Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 14
“Grinning from Ear to Ear”
Batwoman explores the importance of image and the sacrifices people make to present a certain version of themselves to the outside world.
One thing Batwoman is especially good at is tying whatever the villain story is to something that one of the main characters is going through either on a literal or a symbolic level. The spotlight character of this episode is Sophie who is struggling with the idea of sharing her real self with the world. The previous episode ended with her and Kate -as Batwoman- sharing a passionate kiss. It was a statement on Sophie’s part that she was getting to a place in her life where she was willing to be honest with herself about what she wants out of life. It wasn’t a declaration that she’s in love with Batwoman specifically; more of an acknowledgement of her sexual identity and a decision made that doesn’t factor in what anyone else might want.
The previous episode ended on the shock of the kiss with it acting as a resolution of sorts for Sophie. It could be that resolution because it was the moment just before the end credits. It felt neat and earned to a certain degree because it was a decision that makes sense in the moment as it was arrived at without worrying about the consequences. Batwoman is a serialised show so decisions made in one episode need to have consequences to be explored in subsequent episodes. That’s exactly what this episode does; takes the moment at the end of the previous episode and explores the implications of it in detail. Sophie is experiencing an afterglow as the episode opens as making that decision has made her happy because she feels free from the crippling self doubt that has been plaguing her for years. In one decisive action she admitted exactly who she was and acted on an impulse that felt right for her. Mary immediately picked up on that shift in Sophie because the fact that she felt more free as an immediate consequence of her decision was radiating off her in a really obvious way. This is echoed by Kate who has a similar reaction because she sees this as a version of everything she has ever wanted with Sophie.
It doesn’t take long for the reality of the situation to sink in once Sophie and Kate start thinking about the practicalities that would come with pursuing this romantic connection. Sophie currently doesn’t know Batwoman’s identity so their kiss isn’t necessarily about being in love with Batwoman as a person. She barely knows Batwoman having only interacted with that persona a limited number of times with each of them being cloaked in some sort of secrecy. Batwoman is enigmatic because she has to keep her identity hidden which means that Sophie only really has a shared appreciation of bringing criminals to justice as a baseline for a relationship. Yes they have shared some meaningful conversations where advice was given on both sides but broadly speaking their interactions are all business related.
Sophie is forced to consider the sort of relationship she could actually have with Batwoman. They couldn’t go out for dinner or share an intimate evening in together because the very notion would be ludicrous. Physical intimacy is out of the question as Kate has some very distinctive tattoos that would be recognised immediately so she would be forced to remain in costume whenever they’re together. That’s not something Sophie knows but there’s still inherent practicalities to having a continued romantic relationship with someone who wears a mask. Unless Sophie knows that Kate is Batwoman then a long term relationship is impossible. Kate isn’t prepared to reveal her identity to Sophie because she thinks that knowing the truth would place Sophie in danger -which is ludicrous as she is always in danger- so for now there is an unbreakable barrier to them being together.
On a symbolic level Sophie’s non relationship with Batwoman is less than healthy as she is still failing to be open about who she really is. Part of the attraction is that Batwoman has to be kept secret so she is effectively continuing to wear a mask that hides who she is. I really wish that dialogue hadn’t been written that outlines that because there is enough going on for the audience to come to that conclusion on their own without having it spelled out for them. Sophie does have to realise that she’s continuing to hide in order to take steps to change that but it doesn’t have to be stated in the way that it does as there are more subtle ways to get that point across. Despite that the realisation does work and it progresses Sophie in compelling ways.
Further texture is added to Sophie’s reluctance to be true to herself with the sudden appearance of her mother, Diane (Jeryl Prescott) who shows up immediately judging her for her life choices and giving her a hard time about her suspension. She expresses open distaste for Batwoman as a contrast to her respect for Batman because she believes in what he appeared to stand for. Sophie challenges her on this by clarifying the fact that Batman isn’t gay which is the first sign of the intolerance she has had to deal with. Sophie comes out to her mother and is met with the worst possible response. Diane lists all of the barriers to success that Sophie has had to deal with such as being a woman of colour, coming from nothing and constantly having to prove herself to those around her so can’t understand why she would add yet another characteristic that will prevent others from accepting her. What Diane doesn’t seem to understand is that Sophie’s sexuality isn’t a choice and she certainly doesn’t understand how much pain her judgement of her very identity causes her.
I’ve had issues with how Sophie has been handled as a character up until this point but this was a really great episode for her that goes a long way towards helping viewers understand more about her. Her interactions with her mother may be brief but they fully explain why she felt the need to lie to those around her as well as herself about who she really is. I applaud the writers for not taking the easy way out and having her mother come around to fully accepting Sophie’s sexuality by the end of the episode. Their relationship leaves on a sour note and it’s brutal to watch.
The villain plot ties into Sophie’s identity struggles loosely. Sophie needs to learn to be happy in her own skin which extends to the villain and her victims. Each of the victims has had cosmetic surgery done so that they can present a pretty face to the outside world. Their brand is to present the appearance of perfection so that people will respect them enough to sustain their lifestyles through social media interactions. It’s a really shallow way to measure your own worth but it’s very common in the modern world and treated with a distinct lack of subtlety within this episode. Subtlety isn’t always necessary especially when trying to make a very defined point and the writers manage to pull this off in an entertaining way.
Unfortunately, Duela Dent (Allessandra Torresani) joins the ranks of underdeveloped Arrowverse villains. As with many villains on Batwoman she arrives too late in the episode to be given any time to gain a tangible identity. She is largely defined by the fact that she disfigured herself when young and goes after social media influencers in Gotham who are obsessed with their own appearance to the point that the artificially augmented it. Allessandra Torresani plays the right balance between tormented and deranged which allows some sympathy to be attached to her despite the horrible things she’s doing. With a little more time to develop the character beyond the baseline traits she could have been a really memorable antagonist but she amounts to little more than a distraction that props up the theme of the episode. The idea of her cutting her own face to replicate the ugliness she sees in the mirror is an interesting if twisted way to comment on the psychological impact of the obsession society has with beauty.
The villain plot does offer a natural excuse to involve Mary who is very much part of the social media influencer world even if she isn’t quite as popular as she once was. She learned that Kate and Batwoman are one in the same in the previous episode so tries to encourage Kate to open up to her. The writers have decided to take her down the route of waiting for Kate to trust her enough to tell her the truth on her own. I like this because it reinforces Mary’s desire to be fully accepted as a sister to Kate so connecting that to Kate opening up to her about a truth Mary already knows is a really smart idea. Mary makes it clear she wants to help throughout the episode and has a bit of fun offering figurative playful nudges in Kate’s direction while not asking questions such as why a real estate developer would be interested in a killer going after social media influencers. Once again Mary is one of the strongest things in the episode and her newfound knowledge of Kate’s identity makes her even better.
Alice confronting Cartwright after tracking him down makes for another strong moment for this character. The dynamic between them is excellent with Alice having power over him in the sense that she escaped him and managed to make something of herself and Cartwright still finding ways to make her feel helpless such as keeping the information about Mouse from her until it’s convenient for him. It’s still unknown who will end up being the main villain of the season but for now I really like that Alice is still struggling to deal with everything Cartwright put her through. The Alice identity that she now lives by is because of him so in many ways she is reminded of him every day which is only compounded by the fact that he’s back in her life.
A strong episode that funnels the ideas of identity and image through Sophie’s by forcing her to realistically consider what recent choices actually mean. Sophie has been getting better as a character over the past few episodes and sharing a kiss with Kate as Batwoman pushes her further in her development. The episode spends a lot of time exploring the consequences of the kiss by forcing both Sophie and Kate to consider the practicalities of a possible relationship between them in that context. Ultimately they’re both forced to admit that it’s not something that can work because Batwoman is a masked figure. It was an important gesture for Sophie as it’s one of the few times she does something for herself without worrying about how others might react to it but it’s still a passionate decision that doesn’t factor in long term difficulties. Once both of them realise this they achieve a bit more clarity on where they stand. This is especially true for Sophie who finds the strength within herself to come out to her mother who reacts with intolerance. It’s a brutal scene to watch but I commend the writers for not taking the easy way out and leaving their relationship on a sour note.
The villain story isn’t as well developed as it could be but is impressively topical in its approach to exploring societal obsession with perfection and beauty. Duela Dent had the potential to be far more developed than she was but she comes into the story too late to truly make an impact. The idea of people being comfortable in their own skin is explored fairly well through Duela and her victims while also tying naturally into Sophie’s arc for the episode but more could have been done here. Mary also slots into this naturally because of the subject matter which allows coverage of her newfound knowledge that Kate is Batwoman. She is waiting for Kate to trust her enough to tell her the truth on her own while having fun dropping hints and making Kate aware that she’s available to help out on any situation that may arise. Alice confronting Cartwright is another strong moment for her character. The game of cat and mouse being played between them over who has more power over the other is really well done. It’s unclear who will emerge as the main antagonist of the season at this point especially with Alice still being deeply affected by everything Cartwright put her through.
- exploring the practical consequences of Sophie and Kate’s kiss
- the brutality of Sophie’s mother’s reaction to learning her daughter is gay
- not taking the easy way out and having the episode end with their relationship on a sour note
- the villain plot complimenting Sophie’s arc nicely
- Allessandra Torresani’s strong performance
- Mary’s playful nudges to Kate after learning that she is secretly Batwoman
- Mary’s decision to wait for Kate to trust her
- the strong dynamic between Alice and Cartwright
- unnecessarily explaining Sophie’s mindset with dialogue when the meaning was already clear
- Duela Dent joining the ranks of underdeveloped Arrowverse villains
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