Villains can run the gamut from moustache-twirling evil to that-guys-got-a-point. Somewhere in there, there’s the sympathetic villain. The one that, the more you learn about them, the harder it gets to blame them. That’s Alice. The show has gone out of its way since the very first moments to paint Alice as, of course, dangerous and intelligent, but also as someone with a deeply personal agenda and a fleshed-out backstory. This week gets deep into the moments that truly broke her. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 1, Episode 15, “Off with her Head.”
“Off with her Head”
Alice wasn’t always Alice, and it took her a long time–and a horrifying existence–to truly become Alice. The story starts with a flashback to Kate and Beth’s bat mitzvah ceremony, when their mother gives them each a necklace with a red heart. The happy times don’t last long, though. In the present, Batwoman is handily stopping a mugging when the Bat Signal lights up. Both of these are good to see in a Bat-family show. Batwoman has to fight tough villains, but showing her taking an easy victory helps balance those struggles out.
Beneath the spotlight, Batwoman finds August, the man responsible for Beth’s kidnapping, torture, and transformation into Alice. He’s bound and unconscious with a note stuffed into his mouth: “Ask about Mommy Dearest.” Kate–not Batwoman–calls Jacob for help with this discovery. This seems like such a weird decision. I kind of get it. Kate knows that Jacob won’t respond rationally to August or Batwoman and removes the one that she can. But doing so seems to open the door to lots more questions that Kate can’t answer. How she has August, why she has August. I’m not sure if I really feel this decision.
Worse than Dad
Meanwhile, Alice finds Mouse where August promised, hopped up on fear toxin provided, August says, by Jonathan Crane himself. It’s left unclear whether Crane is still around to provide it himself or if there’s just leftover toxin left hanging around for criminals to use when it’s appropriate for their schemes. Alice frees Mouse, only for Mouse to lock her in place, his mask now on her. Alice, Mouse is convinced, is his worst fear. With the toxin coursing through her veins, Alice sees her own worst fear: an old woman with an oxygen tank. The woman is August’s mother and Mouse’s grandmother. Somehow, the woman seems immediately scarier and more dangerous than the man who has been keeping young Alice captive. The woman spots Alice’s necklace and asks her where she got it. Alice pauses for a moment, almost glitching out, before answering that she doesn’t remember. Alice is truly a clean personality break from Beth.
All of this was August’s plan, he explains. That he would overdose Mouse with fear toxin, somehow knowing that Alice was his greatest fear, and then knew that Mouse would lock up Alice, dose her on fear toxin, and that his mother would be Alice’s greatest fear. There are so many points of failure in that master plan that I don’t even know where to start.
But indeed, Grandma Mable is a wretched old woman who berates anyone and everyone around her. When Alice makes tea too hot, Mable teaches her a lesson by pouring boiling hot water on her hands while she screams in pain (I put an ice cube in my hot water, for reference, so I’m unlikely to become a villain). Mable even holds Alice’s looks hostage, lopping off her hair with all the skill of a first-time barber.
While this flashback is happening, Alice is reliving her life with this woman, only the woman is burnt badly enough to make Deadpool wince and make an inappropriate comment to the audience. Alice is terrified and helpless like we’ve never seen her. She cries and scrambles and begs. Alice is, for once, not in control.
Out in the real world, August asks Kate for water. Instead of reaching for one of the plastic bottles next to her, she grabs a glass. Then after helping him drink, she sets it down within arms’ reach of him. All of this allows him to slit his own throat. Kate quickly staples it shut with some help from Mary. Mary, during all of this, is working with Luke to find a car belonging to Beth’s killer from a few weeks back, and searching down a lead. Mary very obviously searches Kate’s office for secret passages and pokes and prods at Luke to get him to admit that he’s working for Batwoman, though he doesn’t take the bait–or the hint.
Even as Kate tries to cut a deal with August, Jacob and Batwoman show up in her hallucinated world. They fight before telling her that saving her isn’t worth it; her father and sister have left her alone with Mable.
Let’s bring it together
All these different story threads start to come together. Jacob–the real one this time–finds Alice and injects her with adrenaline to nullify the fear toxin. She cries in his arms. Mary and Luke find the car with the rifle in it in a junkyard and trace it back to none other than Alice’s tormenter, Mable. Luke and Mary get ahold of Kate, and she finds out who killed her sister while he sits in front of her, barely alive. In the flashback, Mable is wearing earrings that perfectly match Alice’s necklace. Alice runs out of the house, which she now has free run of, to the shed where she’d previously found a locked fridge. She picks the lock to find the head of her and Kate’s mother. August tells Kate that he’d been keeping it because Mable wanted to wear it one day. Alice, enraged, fully transforms into the Alice we know as she breaks the valve off of Mable’s oxygen supply, lights it on fire, and burns Mable to death.
Kate responds as any reasonable adult would when finding out that the man who broke her real sister, killed her multiversal sister, and butchered (possibly also killed) her mother is right there in front of her. She breaks, too, and kills him just as Jacob and Alice return to her bar. Alice quotes her favorite book as she says goodbye to August and then breaks the news to Jacob: both of her daughters are killers. Kate steps out back with a bottle of alcohol and starts texting Sophie. Alice joins her to share a drink, and reminds Kate that bodies don’t bury themselves.
The focus is on Alice
I like the way all the different stories tie together here. By the end of it, we understand Alice a little better and see Kate struggle with her anger. Mary is slowly but surely pushing her way into the Batwoman circle, while Jacob is being put in a place where he’s going to have to ask some tough questions. I wish we’d seen more of Alice and Mable’s interaction. I feel like we got some cliff’s notes. Shorthand telling us that Mable is pure evil. Just enough to justify Alice burning her alive. Even so, it’s hard to hold Alice’s condition against her when you see how not only did August torment her, but how he brought in someone else even worse to really bring things home. Despite this episode being Batwoman-lite, the focus on Alice helps keep it exciting.