Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 5
“Mine is a Long and a Sad Tale”
Batwoman starts to fill in the details of Alice’s back story with flashbacks to the events following the accident that separated the twin sisters.
Such an episode was inevitable right from the moment Kate realised that her sister was still alive as there’s a great deal of time from the point of her disappearance to the present day. The trouble is that Alice isn’t an especially interesting character on her own so it’s difficult to be excited about the prospect of learning more about her. There is some merit to the Kate/Alice relationship that makes their scenes together watchable but it’s more down to the actors making the material work than the strength of the material itself.
Gaining insight into how characters ended up the way they did is a good idea in principle because filling in backstory is one way to add depth to a character plus in this case there’s the enduring mystery of why Beth wasn’t found despite the large scale search that followed the accident. It turns out that she was found but by exactly the wrong sort of person who took her in as a hostage and kept her hidden from those looking for her. Jonathan (John Emmet Tracy) makes for an appropriately presence who plays well against the younger Beth (Ava Sleeth). He does a great job of appearing compassionate and normal when needed before shifting into unpleasantly creepy. He has a disarming demeanour that puts Beth at ease before revealing just how dangerous he is. There isn’t enough here to completely justify why Beth goes from innocent lost child to unbalanced villain but I suspect this is a story that will be told over a longer period of time with different triggers going into turning Beth into Alice. Jonathan makes for a good early example of how horrible people can be.
She does gain a somewhat positive relationship out of this ordeal. Jonathan’s son, Jonny (Nicholas Holmes) is disfigured and has been conditioned to let that define his identity. It’s uncomfortable that this show leans on the trope of disfigurement creating villainy but perhaps that’s oddly appropriate for the CW considering how much the network clearly favours pretty people. In this case the trope has a bit more complexity added to it as Jonny has been conditioned by his father to believe that there is something wrong with him without any outside context to tell him otherwise. It’s still an uncomfortable message but it makes internal sense. Beth being unafraid of him despite Jonny assuming that she should be adds to the idea that it’s only his father’s influence encouraging him to feel that way rather than it being how society sees him. The beginnings of the Beth and Jonny relationship come across really well though suffer from not having enough time to develop organically when this should have been the core relationship since it answers the question of who the Mouse is and what significance this holds for her. Focusing on this in the flashbacks rather than a matter of fact telling of the events would have made for a strong emotional connection.
The introduction of the adult version of Mouse (Sam Littlefield) isn’t unexpected but it’s difficult to invest in the supposedly strong connection they have since the flashbacks only pay lip service to it. Alice/Beth having a non biological sibling relationship to mirror Kate’s is a reasonable enough idea as it provides more potential for common ground but it’s something that comes out of nowhere for Alice and there was a real opportunity to show why it was so strong through the beginnings of it but it was squandered by lack of focus. Rachel Skarsten plays Alice as really vulnerable in the scene she shares with Mouse towards the end of the episode which makes for a strong indicator of how important he is to her so it’s yet another example of talented performers elevating sub par material.
Putting Kate and Alice together for much of the episode works really well as it allows Ruby Rose to play off Rachel Skarsten in really interesting ways. Kate’s determination mixed with awkwardness and caution comes across clearly and Alice taking advantage of it by playfully teasing her with the promise of information makes for some fun interactions. Kate impatiently wants answers as quickly as possible and Alice takes her time by turning it into a story told over an extended period. One of the strongest aspects of this show is the scenes between these two talented performers.
Their trip together ends with similarities to the events in the flashbacks with Kate taking Beth’s place in the locked room and using a nail to fashion her escape. Jacob is involved in both scenarios as well in similar roles. It’s a clear attempt on Alice’s part to show her family what she went through as a way to torment them. Why she’s looking to do this is unclear at this point which robs it of some of its power as there’s no defined reasoning behind anything that Alice does other than garden variety insanity which the writers are trying to insist isn’t the case where she’s concerned. Nothing about the way she behaves adds up to anything coherent so it’s even more problematic to invest in her as a character.
There are some moments of significance here such as Jacob finally calling her Beth as an indication of acceptance that his daughter is alive. Alice is still out for revenge against her father as shown by her having no problem stabbing him. She still blames him for giving up on looking for her but the events of the flashback make her stance on this even more confusing. Alice knows that her family came looking for her as she heard Kate calling out her name through the door she was locked behind but chose not to call out to her because of the threat Jonathan made. She knows that her father and sister almost found her but didn’t because she wanted to protect them so it’s unknown how she twisted the facts into believing that her family abandoned her. That moment where Kate almost found her is a great example of the unspoken sisterly bond that exists between them and probably the best showing of their connection the show has brought so far.
Unsurprisingly, Mary remains the highlight of any given episode. The argument she has with her mother when she confesses the truth about what she did is fairly weak but that’s all down to how poorly characterised Catherine is. It’s not clear at this point whether she’s a well practiced liar or simply a selfish person who made a horrible mistake that she is trying to be forgiven for. She seems genuinely remorseful when confessing to Mary but that could be the sign of a liar. Part of the problem is that the writers either haven’t decided what Catherine is or they are keeping it as a surprise reveal for a later date though that won’t work because there’s nothing to latch onto. All the conversation feels like is a springboard for Mary’s contribution to the episode.
This episode brings together the two best characters, Mary and Luke. The results of this are endlessly entertaining and important for understanding Mary’s views on everything that is going on. She goes to Wayne Tower looking for Kate because she is disgusted with what her mother has done and doesn’t feel as if she has anywhere else to turn. Once she finds that Kate isn’t there and figures out that she must be with Alice the whole situation becomes more upsetting for her. Mary really wants to have a strong relationship with Kate but has always been kept at arm’s length because of the loss of Beth. She wants to be loved and give that love back in return but Kate won’t let her because of Alice/Beth so she becomes angry because Kate doesn’t allow them to have that relationship. It’s something that Mary can’t understand as she sees herself as the better option because she has never killed anyone. All she wants from Kate is the love she feels but Kate is completely oblivious to this which ends up hurting Mary. Of course there’s a lot that Mary doesn’t understand and has to accept on her own but that’s what makes it so good. Once she and Kate have an open conversation about why they feel the way they do it should clear the air somewhat but for now Mary is drunk and rejected.
Her dynamic with Luke makes for great viewing. Luke finds he really irritating but also has an innate desire to help her deal with what she’s going through. It doesn’t mean that he’s fully accepting of her behaviour or her intrusion into his space but he gives her some leeway because of what she’s going through. Nicole Kang is just the right amount of annoying to still be endearing as well so their interactions are never anything short of engaging. Something tells me this is a pairing that will continue as it works so well.
An uneven episode with some excellent character interactions that elevate the material brought down by really good ideas that are fumbled in the execution. Gaining insight into the events that led to Alice being the way she is was a reasonable idea but it’s badly let down by a lack of focus on what ends up being the core relationship. Beth/Alice’s kidnapper Jonathan is appropriately disarming yet creepy and the beginnings of her strong connection to his son Jonny come across well but receive far less than the attention they deserve. This makes their relationship in the present day hard to invest in because not enough work was put into showing why they would be so close. Having Jonny head down a villainous route because his face is disfigured is a really problematic message as well even if the context does support it. Setting up a mirror for Kate’s non biological sibling relationship is a reasonable idea though it heavily depends on the execution. Kate and Alice’s scenes together as Alice playfully teases her with the information make for great watching thanks to the skill of the actors. The flashbacks end up confusing Alice’s motivations further as we see that she was aware that her family were looking for her but she chose not to make her presence known because of a threat that was made. Other than insanity it’s unclear why she would continue to blame them for giving up. Her desire for revenge doesn’t make a great deal of sense at this point.
Bringing Mary and Luke together made for excellent viewing as their dynamic is so engaging to watch. Catherine is still very poorly defined as a character which makes anything she does more confusing than interesting but it does serve as a springboard for Mary’s contribution to the episode. The idea of her wanting Kate to embrace her as a sister and feeling rejected because Alice gets in the way of that is really strong. Mary can’t understand why Kate would favour Alice over her because Mary has never killed anyone. There’s a lot she doesn’t understand but she also feels that she deserves to be accepted for her role in Kate’s life so there’s a lot to work through here. Luke being annoyed at Mary but also desiring to help her deal with her emotional issues makes for a fun dynamic that deserves further exploration.
- strong performances from Ruby Rose and Rachel Skarsten during their interactions
- the powerful moment where young Kate almost finds young Beth
- setting up a mirror of Kate’s non biological sibling relationship with Alice
- Mary’s desire for love and acceptance from Kate
- Mary and Luke’s endlessly entertaining dynamic
- Nicole Kang wonderfully towing the line between endearing and annoying
- a lack of focus in what should have been the core relationship in the flashbacks
- the flashbacks only confusing Alice’s motivation rather than clarifying them
- Catherine remaining undeveloped as a character
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