Batwoman continues to be Arrow’s rightful successor—a grim exploration of superheroics with a lead that’s all charm, but hampered by their character’s sullenness. Only, where Arrow leaned into realism to the point of ridiculousness, Batwoman at least has the sense to embrace the comic book nature of its titular character.
Every single week Batwoman fights an endless stream of henchman in cartoonish animal masks. Heck, just last week she fought a burglar who burgles in a feather cape. The show treats its silly accouterments with the kind of gravitas most nerds reserve for Watchmen.
Anchoring all of it isn’t Ruby Rose as Kate Kane. It’s Rachel Skarsten as Alice, Batwoman’s primary nemesis, who’s a fun blend of both the Joker and Harley Quinn. And after a major revelation about Alice’s past last week in “Mine Is a Long and a Sad Tale,” the show took a deeper dive this week. It was unpleasantly graphic.
We’ve known for a while now that Alice is the alter ego of Kate’s long-lost sister Beth. But now we know that she disappeared against her will, and Kate’s stepmother, Catherine Hamilton-Kane, had paid investigators to identify some old deer bones as Beth’s bones, making both Kate and her father believe she was dead.
Clearly Catherine is heinous, but as her daughter Mary noted, there was a whole lot of stupid going around if anyone anywhere saw some deer bones and said, “That is a child.”
OK, so Catherine is terrible, her daughter Mary has some sense, and Kate finds herself on a road trip with her sister after beating her and some of her gang up. Beth takes the opportunity to go into excruciating detail about what happened to her after the car accident she supposedly died in.
On paper it’s bad, but not too bad. A young Beth gets taken in by a man and his young son who is about her age. The man seems nice; the son, Mouse, who covers a huge scar on his face with his unwashed hair, has the ability to mimic any voice and be a generally weird kid.
Beth quickly realises that the man is not nice and has, in fact, kidnapped her. He tosses her into a basement prison where she stays trapped. Especially awful is the day Kate and her dad almost find her—just months after her disappearance and before Catherine fakes her death.
The most upsetting part of this entire plot is we see it played out and we see a young girl brutalized emotionally (and sometimes physically) for the better part of an hour. Its grim, grim television and way bleaker than what the CW usually serves up.
It’s also a major departure. Where previous episodes have played up the goofiness and gadgets, this episode is trying to be a psychological thriller. Skarsten is very good, but the material rarely keeps up with her and it all too frequently veers into a torture porn area that seems more appropriate for Arrow and the later years of Smallville than Batwoman.
But there are bright spots, beyond Skarsten’s performance. This is the first episode that doesn’t end in a Batwoman-led climax. Kate has to escape and help save the day without any fancy gadgets or costume changes. This is also the episode where Mary and Luke finally meet, and where Mary gets a little bit closer to learning her stepsister’s very big secret.
“Mine Is a Long and a Sad Tale” is a turning point for Batwoman as a show, since it’s centered on characters and their changes—not any kind of major plot point (though Mouse and many others have apparently escaped from Arkham). But it’s also the biggest tonal shift from previous episodes and I’m not sure if I’m crazy about that. What I’ve found really enchanting about Batwoman is it is not afraid to be goofy and lean into the Bat-pastiche. Sometimes it ever feels like a version of the ‘60s Batman with higher stakes. I like how unabashedly fun and comic book-like it can be. This hour-long dive into a tortured woman’s shattered psyche reminded me of why I was reluctant to embrace Arrow way back when. I like to watch comic books shows to have a good time—not reckon with the hopelessness of society.
At some point we got to have a conversation about how useful Jacob Kane is.
Sophie is still very much into Kate and joins Jacob on a rescue mission. This is not going to end well for her marriage.
Just read Mary into the Bat-thing already. She and Luke are bright points on a serially dour show.
Ruby Rose really is getting better with every single episode, and the show is learning how to use the cape and flashy red wig to make her fight scenes more believable.