While there was a time when Warner Bros. looked upon the Arrowverse as an inconvenience, squishing attempts to use characters they wanted to put into movies, the media giant has since acknowledged that the Arrowverse can do its own thing and is even willing to take part in it once in a while. Even so, Arrowverse shows often seem reticent to use big-name heroes. Batwoman tiptoes around using big-name Batman villains despite being set in the city all the villains in Batman’s rogues’ gallery happen to live in. This week, though, the show hints at the possible appearance of one and gives us a pretty deep-cut character from the comics. Beware spoilers for Batwoman Season 1, Episode 14, “Grinning from Ear to Ear.”
“Grinning from Ear to Ear”
Last week left things off hot and heavy as Batwoman and Sophie shared a kiss on the eve of Sophie’s suspension from the Crows. While those two were making out, Mary figured out that Kate and Batwoman are one and the same, and Alice discovered exactly who it was that took her precious Mouse.
This week starts way, way back in 2012. A young woman named Duela applies make-up while reciting a litany of techniques. They’re techniques any make-up artist might use, but the tone is off. Instead of the voice–presumably the voice of her mother–telling her to highlight her cheekbones, she tells her to hide her weight. It’s the same technique, but twisted to be shameful instead of self-expressive. The mirror spins to show what Duela sees, though, and we see a face twisted into a permanent frown. Duela seemingly suffers from body dysmorphic disorder.
Duela punches the mirror in anger and peels a shard off. As her mother berates her from outside, Duela forces herself to smile using the sharp edge of the mirror. She does to her face using the mirror what she couldn’t make the mirror do for her otherwise.
Back to the present
Sophie is hanging out at Kate’s new bar, clearly in a good mood after the previous night’s smooching, where she runs into Mary, whom she tells about her hot kiss. Kate is similarly over-the-moon, but Luke quickly lectures her: Bruce learned the hard way that people he gets close to get hurt. Kate tries to talk her way around his points, but Luke was apparently present enough in Bruce’s life to take all his lessons seriously.
The show sets up a few storylines quickly here: Sophie’s proto-relationship with Batwoman, Alice knowing about her captor’s identity, Jacob finding signs of corruption in the Crows, and finally, the killer going after models and disfiguring them. Refreshingly, all four of these lines are interesting and do things for each of their characters.
Kiss and tell
For Sophie, this is the episode where she finally becomes a character. Sophie is psyched about her potential relationship with Batwoman, but Batwoman tries to break it off. Neither of them want to. Before they can get busy, though, Sophie’s mom shows up unexpectedly, hoping to fix her daughter’s disintegrating life. Sophie and her mother argue. Sophie’s opinion of the Crows is turning following her brief stint as the commander and her close interactions with Batwoman.
Sophie says she likes Batwoman because she represents “all of Gotham,” including the many disenfranchised people in the troubled city. Her mother, meanwhile, can’t support someone who doesn’t represent morals she can agree with.
Sophie and Batwoman talk later, and Batwoman asks her how much of their hook-up is about her mask. Is Sophie really looking for a relationship, or does she like the anonymous excitement of having a relationship that she literally has to hide? The two call things off at this revelation, and Sophie ends up talking to her mom, who is just as homophobic as Sophie had previously promised. As soon as Sophie tells her mother, her mother makes the reveal all about her and how Sophie is burdening her by revealing it. It’s heartbreaking and well-portrayed by the actresses.
Between Sophie’s genuine excitement at the beginning of the episode, her action scenes in the middle–we’ll get to that–and this difficult conversation, actress Meagan Tandy finally has some real acting to do, and she does a fine job of it. The show has deeply underserved this character in almost every episode previous, so I’m excited to see her get something to do. I hope this is an indication of things to come.
Get the Roto-Rooter®
While Sophie is suspended, a lawyer comes to the newly-reinstated Jacob Kane with a proposition: help my client or we spill beans about you. The lawyer’s client, it seems, is the man who saved Jacob from bleeding out in prison. The lawyer isn’t even asking for a get-out-of-jail-free card. Just a nearer date to revisit the case. That plants a seed in Jacob’s head and he starts digging around, finding that even as the commander of the Crows force, he’s being stonewalled by his own men when he tries to look into details.
In the comics, Jacob is a supporter of his daughter’s work as Batwoman. He provides her with the tools to fight crime in the first place. On the television show, Jacob provides Kate with the tools to become a Crow; she stumbles across the tools to become Batwoman, essentially inheriting them. With this relationship such a significant one in the comics, I can’t help but think that eventually, Jacob’s opinion of Batwoman will turn.
This corruption story seems to be the first step toward that. He’s doubting the Crows and looks to Sophie–who he suspended because she worked with Batwoman–for help. The black-and-white world is turning grey. I like the potential this holds to bring these three characters together as allies.
Why so serious?
While Kate is concerned about her relationship with Sophie, her first concern is the slasher going around town. The perp is apparently hitting social media influencers, so Kate hits up her step-sister Mary for information. This is a really stupid move on Kate’s part, and I like that because the show knows it. There’s no good reason for Kate, a real-estate magnate and club owner, to ask investigative questions about plastic surgery and social media influencers. Mary already knows that Kate and Batwoman are the same thing, so when Kate asks, Mary makes up an excuse for her. Mary tries to insinuate herself into Kate’s investigation, though Kate knows to keep her family at a distance even if she’s not yet sure about Sophie.
It doesn’t take Kate long to discover the identity of the slasher: Duela Dent, who has a well-liked uncle who is the city’s Assistant District Attorney. I’m not going to assemble that puzzle for you, but the insinuation is an interesting one and the first of two hints of Batman villains having a future in the Arrowverse. In this world, Two-Face doesn’t yet exist.
Duela, however, does. Kate sneaks into Duela’s home rather inelegantly and finds the identity of her next victim, Myrtis Dinker. I’m mostly including that name so that you can enjoy it as much as I did. When Kate continues to clumsily investigate the house, Duela tries to clock her and fails. Duela does, however, slit her mom’s throat, forcing the hero to focus on saving a life.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Batwoman and Sophie run into each other and go after Duela together. Batwoman focuses on saving Myrtis Dinker (read it aloud with me) while Sophie handily takes down Duela. I like that Duela isn’t somehow a super-ninja street fighter just because she cut her face to pieces. She’s just dangerous and unhinged enough to make her a threat while her plans are in the dark.
If you don’t recognize Duela Dent, she’s a bit of a deep cut from the comics, pun absolutely intended. In the comics, she debuts as Joker’s Daughter, and eventually reveals herself to be Two-Face’s offspring. This later proves to be false, too. She goes by the name Harlequin for a time. Having debuted back in 1976, this is way before Harley Quinn, and she’s a very different character.
Batwoman leaves Duela tied up for the authorities to find her, though when they do, Alice has already come and gone, and in the process has literally sliced Duela’s face off of her head. Duela is thrilled about this. Incredibly. We’ll get to that storyline in a second.
Who isn’t wearing a mask?
This episode exposes an ongoing theme pervading Batwoman that I find really interesting and that I hope is as intentional as I think it is. Everywhere you look, people are wearing other people’s faces, wearing masks, and hiding their identities. Kate is out as lesbian, but she hides her true self, Batwoman, behind the facade of being a real estate owner. Mary is an intelligent, passionate doctor, but hides her intelligence behind the veil of a vapid social media person.
We’ve already explored Sophie’s mask, and her interest in Batwoman’s mask. Alice is a mask to protect Beth Kane, and her missing Mouse is a deeply disfigured man who only Alice accepts in his disfigured state, while his father tries to cover his true face and even voice.
Why they wear masks
The masks are all different kinds: they cover sexuality, identity, and disfigurement. Duela’s is a new kind of mask, though. For her, this is about body dysmorphia. The Duela we meet at the beginning is a perfectly normal, somewhat attractive young woman. When she looks in the mirror, though, she sees a deeply distorted face. For her, cutting a smile into her face is a way to reclaim her identity, which she feels has been coopted by her controlling mother.
And so when Alice takes Duela’s face, this is important as a thematic moment for the character. The idea of Alice sneaking into the makeup factory and cutting off Duela’s face in the time between when Batwoman leaves and the police, and for Duela to be conscious and lucid is pretty ludicrous. But it works thematically. Duela hates the face she was born with, and she gives it away to Alice, who has a use for it. Without her face, Duela is free. It’s chilling, and the special effect for it is pretty unsettling, too. While everyone else is wearing and maintaining masks, Sophie and Duela lost theirs.
Alice knows (as usual)
There are plenty of book-smart characters in the Arrowverse, but fewer that have the kind of strategic and psychological intelligence that Alice displays week after week. She’s a planner and a puzzle-solver. She knows how people will act most of the time, and why. It doesn’t take her long to find out who took Mouse and to track him down. She even does something almost unheard of: she talks to a psychologist about her concerns surrounding confronting Mouse’s father and her captor, August. Then, she has the psychologist killed. Because she’s Alice.
Alice stops by Mary’s office seemingly to lord over her the way she saved her in last week’s episode. I suspect, though, that she was procuring supplies to take Duela’s Face/Off.
When we next see who we think is Duela–she still has her face to the best of our knowledge–she’s confronting Dr. Ethan Campbell, who we know is actually August, the man who kept Beth Kane captive. Duela is Alice, wearing Duela’s face: a mask over her mask. August had strapped Mouse into some kind of gas mask contraption earlier in the episode, and I’d assumed it was to do some unwilling surgery on him. Alice interrogates August about Mouse’s whereabouts and while she doesn’t find him this week, we do: he’s breathing in pure fear toxin.
Fear toxin, in the context of Gotham City, is pretty specific. The same way that ADA Dent opens up the door for Two-Face to join the Arrowverse, could we be gearing up for Scarecrow to appear soon? We can only hope.
Finally, Mary tells Kate in all but the exact words that she knows Kate is Batwoman.
A bit of everything
I really liked this episode. We got a visually arresting portrayal of a character that goes way, way back in DC. Sophie, Kate, Alice, Mary, and Jacob all saw significant character development. The episode didn’t move the overall story forward very much, but it moved every character forward.