This Batwoman review contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 1.
Batwoman Season 2, Episode 1
The freshman season of Batwoman made for a perfectly fine show with a serviceable story and people who undoubtedly can act, but inexplicably chose not to. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t exactly good either, existing in some kind of nebulous, mediocre middle ground that can be a dangerous place for series to linger too long in the era of peak TV. Still, The CW show put a queer female superhero on our television screens every week, which somehow still feel progressive despite the fact that gay people were invented centuries ago. Then, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) donned a modified and bewigged batsuit and rose to folk hero status as Batwoman in Berlanti’s vision of Gotham City. Now, Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) is stepping into her bulletproof boots, and facing off with new and familiar foes.
Ruby Rose announced her departure from Batwoman after the end of season one, which left the show’s writers with a challenge, and more than a few loose ends. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—Kate’s presumed death in a plane crash at the top of this episode wraps up her story quite succinctly. It is surprisingly easy for the writers to make room for a new lead without disrupting the larger narrative in any substantial way. This should be upsetting, Kate should feel more integral to the show, but I wasn’t very invested in her, and it seems neither was the plot.
In the inadvertent season one finale, Kate’s dad and leader of the Crows pretended to ally with Batwoman, but pulled the okey doke and tried to capture or kill her instead. Sadly, we won’t get to see this family drama play out, but there is still storytelling potential in Jacob discovering the truth about Kate and reckoning with what that means now that she’s gone. (It’ll be interesting to see how they play the Crows vs. Batwoman dynamic now that the woman behind the cowl is Black.) With Kate’s death, Alice’s plan for familial revenge is ruined. She gave Tommy Elliot Bruce’s face so he could procure kryptonite for her that she would then give to Jacob, who would kill Batwoman, presumably before realizing she is his daughter. As revenge plots go, it is brilliant. Unfortunately, as we learn at the end of the episode, Safiyah beat Alice to the punch by taking down the plane. Now, Alice has a new nemesis, and we have a new Batwoman.
Kate’s plane crashes near where Ryan is parked in the van she lives in. She examines the wreckage, saves someone with CPR, and finds the Batsuit. She immediately has plans for what she’s going to do with that newfound power, and she wastes no time getting after it. We learn pretty much everything about Ryan Wilder—through flashbacks, google searches, and the obligatory CW superhero monologue. Ryan’s birth mom died in childbirth and her dad wasn’t around. She was raised in the system, where she got into trouble, until she was adopted, and turned her life around. She and her mom moved to a nice(r) apartment, but squatters attacked them, and her mom died. Later, she was framed and convicted for drug possession with intent and incarcerated for 18 months. She can’t find work because of her record and she can’t pay her court fees because she can’t find a job, and she lives in a van.
*deep, heavy, negro spiritual sigh* This is where I digress …
Ryan Wilder is damn near a full board on the trauma bingo, and doesn’t even need the free space. My excitement when Javicia’s Leslie was cast was immediately dampened by my concern with how she would be introduced to the audience. The character bio they attached to the announcement did not assuage my fear that the Black, queer superhero would be reduced to overcoming a tough childhood or a “troubled” past. It felt inevitable, yet I was disappointed to be right. Still, I reserved judgement til I could see for myself how those choices shape the character.
Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane are rich, privileged, white folks whose problems will never threaten their comfort or security. Ryan Wilder comes from poverty and violence, and is an extreme departure from her vigilante counterparts. On the one hand, it feels more apt for someone to wear the suit who has lived in the Gotham that the Waynes And Kanes of the world can ignore from their penthouses. On the other, Black women can have trust funds, too.
All I’m saying is, choices were made. And this episode leans into the worst of those choices, when we flash back to the death of Ryan’s adoptive mom multiple times throughout. It isn’t the most violent death, and it is an effective tool for telling this particular story. We can immediately empathize with Ryan because we know what she’s been through and what she’s lost, but there are ways to motivate her that don’t require her trauma being played on a loop in her own head and on our screens. But I won’t dwell on this if the show won’t—and I hope they won’t—but writers need to examine why they assign certain attributes to characters when they are portrayed by certain people. Is all I’m saying.
Ryan suits up and seeks out leads on the people responsible for her mother’s murder, which just so happens to be the Wonderland gang, and Alice. This opens the door for an exciting rivalry, with both parties bringing an entirely different energy. Alice was a cute villain but her connection to Kate meant that there was a limit to how far she would go. She had many opportunities to kill her sister, and didn’t, so her threats became somewhat hollow even though she did a lot of other damage. This season, though, Kate is gone and Alice has neither her, nor Mouse, to keep her grounded. Alice unbound could be very fun, and with the way her story intersects with Ryan’s, there’s a lot of potential for conflict and some really great showdowns. Bring in Safiyah, who also has Julia Pennyworth on her shit list, and it’s a regular ruckus.
What I enjoy most about this episode is how seamlessly Ryan is pulled into the existing narrative, and how comfortable Leslie looks in the role. Leslie doesn’t feel like a replacement; she feels like a correction. Ryan is more fun to watch, and has a bit more chemistry with Mary and Luke. She’s also queer and Sophie is out of the closet, and I’d be very happy to see a healthy Black queer couple, though shipping is not the point. I’m already more invested in Ryan than I ever was with Kate. That will not be the universal experience, but Julia Pennyworth is still there if you need badass sapphic white girl representation.
Ryan wants justice and she, for the first time, has the power to obtain some version of it. But she’s a hero, or will be, and ultimately decides that the suit and what it represents is bigger than her and her personal vendettas. She’s someone worth rooting for, and I am ready to see what she has to offer. There is so much potential for compelling storytelling, and I am hesitant but hopeful that this season of Batwoman will deliver.