Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 7
“It’s Best You Stop Digging”
Batwoman continues the race against time to find the way to Coryana and Alice has some of the details of her missing memories filled in.
It’s very likely that one of the main thrusts of this season is a redemptive arc for Alice which is a difficult proposition considering everything she has done prior to this point. Not only is she responsible for the countless deaths either directly or indirectly through her gang, she also killed Catherine Hamilton in a twisted attempt to torture Mary specifically due to her relationship with Kate. In short she has done a lot that can absolutely be considered irredeemable so setting her up for redemption is certainly an ambitious idea with many built in challenges.
For redemption to be achieved the audience will need to see Alice in a sympathetic light. Some of the groundwork for this has already been done through the exploration of her time in captivity and detailing -at least to some extent- how that warped her in very profound ways. She became Alice as a coping mechanism to keep an emotional distance from the trauma of being held captive and the persona stuck long after she gained her freedom. In effect the Alice persona poisoned her mind to such a degree that Beth Kane is buried deep within the protective shell that is Alice. It’s understandable as motivations go though it doesn’t excuse her horrific actions. Of course nothing will undo what she has done so the best that can be hoped for is that she takes steps to make up for it. One of my favourite shows, Angel was about a Vampire who killed countless people in his evil days fighting every day to make up for that. In that case the atrocities he committed were when didn’t have a soul and his redemptive tendencies came about when he was cursed with a soul so it’s very different but the point is that the intent to be better counts for something.
In a way Alice was robbed of her soul as the flashbacks detail what led to her becoming murderous crime boss terrorising Gotham. When she first comes to Coryana she’s angry and bitter having being freed from captivity and having no direction in life or no place to call home. She harbours a significant grudge against Catherine Hamilton for making her family believe that she was dead. At that point in her life she thinks that her family gave up hope and have moved on with their lives without her in it so feels completely isolated. Safiyah recognises the hatred for Catherine Hamilton along with the desire for a place to belong as well as the anger and bitterness. All of this is seen by her as the perfect ingredients to craft an effective soldier in her army. If Alice’s animosity and pain could be focused in what Safiyah considers a worthwhile direction then she could prove to be a very valuable asset.
This is what prompts the training from Ocean. Tatiana explains that they hated each other at first and Alice’s hatred fuelled her desire to get better so that she can beat him. There is a clear attraction from Alice’s side when they meet but there’s a charged quality to their sparring that clearly indicates rage from Alice that could be construed as hatred directed at Ocean. Of course in a show like this there’s a thin line between hatred and lust so their sparring sessions very quickly become sexually charged as the attraction between them grows. It is established that Alice can’t let go of her bitterness and lets it define her in many ways but Ocean offers her something important in the form of perspective. He points out that it’s unrealistic to expect her family to hold onto the hope of her return for a decade because they have to accept the loss and move on with their lives.
Up until this point Alice had a very simplistic view of the situation that went unchallenged because of the lack of healthy influences in her life. Being locked up in Cartwright’s basement with only him and Mouse for company massively warped her world view and prevented her from growing up. Her retreat into the “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” story are an obvious yet clear example of Alice’s inability to grow naturally out of childhood. Adopting the Alice persona was a coping mechanism that worked for the moment but it was one that she was never able to shed because her situation never improved. Eventually it became who she was and coloured so much of how she sees the world. That explains why she was unable to consider the notion that her family had to eventually accept that she was never coming back otherwise their lives would be similarly poisoned. Jacob and Kate made a difficult step that was healthy for them where Alice didn’t.
Ocean helps her see that alternative and she is shown to begin to accept it. He ends up influencing her in his own way which runs counter to what Safiyah wants from her. Tatiana states that there aren’t many rules on Coryana but one of the main ones is that Safiyah gets whatever she wants so defying her is an unthinkable crime on her island. Everything is built around the Desert Rose. It is described as a miracle cure for pretty much anything which makes it a sought after thing. Despite being essentially a paradise the island needs an army because every so often people come seeking the Desert Rose and tend to come in force. Safiyah describes it as her birthright to defend it and speaks with a great deal of reverence around the Desert Rose. The legend around its origin is well told and the detail around needing blood to sustain it is interesting by itself. It will most likely have greater significance at a later point but for now it symbolises that Safiyah puts all of herself into protecting the secret and expects everyone on her island to do the same.
The episode doesn’t go into as much detail as it needs to around Alice’s relationships with both Ocean and Safiyah. Tatiana talks about Safiyah being in love with Alice which made the sting of her betrayal all the more intense, she also talks about Ocean being like a brother to Safiyah as a way to highlight how significant that betrayal was and there’s talk about how close Alice became with Ocean but there’s little evidence in the episode itself that these connections are as strong as Tatiana’s story suggests. It’s an unfortunate example of telling rather than showing which dilutes the impact of what should be emotionally resonant moments. Rachel Skarsten and Nathan Owens have great chemistry which sells their attraction but there isn’t enough time to deliver on the emotional connection that is supposed to motivate Alice’s decision to betray Safiyah. Similarly Shivaani Ghai is great in her scenes and it’s clear she feels something for Alice but there isn’t enough time to show the love that Tatiana mentions so the payoffs feel unearned. Ocean and Safiyah share almost no screen time so the found family sibling relationship doesn’t come across at all.
Ultimately what these flashbacks do is continue to set up the road to redemption for Alice. Ocean helps her start the healing process and put her animosity towards her family behind her in favour of building a new life on Coryana. Safiyah offering her refuge, support and love would seem to be ideal but her venomous reaction to learning about their romantic connection adds conditions to that sense of belonging which is never a good basis for a home. In effect Alice becomes a prisoner once again as she is subject to the rules of another with no control over what she can do. Ocean’s betrayal is clear in that he wants to take the Desert Rose, help people with it and exploit it for enough money to live a very comfortable life. He also wants Alice to come with him so that they can build a life together free of external influences. It’s unacceptable to Safiyah and she punishes both of them for it.
The punishment being the erasing of their memories is most certainly a violation but it also erases the growth Alice has achieved though not entirely. She retains her skills and is given a subconscious mission to become Queen of her own gang in Gotham so that she can go after her family. In effect Safiyah uses her resources to weaponise Alice against her own family which suggests a lack of control in her actions prior to this point. This is problematic as attempting to absolve Alice of her actions since the show began by suggesting they were motivated by conditioning of some sort risks removing agency from her. A lot of good work has been done with Alice and the dynamics she has forged with other characters based in part on her history as well as her present day actions. If it turns out that it’s motivated by Safiyah’s conditioning as a quick route to redeeming her then that will be a waste as it renders her story far less complex. Having her robbed of a vast chunk of her life as well as some important personal growth is interesting so hopefully it can be explores more organically as she regains those memories. There’s a real opportunity to explore these things when Alice returns to Coryana knowing what she’s missing.
Ryan’s Kryptonite injury rendered her with a terminal diagnosis in the previous episode and her condition is shown to be worsening here to the point where she become more delirious the closer to death she gets. This manifests in an expected yet effective way with her being driven by her emotions rather than rational thought. Firstly she heads to Angelique to get Ocean’s location because of an instinctual reaction and as she speeds there in the Batmobile she is haunted by hallucinations of her dead adoptive mother who continually encourages her to be the best version of herself. In a flashback that becomes a nightmare she is advised to stay away from Angelique because she gets in trouble and that is something that Ryan should avoid. Similarly when she is preparing to kill Alice the reminder is that she wasn’t raised to be a killer.
Her worsening state as the Kryptonite rapidly poisons her provides a ticking clock and a visceral sense of urgency. Mary and Luke are frantically trying to figure out a way to keep her alive long enough to find Coryana’s location while battling with Ryan’s unwillingness to stay in one place long enough. There’s a really compelling conversation where Ryan makes a case for killing Alice because she doesn’t want her own life to end without taking care of that unfinished business. Revenge is never a valid motivation but Ryan is determined because she feels she has nothing to lose at this point so essentially wants to take Alice down with her. It culminated in a really tense confrontation where Ryan’s commitment to killing her is believable even though it was never actually going to play out that way. The operative question was more “how” she would come to her senses rather than “if” she would. The catharsis came from her finally confronting Alice about what she did to her mother and learning that it actually didn’t impact her at all. Ryan unmasks to illustrate her point and let Alice see the face of one of her victims. It’s hard for Ryan to learn that Alice doesn’t even remember her or her mother because it wasn’t something that was in any way significant to her. Ryan’s mother was just another random victim that got in the way at the wrong time. There’s nothing more to it than that despite Ryan carrying around the pain ever since.
The confrontation ends up drawing Alice’s attention as she now knows that she personally motivated two different people to take on the mantle of Batwoman which makes her feel like a powerful motivational presence even if those she motivates actively come after her. The desire to be seen and have that attention is a powerful one even if it’s the wrong sort of attention. Ultimately Ryan decides that it’s more worthwhile to save her own soul than have a death on her conscience however short lived the guilt may be. It has the added benefit of leading Team Batwoman to Coryana as Ryan places a tracker on Alice so it seems a matter of time before Ryan’s life is saved though the resolution is unlikely to be an easy one.
Jacob and Sophie still don’t really fit into this new version of the show as their contributions feel more like a holdover from the Kate Kane focused season with little effort to find them a defined place in what the show is transitioning to. Finding Kate Kane is a major ongoing plot at the moment and having their focus be in that direction makes sense but it defines them almost completely which is less than ideal. Jacob is most interesting because he feels like he has lost his entire family with two dead wives, two dead daughters who aren’t really dead and a step-daughter who doesn’t want anything to do with him because of his hardline stance on her illegal clinic. As Sophie points out Mary’s clinic was very important to her and allowed her to help a lot of people so Jacob’s decision to shut it down just because it’s technically illegal isn’t something that Mary can accept. Sophie sees the value in turning a blind eye and from a worldbuilding point of view recognising that an illegal thing in Gotham can be good makes for a really interesting contrast to what seems like a fully negative lawless setting.
Jacob’s anguish over what he stands to lose and his determination to have his family put back together as much as possible creates an interesting angle for him that Sophie is able to support. There is a whole plot that could take place around the role of the Crows in Gotham and what the perception of them in the public consciousness means. This would be enough to give these characters something to work on that isn’t connected to Kate so limiting their focus makes them seem as if they’re superfluous elements that could be easily discarded once the Kate Kane plot is resolved one way or another. The characters have potential but there is no attempt to do anything with it.
A good episode that continues to suggest a possible path towards Alice’s redemption while providing Ryan catharsis on the murder of her mother. Arguably Alice is far from redeemable because of the horrible things she has done since the show began but fleshing out a missing piece of her history by having her become aware of memories that have been taken from her suggests a possible road that could lead to her being redeemed. The problem is that the episode does more telling that showing which means that it doesn’t bring across the strength of the connections that have supposedly been forged. It is mentioned that Safiyah is in love with Alice but it doesn’t really come across, it’s mentioned that Alice and Ocean fell madly in love but what is shown doesn’t support the clear chemistry on display and Ocean being like a brother to Safiyah fails to come across so the episode expects the audience to accept a lot without the episode doing the work needed. Safiyah robbing Alice of her memories and conditioning her to build her own empire in Gotham while also going after her family potentially robs her of agency as it suggests her actions were the product of conditioning. Robbing her of growth that Ocean helps her achieve is certainly tragic but this could end up damaging the character overall.
Ryan’s Kryptonite injury adds tension and a ticking clock to the overall plot while allowing her to work through some issues in really interesting ways. Being haunted by hallucinations of her mother who encourages her to be the best version of herself leads to a strong catharsis following a confrontation with Alice. She starts off committed to killing her because she doesn’t want to die without punishing Alice. Ultimately she realises that Alice has no memory of what happened so doesn’t see the event as important even though it was defining for Ryan. Ultimately Ryan realises it’s more important to save her own soul than have a death on her conscience and she is able to let her go. Jacob and Sophie still don’t really fit into the current version of the show because their contribution is entirely focused on the Kate Kane plot. This makes sense and Jacob dealing with the various losses he has endured is certainly interesting but there is potential for both of these characters to be doing more meaningful things that is being ignored.
- the Alice/Ocean chemistry
- Ocean helping her achieve growth by giving her perspective on her family moving on
- Safiyah’s connection to the Desert Flower and her reverence for it
- Ryan achieving a form of catharsis around Alice
- the hallucinations of her mother encouraging her to be the best version of herself
- Jacob wrestling with the various losses he has experienced
- the suggestion that Alice hasn’t been in complete control of her actions
- telling rather than showing the strength of the connections in the flashbacks
- Jacob and Sophie still feeling out of place
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