There’s a right way to interrogate the legacy of Batman and his army of adversaries in Gotham City, and there are hundreds of wrong ways. Batwoman is stumbling through the idea with a weird premise: none of these villains are responsible for who they are. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 3, Episode 7, “Pick Your Poison.”
“Pick Your Poison”
DOUBLE TROUBLE — As Ryan’s (Javicia Leslie) family dynamic grows more complicated, she also finds herself in the middle of a Bat Team stand-off between Luke (Camrus Johnson) and Mary (Nicole Kang). Meanwhile, Alice (Rachel Skarsten) finds a new sidekick to do her bidding.
I keep bringing this up, and they just keep doing it. Why is every villain’s condition now communicable (except Mr. Freeze and the Mad Hatter)? Croc, Poison Ivy, and now Joker.
Batwoman has been hinting for a few weeks now that Marquis Jet, Ryan’s half-brother, developed a psychotic disorder when the original Joker pressed his electric prank buzzer. This week, Marquis made his big move, forcing Ryan to give up control of Wayne Enterprises. When next we saw him, he was sporting an orange suit and purple-dyed hair, telling the press about how he just wanted to make the people of Gotham smile.
The problem with this repeated use of “what if old villain, but new” is that Batman’s villains are, almost universally, driven by ironic tragedy, or meant to reflect against Batman in some way. These cases of transmissible villainitis do a disservice to the original villains and bring no special meaning to the new ones.
Joke’s on us
Last week it was Mary’s transformation into Poison Ivy. Now, Marquis is apparently the Joker. It’s not that you couldn’t make an interesting story about someone imitating the Joker. But Batwoman has turned this season into a hamster wheel of new characters becoming old villains and then wildly misunderstanding what made that villain special. Mary and Marquis’ transformations are both extremely personal. With Batman villains, it’s almost never personal until Batman gets in the way a couple of times. These villains in Batwoman seem to just reinforce that this is a “CW show,” filled with characters with really simple, petty motivations.
Right now, Marquis just looks like a vengeful, amoral businessman with a weird sense of style. He’s an adversary for Ryan, but not for Batwoman, and his motivations are very personal. For Joker, it’s never personal in the same way; Batman is a playmate for him, more than anything. He’s an antagonist for Batman in that he literally antagonizes him; he’s not trying to accomplish anything or teach a lesson. Marquis wants to show all the doubters. He has something to prove. Also, this dude walked into Wayne Enterprises, grabbed a pen with his bare hand, and stabbed a guy in the neck. Even if the police are corrupt, how is that not addressed?
With Mary, I can’t help but think of this moment in Army of Darkness, the 1993 horror-comedy sequel to Evil Dead 2. The female lead is captured by Evil Ash, and is turned into a ghastly version of her former self. She says “I may be bad, but I feel good.” It’s a hammy line, because every line in that movie is hammy. Mary gives off the same vibe, but it doesn’t seem intentional. She’s just being mustache-twirlingly evil and petty all of a sudden. And even after this episode, there’s still no meaning to what she’s doing. She doesn’t have a quest, she’s just mad at her friends and wants to be her own person. You don’t need a plant-based infection to do that.
I’m also normally a big defender of Arrowverse costuming. I think the Flash costume has, with the exception of the Year of No Chinstrap, been pretty good. I liked Supergirl’s costumes, and Batwoman’s is very good as well. But Ivy’s feels like cosplay, and not particularly special cosplay.
All of this makes it really hard to get invested in the rest of the show. At this point, it no longer feels like much of a Gotham story. It’s just costume drama. It’s hugely disappointing.