Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 16
Batwoman has Luke work through his issues as many people try to reawaken Kate Kane’s default persona.
In one way or another this episode is all about identity. This applies to Luke rethinking his life choices following his return from the brink of death, it applies to Kate wrestling with the Circe persona that has been forced inside her, Alice revisiting the long denied Beth Kane side of herself to help facilitate that and -to a lesser extent- Ryan’s ongoing commitment to being Batwoman.
Luke’s ordeal in the previous episode has left him feeling angry on a number of levels. He’s angry with Tavaroff for shooting him, angry at the world because Tavaroff will face no consequences for doing that, angry at the rest of Team Batwoman for bringing him back and angry at himself for not doing more to effect change. It all swirls around inside him with no clear healthy path forward so he resorts to getting revenge by going to challenge Tavaroff to poker. The game acts as a strong metaphor for the system that failed Luke and continues to fail many who happen to be not white. Tavaroff cheats and doesn’t even try to hide it because he knows he’ll get away with it which echoes his earlier sentiment about the charges against him being dropped. “The house always wins” may be a cliché but it remains a relevant one. An unfortunate fact is that the system is designed to be biased towards people like Tavaroff while people like Luke continually suffer. Tavaroff points out that nothing will be achieved as Luke’s reputation will continue to be the black man that pulled a gun and was shot in self defence. The truth doesn’t matter and Tavaroff is so blatant about what he has done because he knows exactly how things work.
It’s notable that Luke manages to beat Tavaroff despite the cheating which extends the metaphor around the game that is being played. He beats Tavaroff at his own game and proves that it’s possible which makes things appear less hopeless than they initially seem. Luke is categorically stating that he has come to realise he needs to play differently and that he’s not willing to stand for the casual persecution that he faces on a daily basis. He’s taking a stand and starting with Tavaroff but the angry revenge driven approach is clearly shown to be far from the right one. Tavaroff beating him in the alley and taking great pleasure in doing so highlights that Luke needs to refine his methods before he will be truly effective. He knows what he wants to achieve and knows what needs to change but doesn’t know how to go about it because he’s currently so blinded by rage. That part needs to change but he needs to learn the lesson before that can happen.
Luckily, none other than John Diggle (David Ramsey) happens to be in town to help him learn that lesson. For those that may have not seen Arrow, John Diggle was Oliver Queen’s right hand man and frequent moral compass. He has a strong sense of what’s right, a well cultivated persona geared towards calmly approaching a given situation and a well earned understanding of how the world works. Diggle was often a source of advice for Oliver to point him in the right direction and he acts as that for Luke here. He ends the fight with Tavaroff through using his impressive physicality and then accusing Tavaroff of disrespect in a way that even he can’t disagree with then he has a talk with Luke about his next move. Diggle understands how it feels to lose a father as a young man and be filled with rage as a result but he also understands how best to channel that rage. He points out that Luke’s life will one day end and it’s his responsibility to control what he can tell his father on the other side. Is it going to be that his life was taken in a pointless back alley brawl or is it going to be that he worked really hard to make the world a better place? It’s a simple yet profound choice that Luke has to think about and Diggle makes sure to let him know that it’s his responsibility to define what the Fox name means. Luke stands for justice but he has to make what he stands for mean something.
As an Arrow fan it’s great to see Diggle back and used in this way. It’s impressively restrained on the part of the writers to not have him fold into Team Batwoman on a temporary basis -at least so far- and act as a driver for Luke instead. He suffers a brief headache and admits that something isn’t right with him which has prompted his visit to Gotham but his purpose is to help Luke on his journey. His advice is as sharp as ever and his dynamic with Luke is engaging. Drawing on their similarities as black men who lost their fathers as young men makes sense with Luke being at an earlier part of the same journey Diggle has already been on. The advice is meaningful -more so if you’ve seen Arrow– and Luke’s intelligence wins out over his anger to reframe his approach following this.
Surprisingly the show doesn’t hold back on Luke confessing to Ryan that he never wanted to be brought back. It’s a major detail in the sense that it suggests Luke has a death with but it’s relatively minor in the grander scope of his development. His reason for not wanting to be brought back was the futility of living in a black man in a world stacked against non white people. It ends up being the launching pad for the next part of his arc rather than him actively looking to end his life. As above he starts off wanting revenge before coming to realise that he can work to enable change in different ways so his arc becomes more about getting away from thinking inwardly and figuring out how best to bring about a better world. He has to make mistakes to get on that right path and that’s exactly what happens here.
Alice and Jacob teaming up to convince Kate that she isn’t Circe Sionis oddly fails to capitalise on the potential that comes with them working together. It’s significant because of all the baggage that exists surrounding this relationship but very little time is spent actually exploring it. There is the moment where Jacob meets Ocean with a dark twist on the father meeting the daughter’s boyfriend and not approving of her choice in partner but outside of fleeting references here and there there’s little said between them. This makes Jacob’s statement to the press about Alice/Beth being a victim who had her childhood stolen from her fail to land because the work wasn’t put in to detail him understanding that.
A strong father/daughter moment does exist between Jacob and Mary following Jacob’s arrest. He encourages her to be there for both Kate and Alice/Beth because they are both her sisters. It’s a burden he was content to shoulder by himself until the unfortunate circumstance of being arrested so now the responsibility falls to Mary who doubts her ability to accomplish what seems impossible at this point. Jacob’s encouragement of her and his assurance that he has never had to worry about her is truly moving. It’s a rare moment of tenderness for Jacob but speaks to all he has learned over the course of the season.
Most of the coverage where Jacob and Alice are concerned is attempting to restore Kate’s default persona and it involves trying to stimulate her memory through strong reminders of her past. This includes Alice identifying as Beth to coax Kate out. This is significant because Alice has always been shown to actively reject her history as Beth Kane because of the pain she associates with being that person but here she is owning that name and using it as a way to trigger Kate emerging from her brainwashing. It’s unlikely to be anything that Alice is conscious of because of the way she has compartmentalised herself but it does suggest that Beth Kane isn’t gone forever and the death of Ocean -assuming he stays dead- adds another complication to the ongoing battle between the Alice and Beth aspects of her personality.
Kate’s situation is entirely different as she believes she is someone else where Alice is hiding from her old life by cultivating a new identity. Even though she has had conditioning to remove certain memories she still remembers her history whereas Kate struggles to remember being anything other than Circe. The connection can still be drawn with both sisters struggling to keep a hold of their true selves though it’s different enough not to be a lazy direct parallel.
Surprisingly the Kate Kane persona begins to reassert itself really easily which results in confusion for her as the memories that are surfacing exist in direct contrast to the dominant Circe Sionis ones. Added to that is knowing that she has Kate’s DNA and all the feelings she has about those she encounters. Alice and Jacob are very familiar to her though Mary isn’t which does tie in with how she previously treated those members of her family. Mary was largely kept at arm’s length until very recently so it makes sense that the connection isn’t nearly as strong as it would be for Alice/Beth. In the case of Sophie there are a lot of unresolved strong emotions so the instant recognition makes sense there as well.
Wallis Day’s performance is excellent. At this point there’s nothing resembling the Ruby Rose iteration of Kate to be found in the way she plays the character though that’s consistent with how confused she is at this point. She is definitely a capable replacement and the way she portrays being caught between the two identities without knowing which one is really her is very strong. The progression of that confusion where she is unwilling to trust either Team Batwoman or Roman Sionis impressively increases the tension and highlights the difficulties associated with this particular identity crisis.
Roman and Safiyah being at odds over Kate naturally brings Safiyah back into the fold and her vendetta against Alice for destroying her island makes her a relevant presence. The resolution of this with Ryan handing over her Desert Rose in exchange for Alice is somewhat contrived though technically works given the fixation on Kate regaining her identity. Ryan and the rest of Team Batwoman recognise that Alice is valuable in achieving that goal and Ryan feeling indebted to Kate for the mantle of Batwoman tracks with her arc to some degree. It’s also admirable that Ryan starts from a position of looking for a peaceful resolution rather than going straight to attacking Safiyah. She has a unique bargaining chip in the form of the Desert Rose and giving that away is definitely a good idea considering how it nullifies many threats though from a character point of view it makes little sense to give away such a valuable resource even if Alice is considered necessary. On a deeper level it could represent Ryan’s acceptance of the loss of her mother since the Desert Rose was a gift from her. By giving that away she is indicating that she doesn’t need that physical reminder any more and is able to get on with her life.
A strong episode with rich and varied exploration of the theme of identity through various characters with a welcome appearance from an Arrowverse favourite. Luke’s anger following his miracle recovery is used really well as he lashes out against the broken world that he is now forced to live in. Specifically he goes after Tavaroff to beat him at cards both to prove that the game is set up to support people like him as well as highlight that it can be manipulated on the other side. Luke’s approach is misguided because it’s fuelled by anger and a desire for revenge as well as the assumption that the system as it is can’t be changed. Diggle’s advice helps him reframe his thinking towards working to be a positive influence on this broken system and finding a way to bring about the change he wants to see. It’s great to see Diggle back and he slots into the role of experienced advisor naturally especially with his own life experience being relevant to Luke’s situation. It helps alter Luke’s thinking to taking action rather than seeking simple revenge. Luke’s admission to Ryan that he didn’t want to be brought back was quicker than expected though it makes sense as it wasn’t about him wanting to die. It was about him resenting having to live in a world that is stacked against people like him and how exhausting that is.
The Alice/Jacob team-up wasn’t used to its full potential despite the history and baggage associated with it. This makes Jacob’s statement about Alice being a victim who had her childhood stolen from her completely unearned. There is a strong father/daughter moment between Jacob and Mary where Jacob encourages her to be there for her sisters which includes Alice. It’s a moving moment of support and encouragement highlighting all that Jacob has learned this season. The attempts to coax Kate’s default persona out of Circe Sionis work really well with the confusion being played wonderfully by Wallis Day along with the development she experiences as she reconciles the conflicting memories she has. Alice also takes ownership of the Beth identity to help Kate which suggests she hasn’t entirely let go of it. There is a partial parallel between the sisters in that they have had their minds messed with though their experiences are unique. Roman and Safiyah being at odds over Kate brings Safiyah back into the fold in a really relevant way and Ryan giving her the Desert Rose as a peaceful resolution speaks to how heroic she is while also suggesting that she has found a way to deal with her mother’s death without needing that physical representation of her. It’s contrived that it’s done in service of securing Alice’s freedom but it’s an important development point for Ryan. It’s also good to nullify the crutch that the Desert Rose could so easily become.
- Luke’s misguided desire for angry revenge
- Luke playing the game that is stacked against him and proving it can be manipulated
- John Diggle
- Diggle’s advice coming from a place of experience that points Luke in the right direction
- Alice admitting to the Beth identity suggesting she isn’t beyond redemption
- the development of Kate’s conflict with the Circe persona
- the strong father/daughter moment between Jacob and Mary
- Safiyah being brought back in a relevant way
- Very little meaningful Alice/Jacob content
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