One thing TV shows and movies consistently struggle with is how to portray things like panic attacks. Panic attacks can arise from anything from a change in brain chemistry to the aftermath of a traumatic event and the post-traumatic stress that follows. They can last seconds or hours, and can plague people for years. In TV and movies, they tend to be a plot point for the hero to overcome with some moxy and some inspiring words from a friend or foe that helps them get their resolve back. In real life, they talk lots of therapy, lots of time, and some medication. This week Batwoman is dealing with panic attacks. Uh oh. Spoilers follow for Batwoman season 1, episode 17, “A Narrow Escape.”
“A Narrow Escape”
When last we left Kate Kane and the other denizens of Gotham City, Kate had just betrayed Alice, leaving her sister locked in Arkham Asylum alongside Mouse, who had previously been captured.
This week, Kate plops down on the couch to play Mortal Kombat. Alice joins her and they’re just drinking beers and having a good time. You know what that means, and so does Alice. None of it is real. What’s real is that a doctor who has taken great pleasure in torturing her with electro-shock therapy.
Test Your Might
Before we cut away, this is the second show in a week where the characters have been playing not just a real-world video game, but Mortal Kombat 11 specifically. This week’s episode of Legends of Tomorrow featured a sequence in which Zari Tomasi and her brother Behrad played the game together. Considering DC’s on-going relationship with NetherRealm Studios–Injustice, Injustice 2, Mortal Kombat vs. DC, and the appearance of the Joker in Mortal Kombat 11, I suppose it makes more sense than any other game. At least from a licensing perspective.
Kate’s back to work as Batwoman, and we get a great shot of her grappling upward through a spiral staircase where she intercepts a jewel thief. Kate tries to go easy on the guy, but he fights back. She lays him out–and then starts hyperventilating as she worries she’s killed him. She ends up on the roof of the building, tearing off her mask as she gasps for breath.
The Detonator? That’s what we’re calling him?
A week passes, and a cop wakes up with a bomb on his chest. A tape recorder plays a distorted voice as someone who watched too many Saw movies (and maybe The Dark Knight) tells a cop that he can either let himself die in a firey explosion or blow up a building full of people. The terrified man chooses the latter option.
Batwoman has been missing for the last week, while this guy, called The Detonator–c’mon, seriously?–is running rampant. And as if to imitate The Dark Knight a second time, people are dressing up as Batwoman, trying to help people, and getting hurt doing it. They all end up in Mary’s back alley clinic, of course, where she reminds them that Batwoman has a bulletproof suit among other advantages that they don’t.
Kate, meanwhile, is convalescing in her condominium where Julia Pennyworth brings her a drink and tells her to get over her panic attacks because the city needs Batwoman.
In Arkham, Mouse is in group therapy with Alice, which seems like a major breach of protocol. Tommy Elliott, who showed up very early on in the series, joins the group to talk about how Bruce Wayne speaks 40 languages, where Alice notes that he’s packing a poorly-concealed shiv in his shoe.
It’s all connected
Outside, the district attorney is pursuing the assassination of Reggie Harris, the man who Luke thought had killed his father, Lucius, while Sophie and Julia continue to look into it on the down-low.
These lay out the major story threads that we’re dealing with this week. Kate realizes that putting on–or even looking at–the batsuit is behind her panic attacks and she tries to go about investigating the bombings without it. She ends up caught in the shockwave of a blast that happens just outside Mary’s clinic. She has another panic attack when she spots the Batwoman imposter that was at the clinic helping Mary.
You just need to keep going
As Kate recovers from her attack, Mary finally tells her that she knows about her alter ego. She drops a ton of history that paints Kate as a wild, confident, and intelligent (but slightly crazy) person who was almost destined to end up a superhero of some sort. Kate’s panic attacks here boil down to her guilt over killing Alice’s tormenter, August Cartwright. In her mind, if someone kills, they’re not worthy of doing this job anymore. Mary tells Kate, “You don’t need to be a hero, you just need to keep going.”
Kate, Luke, Julia, and Sophie eventually figure it out: The bombings are covering up loose ends in the Lucius Fox killing. Once they start talking to each other, the pieces fall into place pretty quickly. Sophie was investigating corruption in the Crows while Kate had been investigating the Detonator. Someone within the Crows is masterminding it, having had access to both the list of people who related to Fox’s death and insider information about the original Detonator bombings. That someone is an agent named Miguel, who catches Jacob Kane sideways. Kane wakes up the same way the cop and the district attorney before him did. He’s rigged with explosives with a tape recorder taped to his hand.
Who killed who?
There’s a bunch of Bat-lore in the next couple scenes. Luke and Kate quickly narrow the location of the bomb down to Wayne Tower. As Luke steps out to confront Miguel, he puts the building in an armored lockdown designed by his father to protect the building and the city. Luke, though, is staring at his father’s murderer. Miguel begs for his life and fingers Tommy Elliott as the person who paid him to “rough Lucius up.” Luke is on the precipice, and in a last-ditch effort to stop him, Kate confesses that she killed Cartwright.
That pulls Luke off the ledge, and they end up saving Miguel and only sacrificing the parking garage. In the aftermath, Kate explains to Luke that she didn’t want him to see her as a fraud, and here’s the big drop: Batman killed the Joker five years earlier. Luke doesn’t outright say that, but what he implies is undeniable. With Batman missing-dead and Joker definitely dead, there’s no mistaking it: we’re in a post-Batman world.
While all this is going on, Alice tricks Tommy into shaking her and gives her newfound shiv to Mouse, who uses it to kill Alice’s doctor and take his face; they decide to make a home of Arkham for the time being. Jacob reinstates Sophie to the Crows, and they hire Julia on as a contractor. Throughout this whole episode, Julia has been flirting with Sophie like crazy. After her kiss with Kate last week, her flirtation only reinforces my notion that she might not be as genuine a friend as she says she is.
Panic attacks are a crutch (in storytelling)
If I was a betting man, I’d feel confident putting down money on Kate’s panic attacks never resurfacing. Now that she’s revealed her dark secret to her friend, she no longer feels guilty about lying to him, and has no reason to panic, right? I think that her guilt, confession, and the relief that comes from her confession are all believable, but I don’t think it needed to be framed like a panic attack. That’s a real thing that real people suffer from, and it feels a little insulting and very silly to make it this one-time hurdle for Kate to defeat, the same way that Iron Man got through it in the two-hour runtime of Iron Man 3.
Overall, I did enjoy this episode. I liked the way it tied together Batwoman, the Crows, and their separate investigations. I liked that Luke got some catharsis. I’m curious to learn more about the Gotham of 2020, where the Joker is dead. Who else is out of the picture? Who might rear their head up again? It’s tantalizing. We know Harvey Dent isn’t yet Two-Face in this world, for example, based on the episode featuring Duela Dent. The drip feed of information is exciting, and I’m hoping it leads to a few Batman villains popping up. How cool would it be to see a reformed Poison Ivy or a new take on Catwoman? We can only hope.