderous rage which is certainly a positive step. Interesting points are made about Kate and Luke’s partnership when Luke points out that he’s basically the only person she can confide in about Batwoman related issues and it makes more sense for their partnership if he’s in the know. Of course this has to work both ways which will likely come in time. There’s a real sense that their partnership is evolving into a true friendship. Alice and Mouse deciding that it might be beneficial for them to remain in the asylum and run the place because they are safe when in there. Tommy Elliot appears to be becoming more prominent with his Bruce Wayne obsession informing so much of his personality at this point. His role in this plot and connection to Lucius Fox’ murder seems to be setting him up form prominence in the upcoming episodes. The villain of the week was underwhelming but did manage to say a lot about Gotham City on the whole with the first victim quickly opting to save himself while the second is more committed to helping people The battle for Gotham’s soul is an ongoing theme and it’s clear that the symbol that Batwoman represents is still very much needed to inspire people to be better. Sophie and Julia working together proves to be surprisingly strong though I hope it remains a strong partnership rather than capitalising on the flirtatious vibes and going down that route as sometimes strong friendships are better than romantic ones plus not everyone needs to be romantically linked.
- Ruby Rose’ excellent performance
- the exploration of Kate’s reaction to crossing the line
- linking Kate’s reaction to Luke’s plot by having her help him choose a better path
- Mary finally being admitted to the inner circle
- Mary’s advice to Kate about how necessary Batwoman is
- Alice and Mouse deciding to run the asylum rather than escape it
- Gotham’s soul being represented by how people react to the villain
- Julia and Sophie’s dynamic
- continuing to compare Kate’s approach to that of her cousin
- an underwhelming villain character
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