Batwoman -- “Mad As A Hatter” -- Image Number: BWN301b_0152r -- Pictured (L-R): Javicia Leslie as Batwoman -- Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Batwoman and Titans are two very different takes on Batman mythology that nevertheless run into the same problem: Telling a Batman story without Batman in it is really tough, and the writers have to contend with how to handle Batman’s vast rogues’ gallery without it feeling like fanservice. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 3, Episode 1, “Mad as a Hatter.”

“Mad as a Hatter”

SEASON PREMIERE — As Batwoman (Javicia Leslie) continues to keep the streets of Gotham safe, Batwing (Camrus Johnson) joins in on the action, but Luke quickly realizes he hasn’t quite mastered his suit. Meanwhile, as Alice (Rachel Skarsten) sits hopelessly imprisoned in Arkham, Sophie (Meagan Tandy) fully enjoys her freedom. When Ryan pays Alice a visit to ask about the bombshell she dropped — that Ryan’s birth mother is still alive — Ryan must decide if she should go down the rabbit hole of her past. As Mary (Nicole Kang) prepares to finally graduate from medical school, she feels the absence of her family more than ever. But when an Alice admirer stumbles upon one of the missing Bat Trophies, Gotham and the Bat Team get mixed up in the madness, culminating in a shockingly gruesome graduation–and an equally shocking new partnership.

The invasion of the Batcave by a brainwashed Kate Kane last season resulted in many of Batman’s trophies literally floating down the river, including Poison Ivy’s greenery, the Penguin’s umbrella, and more. As we pick up this season, someone is selling a top hat of note online, and it’s not long before it ends up on someone’s head.

Decades

Whereas the Legends of Tomorrow premiere played pretty close to the vest with its mysteries, Batwoman lays out just about everything we can expect from Season 3. The season will, in part, be about how Batwoman handles Batman’s legacy. We learn just how far back that legacy goes, too, and find out how the current crop of heroes and villains will play into it.

Batman, it turns out, took the Mad Hatter down over 20 years ago. That means that when Oliver Queen donned the green hood in 2012, Batman had already been active for over a decade. This seems like a really weird decision. Are we really being asked to believe that Gotham had all these strange villains and a masked vigilante and somehow no one outside of Gotham knew about it for two decades? I’m not one to get nitpicky about canon; canon overcomplicates individual stories, and I’ll let the writers play fast and loose, but this is less “loose” and more “flying completely off the handle.” The specificity of the number just makes the secret of Batman that much more implausible.

The New Mad Hatter

With that said, it gives us a way to look back at the Hatter and compare him to Alice. The person who buys the hat isn’t Jervis Tetch–he’s either locked up or dead, and the show doesn’t spend any time making us wonder if a geriatric villain is going to come hobbling out on a walker. This guy, Liam Crandle, is a fake who got lucky. But he’s a scary fake who figures out quickly what he has in his hands and makes use of it to his own ends. Two aspects of this character worked really well for me.

The first is that he’s obsessed with the currently-imprisoned Alice, giving us a good reason why there should be another villain inspired by Lewis Caroll roaming around Gotham. They don’t try to suggest that it’s his own idea, though this does mean that three villains have called Gotham their home and Carroll their inspiration. You know that book has to be banned in Gotham schools.

The other is that Liam is frustrated with the way the medical establishment has shaped his life. This and the previous aspect come together when Liam shows up at Mary’s graduation ceremony and forces her to first decry said establishment, and then to begin operating on her mentor, removing one organ from him at a time until he dies. It’s pretty gruesome for a CW show, but even once Mary is free, she has to begrudgingly admit that Liam had some good points, even if he went about them in the most macabre way possible. That the medical establishment quickly shuffles off ‘crazy’ people, that someone’s life can be ruined by a bill or a sheet of paper. That oftentimes, cries for help are ignored, and instead, judgment and punishment are meted out through denial.

It feels like a smart way to marry the past and present of the Mad Hatter and Gotham without turning the character into a season-long villain.

Jim Gordon’s Gotham

This also becomes an in-road for the show’s newest long-term addition to the cast, Renee Montoya. The Batman: The Animated Series character, played by the same actress who played her on Gotham, is an old-school detective in the city. With Some of Batman’s exploits reaching back two decades, people seem to be forgetting about them.

This is pretty weird, too; the city was just besieged by a masked gang of criminals, and before that was flooded by diseased bats. How are people forgetting about supervillains? It’s so bad that when Montoya approaches the city’s new mayor about the appearance of these supervillain artifacts, the mayor makes fun of her as if she was the city’s own Fox Mulder searching for crazy legends. Montoya asks if the mayor wants the city to look like “Jim Gordon’s Gotham” again, a statement that makes her blood run cold.

These are evocative ideas, but it seems like it puts them totally out of step with the rest of the Arrowverse. We’ll see if they’re interesting enough to make Batwoman stand alone and make me want to dismiss that concern.

Alice Isn’t Dead

Alice, of course, is still alive and kicking in Arkham Asylum, where she is happily receiving postcards from Jacob Kane. We as viewers know that Kane isn’t coming back because Dougray Scott unceremoniously left the show at the end of last season. Mad Hatter’s obsession with Alice means that Batwoman has to break Alice out of Arkham, and it’s then that we find out that Alice has been hallucinating the postcards–the cards plastered all over her wall are magazine cutouts, advertisements, and nothing more. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Alice is deeply damaged, and definitely not to be trusted, but she never struck me as someone who would hallucinate.

There’s stuff I definitely liked in this episode, but some of the specifics they’re offering are bumping up against things we know about Gotham and the Arrowverse. This is kind of the same problem that Star Wars and the MCU have–when you have too many concurrent data points, it makes adding new data harder and harder. By fleshing out Gotham’s history, the show contradicts a lot of established Arrowverse stuff. The “crazy alice” turn is also one I’m not fond of. She’s always been unhinged, but never quite like that. This will be an interesting season. Despite it being Season 3, it’s really the second season, and now the new Batwoman is established and has to prove herself.