Batwoman is a much darker show than the other CW superhero fare. It kind of makes sense—Bat stories often veer into gothic horror territory. But Batwoman frequently finds itself falling into what I like to call the “Canadian Torture Porn Trap.” Weird I know. Canada is not a place known for its torture porn! Yet I frequently find myself watching shows produced in Canada that are full of gritty and well-lit torture. The X-Files, Smallville, Arrow, Wynonna Earp, Supernatural, and The 100 are just a few of the shows that have flirted with this specific genre.
With Batwoman’s primary villain being forged by 15 years of torture and abuse, it’s been a Canadian torture porn show from day one. But oh my god, this week people. THIS. WEEK.
If you’d told me when I tuned into that first silly episode of Batwoman that I’d later be watching an episode where twin sisters each have an emotional and murderous break from reality related to their mother’s decapitated head, I would have been a little suspicious.
Yet here we are. Both Kate Kane and her sister, Alice, have murdered people after learning about their mother’s preserved decapitated head.
A head kept in a freezer for a decade.
A head we see. On the TV.
Did I mention the episode was titled “Off With Her Head”?
This is not Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. This is a CW superhero show! Yet there Mama Kane’s head sits, very much removed from her body and resting in the freezer of a murderer.
I’m sorry I’ve gotten ahead of things. You might be confused as to what I’m talking about because you missed the episode to watch the debate or worry about a pandemic or tune into HBO an hour early because you couldn’t remember when Westworld starts.
So to recap, Kate Kane has a sister, Beth (who currently goes by Alice). The day of their shared bat mitzvah they were in a car accident. Batman managed to save Kate but Beth and their mother seemed to be killed. Except Beth managed to survive and was captured by August Cartwright, a mad plastic surgeon with a son named Mouse. Cartwright held her captive and tortured her while also teaching her how to remove people’s faces and apply them as masks that perfectly replicate the person. In the latest episode of Batwoman, Alice managed to capture Cartwright and left him tied up beneath the Bat-signal so she could go save Mouse, who was recently recaptured by the evil-doer.
Clearly, if there is a person who deserves jail it is Cartwright. But Kate opts to take him to her bar and question him about the murder of Alice’s doppelgänger (a Beth who never went through the trauma Alice did and was basically a multiverse hiccup after the recent Crisis crossover). She also opts to call her dad so he can help her interrogate the guy. What quickly becomes apparent is that Cartwright knew Alice would try to rescue Mouse and has set a trap that will result in Alice getting dosed with Scarecrow’s fear toxin until she no longer has any kind of grasp of reality.
And because Batwoman gleefully embraces the torture porn any time it does an Alice flashback, we get to learn what scares Alice the most in graphic and excruciating detail—it’s her own mother.
But let’s be clear, it is not because Alice and Kate’s mother is a supervillain, or was even mean to her growing up. It’s because Cartwright decapitated her and stored her head in his freezer with the plan to one day put her face on his own awful mother’s body (Cartwright’s mum is played by Debra Mooney, and as always Mooney is exceptional in the role of a ballsy old broad who may or may not be evil). Alice, after a decade of torture at the hands of Cartwright and his mother, discovers her mum’s head. She promptly grabs the oxygen tank Cartwright’s mother needs to live, knocks off the valve, turns it into a flamethrower, and barbecues the old woman.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, here’s where things got really messy: When Cartwright tells Kate the story about what happened—how he’s preserved her mother’s head and how the sight of it sent Alice into a murderous fugue state—Kate goes into a fugue state of her own and chokes Cartwright to death.
While Batman has murdered his fair share of people in early comics, Elseworlds, and the occasional movie, it’s not really a thing Bat-people do. And in Kate’s case, it completely shatters her, sending her out into an alley to stare wistfully at her ex’s phone number. The episode ends with Alice inviting Kate to help her hide the body, so this clearly isn’t going to be something that is quickly forgotten. But it certainly sets Batwoman apart from her predecessor, Batman, and from the other CW superhero shows. Too bad Ollie’s dead, he could have probably cheered her up with recountings of his many, many, many, many murders...
Debra Mooney played an awful person, but goodness she was fun in the role.
I’m not really sure how I feel about Alice’s redemption arc, but mainly because she’s such a strong actress and so compelling it’s kind of stealing the limelight from Ruby Rose.
Rose in costume continues to be pretty pitch-perfect.
Mary, the good non-doppelgänger sister, is very aware of who Kate is but very cool about it (respecting her boundaries and not taking it personally unlike SOME people we know).
Luke needs more to do than hang out with Mary, but at least they’re fun together.
Sophie came out to her mum last week and it went terribly, so presumably she’s engaging in some social distancing and increased ice cream consumption.