This Batwoman article contains spoilers for episode 15.
Batwoman episode 15, “Off With Her Head” was packed full of surprises, but the backbone of the entire hour is yet another powerful performance by Rachel Skarsten. As Alice/Beth in all of her incarnations, Skarsten is electric on screen, finding ways to keep the audience guessing about what she’ll do next – and why. But she also brings a real humanity to the role, never allowing the character to go completely off the rails into caricature. Instead, no matter how many people she kills or times she betrays Kate, we’re all holding our breath hoping for Alice’s redemption.
Den of Geek spoke to the woman behind everyone’s favorite mad villain about how she keeps her intense character grounded, why she thinks Alice stayed quiet about her mother’s fate until now, and what’s next for Alice, Kate, Jake, and Mouse.
Skarsten spent much of the episode strapped to a chair and acting out Alice’s worst memories and fears. Spending that much time in a physically and emotionally demanding role is intense and challenging, which Skarsten described as “this very dark space for 16 hours a day.”
Still, not every actor can carry this kind of episode, and it’s clear that fans want to see Alice take on these storylines time and time again. Thankfully, the Batwoman team feels the same way.
“I feel like any time writers can do a script like this, it shows incredible faith in you and your ability and I just really wanted to do it justice for them and, really, authentically exist in all of those moments,” Skarsten says. “I really like anything that shows the brokenness and the trauma that Alice experienced in the past because to me, it makes it interesting and, and shows personality.”
Keeping her character grounded in spite of her zanier tendencies is one of her biggest challenges. “Off With Her Head” certainly tilted the entire show toward a darker, more Alice-like mentality, which likely makes it even hard.
“How do you sort of tread that fine line between too much and not enough? I think the writers have been exceedingly helpful in in writing a lot of things that are grounded and real for her and juxtaposing them with sort of some of the out there things that she does that also make her lovable and entertaining.”
When it comes to portraying the unhinged side of Alice, Skarsten says she thought, “beyond the sort of superficial ideas of what’s quote unquote crazy is what actually makes someone insane and scary, yet also relatable to me. I think it is when someone can change on a dime, you know and go from being completely normal to totally the opposite of that, in whatever form that takes.”
This episode truly crossed the line into horror when we learned what happened to Beth and Kate’s mother. While the possibility that August knew something of her whereabouts was always lingering, the revelation that he fished her body out and preserved her head so he could use her face on his mother was beyond the pale. Somehow, even with all the face-stealing on the show, the fact that it happened to the girls’ mother made it hit harder than any other loss or reveal on Batwoman so far.
Yet for some reason, in spite of everything she’s done, Alice never used this information as an emotional grenade against her father or sister. Even when she told Jacob, she seemed to hesitate, almost out of a desire to protect him. Skarsten says that’s what she thought when she read the script.
“It was just too horrible, beyond the horror of what happened to herself,” Skarsten says. “I think it’s really the first time we sort of see Alice seeing what happened to another person as being even worse than what happened to her. I do think that she wanted to protect them. I think she knew that it would break them as well. And I think in some ways she wanted to break Kate, but I don’t think she wanted it to break Jacob.”
And break Kate it did. More on that in a moment.
Up until this episode, we as viewers have seen Alice’s trauma distilled into this moment where Jake and Kate come to the farmhouse where Alice is being held hostage, but they both leave without realizing she’s there. Alice clearly internalized this as being abandoned, so all the abuse that followed after really comes back to this moment of betrayal. While Kate has tried over and over to make up for that, she finally gave up and chose the other Beth over Alice, something she’s unapologetic about.
Jake really hasn’t been interested in finding redeeming qualities in Alice and was so quick to put out the shoot to kill order. When he thought she was dead, he didn’t even seem to take much time to think about it. Yet in this episode, Jacob and Alice had a chance to rewrite history when he rescued her from the same exact place, where some combination of the same people were involved.
According to Skarsten, those two decisions – Kate choosing Beth over Alice, and Jake rescuing Alice – are “absolutely going to impact how Alice sees both of those relationships going forward.”
For Kate’s part, while Alice has always said that she and Kate are no different, Kate finally learned that for herself firsthand when she killed August. The exact same piece of information turned both Beth and Kate into killers.
“I think Kate has existed in this world where she believed, you know, had she been in that situation and make different decisions and different choices, it would have had a different result,” Skarsten says. “I really think it’s just vindication because it’s what she’s believed all along, that Kate is no better than her, given the circumstances.”
Each individual layer to this revelation – that she’s capable of murder, that her sister was simply shaped by circumstance, that she judged her sister so harshly for something she herself did in the same position, that she could be on the path to becoming Alice – could be devastating to Kate. But together? It’s hard not to feel like this will tear Kate apart.
We recently said goodbye to the Beth from another Earth, a character who gave us a heartbreaking glimpse into what could have been. This episode gave us another yet another version of Alice/Beth, the innocent, child-like version of this earth’s Beth as an adult. It’s a rather unusual opportunity for an actor, but Skarsten relishes the challenge.
“I was very honored and also a little bit nervous to do justice to that honor, if that makes sense,” she says. “But it’s like a Candyland as an actor. I feel like I not only get the benefit of having one character for whom there is such a large spectrum of emotion and experience, but then I’m presented with all these other versions of that character, and finding the nuances of how to make them all different in yet inherently the same.”
Finally, there’s the surprise that Mouse is the one who hooked Alice up to Scarecrow’s fear toxin, betraying his adopted sister thanks to his father’s brainwashing. Skarsten says we’re going to see an evolution of their relationship.
“Up until now it’s really been the dynamic of Alice being the dominant personality and Mouse following suit with whatever she wants to do,” Skarsten says. While this may be the first time that Mouse has so blatantly gone acted against Alice’s interests, it sounds like it might not be the last, she says it will have, “very interesting consequences for their relationship going forward.”
Another dynamic relationship is the one between Alice and Mary. The two characters – and the actors who play them – are fan favorites. While the two started out as antagonists, and one might even call Alice Mary’s nemesis for killing Mary’s mom and framing her step-dad for the crime, Alice recently saved Mary’s life. It doesn’t help that Mary is feeling rocky in her relationship with Kate after realizing she’s been keeping the Batwoman secret.
“From the beginning, [Creator/Showrunner Caroline Dries] always said that this story was really about the love triangle between the three sisters. Alice and Mary share the same sort of jealous desire for Kate’s affection and attention and they inevitably crash into one another…So I’m hoping that there’s more of that going forward because I really do love working with Nicole. She’s very talented and she gives you so much to play off of, and to bounce back from, especially doing a character like Alice, because [Mary’s] so big in her own right.”
So what’s up next for Alice, Kate, and the rest of Gotham?
If you were worried about Kate slugging from that bottle of liquor in the alley after she took August’s life, you’re on to something. Skarsten confirmed we’ll be seeing a bit more of that, in a nod to the comics story line where Kate struggled with alcoholism after she was kicked out of the military academy.
And don’t assume that Alice’s disturbing level of enthusiasm to bury a body means that she’s completely forgiven her family. Skarsten says, “The moment where Kate didn’t choose to save Alice had a big impact. Her family will forever remain a big weak spot for her, we’re going to start to see an evolution of Alice away from maybe what her original goal was of bringing Kate to her side and being sisters once again to something much darker.”
While it’s hard to picture something much darker for Alice, there have been many times this season when her desire for redemption in Kate’s eyes has pulled her back from the edge of something truly evil. What does Alice look like without that emotional tether?
And for our hero, what does it look like for Kate to realize her own culpability in judging Alice for who and what she has become? With one fell swoop, Kate is forced to reckon with the idea that in the right circumstances she could become a killer just like Alice and to see all the ways that, as Skarsten puts it, she and Jacob, “don’t necessarily choose Alice in the little decisions.”
Alice may not be the only one headed to the dark side.