It’s official: The CW superhero series Batwoman won’t just be missing star Ruby Rose when it returns for its sophomore season in 2021. It’ll be without Kate Kane herself. The powers that be have decided that, rather than try and recast its lead, the show will instead jettison the character entirely and reframe itself around the idea of a completely different woman taking up the cowl.
This will likely go down in history as one of the worst decisions the Arrowverse has ever made.
To remove Kate Kane from Batwoman is to abandon everything that has made the show unique and memorable thus far, from its secondary characters to its direct connection to Gotham City and the Batman mythos. It’s a slap in the face to LGBT comics fans who’ve been waiting years to see a real version of Kate Kane onscreen, not because she is Batwoman, but because she represents an important story worth telling.
Kate Kane is an iconic DC Comics figure in her own right, and one of its most high-profile LGBT heroes. Her comics history features her coming out at the height of America’s “don’t ask don’t tell” military policy and her subsequent dismissal from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is a defining moment for her character. And her decision to become a vigilante is as influenced by her experience of discrimination as a lesbian and as a Jewish woman as it is by her connection to Batman.
To be fair, it’s clear that The CW is in an extremely difficult position. Recasting a lead actress has to be a nightmare scenario for most network higher-ups, especially given how well-known Rose is and what a coup her involvement with Batwoman was in the first place. But, well, stuff happens. Unforeseen events can strike. That’s not a reason to make a bad situation even worse. And it’s not as if the show doesn’t already have a built-in narrative to explain something like a major character suddenly wearing a different face. The solution practically writes itself.
For those of you who don’t watch Batwoman regularly, just know this: There’s literally a subplot on the show right now in which the villainous Alice has the ability to give people different faces. No less than four separate characters have done this to date. In the season finale, she made Tommy Elliott look like Bruce Wayne.
How is this choice not obvious? In what world does it make more sense to replace Kate and essentially reboot the entire premise of the series rather than simply hire another actress to play her?
Choosing to jettison the rich history and comics legacy of Kate Kane in favor of a random character that the Batwoman executives appear to have made up last week is a deeply disappointing decision. Particularly since the only thing that new girl Ryan Wilder reportedly has in common with Kate is that both women are out lesbians who live in Gotham City. In fact, the character description literally spells out how incredibly unlike the two are, before going on to describe Ryan’s past as a drug runner and her undisciplined fighting style.
While I certainly support bringing as many LGBT characters into the Arrowverse as possible, Kate’s story was always about more than the fact of her sexuality. As a larger political statement, yes, absolutely, the fact that Kate is gay is super important, because it represents a needed step forward for representation in this medium. But narratively speaking, Kate’s story was also about her family history, her existing relationships, and the way that both of those things made her see the world – and her city – as something worth fighting for. Worth claiming her cousin’s legacy for. And worth wearing a cowl to protect.
It’s true that Kate hasn’t always been the most interesting part of the show she leads, and that’s a problem Batwoman would have had to continue to address in its second season even if Rose had stayed on. But her presence facilitates everything that’s great about this series, and her character serves as the connective tissue that holds it all together.
Because for all that Batwoman is a superhero origin story, it’s primarily a family drama. It’s the story of two sisters and the fractured, messy bond between them. It’s a tale of a father struggling to accept his daughter for who she is, and a stepsister who just wants to be loved by the family she admired. There’s even an ex-girlfriend working to better understand both who she is, what she wants her life to be, and whether said ex might still have a place in it. None of those elements work without Kate, and removing her pretty much causes the rest of those stories to collapse.
Does it really matter that Jacob Kane hates Batwoman so much if it isn’t his daughter in the suit? Mary may still have her secret medical clinic, but the character has no other direct ties to the canvas without Kate. And Luke Fox could still be relevant to this story thanks to his father and his ties to Wayne Industries, but his character has only come into his own thanks to his connection to his former boss’ cousin.
It’s the Kane family specifically that ties Batwoman to the legacy of Bruce Wayne and Batman, and to Gotham City itself. Part of the reason this show even exists at all is because the Arrowverse wanted a way to explore the legacy of Batman without actually having access to the character of Bruce Wayne. Replacing Kate throws all that away, too.
And then, of course, there’s Alice. She’s the best, most complicated villain the Arrowverse has ever produced: entertaining, heartbreaking, terrifying, and sympathetic by turns. A lot of this, of course, has to do with Rachel Skarsten’s incredible performance in the role (it seems fairly likely she could play Batwoman if the show needed her to). But Alice’s connection to Kate has always been the pulsing heart of this series and trying to imagine Batwoman without that key relationship feels nigh on impossible.
Their various battles may have become increasingly outlandish as the series’ first season progressed, but they’re still firmly rooted in the sibling dynamic between them. The love, anger, and guilt that exists between these two women not only makes for great television but gives Batwoman an emotional center that is truly unlike anything else that currently exists in this universe. (The Arrowverse, much as we all love it, hasn’t always been great at presenting nuanced Big Bads.)
Kate and Alice may be the hero and villain of this story, respectively, but they aren’t always that different from one another. And, despite everything that’s happened, they love each other, even as they plot to take each other down (or kidnap or betray or leave one another to die, depending on the episode).
Isn’t Alice just another Gotham wacko who likes to wear weird costumes and quote classic literature without Kate to serve as her emotional lodestone? Why would she care about bringing down Batwoman if the woman in the suit is a stranger?
Removing Kate from the story means that by necessity you probably have to remove Alice too, doesn’t it? In the best-case scenario, the character ultimately becomes a paint-by-numbers villain or a Joker-esque caricature rather than the three-dimensional character we’ve seen thus far. Without Kate, the emotional relationships that hold up the show crumble, and it’s difficult to imagine any of these characters forming similar bonds with her replacement.
Because at the end of the day the cowl isn’t, and hasn’t ever been, the most important part of this show. This is why it’s so deeply disappointing that Batwoman appears to be embracing the idea that who wears it doesn’t really matter, as long as there is some version of the Scarlet Knight on television next January. (And that that character is a lesbian, apparently.)
Replacing Kate with Ryan Wilder, no matter how “messy” or “untamed” she might turn out to be, will turn Batwoman into an entirely new and different series, with different characters at its core. And while that might be fine, or even fun, in the end, it’s not the show I signed up for or spent the past year watching.