Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 1

Oct 7, 2019 | Posted by in TV
Batwoman

“Pilot”

The Arrowverse adds another superhero series to its quiver with the Gotham City set Batwoman.

Kate Kane’s introduction in last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover was a strong showing for the character, at least in terms of how she might fit into the extensive shared universe that she was immediately a part of. Being able to carry her own TV show is a different story to being a guest star in stories led by the other established Arrowverse heroes but enough was done in “Elseworlds” to pique my interest certainly.

Down the crazy rabbit hole!

In many ways this pilot episode is pretty much what audiences have come to expect from a new Arrowverse series and that makes it somewhat disappointing. ArrowThe Flash, and Supergirl all delivered rapid fire origin stories for the lead characters in their inaugural episode so for Batwoman to do the same borders on contrived. It doesn’t help that the broad strokes of this episode are completely predictable and offer little new to chew over. The worst part is that the first episode of this new show didn’t have to be a paint by numbers origin story as audiences have already been introduced to the character and it already assumes knowledge of some of the core elements so the specifics of how she decided to take on the Batwoman mantle could have been handled through less intrusive flashbacks.

There is some redemption to be had in the way the episode handles the characters. Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) is an engaging lead and Ruby Rose delivers a complex performance that immediately injects her with a lot of personality. It would have been so easy to fall into the trap of her being a conflicted, brooding character but there’s a distinct playful edge to her that counters the uncertainty and loss that continually haunts her. This approach creates a lot of potential for the writers to build on and develop a character who has a wide variety of interactions with various characters.

So far Kate’s most strained relationship is with her father, Jacob (Dougray Scott); the head of the Crows security firm that was established as an attempted replacement for the mysteriously missing Batman. Kate is established wanting to do her part to protect the city and sees joining Crows as the best ways to do that. Naturally Jacob doesn’t want her to be a part of that for reasons that aren’t entirely defined and this generates friction between them as well as providing a large part of the impetus for Kate to pursue life as a vigilante. Ruby Rose and Dougray Scott are talented actors who are able to sell the barrier between them but the writing isn’t quite strong enough to support these performances. The pilot moves so fast that there isn’t time to really delve into the nuances of these relationships.

Batwoman

Batman can’t come to the phone right now

Of course this is only the first episode and there’s plenty of time to develop this. I like the idea of her going into exile in order to gain the skills necessary to prove herself worthy of admission into her father’s company. It’s as if she needs to be better than everyone else to measure up to her father’s expectations. Naturally this extra training will come in handy when pursuing her vigilante career but the motivation to gain those skills feels natural enough even if the basis for gaining them is ill developed. It’s also unclear where she goes to gain those skills and who is teaching her so it’s another part of the episode that feels clumsy.

There’s a similar lack of depth in Kate’s relationship with Sophie (Meagan Tandy). Flashbacks establish that they were engaged in a forbidden relationship while going through their military training. Ruby Rose and Meagan Tandy have plenty of chemistry in their limited screen time together which creates a solid basis for their future interactions. It’s also an effective way to introduce the fact that Kate Kane is a lesbian in a way that doesn’t feel forced. The Arrowverse has a strong history of LGBTQ characters with Sara Lance and Alex Danvers as well as a number of background characters so viewers can be confident that this aspect of Kate Kane’s character is in good hands. It’s basically handled as any other relationship would be with the only complications being environmental. The choice Sophie makes to accept punishment and end the relationship in order to continue her military career injects a sense of tragedy to this dynamic. There is a concerning detail around Sophie’s marriage in the intervening years that suggests there is a love triangle to come which is a personal peeve of mine as longtime readers of this site will know.

A major core relationship that the episode doesn’t have time to develop is Kate and her step-sister Mary (Nicole Kang). The introduction of that sisterly dynamic is by way of clumsy exposition and there’s no sense of what their relationship is at this point. Mary’s clandestine illegal clinic feels completely random which has a lot to do with her not really being a character in the context of this episode. It’s clear that the clinic exists as an off the grid place for Kate to patch herself up after her more difficult scrapes and the introduction comes across as necessary plot setup rather than an organic role for a character central to Kate Kane’s life.

Batwoman

Batman in action

Another major core relationship that the episode doesn’t have time to develop is between Kate and the villain, Alice (Rachel Skarsten). She’s appropriately theatrical for the world this show inhabits with her Alice in Wonderland themed henchmen and her particular psychosis themed around quoting the Lewis Carroll text. It’s fairly typical as these things go and the writing doesn’t do a lot to lift her above standard Arrowverse villain of the week status. There is supposed to be more depth to Alice considering the reveal that she is actually Kate’s biological sister but the episode doesn’t do enough to allow the viewer to invest in this connection. It’s something that the coming episodes can develop but based on this I’m not all that excited to see more of this. Her function in this episode is to capture Sophie and inspire Kate to take action as Batwoman. It might have been better to introduce Alice at a later date and have a disposable villain for the purposes of this episode as there’s an uncomfortable contrast between how disposable Alice appears to be and the importance attached to her. There is some mention of Sophie being the daughter Jacob always wanted but it’s little more than a line of dialogue with no weight behind it.

The episode does a really good job incorporating the Batman mythology into its background. In this continuity Batman has been missing for around three years and Gotham City has been suffering as a result. This prompts the need for protection over and above the less than effective police force which is where Jacob’s Crows come in. Even with that corruption still exists within that organisation as is seen in this episode and Gotham is generally characterised as a city on the brink of collapse. The reasons behind Batman’s disappearance are as yet unknown but the assumption is that he gave up on a dying city which has made the already hopeless citizens of Gotham lose what little hope they had. Batman is handled in a similar way to Superman in the early days of Supergirl in that he’s a distant figure that helps inspire the plot without being involved in it. The major difference is that Batman isn’t currently active where Superman was. Naturally the only way to develop this properly is for Bruce Wayne to return to Gotham to answer that question himself. This may be planned and connected to the casting of Kevin Conroy in the upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover but for now it’s a mystery that lingers over the show.

Gotham City’s need for Batman is clearly established in this episode through the people’s reaction to the arrival of Batwoman. The specific example given here is how a young child reacts; she assumes that Batman has returned and is filled with excitement at the prospect of Gotham’s hero returning. Kate’s first costume is barely distinct from Batman so it’s easy to see why people would confuse them from a distance. This will certainly factor into later episodes as she cultivates her own distinct take on the Bat symbolism. The idea of her continuing the legend of the Bat in Gotham that people have come to rely on but putting her own spin on it has a lot of potential. It allows her to be a female version of Batman with her own flavour and mission.

Batwoman

Work in progress

Kate starts off the episode resentful of Batman because her perception is that he failed to save her sister because he was too fixated on catching a villain. Perspective is always an interesting thing to play with as it can allow for a multitude of motivations to play out. Kate grows up resenting Batman because she believes that his focus was in the wrong place and his negligence took her sister from her. For Alice/Beth the perspective might be that Kate let her fall to her apparent death though there’s not enough information to confirm that but the point is that characters making conclusions based on their available information makes for compelling dramatic storytelling.

Once Kate receives more information about what happened that day she begins to understand what was behind the decisions made by Batman that day. Learning that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same also helps her think differently which both works and doesn’t as there is no established baseline for that relationship if there is one. Kate does learn how Bruce approached the situation and that he never gave up on trying to find her sister’s body so she achieves a form of closure on that situation and is able to think about how she moves on from it.

The introduction of Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) creates an engaging dynamic between Kate and her version of Felicity/Cisco. It’s a lot of fun to watch as Kate clearly enjoys teasing him and there’s a playful edge to their relationship that should make their interactions a highlight in the coming episode. Kate isn’t quite a lone crusader but the Arrowverse moved away from the lone vigilante idea fairly early on in the life of Arrow so that’s no surprise and there’s no denying that it’s better when the hero has a support structure to interact with.

One issue is that there seems to be little in the way of a learning curve for Kate as she takes to the Batwoman persona easily for her first outing. The action sequence where she takes down Alice’s goons isn’t especially exciting and suffers from being very difficult to follow. Of course she will have difficult trials to endure over her early days but it would have been better had it not seemed quite so easy because it makes it difficult to believe that Batwoman is needed. It’s a testament to how quickly the pilot wants to get to the point of Batwoman being established as a force for good in Gotham.

Batwoman

Must strike epic pose!


Verdict

A promising start with lots of potential that rushes through many of the key elements in a way that fails to apply the necessary depth to them. Kate’s core relationships are in theory interesting but don’t receive enough attention to make them as interesting as they could be. The most glaring is her exposition heavy connection to her step-sister and her clumsily established role in the show. Kate’s status as a lesbian is introduced organically and the actors bring a lot to that relationship through their natural chemistry though the promise of an upcoming love triangle leaves a lot to be desired. The mythology around Batman and how that connects to Kate’s motivation to become Batwoman works really well and keeps Kate’s specific motivations distinct from those of her cousin. Even though she’s the female version of a more famous hero she is already shaping the role to be her own.

Alice is a character that isn’t handled as well as she could be. Up until late in the episode she is little more than a standard villain of the week. Her particular brand of psychosis is in keeping with the background but her specific connection to Kate lacks depth because the episode doesn’t do much to establish her as a formidable enough presence. Another issue is that Kate already seems too competent in the Batwoman persona based on her first outing. It doesn’t help that the action is underwhelming and hard to follow but it feels as if the problem is resolved too easily. Naturally there will be trials for her to overcome as she settles into the role but the pilot was rushing to get to the point of her taking on the Batwoman mantle and giving her an early victory that there was no sense of difficulty.

Overall
  • 7.5/10
    Batwoman - 7.5/10
7.5/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • Ruby Rose’ performance
  • strong chemistry between most of the characters
  • Kate’s motivation to become Batwoman feeling distinct from her cousin’s motivation to be Batman
  • a strong background
  • good use of the Batman mytholog

 

Rise Against…

  • not enough depth to most of the key relationships
  • a weak villain creating a twist that lacks impact
  • Kate seeming too competent on her first Batwoman outing

 

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