You can try to avoid it, but eventually it’ll get you. Despite being careful, I finally came down with COVID-19, and it knocked me out of writing for almost two weeks in January. While I’m pretty much caught up on other shows, Batwoman fell by the wayside. Instead of doing full reviews for each, we’re going to look at the rest of this Poison Ivy arc as a single piece. Spoilers follow for Batwoman Season 3, Episodes 8 – 11.
The Poison Ivy Arc
This third-second season of Batwoman has been a bumpy one, but it’s all been build-up to the reveal of Poison Ivy. We spent the first handful of episodes watching Batwoman clean up after her brainwashed predecessor’s mess, re-capturing copies of classic Batman villains, from a disgruntled man with the Mad Hatter hat to someone who got infected with Killer Croc’s affliction.
Most of it sucked. It felt like a half-assed attempt at letting Batwoman encounter some classic villains. Where things like The Flash season 1 and Supergirl Season 4 brought classic villains to life and gave them their own storylines, Batwoman has felt more like classic Arrow this season, when the show had to claw and scrape to use any explicit comic book characters and was instead mostly relegated to referencing them as easter eggs.
Instead of watching Batwoman fight the Mad Hatter, she fought just some guy wearing a hat. It felt cheap, and the logical leaps the show had to make to make the story work were disrespectful to the original characters. If Killer Croc and Poison Ivy’s conditions are communicable, then those powers are no longer commentaries on their mental states, they’re a thing that any character can borrow.
But unlike those other villains, Poison Ivy was actually cast–Pamela Isley would actually be a character in the show, lasting more than one episode. So how does the show deliver on this classic Batman character?
I tend to do a lot of apologizing for CW shows because I’m pretty happy that we get these serial-style comic book shows at all, and it’s obvious that the whole crew are doing their best with the budget and options they have. The end result with Poison Ivy is a bit of a mixed bag, though, and that’s partially to do with the tone of the show in general.
This take on Poison Ivy feels a bit like a more serious version of the one from the Harley Quinn cartoon. She’s much more human than some of the more cartoony takes, without taking away what makes her an interesting comic book character. This Poison Ivy is relentlessly focused on her goals, and she sees herself as the hero in her story. The character can manipulate people, but she’s not a hypersexual femme fatale here. While that is a frequent aspect of various Poison Ivy portrayals, it doesn’t feel nearly as crucial as her having a strong quest and the ability to manipulate people. This take on Ivy largely nails the character, but the rest of the show is still struggling.
That stretches even to Detective Renee Montoya, a character who first popped up in Batman: The Animated Series but who has become a frequent character in the comics and elsewhere. Weirdly, she’s played here by Victoria Cartagena, who played Montoya in Fox’s Gotham. I’m not a big fan of this version of Montoya. She was a cool badass throughout much of the story, but when the truth comes out we find out that she’s devoted to Poison Ivy to a fault, and it hamstrings the rest of her character.
Everyone wants attention
One theme Batwoman seems to keep coming back to is the idea of various team members not feeling valued by their partners. Luke, Mary, and Sophie have all expressed this same frustration, that they feel like Ryan is being overprotective of them, that the team doesn’t listen to them. For Mary to have this villainous turn feels cheap when the other characters are trying to handle themselves in less lethal ways, and–I’ve said this before–it really hurts the idea that Poison Ivy is the way she is because of who she is. The whole idea of transmitting these powers is rife with plot holes. Even setting that aside it, though, just weakens Poison Ivy’s story.
One of the biggest challenges for Batwoman in the comics, from a story and writing perspective, has been establishing her as being something other than off-brand Batman. The comics found ways to do this with characters like Alice, establishing her as having her own coterie of villains separate from Batman’s. By having her fight crappy off-brand versions of his villains over and over, from rip-off Mad Hatter to rip-off Joker, it only reinforces the notion that many Batman fans have about the character. It’s digging her deeper into a hole she already has trouble climbing out of.
In the background of all of this is the story of Marquis Jet turning into the Joker. This storyline works a little bit better than most of the copycat stories because the show is taking some time to develop why Marquis is the way he is. The Joker directly affected his brain, and he in turn idolizes the Joker. So he looks like a copycat because he intentionally is a copycat. He’s not just a guy who found a thing and got sick. The actor, Nick Creegan, is really going all-out to act unhinged, and at the very least he’s fun to watch. Both he and Poison Ivy show that the villains who get a chance to develop can at least be enjoyable even when the show around them is messy.
When these CW shows are focused, like Superman & Lois and Stargirl, they can do really fun, special things with their characters that movies can’t. You can’t deep dive into what it’s like for Superman to be a husband or for a teenager to be a superhero in a movie-sized experience. Where TV shows are limited in budget, movies are limited in time and, by extension, depth.
However, Batwoman is on the other end, with the last couple seasons of Supergirl and some seasons of The Flash and Arrow. It feels unfocused and lost–it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with its characters, whether that’s Batwoman herself, her crew, or her enemies. Jada Jet is being catty one minute and crying tearfully the next, and the show doesn’t really seem to treat that as being as manipulative as it really is. The show wants so badly for Sophie and Ryan to get together, but its struggled to give them time to develop meaningful chemistry.
When they end up in bed together at the end of episode 11, it doesn’t feel like this thing we’ve been cheering for and waiting for, it’s just a thing happening. It’s an Event which will lead to Drama. It feels like mechanical storytelling. I have no doubt that the writers behind the show care about these characters, and that the story beats feel strong in the writers’ room, but that isn’t making it to the screen.
This show deserves better
There are good parts here. Again, Poison Ivy is largely a plus to the show, even though I really don’t like how they handled Mary’s aspect of that arc. Zsasz has been entertaining in both of his appearances. Javicia Leslie is a good actress, and definitely seems to have the martial arts experience to do good work with the role. But the show leans too heavily on dramatic twists and doesn’t seem to know when its beats land and don’t land.
It’s frustrating, too, because I’m stoked to have a Bat show on the air. Shows like Gotham and Pennyworth are interesting in their own way, but I want capes and cowls and grappling hooks. But it continues to feel like Batwoman isn’t getting the love it deserves from the network that supposedly supports it.