While it’s far from the worst thing about the pandemic, seeing several CW superhero shows (not to mention the network’s Nancy Drew) have to cut their seasons short is frustrating as crap. Flash worked spectacularly as the sudden ending left just about every plotline cliffhanging. Batwoman‘s first-season finish wasn’t as satisfying an unplanned cliffhanger, but it was good. As this was a great freshman season (spoilers follow) I’m glad they could stick the landing. I wasn’t sure Batwoman would be good when it started. It was another Bat-verse show without Batman. I wasn’t a particular fan of the comics (I liked the character, but not most of the stories I’d read). And after seven seasons of Arrow, was there anywhere to go with urban, streetfighting heroes in the CWverse? Turns out yes. Much as Black Lightning stands out with its emphasis on family, so does Batwoman, though in a completely different way. Jefferson Pierce is a man struggling to protect his nuclear family as well as his community; Batwoman is about siblings. Finding them. Losing them. Worrying you’re losing them. Worrying they’ve come back and started killing people.
The big turning point in Kate Kane’s life was when she made it out of a car accident but her mom and her twin sister Beth didn’t. After her father got proof positive they’d died, Kate moved on, but she’s always been haunted by the feeling she could have saved them. Now she’s a broody lesbian adult in a post-Batman Gotham with a blended family: father Jake (Dougray Scott) whose private security firm handles Gotham policing; stepmom Catherine (Elizabeth Anweis); and socialite med student stepsister Mary (Nicole Kang).
And then came Alice.
I never much cared for Batwoman’s adversary Alice in the comics — she seemed like a forced attempt to give Batwoman a bizarre Batman-style villain — but Rachel Skarsten, the former Dinah in Birds of Prey — turns her into an absolute, murderous delight. A cheerfully homicidal maniac, her Lewis Carroll-themed mob commits random acts of death at the start of the season, which leads to Kate eventually stepping into cousin Bruce’s uniform, modified by Lucius Fox’ son Luke (Camrus Johnson) to fit her. To Kate’s horror, but also her hope, Alice claims to be Beth, returned. Is she mind-gaming the Bat? Could it be true? Would Kate prefer it isn’t true, or would she rather have Beth back, even if she’s barking-dog insane?
As it turns out, Alice is indeed Beth. She spent years as the captive of Cartwright (played by John Emmett Tracy and Sebastian Roché), a mad doctor who kept her as a sister for his disfigured son “Mouse” (Sam Littlefield). Cartwright was, to put it mildly, not a good father, and Lewis Carroll became the only refuge Beth and Mouse had. Eventually they fled, Mouse becoming the murderous Skin Thief due to his penchant for removing other people’s faces to cover his own.
The dynamic between Alice/Beth and Kate is terrific. Alice wants to reunite with her sister, just without stopping her killing spree. Skarsten makes her likeable and sympathetic enough to make it seem she could be redeemed if Kate would just find the right words. Kate would like to save her, but can’t find the way. This does not sit well with Mouse: he’s been loyal and protective of his foster sister all these years and now she’s jeopardizing all their plans to be with the sister who forgot her? Not fair!
Mary has similar feelings to Mouse. She idolizes her big sister, the woman “who taught me to drive before you even had your own license” but Kate’s lost one sister and has never really wanted a second. Now it appears Kate cares more about her homicidal twin than her good sister (“Do you know how many people I’ve killed? Here’s a hint, it’s between one and zero!”). She gets even more pissed after Alice murders Mary’s mom and Kate still tries to redeem her.
Mary is a terrific character. Under her party-girl surface she’s a hero in her own way, stealing supplies from med school to run a free clinic for Gotham’s down and out. Batwoman soon finds her a useful ally and eventually Mary puts two and two together and pushes her way into her sister’s secret life.
There is, of course, a lot more to the show. Plenty of action. A handful of the less-used Bat-villains, such as Hush, Magpie and Nocturna. And Kate’s orientation (by mid-season Batwoman’s out of the closet too) and love life. Her awkward relationship with her closted ex, Sophie (Meagan Tandy), Commander Kane’s right-hand in the Crows. Kate discovering that the man convicted of murdering Luke’s father is innocent (Luke had some trouble with that). You can catch up on the CW website, where the entire first season is currently streaming.
I don’t know when they’ll be able to film S2, but I do hope the mojo’s still going strong.
#SFWApro. Detective Comics cover by Sheldon Moldoff.