Batwoman Season 1 Episode 1 “Pilot”
Director: Marcos Siega
Starring: Ruby Rose, Rachel Skarsten, Meagan Tandy, Nicole Kang, Camrus Johnson, Elizabeth Anweis, Dougray Scott,
Runtime: 42 minutes
After years of vague allusions and cheeky references The CW‘s Arrowverse is finally setting up shop full-time in Gotham City, only it’s not Bruce Wayne keeping the town’s mean streets safe, but rather his cousin Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman. After debuting with a cameo in last year’s Arrow/Flash/Supergirl crossover Elseworlds, Ruby Rose’s Kane started her own series with a solid premiere, although one that is not without a few flaws, many of which have come to be expected from the network’s superhero fare.
The Gotham of Batwoman looks decidedly different than most viewers will be used to. Bruce Wayne and Batman both vanished three years ago (no one puts two and two together, of course) and Kate’s father, Jacob (Dougray Scott), a retired military big wig, has founded the Crows, a private police force meant to protect the city better than the overwhelmed GCPD can. But the Crows themselves are being consistently outwitted by the mysterious, psychotic supervillain Alice (Rachel Skarsten), who leads a group of masked terrorists known as the Wonderland Gang and carries a grudge against Jacob for unknown reasons. When Alice kidnaps Crow agent Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy), Jacob’s second in command and Kate’s ex-girlfriend, Kate’s step-sister Mary (Nicole Kang) calls her back to Gotham (Kate’s been away for several years training in tactics and survival in hopes of herself joining the Crows).
The Kate Kane version of Batwoman is one of the most celebrated lesbian icons in comics both for the way in which she is unabashedly open about her sexuality and because the writing of most of her appearances is balanced enough not to make it her defining characteristic and based on the pilot the greatest success of the TV show is in how it replicates that mix. Generally speaking, this is probably the CW superhero pilot that sticks closest to its specific source material. Jacob, Alice, and Sophie are all characterized in similar manners to their comic counterparts. The details of the deaths of Kate’s mother and twin sister are altered somewhat to include Batman and the Joker but this doesn’t really affect their emotional or thematic impacts. And the latter part of Kate’s origin, in which she is kicked out of military school for refusing to renounce her relationship with Sophie, is directly translated. More importantly, the show correctly understands the emotional ramifications of this experience. Kate Kane is a soldier. It’s a fundamental part of her being that she is forced to abandon in exchange for maintaining pride in her sexuality. Taking on the mantle of the Bat offers an outlet for this misplaced part of her identity and in recognizing this the show gives Kate one of the more compelling superhero origins on TV. Rather than the vaguely defined altruism of The Flash or Supergirl, Kate’s reasons for crime-fighting are deeply rooted in her psychology.
Rose still hasn’t shown that she’ll be as captivatingly expressive a lead as Stephen Amell or Melissa Benoist or as suave and charismatic as Caity Lotz but this pilot gives her more well-rounded material with which to work than Elseworlds did and she does a good job of bringing several different sides of Kate to life. Some of her most compelling work is in the beats that highlight Kate’s snarky sense of humor and the more vulnerable moments featured in the flashbacks to the don’t ask, don’t tell situation. Among the supporting cast, Skarsten and Kang are the clear standouts. The former’s unhinged performance results in the episode’s most innately watchable scenes. Kang benefits from the well-done reveal that Mary is more than just an airheaded influencer (she’s also a dedicated medical student who runs a free clinic to make up for the city’s poor healthcare).
The rest of the show is a bit more of a mixed bag. Scott is appropriately stoic and gruff but I’m concerned at whether he’ll be able to soften up at all when the time comes. The CW-mandated love triangle carries a little more weight than usual, like the reveal that Sophie is married to a guy heavily implies she is still in the closet (she could be bi, of course, but that doesn’t seem like the direction the show is going) but it still feels superfluous. Visually the show isn’t anything special either. There are some nice Chicago exteriors that recall Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy but like everything else, they’re hampered somewhat by the dull gray color palette. The show also hasn’t seemed to decide whether it wants its action scenes to be more gritty and realistic or if it should try to match Arrow’s bombastic choreography. Either approach is fine but by not committing to either it leaves the fights feeling lifeless.
But these are all kinks that the show can iron out in time. The important thing is that this hour sells Kate’s story as one well worth watching. The Arrowverse creators have shown the capability to repair and refine the shows as they go on so long as the heroes’ core journeys are compelling. Hopefully, they can do so here because if so, The CW may very well have another superhero hit on its hands.
Batwoman Season 1 Episode 1
Batwoman joins the ranks of The CW superheroes with a premiere that impresses despite a few flaws.