Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 8
“Survived Much Worse”
Batwoman has all its ongoing plots converge on Coryana as many of the major characters find themselves on the mysterious island in search of either Kate or the Desert Rose.
The search for Kate Kane makes sense as a plot given the circumstances of her death/disappearance and her connection to the characters remaining on the show. I’ve talked a lot about how problematic it might be when it comes to resolving this because of Ruby Rose’ departure but it’s certainly something that can motivate many of the existing characters. Using it as a springboard to introduce Safiyah as a major player in the mythology of the show adds extra intrigue and allows for Alice to develop in unexpected ways so it was been a worthwhile propulsive force in the season so far even if there are questions around how the story will actually be resolved.
Alice found out the circumstances around her memory gap in the previous episode which called into question the true motivations behind her reprehensible actions up until this point. The flashbacks showed that she had gained some much needed perspective on her family thanks to Ocean before having that growth ripped away from her to be replaced with conditioning that set her on a path to being a murderous criminal. This still remains a problem as it risks robbing Alice of much of her agency by framing her as a victim forced into acting a certain way rather than her actions being motivated by hatred born from feeling abandoned. The truth is most likely somewhere in-between but it’s concerning that the show is leaning so heavily into her conditioning. It would appear to be in service of making redemption possible for her though the fact remains that she still did all those terrible things regardless of whether she was in her right mind or not.
This episode focuses on her complicated feelings around Kate. Up until this point she has been saying that she wants to find her sister so that she can be the one to kill her which tracks with the way she was behaving towards the end of the previous season. It’s believable that her insanity has transitioned to the point where she feels the only way to be free is to sever all ties with her family as it was which means killing Kate and presumably Jacob. Killing Jacob is less urgent because as far as she’s concerned he abandoned all hope of reclaiming Beth long ago whereas Kate never lost sight of the possibility. In order to truly be “Alice” Kate has to die because she will always serve as a reminder of the part of herself she wants to forget.
Safiyah gets under Alice’s skin by interrogating her need for validation. She mentions that Alice wants to kill Kate out of envy as Kate is loved where Alice isn’t. According to Safiyah, Alice’s diseased mind assumes that when Kate is out of the picture all of that love and affection will migrate over to her. It’s an accurate appraisal of what Alice wants though probably not for the right reason. There’s definite envy of Kate’s situation where Alice is concerned. Everyone focusing their efforts on trying to rescue her offers a stark contrast to the way she sees the situation surrounding her when she went missing. Even though there’s mountains of evidence to the contrary she still believe on some level that her family abandoned the search for her. At least some of that thinking comes from Safiyah’s conditioning but it’s also true in that her family eventually accepted that continuing the search was fruitless so worked to move on with their lives. In memories Alice no longer has she accepted that as a necessity but without them she feels that pain very strongly. Seeing everyone tirelessly searching for Kate undoubtedly hits a nerve and feeds into Alice’s need for validation.
Of course it is far more complicated than Alice simply wanting to kill Kate as that’s merely the objective she tells others. The reality is that she wants to save her sister and makes sure she returns home safely. This comes out when Ryan pushes her on the subject and comes to realise that Alice isn’t entirely responsible for her actions due to Safiyah’s conditioning. It doesn’t allow Ryan to forgive her but she does start to feel sympathy for her because of what was done to her. When she looks at Alice she now sees another victim and possibly someone who needs help rather than punishment. It certainly doesn’t redeem Alice because she still carried out those unspeakable acts but it does reframe the antagonistic relationship while reinforcing the complex Kate/Alice relationship. Without Kate around to develop it through interactions it falls to Alice to define what it means at this point and that part is working well.
Safiyah suffers as a villain considerably in this episode. Prior to her introduction she was enigmatic and dangerous because of her resources and reach. A lot could be inferred by her ability to influence people and events from afar such as potentially causing Kate’s plane to explode in mid air. Following her introduction she becomes far less impressive as time goes on and her motivations are better defined. The previous episode established that she was in love with Alice and felt betrayed when she resolved to run away with Ocean; a man she considered to be a brother to her. This betrayal called for Ocean’s death and it had to be at Alice’s hand to make it as Shakespearean as possible. Like most Bat villains Safiyah has an eye for the theatrical which fits the framework of the show perfectly and creates a potentially interesting conflict for Alice to deal with. Having no memory of her feelings for Ocean already represents a loss for Alice and being the one to end his life means that she will be robbed of that connection forever. Safiyah pulling the necessary strings further reinforces her level of influence.
The problems with Safiyah are around her motivation. Tatiana betrays her because she sees her obsession with Alice as a vulnerability so takes steps to make sure Alice is out of the picture. Jealousy is a key motivator for Tatiana as she’s in love with Safiyah so resents the attention given to Alice when it will never be reciprocated. A lot of what Safiyah has done has been driven by her bitterness brought on by Alice and Ocean’s betrayal. She has expended a lot of energy to get her revenge which includes lying about having Kate as a prisoner to force Alice into carrying out this revenge plot. It’s a really messy situation that doesn’t paint Safiyah in the best light as instead of the elegantly ruthless antagonise all signs pointed to she is actually more petty and spiteful which robs her of a lot her menace. The mentality of preventing others from having Alice because she can’t is far from an interesting motivation and the revenge comes across as hollow considering neither party can remember the connection they are being punished for having. It makes very little sense and devalues what Safiyah represents in the context of the show.
Finding out that Safiyah lied about holding Kate hostage actually does come as a surprise as she never came across as dishonest before this point. Much of her motivation is founded on the fact that people close to her kept things from her so honesty would actually seem to be something that she values greatly based on that. Having villains operate on a double standard is certainly nothing new but there’s no inherent advantage to the show in revealing that everything Alice did to get access to Kate was for nothing other than it being a function of the revenge Safiyah has engineered. All it really does is prove how vindictive Safiyah is while also securing that her word is worthless meaning that nobody should ever reluctantly work with or for her again. Alice does get her own back by burning the field of Desert Flowers in an unbridled act of defiance. She sees that as bringing Safiyah down to her level and leaving her with nothing which further illustrates Alice’s pain over having to accept Kate’s apparent death. It plays as a bittersweet victorious moment and the imagery of the burning field is incredibly striking as a representation of lost hope for more than one of the characters.
Ryan is present on Coryana because she needs a Desert Flower to cure her Kryptonite poisoning. She also has the secondary goal of bringing Kate back to Gotham but is presented with a difficult choice when Safiyah offers her a reward for helping to uncover Alice’s subterfuge. She can have either the flower or Kate but not both so Ryan chooses the flower without hesitation. It may seem cold and entirely motivated by self interest which is accurate but not completely. This follows the conversation she has with Alice where she correctly concludes that Alice doesn’t actually want to kill Kate so if Safiyah is true to her word -she isn’t- then both goals will be accomplished since Alice is as committed to Kate’s safety as everyone else is. In that sense it’s a win-win situation where Ryan is cured and Kate is safely returned home. Tragedy isn’t far behind with the burning of the field seemingly ending any hope Ryan had for survival. Asking Sophie to sit with her because she doesn’t want to die alone made for a really sincere moment that exemplifies Sophie’s admirable qualities and adds to the engaging dynamic that has been glimpsed between the characters before this point.
Sophie and Jacob are definitely relevant in this episode even if there is still little more beyond them than their connection to Kate. There are strides forward particularly from Sophie who is being positioned as a bringer of change within the Crows. She talks about accountability and how it isn’t as simple as Batwoman being a lawless vigilante where the Crows uphold the law. She cites a recent example and points out they should really admit that they are in a situation where they are above the law but pretending that they aren’t. It follows conversations between Ryan and Sophie in prior episodes about accountability and what the Crows actually are compared to what they pretend to be. Sophie recognises that Batwoman isn’t their enemy and that there’s no harm in teaming up as their objectives align. Jacob remains very obstinate in his views around justice but is blinded to what the Crows actually are and his role in them becoming that. Sophie is clearly acting as a champion for change in the organisation but it remains to be seen if Jacob can find it within himself to be flexible enough to allow that change to happen. Kate’s upcoming return will likely provide opportunity for him to reconsider his position on certain key issues.
The episode ends with the reveal of a bandaged Kate –newly recast for the coming episodes– in Gotham after Julia pronounces her dead following some recently uncovered evidence. This raises some interesting questions around Ryan’s future in the Batwoman identity. Kate’s return might mean that she wants to resume her role as Batwoman which could result in Ryan being pushed out of the role in favour of the original. Mary insists that Kate isn’t the type of person who would push her out like that but also admits she has no idea what it means for her if Kate returns. It’s something that comes up later in the episode when Luke points out that having Kate and Ryan both alive and well is a good problem to have. It amounts to him insisting they concentrate on the situation at hand rather than worrying about what they do should everything go their way. The episode does a great job showing what Ryan fears losing by showcasing the strong dynamic within the current iteration of Team Batwoman. Ryan trusting Mary with her plant that ends up being the hope to save her life was a particularly strong moment that shows how close they have grown in such a short time.
Ryan’s concerns do raise an interesting dilemma. With Wallis Day taking on the role of Kate Kane that means that Ruby Rose leaving the show is no longer an issue assuming that the audience accepts the new face of the character. This means that it’s very possible that Kate Kane could be a full time fixture in the show which creates an issue around who gets to be Batwoman. This will certainly be a discussion point but it’s no longer certain how that discussion will end up so there could end up being two Batwomen active in Gotham at the same time. Ryan could be an apprentice to the original who learns from her and supports her or possibly conflicts with her through differing styles and methods. Ryan’s knowledge of how the streets of Gotham City could be a great asset as well as a source of a reality check for Kate who has no idea how things work. It’s also possible that Kate will appear for a small number of episodes before leaving handing over the Batwoman mantle to Ryan. The decision to recast creates a lot of possibilities and allows for a resolution of the plot that has been building up all season. Wallis Day was excellent on Krypton so I’m optimistic that she will be a capable successor to the Kate Kane role.
A good episode that allows the characters and their plots to converge in a single location while offering important introspection for Alice. This episode focuses around Alice’s complicated feelings around Kate and takes every opportunity to interrogate her plan to kill her sister. Safiyah correctly points out that she’s jealous that Kate is loved and wants to kill her to achieve validation by having that affection transfer to her. It’s not entirely accurate as she feels that her family stopped caring about her long ago. Believing that she was abandoned is what fuelled a lot of her actions up until now and seeing everyone so fixated on getting Kate back adds to that overall envy. Safiyah robbed Alice of the growth that allowed her to accept that her family had to move on so her appraisal is accurate though not entirely reflective of Alice’s mindset. Ryan recognises that Alice is a victim of Safiyah and is able to take pity on her for that reason. It doesn’t forgive Alice’s actions but it does reframe their antagonistic relationship while developing the current one sided connection from Alice’s perspective. This conversation pays off when Ryan chooses the Desert Rose over Kate as she knows that Alice has no intention of killing her sister.
Safiyah suffers considerably as a villain after fleshing out her motivations. After an extended period of time enjoying mystique and anonymity with her threat level being identified by her reach and influence her introduction has revealed that she is largely motivated by a desire for revenge. Her love for Alice has narrowed her focus to getting revenge on those who betrayed her but it is surely hollow as neither party can remember the strong connection that Safiyah resents so much. Painting Safiyah as a liar when she reveals that she never had Kate as her prisoner also undercuts a lot of the work done on her as someone who values honesty. It’s not uncommon for a villain to operate on a double standard but it feels out of place for Safiyah and undermines her threat level to have be behaving in such a vindictive way. Alice getting revenge by destroying the field of Desert Roses makes for a satisfying and visually striking moment that highlights Alice’s pain. She takes pleasure in leaving Safiyah with nothing and bringing her down to her level. Sophie and Jacob manage to be relevant with some strides towards them having an identity outside of their connection to Kate. The morality of the Crows is a huge issue and Sophie championing change in the organisation as Jacob remains obstinate carries the debate nicely. The reveal that Kate is alive and the recent recasting announcement raises questions around whether Kate will become a permanent fixture in the show. For now there is doubt from Ryan’s point of view as she doesn’t want to be pushed out and even Mary has to admit that she has no idea what will happen. Luke remains focused on the situation as it is now rather than worrying about what will happen when successful. The episode reinforces the strong dynamic being developed through the Team Batwoman scenes and offers a great example of the connection that has developed between Ryan and Mary when Ryan entrusts her plant to Mary as a symbol of trust. Time will tell what the return of Kate will mean.
- the complex interrogation of Alice’s motivation for getting Kate back
- Safiyah pointing out Alice’s desire for love and validation but not getting it quite right
- Ryan identifying Alice as a victim and recognising that she doesn’t want to kill Kate
- the satisfaction associated with Alice burning the Desert Rose field
- striking imagery as the field burns
- this paying off when Ryan chooses the Desert Rose over Kate because she knows Alice will protect her
- Sophie acting as a strong contrast to Jacob’s obstinate view of the Crows
- Kate’s return raising interesting possibilities around what happens with the Batwoman mantle
- Safiyah’s petty motivation significantly decreasing her threat level
- presenting Safiyah as a liar contradicting what is already established about her
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