Her time is now.
The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) has frankly struggled in relation to its Marvel counterpart. Post the Nolan iteration of Batman, the output has been decidedly uneven and has delivered a series of hits and misses to the brand faithful. Patty Jenkins’ spectacular Wonder Woman (2017) has played against the distinctly less critically successful Zack Snyder helmed films Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Whilst there have been gems hidden in the rough like David F. Sandberg’s delightfully funny adventure Shazam! (2019) they have been butted against such films as the much-maligned piece by David Ayer Suicide Squad (2016) — a film that is redeemed only by Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn but let down in almost every other conceivable manner from script to casting. In short, although it is not over yet with upcoming pieces such as James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984, the whole universe has almost collapsed in upon itself several times. The Snyder/ Whedon helmed Justice League (2017) nearly saw the end of the entire conceit that the individual films had been leaning towards and with the exit of both Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill (presumably) from the franchise, it is going to be increasingly difficult to pull off the kind of marketing and commercial success that was the Marvel Avengers series.
Although incomplete, the potted history above serves to introduce the arguably more successful DC Comic iteration of a smaller subset of characters known collectively as The Arrowverse. Started back in 2012 with the CW show Arrow and mostly helmed by executive producer Greg Berlanti and a series of regular collaborators, the Arrowverse concentrated on a less famous subset of DC heroes and villains (with the exception of The Flash). The universe under Berlanti’s hand, the CW universe, has been extended to include in order Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, Titans (which spun off to Doom Patrol), Batwoman, and Stargirl. Upcoming on the roster is a small screen Superman (that I suspect has mostly been green-lit because the DCEU currently has a Cavill sized hole allowing for the small screen version to appear). Berlanti also produced the small screen successes Riverdale (2017) and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) as well as directing Love, Simon (2018).
Due to a series of interconnected special events the Arrowverse eventually managed to put all of the disparate shows in the same universe with the cross over Crisis on Infinite Earths and although programs like Black Lightning and Titans generally do not interact with the core shows in the roster, they all happen in vaguely the one milieu.
The above may seem like a long introduction to get to speaking about a single beleaguered season of one show, but demonstrating the scope of the DC television universe is somewhat essential for context as to why most people probably walked into Batwoman with a set level of expectations, and more than likely came out of it as disappointed as I was with the final product. There was a lot riding on adding the Bat Family proper to Berlanti’s regular roster. Fans had been gasping for the smallest mentions of Gotham since Arrow debuted in Starling City, and although they were somewhat resigned to never seeing The Caped Crusader portrayed on the small screen in any meaningful way, the announcement that his cousin and lesbian vigilante Batwoman, also known as Kate Kane, would be suiting up was cause for some excitement; as well as the usual consternation at what some out there perceive to be the Arrowverse’s forced diversity quota.
Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), the estranged daughter of security expert and widower Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) returns to Gotham City after traveling and training post her expulsion from an elite military academy for conduct unbecoming; she was having a lesbian affair with fellow trainee and season love interest Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy). Kate’s goal in returning to Gotham City is to try to fix her fractured relationship with her father, who is now helming an organization called The Crows, which is the only security the volatile city has after the mysterious disappearance of Batman a couple of years prior. Gotham, as in all iterations, is a city on the edge of civil unrest, and without the Bat to protect the citizens, Jacob Kane has taken up the mantle with a near-religious fervor. Kate’s other goal is to finally join The Crows despite her father’s insistence that she stay out of the line of fire. Jacob’s insistence comes mainly from the fact that he has already lost a daughter, Beth, to what appeared to be a terrible car accident many years ago, and he is unwilling to put Kate into the line of fire no matter how much she desires it.
The Kane family is deeply fractured. Kate resents her father for remarrying after the accident that left her mother dead and her sister Beth missing and presumed dead. Both Kate and Jacob also resent The Batman for being unable to stop the tragedy that saw the car spinning off a bridge and landing in a river with the whole family inside. Jacob’s simmering rage against vigilantism stems from that moment of failure, and of course, this comes into play when Kate eventually adopts the mantle of Batwoman.
For Kate’s part, Jacob’s rejection of her as a Crow seems to also be a rejection of her as a daughter. Kate partially blames her father for never fully accepting her sexuality, but she also feels like she is the bad daughter — the one that disappoints after the death of her twin Beth. Her feeling is amplified when she finds that her ex-lover from military academy is a senior member of The Crows and is also heterosexually married. Kate perceives Sophie to be everything Jacob wanted in a daughter but lost with the death of Beth and Kate’s public coming out. Further complicating the family dynamic is that Jacob has remarried the successful and powerful Catherine Hamilton-Kane (Elizabeth Anweis), and Kate has a stepsister in the form of Mary Hamilton (Nicole Kang), a seemingly feckless socialite and med student who is living the high life amongst Gotham’s social elite.
A series of arguments with Jacob and her resentment of Catherine leads Kate to seek accommodation in her cousin Bruce Wayne’s now-defunct Wayne Tower. Like Batman, Bruce has been MIA for a few years. The Tower is guarded by Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), the tech whiz son of Lucius Fox, who was one of Bruce’s closest business associates and confidantes.
Anyone familiar with Batman lore, and I assume you are if you have progressed this far, is aware that Bruce and Batman are one and the same. It doesn’t take Kate all that long to figure out the connection, and due to her father rejecting her application once again to join with him as a member of The Crows, she dons a version of bat suit and becomes for a short while Gotham’s hope at the return of Batman. Kate’s independence and feminist attitude mean that although she is willing and ready to fight crime in Gotham City, she is not prepared to do it being mistaken for a man — and with Luke’s reluctant help, the hero Batwoman is born.
As Kate is born as Batwoman, a new villain is emerging in Gotham whose agenda is to destroy The Crows and the stability they are trying to achieve, albeit through increasingly militarized means. Alice (Rachel Skarsten) is the show’s ‘big bad’ — she’s also one of the more complex villains in the DC pantheon. Lost as a small child and found by a family of criminals, Alice’s world is a glass darkly of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books, which she shared with her adopted brother Mouse (Sam Littlefield). Alice, too, has a very personal connection to the Kane family, and her rampage of fury is part of an intimate desire for revenge for what she views as the ultimate betrayal by them. It is revealed early on in the show that Alice is Beth, Kate’s sister, who was presumed drowned in the accident that took their mother’s life.
Without the Alice plotline and Rachel Skarsten’s electrifying performance rendering her volatile and damaged psyche, there wouldn’t be much to Batwoman at all. A series of interesting villains are introduced, such as Tommy Elliot/ Hush (Gabriel Mann), but they are never really made use of. It’s not surprising that Batwoman would use a series of second-tier antagonists who aren’t famously known outside of the comics. It was unlikely that the audience was going to see Penguin, The Riddler, Catwoman, or The Joker (his absence is explained later in the series) appear, however, when attention-grabbing rogues do turn up such as Duela Dent (Alessandra Torresani), they are almost immediately dispatched within a single episode and given little in the way of a character arc.
Despite the above issues, the most prevalent downside to Batwoman is Ruby Rose’s dead-eyed performance. Suited up, she’s fine as Batwoman as a certain reticence comes with acting in costume. The stunts and fight scenes are serviceable and, at times, exciting. What isn’t in the least exciting is Rose’s rendering of Kane. Kate is supposed to be feeling an overwhelming mixture of emotions when dealing with confronting her family, her ex-lover, her now demented and criminal sister, the fear of her own anger and darkness — yet Rose displays almost no range at all. For this reason, it is probably for the best that she has exited the series in what has been reported to be a mutual decision. At this stage, a soft reboot is the best the show can hope for and considering that production has been shut down until at least 2021, there is enough time for the writers and producers to come up with a way to rectify the missteps of the first season.
On paper, Batwoman should have worked. Like other Arrowverse shows, the premise was simple, one big bad for the season and a series of smaller episodic interactions with varied lesser-known villains from the Batman pantheon. It essentially followed what is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997) model of balancing one major arc with a series of minor arcs within the narrative. However, if the star of the show isn’t carrying it, and the writing is patchy, it’s hard for an audience to be engaged. Comparing Batwoman to the first seasons of other shows in the Berlanti Arrowverse it is more akin to the somewhat lackluster first season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow — however, that show found its feet as soon as it stopped taking itself seriously and leaned into its comedic value. Batwoman was meant to take the dark mantle that the absence of the now completed Arrow has left behind.
It really isn’t all bad news for the series with Rose’s exit. There have been a series of narrative setups that can pay off with a better actor inhabiting the role, yet the best thing that can probably be said for the first season of Batwoman is that it gave the extended television universe Gotham, which opens up a world of possibility. Long term, there is a strong likelihood that the show will be a muscular entity in its own right. I will be keeping an eye out for the Bat Signal as it reappears in the sky in the coming year or so.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Nadine Whitney