The Arrowverse or, as we’re apparently calling it now, the CWverse, often struggles with bringing characters to life, like when Rip Roar was turned from a New God in the comics to a crappy Doctor Octopus knockoff on Supergirl. This week, though, they delivered on the promise of bringing a Batman villain into the fold. The latest villain to face off against Batwoman is a great addition to the series and changes her for the better, too. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 2, Episode 3, “Bat Girl Magic!”
“Bat Girl Magic!”
This week, we meet Batman villain Victor Zsasz, the serial killer who marks his kills by scarring tally marks on his body, turning himself into a living chalkboard tracking exactly how many people he’s killed. We meet him first in a cold open, but he plays a significant role throughout the episode.
Ryan is still getting her footing as Batwoman, and already we’re seeing sides of her life that make her potentially a much more interesting Batwoman than Kate Kane. For Kate, her job as a real estate magnate was purely set dressing. The show barely dealt with it, and Kate seemed to have a single-minded focus on her life as Batwoman, despite the fact that she was constantly doubting it. But Ryan isn’t a billionaire coming back from a training sabbatical–she’s a paroled ex-con living in her van. And so far, the show is leaning into that.
Living a double life
Ryan can’t, for example, say that she was unavailable at a given time because she was on a yacht in the Maldives. She has to check in with her parole officer on the regular and, further, she has to have enough of a real life for that officer to examine it in detail and have it hold up. That leads to Ryan sort of hiring herself as a bartender at Kate’s bar, the Hold Up, now under Mary’s stewardship. That includes the fact that Ryan needs to live in a place the officer can find, and that it, too, be a believable spot. She can’t bunk up in the Batcave or move into Kate’s penthouse, in other words. She needs a place she can believably afford, and that leads to what might be the first time a CWverse show has had a conversation about money and living wages.
Ryan lives on one side of the coin, and Batwoman on the other. Ryan’s 18-month stint in Blackgate not only made her a lot of friends she can call on later, but it also means that she’ll have familiarity with many of Gotham’s worst in a way that the socialite Mary and computer geek Luke would not. Ryan clocks Zsasz the moment she sees him, and is even able to use her time in prison as a way to con Zsasz out of some crucial info.
Be your own Batwoman
Zsasz clocks something about Batwoman when he meets her, too. We’ll get into him a bit more in a moment, but crucial to Ryan’s development is the way Zsasz looks at her calmly and assesses her, noting that she’s a Black woman wearing a white woman’s outfit, right down to the wig. Ryan is wearing the Batwoman suit, but it’s not her suit. She’s awkward in it, with ill-fitting boots and a seat-of-the-pants education on gadgets thanks to Luke’s reticence to accept her as Batwoman. He points out, pretty cleverly, what Ryan already knows: if she wants to be Batwoman, she has to start thinking of herself as Batwoman and making the identity her own, leading Ryan to make some key changes to the suit that make it clear she’s still Batwoman, but that there’s now someone else inside the suit.
Getting the villain right
That brings us to Zsasz himself. Batwoman has had a bunch of villains from her own comics throughout its run, brought in a few D or E-tier Batman villains, and has name-dropped characters like Scarecrow. Zsasz is a proper Batman villain, and the first one the show gets somewhat right after its very strange (and bad) treatment of Hush at the tail end of season 1. Zsasz is truly covered in scars from head to toe, and the make-up artists went hogwild applying the scarring to actor Alex Morf’s body, suggesting that Victor’s body count is well into the triple digits.
Morf plays the character just grounded enough that you can imagine him blending in society for a while. He’s physical and fast, but deceptively so. But he can go over the top, too, when faced with a dangerous opponent. He doesn’t play him quite as demented as Zsasz is in the comics, but he feels like he’s not unhinged only because he chooses to be in that moment. I’d love to see Morf come back again to play the character. Zsasz is one of those baddies that can’t quite keep up with a Bat but can give them trouble, making him perfect for a recurring role.
While Ryan and Zsasz are fighting, Sophie wakes up next to Alice. No, it’s not like that. Last week ended with the two knocked out, and when they wake up they’re on the island where Safiyah lives. The show complicates Alice’s backstory, putting her with Safiyah for part of the time after her escape from her childhood captor and before she began butting heads with Batwoman.
But also, the show introduces a strange concept. Safiyah tells Alice that not only is Kate alive, but that Kate is in her possession. But for, we’d wager, most Batwoman viewers, this seems pretty strange. Kate’s not gone because she was kidnapped, she’s gone because her actor ducked out the role and the writers had to come up with a new character. Kate’s not just dead, she’s the kind of dead you can’t resurrect.
And so most of us watching already know that this is a lie that Safiyah is feeding both Alice and Sophie. There’s little tension in it. If it was clear that Kate really definitely is dead and that Safiyah was leading the two along to her own ends, that might feel different. Here, it feels like show is trying to whip up tension that its own viewers know is trumped up, a telegraphed feint.
On the other hand, it’s possible that Ruby Rose could make a cameo later in the season. That would feel hollow, though, after her exit from the show, and it seems pretty unlikely that the people at the CW want to put Rose on camera again anytime soon.
I’m not sure yet if I’m enjoying this season of Batwoman for the same reason I was still figuring out my feelings at this point last season. We’re still getting to know Batwoman, and so are the other characters. We’re setting groundwork. If Rose had stayed on as Kate Kane, we would’ve been off to the races with the characters picking up where they left off. But we’re in Season 1 all over again. Zsasz went a long way toward making this episode entertaining, both thanks to Morf’s performance as the killer and to the way the writing for that character helped bring Batwoman to life.