When the CW’s Arrow was just starting out, it waded its way into the superhero waters slowly. It wasn’t until the fourth season that Oliver called himself the Green Arrow, and another character even made fun of the idea back in the first season. We only had to wait for three episodes for Kate Kane to don her iconic outfit and four for her to call herself Batwoman. While Batwoman is still finding its footing, it seems like the show is firing on all cylinders. Spoilers for Batwoman season 1, episode 4, “Who Are You?” follow.
“Who Are You?”
We’ve watched Kate Kane go through all the stages of becoming a vigilante since Batwoman began. She had a mission that she had to accomplish, and she had to suit up to accomplish it. She felt the pull of responsibility and the hesitation that comes from that. Then, acceptance. Now, she’s in the “life balance” stage; she knows she has to be Batwoman, but she also wants to have a life.
This week, Batwoman is being blamed for not capturing a new criminal on the scene called Magpie, a master thief who goes after rare and expensive baubles and leaves explosives behind. There are a ton of moments I like in this episode, and it does a good job of threading the needle between developing the ongoing plots in meaningful ways while also giving Batwoman herself some time to develop as a hero.
In the mainline plot, Kate is struggling with the idea that being Batwoman means giving up some of her time as Kate. After missing out on one of Magpie’s heists, Batwoman catches Magpie in the act. There’s a great fight here, but things go sideways when one of her Batarangs smashes a priceless vase instead of a villain’s plan. Meanwhile, Kate has decided to lend out Martha Wayne’s infamous pearls for a special exhibition, though they’re quickly snatched up by Magpie.
As Batwoman, Kate tracks down Magpie’s lair and manages to get back Martha’s pearls and some crucial data, but not before setting off one of the thief’s boobytraps with a poorly-timed sneeze that blows up countless other stolen gems.
The two have a second showdown at the gala itself when Magpie forces Batwoman to choose between protecting people from her 3d-printed pearl-necklace bomb and stopping the thief. Because she’s Batwoman, she manages to do both, though just barely.
The Family Kane
We spot Catherine Kane, Jacob’s second wife, digging up Beth Kane’s grave. The thing is, Alice spots her, too. Alice has some solid blackmail evidence on Catherine; she wants the woman, who runs a tech company of her own, to supply her with weapons. Here, we get some evidence that maybe Catherine isn’t the cold-blooded person we thought she was. The meeting with Alice leaves her visibly shaken. She does try to send some men after Alice, but Alice is one step ahead of everyone else on the show, so it ends up bloody.
The whole thing goes so poorly that Catherine straight-up admits to Jacob, who was likely on the verge of finding out anyway, that she faked the discovery of Beth’s bones in hopes of bringing Jacob and Kate out of their depression and back to the real world. Further, she seems genuinely remorseful.
Mary the med student, meanwhile, continues to be one of my favorite characters. Batwoman brings in the member of Alice’s gang she captured a couple weeks back hanging by a thread. Mary goes about saving him. When he starts with groggy rambling, Mary quickly picks up that he thinks he’s talking to Alice and uses that to squeeze a little information out of him. I have no doubt that Mary will be a full-fledged member of Team Batwoman by the end of the season, and right now I’m super okay with that. Also, Batwoman uses a very cool voice changer here that feels like an elegant Batman-style solution and isn’t totally over-the-top.
That’s not how explosives work
As I said, there’s a lot I like in this episode, and I’ll get into that. But first, a few things I had issues with. Even if we accept that someone could make extremely tiny bombs that would be both explosive enough to be dangerous, for example, it’s hard to accept that she could stop them by just holding her cape over them like Supergirl. If Supergirl can fly, it serves to reason that she can hold herself to the ground (let’s call it reverse flying). Batwoman, meanwhile, is maybe 160 pounds with all her gear, but can just stand over the bombs without any blowback.
I also can’t help but wonder why Catherine thought that appearing at the gravesite she was having dug up was a good idea, or how Vesper Fairchild can describe what happened in Batwoman’s first battle with Magpie with such bang-on accuracy. And why were Martha’s pearls in Wayne Tower and not back at the mansion in the first place?
Onto the good stuff. There’s so much good work going on here with establishing characters and having them act believably. As Kate struggles with her identity as Batwoman, it becomes harder and harder to ignore the irony of a publicly gay woman hiding a major part of her persona from the world. The show is definitely going to wrestle with the two ideas to some degree, and I hope it’s something the show explores in depth.
Yep, it’s political
The show wears its politics on its sleeve, too. Rachel Maddow’s Vesper Fairchild is a frequent voice on the show, meant to judge Batwoman at every turn, forcing impossible standards on her. She fem-shames her for wearing makeup and then later sarcastically suggests that Batwoman smile more. Not only is that the kind of thing that many women hear all the time, but it’s also exactly the kind of chatter I can imagine hearing in the wake of Batwoman’s appearance. We also see Luke Fox getting more comfortable around Kate, which allows him to be more critical of her. That will certainly become important later, but in this episode, he chooses to use it to question her skills; she rightly calls him out.
Some of the decisions Kate makes match where she’s at with her new normal really well, too. Regan seems like exactly the kind of girl Kate would pick, but the absolute worst kind for Batwoman. Regan is an expert people-watcher, and she picks up on virtually every social cue in her vicinity. That means that she notices when Kate is distracted, when she’s lying (which Kate is very bad at anyway), or when there’s any kind of tension. This short-lived relationship is Kate learning that she has to be careful about who she lets in and how.
Two kinds of crime-fighter
Kate does have to have a real-life, though. Throughout the episode, the idea of gentrification comes up a few times; for example, Regan talks about being priced out of her childhood home. One thing Batman comics have struggled with is the idea that a billionaire’s best way of protecting his city is to get into tights and cripple petty criminals. The books have gotten better about surfacing the other ways in which Bruce Wayne contributes to Gotham over the years.
In TV shows and movies, it barely gets a passing mention – if any. Batman: The Animated Series would have Bruce occasionally donate to charity or something like that to remind us that he’s a nice guy, but his philanthropic activities barely came up aside from that.
I like that this early on, Kate is working to enact change on both fronts: as a crimefighter and with the wealth at her disposal. The show needs to actually remind us of this and evolve it as the show goes on, but it’s a good sign that it’s coming up so early. Episodes like these are usually trying to establish major parts of the story moving forward.
Alice is still great
The time we get to spend with Alice, too, tells me once again that she’s not crazy, but more that she wants people to think she is. Instead, she looks more like an effective crime boss, right down to sending a guy back sans one of his knuckles to send a message to Catherine. Alice quickly disabuses Catherine of the notion that she can go toe to toe with someone like Alice. Alice is far more focused and doesn’t have to tolerate idiots.
We also get a great amount of time with Kate in the Batsuit this week. This is something that all the Arrowverse shows struggle with. But already, we see Batwoman not making the same mistakes that made Iron Fist such a rough watch on Netflix. When Kate is fighting, she’s in the Batsuit, which means the show can use a stuntperson and get a more exciting and dynamic fight scene (especially now that Ruby Rose is likely done with stunt work).
Batwoman still has work to do. It has to make good on all these ideas. We have to see Kate fighting back against Gotham’s darkness on two fronts. We have to see Alice continue to develop as a person. Kate has to keep learning about being a vigilante while also getting the chance to explore who she is in this new life she’s stumbled into. Batwoman keeps getting better with every episode, and I hope that continues.