When Ruby Rose announced she was leaving Batwoman last May, the show had a problem — several problems, in fact. Rose was of course the star and lead of the series, but every single part of the series was built solely around Kate Kane, so the CW’s writers needed to figure out what to do with the character. So far, the show’s solution is the most convoluted decision possible.
I do feel for the writers because Rose’s departure left them in a bad spot. Since Kate was the only part of the show worth investing in during its lacklustre first season, she couldn’t completely disappear, never to appear again; plus, Kate would be needed to bridge the second season from the first so the show wouldn’t feel like it had been rebooted in its infancy, potentially losing whatever fans it had made. Plus, I can see how the Arrowverse’s commitment to continuity would make the creators feel they needed to explain why Kate wouldn’t look or sound like Rose anymore. In the end, they decided to make Rose’s Kate Kane seem to die in a plane crash in between seasons one and two, leading to Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder donning the cowl in her place.
When Kate returned, she’d been disfigured by the crash, which provided a convenient reason why she no longer looked like the previous star and would be played by actor Wallis Day instead. That’s a pretty messy answer, but messy in a traditional soap opera-y way, and it probably would have been fine if Batwoman didn’t complicate it beyond measure. See, it turns out the Black Mask (Peter Outerbridge), a.k.a. Roman Sionis, a.k.a. the new Bat-villain of season two, had sent his goons to capture Kate immediately (like, the plane wreckage was still on fire) and imprisoned her for six weeks, and having Enigma (Laura Mennell) brainwash her into believing she was his daughter Circe.
Meanwhile, Safiyah (Shivaani Ghai), the main antagonist of season two, was telling Kate’s sister and season one villain Alice/Beth (Rachel Skarsten) that she was holding Kate prisoner on an island. She was not, but was using it to screw with Alice because… she was in love with her and very mad Alice was in love with Ocean (Nathan Owens). Told you, soap opera.
In reality, Kate was being tortured by Black Mask to the point that her voice box was damaged (to explain why she didn’t sound like Rose, either) and brainwashed to remove “Kate” and replace her memories with that of Circe who is actually dead. Black Mask did all this because he somehow blamed Batwoman for his daughter being killed.
She actually died during a stampede/fire at Arkham after Alice let all of the inmates go to cover her own escape back in season one. However, Roman blames Kate-as-Batwoman simply because she was there at the time, so once all the brainwashing is done, he sends Kate-as-Circe to capture Alice. He plans on killing her but at the last moment changes his mind, and has Alice use her very special face-making abilities to give “Circe” the real Circe’s face… except Alice finally recognises her sister through her eyes once she places the skin on her.
Mind you, this is the simplified version of what’s happened to Kate, and yet all of it seems wildly unnecessary. Again, I get why the show wanted to keep the character around, at least until audiences got invested in Batwoman 2.0, and I understand why it felt it needed to explain why Ruby Rose wasn’t playing her anymore. But are Kate fans really happy with her new role as a victim and pawn of Black Mask? Has the story been improved by putting Kate through this narrative wringer? And was spending 14 episodes overjustifying why Kate no longer looked or sounded like Ruby Rose better than just recasting her and not worrying about it?
I believe the answer to all these questions is “no.” It would have been so easy to keep Kate’s disappearance an overarching mystery throughout the season, which if done well would have kept Batwoman fans invested without any of this gobbledygook. It would have been even easier to just recast Kate and have her take a few scenes to explain she was going off to search the world for Bruce Wayne — which was something she wanted to do in season one anyway.
Sure, it would be weird that the show’s cast of characters is primarily made up of Kate’s twin sister, Kate’s dad, Kate’s stepsister, and Kate’s former lover but not have Kate around, but guess what? Kate’s around and it’s still super-weird because Kate isn’t really Kate anymore and there seemingly wasn’t a plan for Black Mask to use her in any way as Kate — he only wanted his daughter back.
This is the televised equivalent of slowly and painfully pulling off the Band-Aid instead of tearing it off quickly. What’s the endgame here? Leaving Kate as a minor antagonist in the show she once headlined is not a viable option; her story needs closure, and the sooner the better. And then maybe Batwoman can tell a story that doesn’t require a flowchart.