Final Thoughts On Batwoman Season 1
by Erik Amaya
Going into the first season of The CW’s Batwoman, we expected it to take Arrow‘s place as the “grounded” action show among its Arrowverse cousins. But we did not expect it to make many of Arrow‘s same Season 1 mistakes. Then again, none of these shows really take the lessons of their fore-bearers to heart.
Arrow, in its first year, was an off mixture of the network’s two previous hits: Smallville and Gossip Girl. In the attempt to serve both tones, viewers watched as Laurel (Katie Cassidy) was offered the romantic choices of Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) — leaving the character under-served in her own right as the audience identified the tension between Oliver and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) as the more interesting dynamic. The show was also strangely sheepish about introducing bold faced DC Comics characters. But it would learn from these missteps and deliver a phenomenal second season focused on Deathstroke (Manu Bennet) and a new vision of Black Canary.
The Flash‘s first year is probably the strongest of the lot as it showed no fear in introducing metahuman powers, time travel, or a villain called the Reverse-Flash. It also showed little fear in establishing a creepy sibling-yet-romantic(?) tension between Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) — an element of the show few are interested in recalling.
Supergirl‘s early episodes were rough. But by the time Barry crossed the Multiverse to meet Kara (Melissa Benoist) late in its first season, it had found many of its strengths and more solid roles for nearly all of the characters. The one listless member of the cast: Mehcad Brooks as Kara’s love interest James Olson. Notice the pattern yet?
Legends of Tomorrow‘s first season is so profoundly full of mistakes, we’re better off talking about them in a separate article. And now that Black Lightning is an Arrowverse show, it’s worth noting it had a strong first season even as it mishandled the relationship between Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) and his ex-wife, Dr. Lynn Stewart (Christine Adams). Curiously, the fractured marriage of the Pierces continues to be the weakest element of that series.
Except for The Flash and Black Lightning, each show struggled to find its voice as a superhero series throughout their respective first years — and each failed with its key romantic storyline. It is then all the stranger that Batwoman would manage to replicate nearly every mistake made by the earlier programs; suggesting little inter-office discussion between the production teams. Stuck between two crossovers (“Elseworlds” and “Crisis on Infinite Earths”), Batwoman was forced to tell an origin story in just four episodes. And though it established a number of key things like the club house, her costume, and her raison d’être, Kate Kane’s (Ruby Rose) personality was as much of a mystery in episode five as it was in her “Elseworlds” appearance a year earlier. Also, as we’ve made a big deal of the romantic subplots in these first seasons, her storyline with Sophie (Meagan Tandy) was full of indecision. Sure, Sophie herself later expressed these indecisive feelings, but it is clear the series intended for more of a love triangle between Kate, Sophie, and Sophie’s husband than eventually emerged. Chalk it up to a curse of sorts for the Arrowverse: once it writes “love interest” on the character sheet, it stops developing that character. Well, at least in the first season.
Wisely, the series recognized its strength was in the twisted family dynamic between Kate and Alice (Rachel Skarsten). While something of a Joker analogue in the early goings, her backstory with Kate and Skarsten’s performance quickly made her the reason to watch. Indeed, its strongest episode to date featured Skarsten as both Alice and an un-traumatized Beth Kane from another Earth. In focusing on this relationship, though, it made the supporting cast feel a little too crowded. Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) has little more to do most weeks than bark and grumble. Sophie, sadly, often felt unnecessary. And then there’s Catherine Hamilton (Elizabeth Anweis), a character so extraneous, her death is now little more than a footnote for the characters to sometimes call upon for grief points.
But the series also quickly identified which supporting characters were working and offered both Luke (Camrus Johnson) and Mary (Nicole Kang) memorable scenes early on and stronger material in the Post-“Crisis” run. Along with Rose as Kate, the three are a likeable team; not unlike the Old Team Arrow in that show’s first season. It’s just a shame Mary became a full member so late in the season. Then again, as Batwoman has repeated a number of Arrowverse mistakes, it is no accident Kate tries to keep her identity a secret from almost everyone. It’s a natural story beat for superhero shows, but feels unavoidable cliche on an Earth-Prime where Barry Allen regularly reveals himself to the villain.
Which brings us to the season’s unintentional endpoint. Only two major characters are unaware of Batwoman’s real name: Sophie and Jacob. The case could be made that Sophie is denying the truth to herself, but Jacob’s lack of knowledge clearly plays into where the show wanted to leave things before the COVID-19 pandemic prevented production on the final handful of episodes. When the show returns, he will, presumably, unmask Batwoman and deal with the fallout. We hope it makes him a stronger character as he is, ultimately, the weakest aspect of the series. Yes, even weaker than Sophie. She at least received an episode focused on her reasons for staying in the closet and offered her some much-needed interiority and texture.
Nevertheless, there is something to work with within Batwoman. Rose has become markedly better at playing a TV hero across the season, Skarsten is an indispensable resource, and there are at least two supporting characters worth spending time with. It remains to be seen if its second season can be as strong as Arrow‘s, but the swiftness with which it recognized strengths will definitely yield a more satisfying sophomore run.
Batwoman returns in January on The CW.