This Batwoman review contains spoilers.
Batwoman Episode 5
The Batwoman writers seem to understand that lowly criminals of the week just aren’t where the heat of this show lies, and wisely took all a matter of seconds to make it clear that “The Skin Pirate” (ew) is Beth/Alice. It seems rather obvious that she wants the skin for grafts, and a bit odd not to have mega-genius med student Mary fail to point that out. Nonetheless, this weird setup (which turns out to be just that, Alice setting them up) is our way in to finally learning what happened to Alice.
Of course, by “what happened to Alice” I mean just the first sliver of her story – I have a feeling the writers will be meting this out for seasons to come. Without the Religion of Crime from the comics, Beth was held hostage by a terrifying man kept her as a living plaything for his son, Johnny. The way that he threatened her and everyone he loved tracks with real life abduction, hostage, and abuse cases. There’s still a long way to go, though, to convert Beth from a traumatized young girl to an adult with a new identity who channels her trauma into anger at the people who she saw as failing her, and then acquired the deadly skills to do something about it.
It’s unfortunate that Batwoman has chosen to trade in the awful trope of associating facial disfigurement with villainy. Johnny/Mouse isn’t meant to be evil as a child, and it’s possible he’ll come around eventually, but it’s clear that he’s on Alice’s side and up to no good as an adult. Facial scarring can be incredibly traumatic, and pop culture’s continued insistence on using it as a shorthand for moral bankruptcy or a motivation for criminal behavior only stigmatizes it further. For a show that’s going out of it’s way to get things right for a number of marginalized groups, on a network that prides itself on defying stereotypes, I expect better.
Batwoman had thus far evaded the issue of being too dark, both in the figurative and the literal sense. This was the first episode where the latter is not true, with whole sequences too painfully opaque to distinguish what’s going on, and not necessarily in an intentional way. I don’t mean the evocative look when Kate had the night vision goggles on, but rather much of the opening sequence and several other scenes, although there’s also an argument to be made that much of the action in the fight in the dark was poorly blocked , too. Please, learn from the mistakes of so many other shows and just let us see what’s happening.
Catherine Hamilton confessed to Mary in a scene that unfortunately felt a bit lifeless. Right now, Catherine is the least interesting part of the show for me. She either needs to adopt a more specific posture like calculating liar or lovelorn one percenter, or cultivate more mystery around her actions. We already know everything we need to about her, and watching characters slowly learn the truth brings nothing new or exciting to the table. When it comes to Catherine, the center does not hold.
On the other hand, it was great to see Mary and Luke finally meet. These two are delightful and I always want more of them. I sort of get why Mary is being kept in the dark, from a story structure standpoint, but it feels like she and Luke will be such a good team whenever that eventually happens. Besides, she has genuine gripes with her step-sister that cannot be wiped away with Kate saying, “I’m Batwoman,” and it would be nice for Kate to come clean so they can clear the decks and start working on their relationship in earnest. More Mary, more Luke, more Mary and Luke, please!
Alice and Jake’s standoff was a great moment for pushing us further into confusion over Alice’s intentions. It seemed like a genuine moment of breakthrough (for both of them) when Jake called her Beth, and yet, she totally stabbed him. Would Alice really kill her father? Would he have really killed her in the park a few weeks ago? What is Alice’s larger goal, and does she still consider Jake to be family? Clearly she’s adopted Mouse as her brother and at least obliquely understands Mary as an addition to Kate’s family if not her own – might she have excommunicated Jake from her own heart? Is she even capable of that? When it comes to a complicated, personal villain like Alice, this is the good stuff.
Once again, the bad guys are some of the only people telling it like it is, with Dodgson correcting Jake Kane that, “the city’s not safe; the wealthy are safe.”
As usual, Mary is a great quote factory: “To take me where? The penthouse built on lies of falsely dead children?” Dang girl!
The “Arkham breakout” from a couple weeks ago that Mary didn’t hear about was last year’s Elseworlds crossover – how much time passed between this episode and the last one then? I wouldn’t have guessed multiple weeks but apparently so.
It’s all just faces in jars in that creepy shed. Ick.