Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 17
Batwoman gears up for the season finale with betrayal, questions of identity and Roman Sionis moving forward with his plan to take over Gotham.
Identity has been a major theme this season that is being applied to more characters as it progresses. Superhero properties tend to deal with the idea eventually due to the setup often lending itself to exploration of the idea. Many superheroes juggle a dual identity so it’s natural to attach them questioning who they are as people to that. For Kate Kane last season the Batwoman identity represented a part of her life she thought she had left behind; the perceived need to keep parts of herself hidden from the outside world though she found a way to deal with that after finding that Batwoman meant more than that to a lot of people so the secrecy became a necessity. It represents hope and opportunity to Ryan who had her life turned around in a positive way by stepping into the role.
The theme of identity doesn’t just apply to the Batwoman mantle. Circe/Kate is grappling with who she is, Ryan is questioning what her place will be once Kate takes her rightful place, Luke is trying to figure out his next move, Alice is questioning herself on several levels and even Tavaroff is wrestling with defining his place in the world. At the moment the only people who seem secure in who they are and confident in their life choices are Sophie and Mary who have both made decisions and are content to stick by them though Sophie recently asked herself some big questions prompting her to make changes in her own life.
Circe/Kate forms the main thrust of the narrative with the early part of the episode forming similar beats to the previous one with her appearing to struggle to reconcile the implanted personality with who she really is. The Kate Kane persona seems to be reasserting itself and she comes across as being eager to piece her life back together. She responds positively to whatever stimuli she is presented with designed to jog her memory and appears genuine in her desire to get her old life back. Luke, Mary and Sophie are all so eager to have Kate back that they accept this at face value which makes them easy targets for manipulation. This makes sense considering how each of them mourned Kate’s loss in their own way while holding out hope that she would one day return. Their individual as well as shared eagerness to have Kate back in their lives blinds them to the possibility that they are being duped. It’s definitely short sighted of them to not be cautious under the circumstances but their emotional ties to Kate are being exploited and they are already predisposed to give into them. The early reveal that Circe/Kate is manipulating them sets up the eventual betrayal which makes it an inevitability rather than the potential shocking development it could have been.
Taking away the possibility of her betrayal being a surprise was a risky decision from a writing point of view as it risks robbing the moment of any weight but it works here because the episode does such a good job of highlighting Sophie, Mary and Luke’s emotional connection to her. The inevitability of the betrayal becomes a tragic outcome that the characters can’t avoid because they are blinded to the possibility. Wallis Day’s performance as Circe pretending to be a confused Kate is excellent. There’s an undercurrent of dishonesty to everything she does and says that isn’t noticeable to the other characters but stands out because the audience is aware of the truth. Having that knowledge as a viewer makes it difficult to watch the characters fall into Circe’s trap which is exactly why it’s so effective.
The betrayal itself takes an emotional toll on all three of them because they didn’t see it coming. A lot of time is spent reminding Circe/Kate -and by extension the audience- what the defining traits of those relationships were. Her interactions with Luke highlight their partnership that became a friendship, her interactions with Mary are about that developing sisterly bond that was still very much in its infancy and her interactions with Sophie focus on those unresolved feelings they have for one another as well as the relationship that could have been. In the latter case Circe makes sure to throw that love back in Sophie’s face to point out how gullible that made her. In effect she takes those core relationship traits, taints them and turns them against each of them. It’s delightfully insidious and a great example of how a corrupted loved one can be such an effective antagonist.
One thing the episode doesn’t explicitly address but still exists in the subtext is that Circe/Kate is still a very confused person. The Circe persona would seem to be the dominant one for now though she has acknowledged that the body once belonged to Kate Kane. Whether she has accepted that Circe Sionis has been reborn in a new body and is content to live her life knowing that is unknown but it does seem that the battle between Circe and Kate has been won by Circe. This is unlikely to remain the case as per the foreshadowing that a part of Kate remains alive within her. Mary cites that as a possible reason for Circe not killing them which could be naive hope on her part but it also sets up the internal conflict that is still likely to play out. Circe’s response to that identity confusion is an interesting one as she is looking to take everything that belongs to Kate Kane such as the Batwoman mantle and make that part of Circe Sionis. In a way she is looking to evolve by embracing that there are things about her body’s previous owner that she can claim which makes for a really compelling character beat going into the final episode.
Ryan has an identity crisis of sorts when she weighs up what Kate’s return means for her. The possibility of Kate’s return has prompted her to see herself as a stand-in Batwoman filling in until Kate’s ready to return to it. This perceived temporary status applies to everything that being Batwoman has given her in her own life. This includes her job and place to live because those were things that belonged to Kate so she packs her bag and finds herself back living in her van. She comments on being right back where she started while lamenting what she has lost. At this point she no longer even has the Desert Rose that her mother gifted to her so in some ways she reverts back to this living situation worse off than she was before. Not to mention the upset that getting a taste of significant improvement before having it taken away causes.
It could definitely be argued that Ryan’s reaction is overdramatic and there’s certainly truth to that because it has been made abundantly clear to her by Luke, Mary and Sophie that they don’t see her as a temporary replacement to be cast aside as soon as the “real” Batwoman returns to pick up where she left off. Ryan is their partner and friend so there’s no way she would simply be cast aside so her operating on that assumption makes very little sense.
On the other hand her anxiety over what the future holds for her is relatable because irrational jealousy is definitely something she experiences. When she sees Kate on the monitor talking about going back to protecting the city in her suit it reinforces that distance and isolation felt by Ryan with her not being a part of the conversation and operating on her own to get answers. It’s nobody’s fault but understandable that Ryan would feel sidelined in this situation especially when there are no concrete plans around what happens if and when Kate reclaims the Batwoman mantle. Sophie assures her that she has made the identity her own and done a lot of good but Ryan can’t see beyond her perception of herself as the interim Batwoman.
Ryan a worthy hero in her own right whether in the Batwoman identity or not is further explored through her interaction with Roman Sionis. He does the standard villain spiel about them not being all that different on a fundamental level as Ryan tries to disagree but the longer the conversation goes the more she realises that they have grief brought on by loss in common. She sees Sionis as a man broken by the loss of his daughter and unable to find a healthy outlet for that pain. She tries to appeal to his better nature if such a thing still exists by pointing out she knows how he feels while trying to help him see that the actions he’s taking do nothing to honour his daughter’s memory. Despite everything he’s done Ryan is able to pity Sionis and recognise what he’s going through but it seems that he’s too far gone to listen to reason at this point and remains fully committed to his plan. It’s certainly worth an attempt and a great showing of Ryan’s ability to inspire people through understanding what they’re going through before offering them the help they need to deal with it. This trait separates her from Kate and naturally makes use of Ryan’s background.
The issue of identity also come up through Tavaroff who has found himself aligned with Sionis due to lacking direction following the disbanding of the Crows. He questions this alignment because he feels it’s making him a cog in a different machine. As someone who is motivated by forward momentum through whatever means that he deems necessary to achieve his goals it understandably feels like a step back for him and he’s unsure whether it’s the right course of action though he doesn’t have many alternatives that mean he has influence or resources so he finds himself working for Sionis for now. The later conversation where Sionis talks about using the remnants of Batman’s conflicts with various villains as a way to do better than them by not making the same mistakes along with the focus on the Venom formula to suggest that Tavaroff will become a Bane like figure for the final episode is an intriguing development. It’s certainly enough for Tavaroff to take notice as he clearly feels the forward movement he craves is possible based on Sionis’ mindset when it comes to understanding where his predecessors failed. Whether he’s capable of overcoming those failing remains to be seen but the approach is noteworthy.
Alice finds herself at a loose end following Ocean’s death but opts to take the time to mourn his loss. This ties into the ongoing identity theme through Ocean’s influence giving Alice an idea of who she is and what has been taken from her. With Ocean now dead and cremated she has lost her last tangible connection to a time in her life where she was able to move on to some degree. Safiyah takes that opportunity to further confuse her by trying to make her accept that she has nobody left to turn to. It’s a really insidious tactic on Safiyah’s part to make Alice believe that she has no family left but her and it looks like it might work for a time before Alice stabs her with the Desert Rose blade. Alice’s confusion has given way to a desire for vengeance and she wants to make Safiyah suffer for everything she has taken from her. It’s not an unexpected reaction on Alice’s part but it’s interesting because it shows how dangerous she can be when she feels she has nothing to lose. There is also merit in seeing Safiyah unable to control everything and that she has brought on this punishment herself. It marks a significant shift in power in this dynamic and positions Alice to develop in an unpredictable direction at the same time.
An excellent episode that offers strong exploration of identity as a theme through Circe/Kate’s possible confusion over who she really is and Ryan feeling that she has to step away from what she has earned. Circe/Kate’s manipulation of Team Batwoman works really well and the risky decision to reveal it to the audience early on is a big part of why. The episode does a great job of highlighting Luke, Mary and Sophie’s emotional connection to her in key scenes that sets up the weight of that betrayal. Wallis Day’s performance is great with an undercurrent of dishonesty to everything she does and it’s difficult to watch the characters fall into her trap therefore making it effective. The internal battle within Circe/Kate as to which persona gains control would seem to be over but the foreshadowing of the spark of Kate alive within her provides some hope while justifying Circe not killing the team. It’s clear this will come into play in the final episode. Circe’s confusion as to her own sense of identity is used well with the suggestion of acceptance that she has been reborn in a new body. She feels that she is entitled to take on aspects of the life she is replacing which includes things like the Batwoman mantle. Ryan’s reaction to the very real possibility that Kate could come back is overblown in some ways as it ignores the very real connections she has made but relatable in others as she is focusing on the idea of her being an interim stand-in who now needs to stand aside. She ends up back where she started but with less which is appropriately tragic and it’s easy to see how she might be blinded to her presence still being wanted as well as required. Ryan proves herself heroic once again when trying to appeal to Sionis’ better nature even though he’s too far gone to hear it. It’s a great scene that highlights Ryan’s value and makes excellent use of her background.
Tavaroff aligning himself with Roman Sionis is an interesting development especially with so much attention placed on his reluctance. He doesn’t want to be a cog in a different machine as he is motivated by forward momentum no matter what he needs to do in order to achieve his goals. Ultimately he comes to respect Sionis’ approach when he learns of his intention to learn from the mistakes made by Batman’s previous antagonists. Alice mourning Ocean is the first step she can take following that loss and it highlights the importance of that loss in her life considering what he meant to her in terms of being able to move on within herself. Safiyah looks to take advantage of that and manipulate Alice but it’s not something she’s prepared to accept as Alice blames her for so much. Her motivation is not to get revenge and have fun doing it. This puts Alice in an unpredictable position with a lot of avenues for development while also representing a power shift in her dynamic with Safiyah.
- framing Circe/Kate’s betrayal as a tragic inevitability
- Wallis Day’s excellent performance
- Ryan lamenting the potential loss of all that she has earned
- showcasing Ryan as a hero when she tries to appeal to Sionis’ better nature
- Tavaroff’s reluctance to be a cog in a different machine
- building to him understanding the merits in Sionis’ approach
- the shift in power between Alice and Safiyah
- Ryan failing to acknowledge the very real connections she knows she has made
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