Batwoman – Season 2 Episode 1
“Whatever Happened to Kate Kane?”
Batwoman returns for a second season with a new face behind the cowl and the departure of Kate Kane.
I really don’t envy the writers of this show having to deal with Ruby Rose’ departure following a season of television that never actually got to finish. The previous season ended on a number of open questions such as what Kate will do in the wake of her father betraying Batwoman during a truce and what havoc Tommy Elliot would wreak when wearing Bruce Wayne’s face. Not to mention the lingering Alice plot that was set to fire off in a different direction. There was a clear arc designed for Kate with ongoing plots that feed into it that now can’t be explored with the lead of the show deciding to call it quits. Recasting was an option but that carries the risk of the existing fanbase being hostile to the new face going by Kate Kane. Just imagine the cries of #NotMyKateKane on social media!
Instead the production team decided to create a new character who would take on the mantle of Batwoman and build an entirely new story around her. It’s a brave and interesting choice that could backfire in different ways. We could be on the cusp of people crying out #NotMyBatwoman on social media instead. There are potential issues with this choice as Kate’s supporting cast are -at least for now- remaining so the new character is somewhat being slotted into a story that is ongoing which could create issues around finding her a natural place within that. This also brings a great deal of exciting potential as a new character is a blank slate that can be built from the ground up without any built in expectations since there is no precedent for her. Yes she is taking on an established mantle but her history and personality are unique to this show and created especially for it.
Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) is the newly created character that becomes the heir to the Batwoman mantle. She is introduced as living in a van talking to her plans as a plane falls out of the sky. It’s an explosive opening to the season that gets Ryan into the story immediately so it is made very clear that Ryan is important right from the off. She is depicted saving the life of a homeless man impacted by the crash showing that she’s a decent person and finding Batwoman’s costume foreshadowing the role she will eventually take on. Any viewer ignorant of the behind the scenes changes will instantly get a strong sense of what is coming their way which makes for impressively economic storytelling.
As this is going on Luke and Mary are scrambling to understand the situation that is playing out. They are both confused as to why Kate isn’t answering comms and hasn’t appeared at the scene of the crash. It doesn’t take long for Luke to figure out that Kate was a passenger on the crashed plane and they fear the worst though they hold out hope because the suit wasn’t found at the crash site meaning it’s possible that she escaped and will turn up. It’s a reasonable way to address her absence while keeping the supporting cast involved. The chaos works in tandem with the mystery it establishes and sets the events of the episode in motion in a really organic way that remains focused on the characters involved.
This episode serves as an introduction for Ryan and sets up the major internal conflicts that she deals with. It is very quickly established that there’s a lot of tragedy in her past that she is dealing with and it feels like overkill at this point though there could be a clear plan that justifies all of it as the season progresses. She’s an orphan with a mother that died in childbirth, the woman that adopted her and became her mother was killed right in front of her moments after they entered their new home, she served time for a crime she didn’t commit and isn’t able to find a job or home as a result of that. There’s a lot in there and a lot to deal with but she also feeds into something this show eventually did very well. Ryan represents how broken Gotham City is and how difficult it is for anyone outside the rich elite to carve out a successful life for themselves.
In many ways Ryan is an appropriate inheritor to the identity of the Bat as she is a product of the system that Batman and later Batwoman worked to improve. Bruce and Kate’s wealth kept them at a sympathetic distance from the problems they fight to solve but Ryan is right in the midst to it and understands how people are suffering in a way that her predecessors couldn’t. Prior to this Mary provided that perspective because she interacted with the bottom of the societal hierarchy through her clinic though she too had some degree of distance because of her wealth. Ryan doesn’t and could provide an important voice for the people of Gotham.
With that in mind it’s easy to see why she seized the opportunity to take the suit because she is aware of injustice and wants to do something to put an end to it. Her initial motives are selfish as she wants to kill the one responsible for her adoptive mother’s death so her arc for the first episode is for her to realise that revenge won’t bring her any kind of peace and that there are much larger systemic issues to deal with. Reading an article about Kate Kane helps her come to that realisation as she is given examples of what Kate did for the city when not in the costume. This comes after her operating on the assumption that Kate was simply another shallow billionaire with no concept of what life is really like in Gotham. She saw the Batwoman identity as as bored billionaire looking for a way to amuse themselves but becoming aware of what Kate accomplished for the less fortunate in the city opened her eyes to what work really needs done. This prompts her to abandon her quest for revenge and return the suit and further highlights Ryan’s innate decency.
Naturally it takes more than a certain personality type to be a costumed vigilante and Ryan conveniently has at least the necessary starting point with the mention of her teaching martial arts. It may not be to the extent of Bruce or Kate but she has some combat ability and natural athleticism that can be honed so she is placed as an ideal candidate to succeed Kate. The mantle isn’t passed on fully in this episode but Mary is clearly ready to champion the cause.
One of the strongest scenes in the episode was the cutting back and forth between Ryan learning about Kate and Mary learning about Ryan. The realisations for Ryan have already been covered but the other important development is that it creates an inroad for Mary to connect with her. Mary is the heart of the show and always has been. She has always understood what makes people tick and had natural empathy for those around her. She is immediately drawn to the fact that Ryan’s mother died in her arms and it created a strong desire for revenge. Mary understands exactly how this feels because it wasn’t so long ago that she was in exactly the same position. This common ground isn’t exploited quite yet but it definitely will be and it forms the basis for Mary to take on the role of an emotional mentor figure for Ryan as she settles into the vigilante role.
Mary spends much of the rest of the episode in the same denial that Luke is about Kate’s fate. Both are determined to believe that she survived and become increasingly emotional as the likelihood of her turning up decreases. Luke blames himself for pushing Kate to look into destroying the final shard of Kryptonite as that lead to her being on the plane that crashed and Mary tries to hold them both together by encouraging Luke not to fear the worst. Once again their dynamic is excellent and having them possibly take the lead for a while before Ryan becomes comfortable in the Batwoman identity has a lot of potential to enhance an already strong pairing. It wasn’t so long ago that Mary was the newcomer to the inner circle and Kate’s departure means that she is forced into a different position that changes her character’s function. I would also like to see more of her looking into threats that are being faced and understanding the Human angle associated with them. That suits her perfectly.
Luke is essentially spiralling and needs Kate to be alive in order to bring himself out of it. Camrus Johnson plays that brilliantly along with Luke’s discomfort at having to take on a leadership role. To an extent the arrival of “Bruce Wayne” would seem to absolve him of this responsibility but it quickly becomes evident that his interests lie in another direction so the task of finding Kate, finding the wayward suit and figuring out how things can possibly continue should the worst outcome tome true falls to him. It’s not a position that he’s comfortable with as has been previously established so it’s interesting to see him outside of his comfort zone once again.
Luke and Mary still make sense in a post Kate Kane Batwoman world because they make up the other 2/3 of Team Batwoman but there are legitimate questions around what function the rest of the cast have amidst all the changes. They are all somewhat defined by their relationship to Kate; Jacob’s her father, Sophie and Julia were the other two sides of a tedious love triangle and Alice was her sister as well as her nemesis so where do these characters fit in now? Alice has a forced connection to Ryan following the reveal that she was present when the squatters killed her mother so Ryan has a vendetta against her even that will factor in somehow. It’s clear why this was done as otherwise there would be no major reason for keeping Alice around outside of her periodically interacting with Jacob which loses a lot of its relevance without Kate in the picture anyway but it still feels unnecessarily forced and isn’t really a personal connection as such. Ryan’s obsession with bringing Alice to justice will likely inform a lot of this season but Alice has no real reason to be all that concerned with Ryan on a personal level unless she takes umbrage to the Batwoman mantle being used by someone other than Kate.
The writers do attempt to keep the other characters relevant though only through how they process their grief. Jacob refuses to accept that he has lost another daughter and also has to deal with learning that Kate was Batwoman meaning he will spend some time internalising the guilt he feels over treating Batwoman like an enemy. The way this information was delivered worked really well with Alice pointing out just how obvious it should have been. Jacob’s desperate attempt to force Kate to return by turning on the Bat-Signal was a really moving moment and having Ryan see it in the sky as her own call to action was a less than subtle yet incredibly effective passing of the torch moment. Whether Jacob will be more lenient on the new Batwoman is unknown at this time as he could choose to be an ally or see it as disrespecting his daughter’s legacy. Either way there is still room for him in the show in his capacity as Commander of the Crows.
Sophie struggles with Kate’s disappearance because she obviously still has strong feelings for her. This is something Julia picks up on and it starts to create a rift between them. This didn’t work as it’s already well known that both of them have romantic history with Kate so continuing this love triangle while one of the sides isn’t even present feels forced and manipulative. Neither of them interact with Ryan in this episode though it’s possible she will end up taking Kate’s place in the romantic connection which will be less than ideal. If they can forge meaningful connections between these characters that might involve into a romantic one organically then there;s every reason to pursue that but for now it’s very clumsy. Julia and Sophie made for an engaging pairing towards the end of last season so adding complications to that so early on feels like a misstep. There’s no reason they can’t both accept their love for Kate and use that to bring them closer together. Kate’s letter to Sophie brings her in on the Batwoman secret which means that none of Kate’s supporting cast are in the dark at this point therefore leaving them free to have open and meaningful conversations about what that meant. Julia and Sophie would be better placed supporting each other rather than using this as a contrived reason to drive them apart as Kate’s presumed death is enough drama.
The antagonist for the episode ends up being Tommy Elliot wearing Bruce Wayne’s face. His objective is to get a hold of the Kryptonite shard so it can be used to penetrate the suit though another objective of his is to literally slot himself into Bruce Wayne’s life in every aspect which includes taking on the role of Batman. It still appears odd that in this universe Batman only has one suit as someone so fastidious would surely have spares that could be used so it’s difficult to accept the fixation on the one costume that seems to exist but at least the objective is clear and his actions in pursuit of that make sense.
It’s likely that this plot was originally supposed to last much longer than it did but to me it’s better that it be wrapped up quickly as having multiple episodes where nobody twigs that Bruce Wayne is being impersonated especially when everyone concerned is aware of the fact that it’s possible would have gotten tedious. It did appear as if Luke had rumbled him early on but he accepts the flimsy excuse and lets “Bruce” into the Batcave. This does set up how little Tommy really knows about Bruce’s life and relationships which leads to him being caught out by Julia who tests his knowledge. Warren Christie is far better at playing the over the top Tommy Elliot rather than the subdued “Tommy pretending to be Bruce”. He really cuts loose when Tommy gets to be himself and is a lot of fun to watch. It’s unclear whether he will return as the real Bruce Wayne somewhere down the line but as an antagonist to create the action climax of the episode he worked reasonably well even if his presence was ultimately fairly shallow.
A strong opening to the season that confidently introduces the new lead character and finds some compelling ways to slot her naturally into the mythology of the show while suggesting possible connections between her and the other characters. This episode acts as an introduction for Ryan Wilder while also establishing the mystery surrounding Kate Kane’s disappearance and presumed death. Ryan’s introduction is instant and having present at the scene of the plane crash that may have claimed Kate Kane’s life is a great way to throw her into the story. From there some time is spent establishing her background, motivations and suggesting how these can inform a possible arc over the course of the season. In many ways she’s a natural choice to carry on the Batwoman mantle as she’s a product of the system that Bruce and Kate always had a sympathetic distance from. Her realisation that revenge won’t actually solve anything through understanding what Kate accomplished outside of her role as Batwoman works really well as the catalyst for understanding that there’s more to being a Hero than simply fighting criminals. Her strongest connection looks to be with Mary who looks into her background and instantly relates to a desire for revenge following the loss of her mother. Mary looks to be placed in an emotional mentor role and joins Luke in shifting towards a leadership position while Ryan adapts to her role.
The handling of denial and grief through Mary and Luke is really strong with them slowly coming to the realisation that Kate might be gone for good. Luke blames himself which is only natural and Mary struggles to accept that it might be true. They are a very easy fit in this new status quo as members of Team Batwoman but the other characters aren’t quite so strongly connected. Jacob still has a place as the Commander of the Crows and will likely have some form of connection to the new Batwoman whether he decides to be her ally or resent her for tarnishing his daughter’s legacy. Sophie and Julia’s fit is far more clumsy as the writers double down on the tedious love triangle by defining their relationship through not having Kate in their lives. Some manufactured friction is created between them because of Sophie’s feelings for Kate which doesn’t really work and puts a previously compelling pairing at risk. Neither character have any interaction with Ryan in this episode so it’s unclear if a place for them can remain in the new status quo. The main antagonist for the episode is Tommy Elliot wearing the face of Bruce Wayne. This feels like a plot that was supposed to have much greater significance being cut short but it’s better to do so as having him around for multiple episodes while people suspect nothing would get old very quickly. The way he’s discovered works and Warren Christie makes for a fun presence when fully unleashing Tommy Elliot rather than pretending to be Bruce Wayne.
- a strong opening that immediately makes Ryan part of the story
- Ryan’s background and motivations informing a potentially compelling arc
- her realisation that revenge won’t get her anywhere
- Mary using her natural understanding of people and empathy to relate to Ryan
- Mary and Luke shifting into a leadership role
- the portrayal of the grief being experienced by the various characters
- a fun antagonist in Warren Christie’s Tommy Elliot
- the unnecessary rift between Sophie and Julia
- forcing a connection between Ryan and Alice
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