It’s kind of hard to imagine the pressure Batwoman is under. Not just the character herself, but the Batwoman show, too. When Kate Kane enters the picture, her high-gliding cousin has been missing for three years. Gotham City is finally ready to admit that Batman is gone. Instead of assuming that the person who risked their life for the city is gone, though, they have decided he’s abandoned them. Ungrateful. And so as Kate dons the cape and cowl, Gotham City will be looking at a protector that they think has years of experience, and had disappeared for years, leaving the city in the lurch. In reality, there’s a new kid in the suit, inexperienced and ready to help.
Batwoman the show, meanwhile, comes just as Arrow ends. A newcomer on the heels of the old guard’s exit. Batwoman is the network’s second female-led superhero show, but it has the added pressure of being a live-action Bat-family show that isn’t Batman. It has to fill the space of Arrow without being the same story and to fill the shoes of Batman without ever being Batman. I get kind of tired just thinking about it.
Now, the first episode has aired, and it’s time to look at what we have.
The show quickly establishes Kate’s backstory without rushing us through it. Bruce Wayne’s cousin lost her mother and sister to a suspicious car accident years back, something she blames Batman for as he seemingly left them to die. She ended up in military school, following in her father’s footsteps, but was expelled when her sexuality was made public. She sought out a position in her father’s security company, the Crows, and he sent her off for some extreme training that would continue to shape her into a fighter.
Making Gotham look like Gotham, but not like Gotham
In one version, the city is a bland backdrop, the Vancouverest of Vancouvers. It’s Any City in Any State. In another, Wayne Enterprises towers over the skyline despite being boarded up and left to rot. In the former version, it’s a city where wealthy donors have a gala to celebrate the decommissioning of the Bat signals and a city where they show old movies on a wall projector in the park. In the latter, there’s a woman named Alice, who quotes Lewis Carroll’s story and kidnaps people.
It doesn’t help that this is coming on the heels of the aforementioned Gotham. Whether you liked that show or not (I tend toward not, personally), one thing it didn’t do is back away from the over-the-top look of Batman’s world. Batwoman, in the pilot, backs off much too often when it comes to set design and atmosphere. Legends of Tomorrow constantly reminds us that you can do a hell of a lot with very little, so I have to raise an eyebrow here. Why didn’t they consult the Legends creative team when trying to give Gotham a fresh look without breaking the bank?
Alice is a highlight of the show, though, and a hint of that neon gothic atmosphere that has defined Batman for so long. She has an agenda, and she backs it up with the intelligence and charisma to make it happen. I immediately liked her, and I can’t wait to see how she progresses throughout the show. Whether she’s the big bad for the first season or something longer-lived, I’m here for it.
A strong supporting cast
The pilot also spends a surprising amount of time giving life to its supporting cast. Kate’s father, Jacob Kane, is complex. He underestimates his daughter, and his love for her seems to have been twisted into a kind of dismissive disrespect. He loves her but doesn’t want her to be part of his dark world. When we first meet Kate’s step-sister, she’s framed as an air-headed socialite. The show quickly turns that on its head, and she has enough going for her that I’m hoping she becomes a more frequent cast member. Kate’s ex-girlfriend, Sophie, completed her military schooling and joined the Crows while Kate was gone. She also got married, which will certainly complicate the immediate chemistry between the two characters.
But what about Batwoman?
The CW shows are, to some degree, trapped in the world of traditional television. The CW could chop out entire episodes without losing any charm, story, or momentum. Shorter seasons would serve these shows well. With Batwoman, it feels like we’re already in the mid-season funk, with time spent in rooms full of monitors having Very Serious Discussions. With that said, I could see a version of this show that spends an entire season on the origin story. Instead, Rose suits up and wields her grapple gun like a pro before the credits roll. That’s a good thing.
There’s a lot I like in the first episode, and some stuff I hope the show will get better at. I’m pretty forgiving with pilots; the pilot for my beloved Community was a different show than the series that followed. The entire first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation ate butt; the version of Picard getting an eponymous show was nowhere to be found in the pilot episode. Sometimes, TV pilots suck. So I’m crossing my fingers. Batwoman‘s pilot isn’t bad, but it has a ton of room to improve now that we’re past introducing characters and telling origin stories. I’ve loved so much of the Arrowverse that I’m ready to love Batwoman, but we’re not there just yet.