Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 11
“An Un-Birthday Present”
Batwoman presents a complicated situation for Kate after a surprise appearance from someone close to her as Alice tries to get under Sophie’s skin.
The cliffhanger ending of the previous episode where a duplicate Beth shows up in Wayne Tower acting as if Kate should be glad to see her was a really enticing one as it was unexpected and had the potential to have a profound emotional impact on Kate who already struggles with the knowledge that her sister has become a psychotic supervillain.
All told the explanation is really simple assuming you happen to be on board with the idea of multiple universes and have seen the entirety of “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. This new Beth is simply a refugee from a destroyed Earth who essentially washed up on Earth Prime and is now stuck there with no Earth to return to. It appears that the lingering consequences of Crisis will be along these lines for all of the shows which means that the Arrowverse still gets to enjoy the fruits of multiple universes without actually travelling to them. Arguably it’s a bit of a cheat but it’s also fertile ground for storytelling especially when those displaced have a profound connection to one or more of the characters.
In this case, it’s impossible to have a connection any more profound than this as this entire season has been build around Kate and Alice’s relationship. The return of Beth in the form of Alice has stirred up a lot of complicated feelings in Kate who blames herself for not being able to save her sister in the accident that separated them and sent them down very different paths. On one level, this new Beth represents a second chance for Kate to have a healthy relationship with her twin sister but on another Beth is the personification of the regret Kate carries with her.
The latter becomes especially apparent when Kate learns that the version of her that Beth remembers climbed into the car in order to save her. This comes as a shock to Kate as she always believed that she wouldn’t have been able to save Beth had she done that so learning otherwise is difficult for her to accept. It adds to the blame she places on herself and intensifies the regret she feels for failing to take action on that fateful day.
Kate is being far too hard on herself as she shouldn’t blame herself for being afraid to leap into danger at such a young age during a rapidly declining situation. There are people who are well trained that would freeze under such circumstances but the weight of expectation she places on herself isn’t something she can easily deal with. She now knows that a different version of her was able to successfully save her sister and wonders what it is about her that failed to measure up to that courage. It might be interesting to explore specific events in minute detail to see what it was that actually inspired people to take -or not take- certain actions. The variations in how people behave due to circumstance has always been fascinating to me and alternate universes are an ideal way to explore it.
One major thing Kate fails to consider is the fact that there’s no guarantee that she is in any way similar to the Kate that had the courage to put herself at risk in order to save Beth. She sees a photo on Beth’s phone that confirms they look and dress alike but there could be significant differences in their personality. One of those is stated outright when Beth points out that her Kate doesn’t have tattoos because their father wouldn’t approve of them. It’s possible that her Kate only diverged after the accident and everything up until then was exactly the same which means that the displaced Beth is exactly how she would have grown up if she hadn’t been ripped from her life. There isn’t enough information to draw a conclusion either way and we’ve seen duplicates of characters that are similar enough except from their different life experiences. Beth does seem comfortable around Kate which indicates that there aren’t any glaring differences but they don’t take the time to compare notes on their life. At the very least someone like Luke should have made the argument that the version of Kate Beth knows might have very little in common with her. It’s a bit of a gap and it certainly stands out.
Kate does get the opportunity to make up for it in a way when Beth is placed in a similar situation. In this case Kate doesn’t hesitate to leap into a burning car to save her and is fiercely determined to free Beth before she burns to death. She does so with no regard with her own safety showing how far she has come and how brave she is now relative to when she was a young child. Kate also has more to prove in this moment but the fact that her instincts allow her to leap into action even though she doesn’t have her nearly invincible super suit to protect her says a lot about how casually heroic she is. Her actions allow her to succeed in saving Beth’s life which acts as something of an emotional do-over for her. It doesn’t change the past but it does affirm that Kate has become the sort of person who will risk her life to protect those closest to her.
Beth’s appearance coincides with their birthday and is regarded as Kate’s birthday wish coming true. Even though Alice is still a problem she gets a taste of what life would be like if Beth was in it. It’s a very wholesome and happy existence that amounts to everything Kate ever wanted even though the years are still lost. Once she accepts that the alternate Beth is nothing like Alice, Kate seems unburdened by everything that was weighing her down and appears truly content. Ruby Rose plays that personality shift wonderfully and creates one half of a really engaging dynamic.
Rachel Skarsten has a lot of heavy lifting to do in this episode as she has to portray Beth as being completely distinct from Alice while still including enough similarities in her performance to remind the audience that they are the same person with vastly different life experiences shaping who they are. It’s a tall order and she takes to it really well. A shining example is when she is playing Beth finding it difficult to pretend to be Alice. I’m always impressed when actors play someone trying to pretend that they’re the character they always play as it much be a very difficult challenge for them.
Beth is characterised by her warmth and compassion as well as her boundless enthusiasm for everything in her life. It’s odd that she’s bereft of grief after learning that her entire universe has been destroyed and all she currently has is duplicates of those she was close to in her life now. There should be some grief over what has been lost has having duplicates to interact with who are similar enough to the people she knows should be no substitute for those she has unquestionably lost. Kate may look, sound and possibly act like her sister but she isn’t the Kate Beth knew so this should be acknowledged. Granted it would get in the way of the idyllic birthday surprise for Kate but it also ignores something very significant. It would be different if there was some acknowledgement of it being actively ignored by both of them but it just appears as if it’s a non-issue.
Mary remains a bright spot in every episode. Her resistance to Beth’s sudden appearance and her quiet observation that this gives Kate everything she ever wanted is very in keeping with her characterisation over the course of the season. She can’t help but be jealous because she has always wanted Kate to accept her as a sister so this is another obstacle to that acceptance. Mary’s need to be loved and recognised as a sister through more than their parent’s marriage is a really engaging arc because Nicole Kang consistently makes Mary’s feelings appear relatable. Mary’s outward attempt to be understanding considering the circumstances offers a strong counter to her clear jealousy of that connection that she can’t see herself having. Kate also seems quietly oblivious to what Mary wants from her as well which makes the whole thing far more interesting. Mary ending the episode understanding what all of the fuss was about regarding Beth was a nice touch as it shows Mary isn’t above admitting when she was wrong and is a genuinely affectionate person who sees the best in people.
Another excellent Mary moment -maybe that should be a feature?- is her quick acceptance of the idea of the Multiverse and the way she stumbled onto exactly what happened just by reading Beth’s thesis. It highlights that Mary is probably in a position to accept Kate’s secret and is open to the less normal parts of her life while also being a really funny scene that doubles as a more detailed explanation of where this Beth came from.
Alice and Sophie turn out to be a really fascinating pairing. Their dynamic is a variation on the standard interrogation setup but it works really well because it gets down to the fundamentals of who these people are. Predictably Alice tries to throw Sophie off by making cutting remarks about her decision to hide her sexuality and gets inside her head relatively easily despite Jacob warning Sophie against just that. Even though Alice is the one handcuffed to a table she is very much in control because Sophie is so consumed by her own uncertainty to see it coming.
Another thing Alice manages to do is make Sophie feel sorry for her by sharing some backstory. The specific anecdote she shares is the circumstances that led to the conscious decision to shed the Beth persona in favour of the Alice one. Her tale picks up from the last time young Beth was shown and goes into more detail about what pushed her into insanity. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a book that brought her comfort when she still held onto her identity as Beth and her compassionate nature was represented by her caring for a stray Cat that Mouse brought to her. Together they tried to keep the Cat hidden from August who certainly wouldn’t approve. These two things helped Beth hold onto herself as she watched August try to restore Mouse’s face. So much grotesque darkness was tempered by the attachments she was able to forge under those desperate circumstances.
It isn’t long before August finds the Cat and promptly kills it which represents the death of Beth’s innocence and possibly the death of Beth herself. It’s a really grim scene made worse by the audience being left to use their imagination to fill in the blanks surrounding the death of the Cat. Following this up with August forcing her to work with Human skin in order to fix Mouse’s disfigured face piles on the trauma associated with Beth’s time in captivity. Her decision to cast off the Beth identity and replace it with Alice following being forced to work with Human skin is a chilling moment that works brilliantly. The repairing of the book represents her cultivating that persona willingly and taking comfort in it because it offers an escape from the torment she has been forced to endure. Ava Sleeth is excellent in the role of young Beth. She imbues her with so much emotional depth and completely sells the transformation from Beth to Alice. The loss of innocence written on her face and in her voice is remarkable and very unsettling. Getting insight into the events that inspired that decision makes it completely understandable even if Alice’s actions can’t be forgiven. Rachel Skarsten’s performance compliments this nicely with a real sense that the Alice persona is starting to crack. It’s entirely possible she desires to return to that childhood innocence in order to reclaim what she lost.
Of course, part of this is so that she can manipulate Sophie into dropping her guard. She makes Sophie feel sorry for Alice and everything she’s had to endure while making her further cast doubt on her own identity. Talking about everything she has lost makes Sophie consider what she lost through the decisions she made which ultimately makes her more malleable for Alice. This eventually enables her escape but it’s more than likely that there’s an element of truth in everything Alice said which in turn makes it more believable. She may not be entirely irredeemable but she still has a long way to go. Pairing Alice and Sophie works so well because they both represent a lost connection for Kate while also helping in the rehabilitation of Sophie as a character.
Outside of the intimate character beats there is also time for some worldbuilding through dealing with the fallout of Kate’s decision to define Batwoman as a lesbian. Her decision means that the homophobic Police Commissioner refuses to turn on the Batsignal even though his son is being held hostage. It’s a quick yet clear example of how dangerous intolerance can be and the backlash from the public who come out in support of Batwoman following this decision helps to validate it because people rally behind what she has chosen to stand for. It’s an inspiring message that is woven into the plot reasonably well even if it is a little clumsy.
A strong episode that focuses on intimate characterisation as Kate deals with the enormity of having what she wants while Alice strikes the right nerve to prey on Sophie’s self doubt. The introduction of Beth from another universe creates complexity for Kate who gets to experience the happiness associated with having her sister back in the way she wants but also has to deal with the fact that it was possible for her to save Beth all those years ago which makes her doubt herself on a fundamental level. Learning this makes her blame herself even more than she already is and wonders what it was that caused her to fail to measure up to the courage the other version of her displayed. She does get to face a similar moment and proves herself within that but it doesn’t alter her self loathing. The episode fails to consider that the two versions of Kate might be very different just as it fails to explore the fact that Beth has lost everyone she cares about being the sole survivor from her entire universe. It would get in the way of Beth and Kate’s positive interactions but it’s also clearly forgotten about for the sake of plot convenience. Their dynamic is really engaging and Mary struggling to deal with the return of the version of Beth that Kate wants is woven into this nicely.
Rachel Skarsten has some heavy lifting to do playing two distinct characters that are from the same foundation. Beth is very different to Alice but it’s also clear that they are the same person. The scene where Beth has to pretend to be Alice is especially impressive as she has to pretend to be bad at playing the character she normally plays which must make for an interesting acting challenge. The Sophie/Alice pairing is surprisingly engaging with Alice taking complete control of the interrogation despite being the one handcuffed to a table. She makes cutting remarks about Sophie hiding her sexuality and baits her into feeling sorry for her. Combining this with flashbacks to the time that young Beth willingly became Alice is really chilling and helps build up a nuanced picture of Alice as someone not entirely comfortable with her life choices. Rachel Skarsten’s performance suggests a desire to return to that lost innocence and seeing the events that led to that decision detailed justifies it even if her actions can’t be forgiven. The Alice/Sophie pairing works so well because they both represent a lost connection for Kate while also helping with the rehabilitation of Sophie. There was even time for worldbuilding with a homophobic police commissioner who refuses to activate the Batsignal after Batwoman identified herself as a lesbian and the public rallying behind what she has chosen to stand for.
- the return of Beth allowing Kate to have the thing she has sought after
- added complexity when Kate realises it was possible for her to save Beth
- Kate getting the chance to make up for her hesitation by saving Beth from a similar situation
- more excellent Mary moments
- Rachel Skarsten’s performance showing Beth to be very different from Alice with hints that they are the same person
- Alice being in full control of the interrogation and picking on Sophie’s insecurities
- insight into the events that led to the creation of the Alice persona
- Ava Sleeth’s chilling performance as young Beth
- hints that Alice isn’t entirely comfortable being Alice
- the worldbuilding around the homophobic Commissioner and the public rallying behind what Batwoman openly stands for
- failing to consider that Kate might be comparing herself to someone that is nothing like her
- Beth’s lack of grief around the loss of everyone she ever cared about in her own universe
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