Batwoman has an impossible task this year, and that applies to the show and character in equal measure. Batwoman the show has to prove to us that the departure of Ruby Rose as Kate Kane is a surmountable obstacle–that the hero can live on without the person who wears its cowl in the comics to this day. And Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder is in similar hot water, stepping into the shoes and supersuit of a bonafide hero who helped to save the universe. In her second outing, both the actress and Batwoman seem like they might be getting their feet under them. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 2, Episode 2, “Prior Criminal History.”
“Prior Criminal History”
Batwoman will eventually have to move past Alice. Thus far, though, Rachel Skarsten’s fanciful villain has proven a reliable villain for the series that has both a strong actor in the driver’s seat and the emotional oomph to last through a full season and a hero’s run, into the second of each. Even more so than in Batwoman season 1, Alice is as much a main character as Batwoman herself.
Her role has to change, of course, because she doesn’t have the familial connection to the new Caped Crusader, but this new connection isn’t really a big jump for the character. Alice is ticked off that someone that isn’t her sister is wearing the suit. That’s… totally logical. That’s a thing Alice would feel, and it’s not hard to imagine the unholy fit she’d throw in response. In fact, this almost seems freeing. She doesn’t have to hold back anymore.
That’s what the latest episode feels like. We can only guess what the future holds, but right now the first episode looked as though the show was trying to shed its skin, discarding the Bruce Wayne plot and rearranging the stakes between Batwoman and Alice. This episode, then, is Ryan Wilder’s pilot episode.
Wilder is the opposite of Kate Kane in some key ways. Where Kane was so rich that she could single-handly begin fighting gentrification in Gotham, Wilder can’t even make it through a job interview thanks to the stint in Blackgate on her record. There’s room for some interesting arcs here that wouldn’t work for Kate at all; Wilder, struggling to find a place in society, could step full-time into the role of Batwoman, and we could see her start to lose herself in it, almost like Bruce tends to, though again from a very different perspective.
The two characters collide thanks to the Crows. It’s been long enough since Kate Kane wore the suit that the city is noticing, but not so long that that people know yet what’s going on; news reports show the Crows security firm peppering Batwoman with bullets, and the citizens of Gotham rally for Batwoman and against the Crows. Alice gets to meet the new, inexperienced Batwoman, and flips the script on her.
I hate Bats
We’re getting into hard spoilers here, so skip ahead a few paragraphs if you want to see for yourself what happens. We’ve watched multiple times throughout Batman’s comic, cartoon, and cinematic career as he uses bats as a tool in his bottomless belt. After poisoning Mouse, Alice tempts a cloud of bats into attacking his dead body and then, using the same high-frequency trick Batman has used so many times, summons the mass onto the rallied citizens. forcing Wilder to get creative.
Wilder finally gets behind the wheel of the Batmobile. Like the 1989 Batmobile, this one is based on a Corvette. Though where that one used a Corvette body and an Impala chassis, this one is more or less a straight-up Corvette C7 with modifications. While Batwoman’s tone is hardly the same as the upcoming Matt Reeves film, it feels right that the Batmobile here is a bit more grounded in reality than ones we’ve seen in movies like The Dark Knight and Justice League. Those were awesome, but they’d feel out of place in the CWverse, which is necessarily much smaller scale, and feels like some of the more intimate, realistic Batmobiles we’ve seen in the comics, and I’m finding myself hoping it plays a big role in the episodes to come.
The Next Big Bad
While Batwoman is saving the city from the cloud of infected bats, Alice uses the time to put some wheels in motion. The end of the previous season hinted at a dangerous woman named Safiyah who appeared in the Batwoman comics just a few years ago. Safiyah, Alice, and Kate are all tied together in the comic books; Wilder upsets the potential for that emotional triangle, most likely. But Wilder’s entrance could allow Alice to step into a more gray role, forcing Batwoman and Julia Pennyworth to work with her to stop a much bigger threat. And that could play off of Wilder’s vendetta against Alice, which she states in this episode in no uncertain terms.
Around Alice and Ryan, other characters continue to develop. Mary is still the smartest person in whatever room she’s in, and the show has largely discarded her previous socialite disguise at this point. She’s part-time doctor, part-time Batwoman ally, and she gets to have engaging, tense conversations with her own step-father, Jacob Kane, and with Alice, where she doesn’t seem like a kid out of her depth. Sophie, too, seems to be growing and making decisions for herself. She was pretty flat last season, and it seems like she’s finally starting to come to life.
Last season, Jacob’s arc felt exhausted right from the start. Jacob is largely supportive of his daughter’s vigilante work in the comics, and this whole fanatical hunt thing was tired before it even started. Here, the show either has a more interesting reason to continue that hunt, or an opportunity to finally drop it so that Jacob can do things other than brood. Lucas, meanwhile, has been pretty uninteresting so far, and I hope the show gives him a bit more to do than be nervous, overly cautious, and smart. We’ve had plenty of that by this point.
This isn’t a promise of a great show to come, but there are a lot of interesting pieces here if the show can truly discard the baggage of the television version of Kate Kane. I still think they should’ve just re-cast her. But I want to see what Alice and Jacob do about the “impostor” wearing the suit, how Ryan adapts to and customizes it, and where else the show can go as it gets past the Kate-Alice relationship. There’s potential here, perhaps more than the first season’s pilot. Javicia Leslie seems to want the role in a way Rose never did, and that makes her character easy to get behind. Now the show just has to make the rest of it work by doing interesting things with the characters.
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