This Batwoman article contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 17.
Batwoman is entering a new era, one where both women who’ve donned the Batsuit in the CW-verse are alive at the same time. When Kate Kane disappeared and her suit washed up on the shore, Ryan saw an opportunity to find justice. Since then she’s taken over the responsibilities of being Batwoman, and made the suit and the persona her own. But, in universe, her time as Batwoman was always meant to be temporary, as Luke reminded her constantly. She was a placeholder for Kate, a stand-in. Ryan’s relationship to Mary and Luke have evolved past that, but the foundation of that relationship is still built on the idea of Ryan’s impermanence.
When Ryan went to Coryana to find Kate, she did so knowing that success meant bequeathing her new life and—possibly—her new relationships. She can’t really know if those relationships are contingent upon her being Batwoman, because they all formed around that identity. And when the rest of the team fawn over the alive-again Kate, it’s hard for Ryan not to feel disposable. She moves back into her van, and only Sophie names a case against it… barely. Everybody is so happy to have Kate back that they lose all discernment, and don’t listen to Ryan when she says Kate may not be ready. They take everything Kate says at face value, even knowing what was done to her, and it doesn’t occur to them that she may still not be herself.
When word gets to the Bat Team that Roman Sionis is recruiting former Crows, Ryan investigates, and steals a laptop with his financial records. The GCPD find her and the laptop, in her van, and arrest her for possession of a bag of Snakebite syringes they clearly planted. Roman villain-spiels at her, threatens her life, then she has to convince her parole officer that she’s being set up, revealing herself as Batwoman in the process. It’s really a good moment for Ryan to finally be believed—even if she beat up several GCPD officers, which helped her case. When she gets back to the Batcave, Mary, Luke, and Sophie are locked in the lift and Circe is raiding the weapons.
Everyone was so eager to trust Kate, they let their guard down and gave her—and her dad, by proxy—complete access to everything. Roman’s plan is unclear but he has several deadly toxins and all the resources he needs from his legitimate business, the cosmetics empire, and an illegitimate one, as the head of False Face, to mass produce any number of nasty, deadly things. The Team will have to remain focused or they’re going to watch the city burn. Kate isn’t a lost cause, but she’s beyond their immediate help and there are bigger things brewing. Perhaps if Mary had asked for Alice to be with them and Kate, instead of thanking her for bringing Kate back—a wild leap to make, given Kate’s behavior— they would’ve known Circe was in control and have been able to break through to Kate more effectively.
There’s a really interesting thing happening with Alice in which viewers are given the insight into why she is the way she is, but other characters are deprived of that context. So throughout the season, we’ve come to regard Alice as a victim, but the people she’s hurt still see her one-dimensionally, as an unrepentant villain. Alice’s feelings for Ocean, and what it proves about her capability to love is what Mary and Ryan respond to most, but they almost ignore her obvious traumas. Jacob finally sees Alice but nobody else does, and it’s frustrating to watch because we see empathy being given to everyone else when we know that Alice is also deserving of a little bit of grace.
I don’t always believe that redemption is necessary but I do feel like, when it’s done right, it can be powerful. Alice has been victimized time and again, for most of her life. She escaped one prison only to find herself in another on Coryana. The things she’s done since leaving the island are a direct result of Safiyah’s abuse. Safiyah is an abuser. She is emotionally manipulative. She blames you for things she does to you. She makes her feelings your responsibility. Everything Alice did to Safiyah was a reaction, including Alice burning everything down, and Safiyah just escalates her abuse and her violence in response. Safiyah “pays her respects” to Ocean, whom she had killed, and asks Alice to call it even. This entire interaction is abusive, but Alice recognize the pattern and she daggers Safiyah—which is less than she deserves.
Batwoman has made some really solid choices this season. I just hope that they don’t fumble the bag with Alice and Kate as we come toward the end.