After last week’s episode of Batwoman, I thought “oh, we’re finally here. She’s properly Batwoman, so it’s time for some villain-of-the-week stuff. Batwoman continues to surprise, though. This week, we get another deep dive into how Alice became so twisted. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 1, Episode 5, “Mine is a Long and Sad Tale.”
“Mine is a Long and Sad Tale”
It seems like the CW is going hard on creepy stuff with its new shows. Over on Nancy Drew, they’re doing straight-up Grudge style jump-scare ghosts. Batwoman, meanwhile, is playing on the horror tropes of isolation and disfigurement.
Someone in Gotham is stealing skin off dead bodies. It’s hardly a crime; the dead bodies aren’t using it, they won’t miss it. That isn’t this week’s mystery, though. After some very light detective work, Kate discovers that the skin thief is none other than Alice. She tracks Alice down and we’re treated to an authentically Batman fight scene that ends in Alice’s capture.
Alice talks Kate into letting her tell her story as a tour guide rather than while hanging cuffed from a hook. It’s time for a Kane Sisters road trip!
We learn that Beth was taken in by a man who lives in an isolated home with a son scarred in an accident. The man locks Beth up in a concrete cell with nothing but a bed and a sink. She’s not alone, though. No, there’s a face in the sink to keep her company. At first, it seems like Beth is going to be a potential source for a new face; Instead, he’s decided that Beth is the perfect friend for his isolated son, whom Alice comes to call Mouse.
Ths whole sequence is creepy and tense in a way I rarely see on superhero shows or even just modern TV in general. I felt the danger that Beth was in viscerally while I watched and found myself cringing away from the television. The show did a great job of putting me, an adult man, in the shoes of this young girl and getting me to feel what she was meant to be feeling.
We don’t know a lot about Beth’s time at this home, though, and there will be plenty of gaps to fill in as the season goes on. We find out that Beth’s sister and father were mere feet away from her at one point. Seeing Kate and Beth on opposite sides of the door is heartbreaking, and I can easily see how a child could twist the moment around in her head to make it about feeling deserted by her family rather than threatened by her captors.
What’s missing from here—and what I hope will be filled in later—is how Alice eventually befriends Mouse, but yet suffers so much that she sends Beth down, down, down the rabbit hole to keep her safe. Because it’s clear as the episode closes out that Alice cares deeply about Mouse. It doesn’t seem like one of Alice’s games. But this leaves years and years of potential space for Arrow-style flashbacks if that’s what Batwoman wants to do. I just hope it comes without the silly retconning Arrow did for years to get Oliver off the island.
Elsewhere in the Gotham Metro Region
While Kate is learning all about Alice’s past, other characters are still kicking around. Mary the med student leans from her mother Catherine that she faked the DNA results showing Beth’s imprint. We don’t get a lot of time with Mary, but we learn a lot about her. She runs straight for Kate’s office in Wayne Tower, but Kate is out being drugged and locked up so that Alice can tell her spooky stories. Mary continues to be one of my favorite characters after Alice. She has layers, and the more the show uses her, the better. These scenes also give Luke Fox a bit of on-screen time. He’s mostly sat by the sidelines and really continues to do that here. I hope he gets better treatment later in the season.
While things are happening in the city, Sophia (Kate’s ex) and Jacob (Kate’s dad) are following the trace on the call Kate made from her cellphone, tracking down Kate. The scenes between Sophia and Jacob didn’t do much for me, but they brought them to Kate and Alice.
The episode culminates in a fight between Sophia and Mouse and a tearful reunion between Jacob and Alice. Jacob finally acknowledges that Alice is, in fact, Beth, and gets a butterfly knife in the stomach.
Again, I’m really enjoying what Batwoman is doing. Instead of dumping us into a villain-of-the-week cycle, we’re continuing to learn about Alice. Alice is as important to Batwoman as the Joker is to Batman, and that means that she’s worth investing time into. And while they might look similar, they become more different the more we learn about them. The most interesting part about this relationship is how little artifice there is piled on top of it. There are no secret identities here. Everyone important knows who everyone else is.
The question is how, not who. And because ‘how’ takes a lot longer to answer, it has the potential be a lot more satisfying than a hollow unmasking. I’m reminded of how the first season of The Flash let us know pretty early on that Harrison Wells was the Reverse-Flash, even if the show messed with our heads on the idea a bit. The second season was predicated on the identity of Zoom, and the ultimate reveal felt like a disappointing rehash of season 1. It seems like Batwoman is actively avoiding that, and that’s smart.
I’ll allow that Ruby Rose still has some work to do in terms of bringing Kate Kane to life, but she gets better with each episode. Kate has Alice, Mary, and Luke to pull her along in the meantime, so I don’t mind waiting a bit.