Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 2
“Prior Criminal History”
Batwoman sets things in motion for Ryan taking on the titular role as Alice finds another way to threaten Gotham.
It feels appropriate to begin by addressing the elephant -bat?- in the room. This episode was scripted and filmed in a post COVID world so it’s unlikely that a plot focused on a disease that could end up threatening all of Gotham being prevented by the actions of a vigilante is an accident. In this world heroes can prevent pandemics but unfortunately in our world that isn’t the case. There are references to a plague in Gotham being spread by the bats that have ingested the poison used to kill Mouse and the episode ends with a decisive end to it thanks to the actions of Mary combined with the resources of Hamilton Dynamics along with Ryan putting an end to the source. If only real life was like that but alas our situation is a lot more complex.
The people of Gotham City are starting to lose hope once again because the feel abandoned by Batwoman. This episode establishes that it has been about a week since Jacob betrayed her at the stadium as depicted in last season’s finale and the public perception is that Batwoman has gone into hiding following those events. Once again the Crows are less than popular and people want to believe in what Batwoman represents so there is a very loud cry for her return. A week is perhaps too short a time frame for hope to be lost to the degree this episode suggests as surely weeks would frequently go by where there was no awareness of Batman or Batwoman’s activities. Not everything Kate did in the suit would make the news as she did a lot that the public would never know about. This is an unfortunate example of the writers needing to get a point across without it making complete sense within the context of the world that has been established but it does perform the intended function of establishing that there is a need for Batwoman to be a presence in Gotham.
The immediate problem of the plague carrying bats attacking the rally gets the point across and forces a situation where Batwoman needs to appear. This is further complicated by Sophie and Jacob recently learning Batwoman’s true identity meaning that there’s a mix of emotions associated with the appearance of Batwoman as they both know that Kate is missing. For most people Batwoman’s appearance is taken at face value because she appears on a rooftop meaning that nobody notices the obvious physical differences but for Jacob and Sophie it means considering the possibility that Kate has returned before quickly realising that it is someone else in the suit. This is set up really well through Mary and Luke being interrogated about their knowledge of Kate’s double identity. Mary uses the excuse of Kate not allowing her to be close and Luke pretends to be the assistant who had no idea what Kate did outside of their business connection. It’s flimsy and probably not actually believed by Sophie or Jacob especially considering Mary’s affiliation with Batwoman before this point but there’s nothing concrete and they are forced to conclude that Kate worked alone as Batwoman.
One thing the episode could have addressed more significantly is the strong possibility that Batwoman has associates based on another person wearing the suit. It’ll likely play into the coming episodes but seeding the tension as Jacob closes in on Luke and Mary would have enhanced his role in this one. The current tension is definitely interesting as Jacob is still working on coming to terms with his daughter being the face behind the vigilante that he hunted so having someone else taking on the mantle will only add to his anguish around the whole situation. It’s unclear how he’ll deal with this new Batwoman or how he’ll end up resolving his feelings for what Kate did.
Kate’s legacy is being positioned as a major theme this season. Ryan is almost the unexpected inheritor of a dynasty that she has to figure out how to live up to. This is best shown through Kate’s diary where she wrote entries as if they were letters to Bruce. Her diary entries were used frequently over the course of the first season as a way for Kate’s thoughts to be expressed privately while also allowing the audience to have insight into her mindset. She would often reflect on her recent adventure as Batwoman and be open about how uncertain she was feeling about her actions. I criticised the show for her constantly comparing herself to Bruce’s accomplishments as it was a crutch that was leaned on but extending this through Ryan doing the same thing except with the entries being addressed to Kate really highlights the idea of legacy and that the mantle of Gotham’s resident Bat vigilante is something that carries a lot of weight. It makes sense for Ryan to be uncertain of her ability to live up to Kate’s example and it carries more weight because we as the audience have seen what she accomplished in the previous season so understand what she is trying to live up to as opposed to unseen accomplishments from Bruce Wayne. There are still problems with this approach as Kate didn’t really do enough to be canonised in the way the show wants us to believe that she is but it’s a sound foundation to build how different Ryan’s Batwoman will be.
I mentioned in my review of the previous episode that Ryan’s background gives her a very different outlook on Gotham City than her predecessors as she understands how people are suffering in a way that billionaires like Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane couldn’t. This comes into play in a couple of significant ways in this episode. One in particular highlights Ryan’s vastly different perspective; she is able to counter one of Luke’s suggestions as to where to lead the bats because she knows that’s where a lot of homeless people shelter themselves. It’s not something Kate would have known and would have resulted in a further spread of the infection but Ryan has that knowledge because of her background and is able to use what she knows to be effective. The other significant moment is when the woman Ryan saves sees her as Batwoman even when Ryan does which reinforces the notion that Batwoman is an idea rather than an individual. It also mirrors Ryan’s experience of being saved by Batwoman a couple of months prior.
By the end of the episode Ryan is accepted as the interim Batwoman after offering to take on the mantle. Mary is all for it while Luke is reluctant which sets up an easy yet natural conflict to play into the coming episodes. Mary clearly feels a connection to Ryan through understanding the loss she has experienced so is predisposed to champion her appointment as Batwoman. There’s a strong sense that they will grow very close as Ryan settles into the role. The events of this episode tie into this as the same poison that killed Mary’s mother is being used so it forces her to confront the trauma surrounding that loss. It impacts her as she sees the poison affecting those brought into the clinic and she visibly has trouble dealing with that. It looks likely that developing her connection to Ryan will help her move on from this to some degree which makes for an interesting foundation to their relationship.
Both Ryan and Mary are used to provide some commentary on killing and the willingness to do so. Ryan wants Alice dead because of what happened to her adoptive mother and Mary is on some level happy to let that happen because of what Alice did to her mother. Luke’s pointed question about betting Kate’s legacy on whether Alice deserves to die or not is impactful because it forces Mary to do a double take and the major condition for Ryan being allowed to assume the Batwoman identity is to pledge not to kill. It’s easy enough for her to make that promise now but there will likely be a difficult test in her future that will show what she’s really made of.
Luke’s reluctance makes sense on a few levels. For one thing his belief in his own ability has always been shaky so there’s likely doubt over whether he can provide effective support for the new Batwoman when he already feels that he failed Kate. His inferiority complex was one his defining characteristics last season and it slots naturally into his role here. He also makes reference to Ryan’s training not being to anywhere near the extent of what Kate received. She is well trained and can handle herself but there’s a difference between fighting off some muggers and being the nigh invincible symbol that protects Gotham. This concern points to Luke not wanting another death on his conscience and recognising that this is more likely given Ryan’s skill level. The current iteration of Team Batwoman already has a compelling dynamic and seeing how this plays out over the season will certainly be interesting.
The previous episode failed to show how Julia and Sophie would continue to be relevant in this new status quo and that unfortunately carries over her. Their major scenes together are focused on the rift that has developed between them in Kate’s absence and it’s very repetitive in the way its presented. Sophie is upset with Julia for keeping Kate’s identity a secret from her and isn’t prepared to accept that Batwoman’s identity was Julia’s secret to divulge. It makes some sense that Sophie would be hurt by being lied to but it doesn’t make sense that she would hold Julia responsible for this especially considering her previous understanding of why Batwoman kept her identity secret. Adding to the angst is that Sophie is willing to be open about her feelings for Kate and knows for a fact they were reciprocated based on the letter so she openly admits that things between them have ended because Julia isn’t Kate. It’s a harsh comment and I suspect more will shake out as things progress but for now it’s an example of unnecessary angst that prevents characters that were previously engaging to watch together from being at their best.
Ryan’s backstory contains a forced connection to Alice and now also contains a forced connection to Sophie which initially seems unnecessary but ends up being used really well. After Ryan helps foil a convenience store robbery she is arrested and interrogated by Sophie who indicates that this is far from the first time they’ve had a similar conversation. It’s a good time for race inequality to come into play as Ryan frequently finds herself in that position because assumptions are made based on her race when she happens to find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a sense that Sophie either doesn’t know or has forgotten about that sort of persecution because she’s comfortably on the other side of it but Ryan is painfully aware of it and makes reference to Alice being allowed to carry on relatively unchallenged because she happens to be white. This causes Sophie to stumble because she automatically assumes Ryan means Jacob’s personal connection to Alice rather than the broader race argument leading Ryan to draw the obvious conclusion. In general Sophie doesn’t come across very well in this exchange as she proceeds on an assumption of guilt without checking the security footage which makes Ryan’s point for her.
Alice is very much at a loose end and it’s strongly suggested that her behaviour is her own twisted version of grief following Kate’s assumed death. Safiyah has claimed responsibility for the plane crash and the suggestion is that she sees it as doing Alice a favour though that appears to be far from how Alice sees it. Her efforts are focused on drawing Safiyah out probably because she wants to exact revenge for the murder of her sister. Alice has no support at this point so goes to Julia for backup since she also has history with Safiyah but it doesn’t go as planned as Julia realises that Alice isn’t really in a position to threaten anyone given her lack of resources. She’s now just a sadistic murdered with the ability to sneak up on pretty much anyone, say a few vaguely threatening things and possibly leave them injured. It’s well known what she’s capable of but at this point she’s only dangerous when in the same room as someone. Julia certainly isn’t threatened by her and Mary doesn’t see that there’s anything to fear which could be interesting as there’s a real opportunity for Alice to become very dangerous due to being underestimated. It remains to be seen what sort of a threat Safiyah will end up being but Alice out for revenge against her certainly creates the opportunity for a complex villain dynamic to form.
A strong follow-up to the opening episode that expands Ryan’s character, shows the impact Kate’s absence is having on the city and continues to lay the groundwork for the new Team Batwoman dynamic. This episode doubles down on the idea of the Bat identity being something of a dynasty in Gotham City that is passed down from protector to protector. Using Kate’s diary that used to be addressed to Bruce was a nice touch with Ryan using it to address Kate as if continuing the idea of the new Bat living in the shadow of the old one. It makes more sense here than it did before because we as the audience have visible context for what Kate accomplished even if the show needs us to believe that Kate can be canonised in a way that isn’t really earned but it’s an effective measure for Ryan to work towards because the history is there to some extent. Ryan’s background makes her a really interesting inheritor for the Bat identity as she understands how people are suffering in ways that Bruce Wayne or Kate Kane couldn’t. This is used to great effect within this episode in a way that highlights how her knowledge can be useful. Her acceptance as the interim Batwoman by Luke and Mary does a great job of establishing a dynamic with a lot of potential. Mary’s predisposition towards championing her taking on that role because of similar circumstances around losing their mothers sets the stage for a close connection to form and Luke’s reluctance ties into his own insecurities as well as the guilt he’s carrying over losing Kate.
Julia and Sophie continue to fail to be relevant in the context of the new status quo. Their scenes together are mostly focused around the rift that now exists between them which only serves to prevent characters who were once engaging to watch from being at their best. Ryan’s forced connection to Sophie initially seems unnecessary but ends up being used really well. Sophie doesn’t come across well in this exchange as she makes assumptions about Ryan without checking the facts first which is directly addressed as a race issue. Ryan hints that Sophie either has no idea what it’s like for her or has forgotten because she’s on the other side of it. Her statement about Alice being allowed to continue on a killing spree largely unchallenged causes Sophie to accidentally strongly hint at Jacob’s connection to Alice. It’s a good exchange even if Sophie is presented poorly. Alice being at a loose end with no support and a strongly implied desire to avenge Kate is an interesting position for her to be in. There is a strong possibility that this could lead to her being underestimated by those that no longer fear her but there is also a lot of potential for a complex villain dynamic to exist when Safiyah is introduced.
- developing the ongoing theme of Kate’s legacy
- using the diary as a way to illustrate the the Bat mantle acts like a dynasty
- Ryan’s background playing into the Batwoman identity in really useful and interesting ways
- the Team Batwoman dynamic
- Mary confronting her trauma after being faced with it through the current threat
- Luke’s reluctance to let Ryan take on the identity tying into his well established traits
- the loaded exchange between Ryan and Sophie
- the potential for a complex villain dynamic through Alice and Safiyah
- the forced angst in the Sophie/Julia relationship preventing the characters being at their best
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