Tonight’s episode of Batwoman was much, much better, largely because the focus was on another villain and another case and the resultant fallout, and the endless Alice story was consigned to a small running suplot. The Executioner, played by Jim Pirri, appears to be an original-for-the-show creation, and no, I wouldn’t say that he’s the most original idea ever seen in adventure TV. But there are some very topical elements to him as well, and the very real issue of crooked DAs, cops, and judges conspiring to prosecute easy cases against poor minorities is one worth highlighting.
One thing we can’t help but notice is just how bad Kate is at superheroing. She’s fine with fighting and she knows to save civilians, but we got confirmation this week of two more characters knowing her identity. We also got confirmation that the Penguin had served as Gotham’s mayor at one point – that was the plot of the funniest episode of the ’66 series – and that the Joker of this Gotham either went by or goes by the name Jack Napier, which was the name that the Jack Nicholson version used.
Also this week, probably inevitably, Batwoman has to save Jacob Kane from a deathtrap while he growls and snarls about vigilantes and Kate probably prayed that this story wasn’t going to finish with a hat trick and have him learn her secret as well. It’s a good scene, but I guess I’m too old fashioned for liking a Gotham where the cops are glad to have superheroes around. Some other police commissioner – not Gordon, surprisingly – is mentioned this time. I hope that he and the GCPD are on Batwoman’s side, so our hero can have somebody in charge of this dump who appreciates her.
One problem with television series that rely on serialization and constantly churning subplots is that it’s occasionally tough to let the narrative just stop long enough for the next episode to feel like it naturally takes place a few weeks later. Episode five of this story is apparently set long enough after episode four for Batwoman to briefly meet the Flash and Green Arrow and to tell them to get outta Gotham, because Luke briefly mentions an Arkham Asylum breakout, which we saw in Arrow last year. On the other hand, the subplot with Kate’s stepmother and sister seems to have had a break of maybe two days, so it doesn’t fit like a glove.
I’d really been hoping that the show was going to reveal something a lot more fanciful about Alice’s origins than what this episode shows us. I was thinking the Mad Hatter and hypnotism, which would have been a million times more pleasant than the intense and very frightening kidnapping that we learn about in this story. Alice’s kidnapper is a horrible “just an ordinary guy” serial killer-type, a mundane and scary real world evil. His son, whose name is Jonathan Cartwright but who goes by Mouse, was one of the Arkham escapees, and he and Beth, renamed Alice, grew up together. Mouse, whose face is scarred and who has the talent of perfect mimicry, is based on a Batvillain of more recent vintage called Jane Doe, and who went by “Jane Cartwright” when she was used in Fox’s recent Gotham TV series.
Because Beth’s kidnapper is so humdrum and ordinary, full of the banality of evil instead of comic book grandiosity, it put a chain of events together that had our son briefly get upset. The elder Cartwright tells Beth that he will kill anyone who comes looking for Beth, and it will all be Beth’s fault. So Beth stays silent when she had the chance to call out for Kate. Our son rebounded, but that scene hit him hard enough that both of us parents were worried. We asked whether he’d like to shelve the show. He’s emphatic that he likes it and wants to watch more. I’ll be happier if the show would stick to jewel thieves and bombs in elevators. Or bring the Flash back through so Kate can snarl at him again. Maybe a Frosty Freezy machine or something.
Kate and her dad share a good scene right at the end. I sincerely hope that everybody’s resolved to stop treating Alice with kid gloves from here on and stop letting her get away because she might be Beth and everybody wants answers instead of an arrest. Everybody knows, so let’s take out the Wonderland Gang, okay? After all, the show and all its subplots have to have enough of a conclusion very soon in order to close the curtain and pretend a few months have passed so it can catch up to all the other Arrowverse programs and tie in to “Crisis on Infinite Earths” with them next month.
This week’s villain is a D-lister called Magpie, who I probably only saw in the comics just once, thirty-odd years ago, when she was introduced. She was created by John Byrne and is a jewel thief who uses explosives. I liked how this version of the character uses 3-D printing to make her bombs. Her television version looks a lot less ridiculous than the one in the funnybooks.
I confess that Alice’s level of violence is enough to make me a little uncomfortable. This time a rival – and I’m simplifying this spectacularly because if you want episode recaps, I’m sure the AV Club will help – sends three thugs to try and muscle in on the villain, and one of them reports back to his boss missing a finger. The scene where he loses it is really visceral and awful, certainly not made with any eight year-old viewers in mind, and left us all wincing.
We’re the sort of parents who don’t object to the smoochy stuff – Kate spends a few morning minutes in bed with a cute girl she met last episode, but their relationship quickly hits the skids and is probably finished by the episode’s end because Kate has no idea how to tell convincing superhero fibs – but violence that intense and that personal is enough to make me cringe. They could have made the point much more effectively without being so graphic.
Better. This show badly needed another villain. Proving that time marches on, it really, really seems like just yesterday that some pals with whom I used to game in Atlanta were telling me about this completely amazing year-long epic that introduced a major new Batvillain called Hush, played here – without the supervillain name – by Gabriel Mann. Yesterday. That story started seventeen years ago. I never read it myself, but fans really like the character, and I’m glad they’re going to dip into Batman’s rogues gallery. Alice is already boring me.
Does Batwoman, in the comic books, have much of her own collection of rogues yet? On TV, The Flash used to do a fine job bringing in several other villains for one-offs and recurring threats while the season’s Big Bad made occasional appearances; I’m glad it looks like they’re ready to do the same here.
The climactic fight this time features Kate in her proper costume at last. I like the believable way the story addressed the huge baggage and expectations that came with Kate impersonating Batman, with Hush – who had, with the apparent offscreen help of the Riddler, deduced Bruce’s identity – demanding that Bruce show himself now that Batman seemed to be back. So with a little things-happen-very-fast-on-TV magic, Kate puts some color on the super-kevlar suit to show Gotham that Batman isn’t back; she’s her own person.
I’m pretty sure that we must be missing a really mammoth part of Alice’s “origin story.” Why the heck does she think that Kate and their father stopped looking for her? Where was she, spending the lion’s share of fifteen years thinking she had been abandoned, when all she had to do was find a cop and ask for help… unless somebody prevented her from getting any?
I mentioned the Mad Hatter last week, half-joking that it would be a delightful surprise twist to have that villain turn up. But what if he already had? What if Alice had been “rescued” by the Hatter and brainwashed? That would explain the Wonderland shtick, I suppose.
Favorite scene this week: Sophie telling Kate to move on. I think it’s been maybe five or six years since the military academy? Kate’s been carrying that torch way too long.
The consensus from the peanut gallery, based on the strength of the pilot, is that Batwoman needs to join our rotation. I figured we’d just sample it and see what it was like, but our son ended up enjoying this even more than the other Arrowverse shows that we’ve looked at. Marie liked it too, so we will keep it around for the time being.
I think my objections are principally cosmetic, but they’re pretty strong objections. I just don’t like the modern Gotham of the Christian Bale films and such, where the violence and bleak setting is so bad that nobody would willingly live there. I like a Gotham that’s a regular big city that attracts weird and colorful crime instead of darkness and urban horror. So this isn’t a program that I’m ever going to embrace, but given what they insist Gotham must be like these days, they did what they did in the pilot pretty well.
I like Ruby Rose a lot. This show wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the believable brooding and body language that she brings to Kate Kane. Camrus Johnson is fun as Luke Fox (Lucius’s son?). I really like his and Kate’s rapport, and I’m going to enjoy watching Kate learn how to be a superhero. I’m not as sold on Dougray Scott, who plays her father (Martha Wayne’s brother?), but he’s a good actor with a pretty thankless part, and Gotham’s need for a private security army is another part of the cosmetics that I don’t like.
On the villain side, Rachel Skarsten, who had been one of the heroes in the WB’s Birds of Prey, is the ongoing Big Bad, a Wonderland-obsessed creep called Alice. I know the Arrowverse team has these things down to a science and that surprising family secrets are part and parcel of watching these DC superhero shows, but if they want to pull the rug out from under everybody and have Alice get killed in episode thirteen by the Mad Hatter for stealing his shtick, that’d have me punching the air. In the meantime, I hope they roll out some entertaining baddies from the comics and cartoons. We just saw Vincent Price in House on Haunted Hill the other day, so I’m in the mood for a Batwoman take on Egghead. But who would you cast….?