Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 6
“I’ll Be Judge, I’ll be Jury”
Batwoman deals with the issue of corruption within the prison system when a villain motivated by punishing those who he perceives as truly guilty makes his presence felt.
As previous reviews have stated this show’s major problem is failing to carve out its own niche within the Arrowverse. For the most part the things it’s trying to achieve have been done better elsewhere. Half a dozen episodes in and there’s finally a sense of what this show wants to be assuming it continues to go down this road.
The best versions of Gotham City are the complex ones where crime and criminals aren’t a simple case of bad people doing things. Corruption, greed and other such sins are common hallmarks of the more celebrated interpretations of the iconic city. With this episode we’re starting to see that weave into the DNA of the show and it’s much stronger for it. Introducing The Executioner as a man who literally put criminals to death as his job is a really strong idea because it gives him a unique perspective on the criminal element. His main reason for going on a self imposed crusade to punish the corrupt comes after noticing that the scenarios he would encounter would often be very similar. This would include near identical evidence across those pronounced guilty and murder weapons appearing from nowhere. He also noticed that those put to death were anything other than white. His position as their literal executioner put him in the unique position to notice these patterns emerge.
This is where Bertrand Eldon aka The Executioner (Jim Pirri) differs from many other villains of the week. Even though he appears to be a one shot villain he is emblematic of the struggle to remain morally upright in a system quite as broken as the one in Gotham City. Basically he gets to the point where he’s tired of seeing those at the bottom of the class system take the fall for those committing the real crimes and decides to do something about it that will force people to take notice. There’s no denying that transitioning from a prison executioner to a vigilante wielding an axe is quite a leap but it’s consistent with the Arrowverse and Gotham City itself. In Batman Begins it was suggested that criminals would start using theatricality as a way to combat Batman who used that as his main weapon against the criminal element and that’s exactly what’s happening here except this version of Gotham is already used to theatrical villains as a response to a theatrical hero so it’s basically par for the course at this point. It seems to be the only way to gain attention in Gotham so that’s why so many resort to extreme methods.
There are the seeds of an interesting moral debate found in this episode when Kate and Luke watch Eldon’s confession. Luke is completely against Eldon’s methods and he definitely should be because what he is doing is nothing short of brutal but Kate acknowledges that his extreme actions don’t make him any less right. There’s a kinship between Kate and Eldon because they’re basically fighting for the same thing in radically different ways. He is still someone who has to be stopped but he also has a point and that’s what makes him a more interesting villain even if he doesn’t have the screentime to allow him to become more than his warped values. Sadly he still suffers the curse of being a one shot villain but he’s infinitely more interesting than the standard fare. His actions indirectly accomplish something important by shining a light on a significant issue that eventually leads to all previous cases being re-examined. This only adds extra scope to the complexity of the arguments at play.
His actions bring to light an issue that the writers could explore in more detail as things progress. Arrow tackled the idea of corruption within the prison system but looked at it as a largely race blind issue that affects everyone within it. Batwoman is making a statement about inequality in the justice system skewed against people who aren’t white which is a different and arguably more accurate take that serves as a chilling reminder that racial profiling is still very much a thing in the modern world. The issue could never be covered in a single episode but making it part of the background and covering it in such a way is definitely a promising start.
One of the major themes this show explores is the idea of vigilante justice as a contrast to the legal system. Kate has been in opposition to The Crows since she first donned the cape and cowl. Beyond that there’s the additional factor of the Gotham City Police Department who play into this. It’s an interesting dynamic as Jacob opposes Batwoman because she takes the law into her own hands and isn’t held accountable for any mistakes she makes because she hides her identity. The GCPD are equally resentful of The Crows because a privately owned mercenary group are taking over what should be their territory. It’s easy to see why officers would feel that way though their reaction to Batwoman is curious as she’s basically doing the same thing so it’s unusual that they would see her as a necessary addition to the city while also acting as something of a mascot. The Bat Signal being brought back into play is an important step forward in Kate’s vigilante career because it means she has been accepted as someone that can handle problems within the city that nobody else can. Kate acknowledges this as a big deal as it shows that she has become accepted in her own right since distinguishing herself from Batman. It’ll be interesting to see how the conflict between GCPD and The Crows continues to factor into the background though for that to work there would need to be a character that represents the GCPD.
Jacob has his finest moment in this episode when he is near death and confesses to Kate -as Batwoman- his reason behind hating the symbol on her chest. He blames Batman for the losses he has experienced and sees Batwoman as an extension of that so can’t bring himself to accept her involvement in the affairs of the city. His confession also confirms that he might not actually hate the symbol but has convinced himself that he does because if he doesn’t blame Batman then that means he can only blame himself. This isn’t something he’s willing to do at this point because he has to believe that he hasn’t failed as a father. Up until this point I always considered Jacob being fairly one note but there is at least the suggestion that he presents a very strong front to the outside world. Kate being a witness to that allows her to realise that she has been unfairly blaming Jacob for not saving Beth. She is also struggling with learning that she was inches away and didn’t know it. It leads to a tender father/daughter moment where Jacob promises to not give up on her again. Kate finds it within herself to forgive Jacob which extends a much needed olive Branch in their relationship.
Kate is a largely stoic character who doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve as her coping mechanism is to throw herself right into whatever action she feels is best to take. Her scene with Jacob that ends with Kate initiating a hug is definitive because it shows that Kate does have a vulnerable side that she keeps hidden. It isn’t as hidden as Jacob’s but it’s definitely a similar defence mechanism. We have seen in all the episodes that Kate has a very particular sense of humour and that she’s not someone to hide things from people but she needs to have a reason to express herself. Learning that she has been unfairly blaming Jacob for the loss of Beth is the perfect moment for her to release the pent up emotions and it makes for a really powerful scene.
Luke starts to step outside of his role as Kate’s tech support with some insight into his backstory. He opens up to Kate about his father’s death and how broken he was after having to identify the body. Luke was supposed to go to MIT but put his life on hold after that tragedy and never managed to recover it so he is the personification of regret mixed with untapped potential. I’d like to see what Luke’s life is outside of helping Kate. For the most part he has been confined to Wayne Tower so the next step is to develop him outside of what he does. This episode begins that process and shows that there’s a lot beneath the surface.
The weakest aspect of the show at the moment is Sophie, largely because she is so poorly developed and seems to exist as little more than an uncomfortable reminder of a past she tries to forget while Kate continues to be haunted by it. Her suggestion to Jacob is to unmask Batwoman and stop her from taking the law into her own hands which seems like an odd obsession for her at first until it becomes clear that she knows -or at least strongly suspects- that Kate is Batwoman. Based on the available information it looks as if she doesn’t know what to do about her feelings for Kate. Mary is there to drop some home truths about how much Sophie hurt Kate and the impact her actions have on the people around her. She points out that Kate went far away to remove herself from the pain inflicted on her by the decision Sophie made and how the way she behaves now makes all of that worse. Sophie rightly points out that Mary doesn’t know the exact details but that doesn’t matter as she saw how Kate was affected by what happened and is concerned about her emotional well-being. Ultimately she chooses to not get any more involved in that and leaves Sophie to consider her next move. This says a lot about Mary’s values as she refuses to directly involve her but won’t keep quiet when people she cares about stand to get hurt.
Mary is consistently the strongest character because she is among the most consistent with endlessly endearing performances from Nicole Kang. I mentioned in a prior review that her clandestine clinic seems fairly random and I stand by that because at the time it was an element that came from nowhere but as time has gone on its existence has become more justified because of the work put into who Mary is as a person. She says to Sophie that she started the clinic to help the people that Gotham hospitals turn away so she has a nagging sense of responsibility that she is unable to silence. As far as Jacob knows she’s a shallow party girl but in reality she’s doing whatever she can to help people at considerable risk to herself and she wants to continue to do so. This ties into the overall themes of corruption and justice because Mary recognises that there are people that will never be helped in the current system so she takes it upon herself to do it. There’s a real sense that Gotham needs people like her and her unabashed altruism is proving to be a big asset for Kate as Batwoman.
Whether Sophie actually knows Kate’s secret or just has a strong suspicion is still up in the air but her obsession with unmasking Batwoman appears to be a symptom of her misplaced attitude to lingering feelings for Kate and the overall confusion she feels having to deal with having her back in her life. The writing for her just isn’t strong enough to make this come together in any coherent way so it still makes no sense why she would want to put Kate in the position where people would come after her. She seems to be a character that exists to foster awkwardness in certain scenes with the writers having her behave in an antagonistic way to manufacture drama.
Alice is a character who both works and doesn’t in the broader context of the show. A lot has been made of her relationship to Kate and Jacob with some light shed on how she ended up the way she is now in the previous episode. There are a lot of gaps to be filled in and a lot of work to be done to make her stand out. The entirety of her screentime in this episode is spent with Mouse to develop her desire for family. It is becoming apparent that Alice is motivated by finding a place for herself in the world. She feels rejected by the family she once had because she thinks they abandoned her. It’s not a position that feels justified considering what we’ve seen so far as well as what she has been repeatedly told but if you accept that there’s a psychosis at play then it makes some sense that she would continue to convince herself of that fact. There’s a real tenderness in Rachel Skarsten’s performance when Alice and Mouse are together. She’s very protective of him and takes a lot of comfort in his company because she feels that he needs her as much as she needs him. Rachel Skarsten strips away the theatricality in her performance and plays Alice as completely vulnerable which strongly suggests that she has to work very hard to maintain that villainous facade. Mouse seems to be very much the opposite in a lot of ways and there are a few hints that he may not be the reliable source of support that she needs him to be.
A strong episode with a memorable one shot villain that embodies one of the major themes the show looks to explore while also delivering excellent insightful character development for many of the characters. The better versions of Gotham City feature institutional corruption and this is starting to become a major issue in this show with the villain motivated by his first hand observations of that corruption. In this case the city created the villain and it’s hard to deny that he has a point even if his methodology is extreme. He isn’t well developed as an antagonist but what he represents is powerful and it starts the show down a path of exploring the notion of a system that is so badly broken that badly needs fixed. Kate as Batwoman represents a possible solution and The Executioner actually succeeded in a way since it shone a light on the issue and forced convictions to be re-examined. Another theme being explored is vigilante justice vs. the legal system. This is explored through Kate’s opposition to The Crows. Jacob’s main argument is that Batwoman isn’t held accountable for any mistakes because her identity is hidden where he has to accept responsibility for any mistakes he happens to make. Adding to this is the Gotham City Police Department who resent a private company taking over law enforcement. They are more accepting of Batwoman as a necessity for the city and as something of a mascot which is unusual considering they oppose The Crows for basically the same thing. Fleshing out this position requires a character affiliated with the GCPD,
Jacob’s finest moment comes in this episode when he opens up to Batwoman about his reasons for hating the Bat symbol. He blames Batman for the current state of his family because otherwise he would have to blame himself. This display of vulnerability suggests that he presents a strong front to the outside world that masks the pain that he routinely deals with. Luke starts to step outside of his role as Kate’s tech support when he talks about his reaction to his father’s death and how he put his life on hold after this. I’d like to see him outwith Wayne Tower and get a sense of his life outside of the role he occupies in this show. The weakest character is still Sophie because she is so poorly developed and serves as little more than a reminder of Kate’s past. She is called out on her behaviour by Mary who talks about seeing how hurt Kate was following Sophie’s decision to prioritise her career over her relationship. She now apparently knows Kate’s secret and plans to exploit it but it’s not clear why due to weaknesses in the writing. So far she exists as an excuse for drama. As a contrast Mary remains the strongest character with further insight into her motivation behind opening her clandestine clinic. She is basically completely altruistic and answers a need that Gotham City has because of the broken system that exists within the city. Alice is much better used in this episode with the focus being on her desire for family and belonging. Her relationship with Mouse is really compelling and Rachel Skarsten plays the vulnerability brilliantly. There’s still work to be done but this is on the right lines.
- a one shot villain that acts as a near perfect example of a major theme
- the seeds of a compelling moral debate around The Executioner
- exploring the idea of vigilante justice vs. the legal system through Batwoman and The Crows
- Jacob delivering his finest hour that adds depth to the character
- Luke stepping outside of his role as Kate’s tech support and opening up about his back story
- deeper insight into Mary’s motivation for opening up her clinic
- Mary being a treasure as always
- no representation for the GCPD aspect of the vigilante vs. legal system debate
- Sophie continuing to be poorly developed
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