Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 3
“Bat Girl Magic!”
Batwoman focuses on Ryan finding her feet as the the inheritor to the Bat mantle as a hitman starts making waves in Gotham and the mysterious Safiyah makes her first appearance.
Identity is -unsurprisingly- a really big deal in a superhero narrative. Whether that be the character hiding their true selves from others, building the vigilante persona that will help them fight crime or working to gain a profound understanding of themselves and what they stand for. In Arrow, being the Green Arrow had a fundamental impact on who Oliver Queen was as a person, in Supergirl there’s a constant struggle between where Kara Danvers ends and Supergirl begins. The Batwoman persona was tied to Kate in really interesting ways as it represented a real difficulty for her since she had never been one to hide her true self from anyone so having to be dishonest about a big part of herself in the name of keeping herself as well as those she cares about safe wasn’t an easy thing for her to do. It also served as a natural metaphor for sexual identity and keeping yourself in the closet for the perceived benefit of others.
It’s too early to tell what the Batwoman persona means to Ryan because the story at this point in the season is built around her settling into her role as Gotham’s new Bat vigilante. There are a few initial challenges that hold her back from being fully accepted in the role such as Luke continuing to see her as the interim Batwoman meaning that he always keeps a deliberate distance from her since he believes that she won’t be around long enough for him to become invested in her. It also remains unaddressed but it’s likely that Luke doesn’t want to have another potential death on his conscience should the worst happen to Ryan.
Mary is much more welcoming of the new Batwoman and goes out of her way to support her. This is especially apparent in the scenes featuring the three of them where Luke takes on the role of the contrarian and Mary works to put a positive spin on anything that could be potentially negative. Ryan’s background comes into play when she talks about running in the same circles as known criminals which causes Luke to raise an eyebrow as the new Batman potentially being a criminal is less than ideal as far as he’s concerned. Of course Ryan’s life up until this point could be described as less than ideal and she just needs to be give a chance to turn it around. This is something Mary is willing to give her and Luke takes a lot more convincing.
The Ryan and Mary dynamic remains interesting. Ryan has the overseeing presence of her parole officer to contend with and almost gets in trouble for being late for an appointment following some heroics as Batwoman. She invites herself into a job at Kate’s Gay Bar “The Hold Up” and Mary supports her after being put somewhat on the spot. She does recognise it as an ideal cover for the new Batwoman while also acknowledging that the new Batwoman can’t go to prison for violating parole so she gives Ryan the chance and lets her have a job. Mary has always been the heart of the show and has always tried to see the best in people. There’s clear evidence that she recognises Ryan as a good person who deserves that chance and will constantly champion her.
Naturally Mary’s stance creates friction between her and Luke that is resolved to some degree in the episode. They discuss their mindset in regards to Kate’s disappearance and they have vastly different views on what that means. Mary has accepted that Kate is dead and never coming back so is looking to move on with her life which also means moving on with a new Batwoman. Luke can’t accept that Kate is dead and continues to hope in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He acknowledges this but would rather have faith that Kate will return because he needs to believe that in order to carry on. This justifies his hostility towards Ryan taking on the role and he does at least accept that Kate not being back yet doesn’t mean he shouldn’t support Ryan because she is the new Batwoman until further notice. Mary and Luke appear to be on the same page on this for now but further complications are bound to arise as time goes on.
This episode is very overtly about Ryan making her own mark as Batwoman and figuring out her own style in that role. Her early stumble when descending shows that she isn’t comfortable with what is expected of her and there’s a reference to the boots not fitting her. It’s a very clear statement that it’s not her costume and she doesn’t feel that it belongs to her so she isn’t as effective in the role of Batwoman than she could be. This is further explicitly pointed out by Victor Zsasz (Alex Morf) who comments that he’s comfortable in his own skin and sure of himself where it’s obvious to him that she isn’t comfortable in hers. “I don’t see the Batwoman in you, and maybe that’s because I don’t see the you in Batwoman” is a great line from Zsasz that sums up one of Ryan’s central conflicts in this episode. Luke seeing her as a stand-in has made her see herself as a stand-in so there’s a lack of belonging associated with her take on the Bat mantle. In order to be more effective she has to become her own version of Batwoman and the fact that it takes Zsasz to help her realise that forms an interesting hero/villain dynamic that was crying out for more exploration. In many ways Zsasz is an important part of her origin which makes his presence very meaningful. She comes to this realisation and makes some tweaks to the suit with a new wig and some other details that solidifies her stamp on the symbol. She overcomes one challenge and now can focus on others such as her aim.
Outside of his meaningful connection to Ryan, Zsasz made for a really engaging villain. Alex Morf was engaging, charismatic and effortlessly sadistic in the role. Unfortunately his defeat was laughably underwhelming with him being knocked out by the rapidly extending bow staff and then being dealt with after that. It’s unlikely that this will be the last we see of the character but considering how skilled he was throughout the episode victory over him should have been more hard fought. This speaks to a general issue this show has with the quality of its action sequences and in this case it does an engaging villain a disservice.
Other than a brief tease of Black Mask there is another villain introduced. The mysterious Safiyah (Shivani Ghai) is finally shown and some of the details begin to be filled in. She arranges for both Alice and Sophie to be brought to her island so that she can have a conversation with Alice about various things. Chief among them is her role -or lack thereof- in Kate’s apparent death. She insists to Alice that she had nothing to do with it but is very interested in who would want her to believe that. Alice is less than convinced that Safiyah is being honest despite repeated insistence that she has no reason to lie and has no interest in Kate Kane. It is seen by Alice as a personal attack against her but Safiyah claims she lost interest in Alice the moment she left the island.
Their interactions are more framed around the mystery of Safiyah than anything else though there is the suggestion of the relationship that existed before Alice left. Safiyah would seem to be responsible for teaching Alice necessary skills and giving her a supportive home when she needed it the most but there also appears to be some significant bad blood on Alice’s side for reasons that remain unclear. Alice sees Safiyah as a threat and Safiyah doesn’t share the sentiment so there’s a potentially interesting rivalry there that has a lot of room to grow especially as the finer details of their history are filled in. Shivani Ghai is an engaging presence; she plays Safiyah with an eerie calm and undeniable authority that makes it obvious that she is in charge. This is reinforced by the absolute loyalty on display from everyone around her. She also wastes no time in removing obstacles as evidenced by her point Zsasz in Mary’s direction when Alice clarifies the role she played in the Desert Rose secret being revealed outside of her small inner circle.
In a very large sense Safiyah is motivated by a desire to be isolated from civilisation because she doesn’t trust it. The episode establishes that the Desert Rose acts as a miracle cure for seemingly any ailment that might afflict someone such as advanced cancer. It’s a secret that Safiyah believes the rest of the world can’t be trusted with and she sites some notable historic examples of resources being plundered for reasons of greed. That’s not something she wants any part of because she prides herself on having built what she considers to be the perfect community. Not enough is know about how her oasis works but there is no doubt that she is fixated on protecting it. She remains mysterious but her motivation is clear and potentially interesting.
A big reveal that comes from the Alice/Safiyah interactions is that Kate is alive and has been captured by Safiyah. Alice carrying out a mission for Safiyah will result in Kate’s safe return so there’s a very tempting carrot being dangled in front of Alice. It’s unknown what that mission is but it almost seems irrelevant at this stage as the main takeaway is that Kate would appear to be alive and well. It is established that Safiyah doesn’t lie because she sees no reason to though that in itself could be a lie. Not enough information is available about the character to come to any sort of definitive conclusion as to her relationship with honesty but there’s a potentially concerning plot thread emerging here.
If Kate is dangled in front of Alice as a prize for being obedient then at some point the show has to pay this off one way or another. Unless there’s a Ruby Rose cameo agreed and planned later in the season that wraps up her story by having Kate refuse to return to the role of Batwoman and pass on the mantle to Ryan then this isn’t leading anywhere except disappointment. Assuming there is no Ruby Rose appearance later in the season then there are two possibilities. One is that Safiyah is lying and has no idea where Kate is which makes her continued absence an ongoing mystery. Another is that there will be an off-screen resolution where Alice and other characters talk about how they said goodbye to Kate who decided not to return to Gotham. I suppose there’s a potential third option where Alice fails to live up to her end of the bargain and Kate is killed off screen. Neither of these are good options and the show needs to be very careful with how this plot plays out as there’s no way a non appearance can result in a satisfying conclusion. As long as Ryan’s development as a hero remains engaging then this is less of an issue as far as I’m concerned but it is still a significant problem the show seems destined to run into. I do pledge to review what I’m presented with rather than what external factors might dictate so for now Kate’s disappearance is a story with potential and Safiyah’s role within that creates further intrigue.
Sophie and Tatiana aka The Whisper (Leah Gibson) share brief interactions that offer an alternate perspective on Safiyah as a leader from the point of view of someone who answers to her. There isn’t much to it but it does provide some clarity on how Safiyah is perceived outside of Alice or what she claims to be. This sets up a couple of things; the first is that Sophie needs to be convinced to let Alice roam free because Safiyah has a job for her to complete that will be easier if the Crows aren’t constantly on her case and the second is that Safiyah is personally impressed by Sophie therefore establishing a connection that can be developed over time. Sophie is directly asked what her purpose is which is a question I’ve been asking since the season began and it seems that the writers are scrambling to find a way for her to be useful. Investigating why Kate was looking into a painting done by Jack Napier aka the Joker suggests a plot unique to her but there still isn’t enough justifying Sophie’s continued presence.
A strong episode that continues to make Ryan’s growth as the inheritor of the Bat mantle interesting, makes great use of Luke opposing Mary in accepting the new hero and features engaging villains. Mary welcoming the new Batwoman being endlessly supportive of Ryan in her desire to turn her life around makes for an engaging connection between them and naturally counters Luke’s reluctance to accept Ryan as Batwoman. They have a discussion about it and clarify that Mary has accepted that Kate is dead so would rather just move on with her life and make the best of it where Luke hold out hope that Kate will return despite all evidence to the contrary. He eventually accepts that he hasn’t been fair to Ryan and makes her aware of that so that resolves one complication that will likely give way to others. This episode deals heavily with Ryan putting her own stamp on the Batwoman persona. It begins by overtly showing how she hasn’t settled into the role by stumbling when landing and commenting that the boots don’t fit before having Victor Zsasz call her out on her obvious lack of comfort. This ends with her modifying the suit to conform to her own style and confidently approaching her version of the Bat mantle. It works well and solidifies her own spin on the Batwoman identity. Victor Zsasz is an engaging villain played really well by Alex Morf. His defeat is laughably underwhelming but he is well placed as an engaging recurring menace.
The introduction of Safiya works well because of the time spent developing her connection to Alice. The discussions about their history is interesting and the strong hints towards Safiya’s motivations suggest that she will be an intriguing character. Her isolationist viewpoint and less than flattering opinions about those outside her self created island community establish her main motivation for removing herself from the world and how protective she is over the secrets she holds. The discussions had around Kate and whether Safiya has her held captive potentially sets things down a dangerous path as there may be no payoff if Ruby Rose doesn’t make a cameo to resolve it but it is a compelling carrot to dangle in front of Alice and offers an opportunity to develop this connection. Sophie still struggles to have a purpose within the show though there are potential avenues for her character to develop and plots that she can be more directly involved in.
- focusing on Ryan settling into her version of Batwoman
- the clear indications that she needs to find her own style
- Mary and Luke’s opposing views on Ryan taking on the Bat mantle
- Victor Zsasz making for an engaging villain
- Safiyah and Alice’ compelling dynamic
- the strong hints as to Safiyah’s motivations
- Zsasz’ underwhelming defeat
- Sophie still struggling to have purpose within the show
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