Batwoman – Season 1 Episode 4
“Who Are You?”
Batwoman starts to explore how the impact of being a vigilante affects Kate personally as she tries to refine her focus in a way that works for her.
The most striking thing about this show is how self assured the lead character is as a contrast to how the show itself seems to be struggling to define itself. This episode features Kate Kane wrestling with the notion of having to hide a part of herself from the world around her. It’s a different approach to the typical take on the secret identity story as many costumed heroes choose to keep their identity hidden by default but it’s not something Kate is comfortable with because she is not someone who ever hides anything about herself. There is mention of the time she was forcibly outed and ever since then she has been completely open about who she is and makes no apologies for it.
This makes for a great starting point as it frames Kate as someone inherently uncomfortable with the costumed crimefighter concept since it does involve her hiding a part of herself from those around her. The specific example used here is her relationship with Reagan; Kate learns over the course of the episode that she has to work out a balance between her life as Batwoman and her life as Kate Kane which makes it very difficult on such a new relationship. It’s disappointing that Reagan was only introduced last week and now seems to be completely out of the picture. Brianne Howey imbued the character with so much life and personality that using her for this specific purpose feels like a complete waste. Her chemistry with Ruby Rose was engaging and their relationship felt both comfortable and natural despite some dodgy on the nose dialogue intended to do little more than set things up.
Ruby Rose does an excellent job of conveying Kate’s inner conflict and the difficulty she has balancing her double life. It’s clear that she hates letting Reagan down and likes the prospect of lying to her in order to cover up what she’s really doing even less. Reagan is very intelligent so knows that Kate isn’t being honest with her and struggles to understand why that is. Eventually Kate is forced to admit that she isn’t able to be completely open with someone at this point in her life and they part ways so that the issue doesn’t compound over time. It’s treated as a real tragedy as one of the honest things shared between them is that they really like each other so under different circumstances there could have been something really special growing out of this. Reagan is certainly understanding of Kate’s past based on her reaction to Sophie being around but she also wasn’t about to let that be a problem. It’s definitely unfortunate that more time isn’t being taken to explore the Kate/Reagan dynamic.
Luke proves to be an excellent asset in Kate’s life as he almost acts as the Bruce Wayne surrogate able to explain how he approached the vigilante life in order to give her context for what she’s experiencing. He mentions that Bruce’s playboy persona was a cover that he hid behind to mask his inability to make real connections with others. Luke them adds that Bruce was more comfortable being Batman than Bruce Wayne before he disappeared which offers a potential explanation for him deciding to leave. It’s possible that years of lurking in the shadows working to save the city without ever being a true part of it took its toll to the point that he just couldn’t handle it any more. Even if that’s not the case the possibility acts as a cautionary tale for Kate who sees her potential future in that. A question in her mind at this point is how to strike a balance between Kate Kane and Batwoman that doesn’t turn her into what Bruce was and hopefully this will continue to be explored as the season progresses.
As the episodes progress Kate is learning more about what Batwoman could represent. The previous episode had her modify the costume to be distinctive from Batman so that the people of Gotham City knew that there was a new hero in town not to be confused for the vigilante that once patrolled the city. This has its positives and negatives so far as it’s clear to the city that she isn’t Batman but the natural instinct is to compare the two Bat themed vigilantes which doesn’t always work in her favour. An early example is when she accidentally damages an antique vase in an attempt to stop a robbery and has to deal with people saying that it wouldn’t have happened that way had Batman been the one handling the situation. Naturally this would be frustrating but it’s also understandable considering how new Kate is to all of this and how much she still has to learn. The mention of the Batarang being calibrated to Bruce who has longer arms being the cause of the mistake is a complete cop out as it excuses Kate from any wrongdoing and turns what could have been a powerful learning experience for her into simple equipment failure. Having Kate learn that she needs to be more careful in the field is much more significant so the explanation was unnecessary. At least she does end up making a mistake later on by sneezing at the wrong time and setting off a bomb.
There is a really profound moment where Kate starts to realise the impact she can have as a different sort of symbol. When she saves the young girl and she puts her hand on Kate’s cheek there’s a clear double take as she receives a first hand account of how much the city needs a symbol to look up to. It’s one thing to hear it on the radio but to see it in action is very powerful to her and continues to prove that what she is doing is necessary for the city. It helps her come to terms with her own personal sacrifices and gives her the clarity to realise that pursuing a relationship is something she doesn’t have time for at this point in time. It’s something she can definitely revisit once she finds a better balance but for now it isn’t a possibility.
Magpie (Rachel Matthews) is a decent enough villain of the week. She arrives fully formed and embodies the class struggle that is part of the DNA of Gotham City. Her methodology is very similar to Catwoman which was probably deliberate as it gives Kate an equivalent without having to use a character with a complex relationship with her cousin. Her purpose in this episode is clear and she offers Kate a reasonable challenge except from her laughably easy defeat. Unfortunately she doesn’t interact with Kate in either identity very much but she does have a defined personality and presenting Kate with the choice of catching her or saving lives was a nice touch though it would have been better had Magpie escaped as the consequence of Magpie escaping would have given the choice weight. Characterising Kate as almost infallible in the costume isn’t doing the show any favours as it has yet to feel like she’s in much danger when dealing with villains.
Kate’s decision to start a real estate company that gives uses the Wayne fortune to provide homes to those who need them while keeping the rent affordable is an interesting development. A conversation with Reagan highlights that corporations have contributed massively to the homelessness problem in the city and that will be an indirect cause of the high crime rate since desperate people commit desperate acts to survive. Kate is in a position to do something about that and wants to provide homes for people so that they won’t be driven to a life of crime. She recognises that dressing up in a bulletproof suit and punching criminals won’t solve any of the systemic problems so it’s admirable that she is finding other ways to make a difference. It’ll be interesting to see where this story goes and what problems she will ultimately face as it progresses.
Mary continues to be the heart of the show and endlessly entertaining whenever she’s on screen. Her interaction with Kate as Batwoman who brings her injured prisoner to her clandestine clinic for treatment. Mary’s starstruck reaction to interacting with Batwoman is a great source of comedy and blending this with her integrity as a healer highlights how their dynamic could continue to work in future. Her Alice impression as she tried to get information out of her patient while in a drugged up state was also excellent while acting as an example of how morality has to be somewhat fluid in order to do good things in Gotham City. Mary is definitely a strength the writers should make more use of.
Alice’s appearance in this episode feels somewhat redundant. The sisterly dynamic is interesting enough when we see it but she doesn’t interact with Kate at all so she just comes across as an underdeveloped villain. She’s stuck in a weird limbo between misguided and villain that doesn’t entirely work. A huge part of the problem is that it’s unclear what her goal is so all of her actions feel random. She is at her best when there’s the suggestion of a small spark of humanity left in her is focused on though there is merit to how she seems to focus on avenging her former life even if she doesn’t seem to want to reclaim the Beth identity.
The main function of Alice in this episode was to make Catherine admit to her involvement in the fiction around the skull fragments with Beth’s DNA that were found. She basically forces Catherine to admit the truth which allows her motivations to come out into the open. She admits to Jacob that she’s responsible for the skull fragments and explains to him that she did it because she saw it as the only way to stop Kate and Jacob descending into inescapable despair. It’s more of a selfish motivation than a villainous one though I suspect it’s far from the entirety of the story even if there is some truth to it. As a reveal it works because of the actors giving everything they have to make it work but there hasn’t been enough done to establish what sort of a relationship Jacob and Catherine have so it’s impossible to be invested in the damage that has undoubtedly been done to it because of this information. Putting Catherine in a more sympathetic light does give her a little more depth though the mention of a weapon that is being created most likely connects to her reason for faking the DNA evidence. It’s not quite enough to be interesting yet but it heads in the right direction.
The strongest episode yet with a compelling approach to what being a vigilante means for Kate combined with how the city sees her. It’s disappointing that her relationship with Reagan ends so soon as there was great chemistry between the two characters and potential for so much added depth over a long period of time. Using her as an example of why Kate can’t have a relationship at this point is a wasted opportunity. Besides that the idea that Kate needs to find a balance in order to maintain a double life is explored in a refreshingly different way as she’s someone who has never hid anything about herself so isn’t comfortable with having to do it. Over the course of the episode she learns important lessons and figures out a way to make it work for now. The outside perception of Batwoman as a symbol is interesting as well with the inevitable comparisons to Batman being something she has to deal with as a contrast to how inspiring she clearly is. Offering explanations for her mistakes such as the Batarang not being calibrated to her is a cop out answer that removes a learning opportunity from her but there is the moment where she accidentally sneezes to show that she hasn’t figured everything out yet. Magpie makes for a decent enough villain to offer Kate a particular challenge that ties into the class divide in Gotham and offers a difficult choice towards the end that is undercut by the ease of her defeat.
Mary continues to be endlessly watchable. Her interaction with Kate as Batwoman was a great source of comedy and her integrity as a healer is clearly shown establishing a fun dynamic for this other aspect of Kate’s persona with Mary. Her Alice impression is also hilarious and shows that morality has to be stretched to get things done in Gotham City. Alice’s appearance in this episode feels somewhat unfocused because she doesn’t interact with Kate so the strongest thing about her isn’t on display at all. Instead she extorts Catherine to force her to admit the truth about the DNA evidence that supposedly proved her death. This shows that Alice wants to avenge her former life even if she doesn’t want to return to it though it’s hard to figure out what the character is supposed to be at this point as her actions aren’t strong enough to make her a decent villain. Catherine admitting the truth to Jacob works because of the strength of the performances but also fails because very little has been done to establish how their relationship works so it’s impossible to invest in it being damaged. I doubt it’s the whole story as there’s a background mention of a weapon and it does allow Catherine more depth but it’s still not enough.
- Kate struggling with the idea of hiding a part of herself from the world
- the first steps taken towards Kate finding a balance in her double life
- the depiction of the Kate/Reagan relationship
- Mary proving to be endlessly watchable
- Magpie offering a decent challenge for Kate
- the performances in the scene where Catherine admits the truth to Jacob
- ending the Kate/Reagan relationship so soon
- continued difficulty finding a place for Alice
- offering explanations that prove Kate doesn’t make mistakes in the field
- Catherine’s reveal losing impact because of the lack of prior development of her relationship with Jacob
- the choice Magpie offers Kate losing impact because there were no negative consequences
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