We’ve been waiting so long for the official debut of Batwoman on the CW that the first episode of her series, debuting tonight on the CW, doesn’t feel like a pilot as much as it does the return of a character we already know – and already love. We’ve been excited for this series since it was announced last year at SDCC that Kate Kane would be making her screen debut and her introduction was one of several highlights in the Arrowverse Elseworlds crossover last fall. This year at Comic Con, watching the pilot with a packed, ecstatic audience in ballroom 20 was incredible fun and now the rest of the world finally gets to see what all the excitement is about. And believe me friends, there’s a lot in Batwoman to be excited about.
Now, I’ll admit, as a red-headed, queer lady who likes a dramatic cape myself, I’m a bit biased when it comes to Kate Kane. Greg Rucka’s Batwomas: Elegy was one of the first (and only) comics I ever bought, and I’m a big fan of the Arrowverse in general. Still, a great character from the comics joining a great on-screen universe isn’t always a sure thing – just ask Hawkgirl. I’m happy to report however that Batwoman has everything about the Arrowverse and the source material that we love.
For one it has atmosphere, and one that’s entirely different from its sister shows. Batwoman plops us into a Gotham that’s fully as fully realized as Star city or National City, if not more so. It’s dark, gothic, dangerous and crumbling. It’s a place with history and serious problems – specifically that Batman has been missing for a few years, and weirdly so had billionaire Bruce Wayne (wonder if there’s a connection).
Things are so bad in Gotham that the police force has been essentially privatized in the form of the Crows, a security force fun by Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott). At the symbolic shutting down of the bat-signal, one of Kane’s lieutenants is captured by the new villain in town – Alice (Rachel Skarsten). That Crow is Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy), who just happens to be the ex of Jacob’s daughter Kate (Ruby Rose). If this attack seems very targeted, that’s because it is.
Kate’s been out of Gotham for years, training to be a stone cold bad ass and join the Crows, but Sophie’s abduction gets her back into town and, as you might expect, disagreements between dad and daughter lead Kate to her cousin Bruce’s old place and…well, you can guess what she finds. Along for this ride are Kate’s step-mother (and Gotham official) Catherine Hamilton-Kane ( Elizabeth Anweis) and step-sister Mary (Nicole Kang). And then there’s a friendly Wayne Enterprises employee by the name of Luke Fox (Cadmus Johnson) who helps Kate with all that bat-tech.
There’s a lot in the pilot of Batwoman, from backstory on Kate and her family, to establishing what the situation is in Gotham, but it’s paced well enough that it’s not too overwhelming, and the run time manages to squeeze in some great action and big surprises that I won’t spoil. There’s some clunky narration that I don’t think is needed, and I’m not quite sure when all this is happening in relation to what we’ve already seen of Batwoman in Elseworlds, which is also distracting. But I’m sure at some point we’ll establish that this is all happening before Kate met Kara, Barry and Oliver, as well as more connective tissue to the rest of the universe.
But as of now, Batwoman works entirely on its own and very well. Ruby Rose is soft butch perfection as Kate, boasting a mix of swagger and vulnerability that really helps you believe this is the kind of person that would dawn a cowl and cape to solve her problems. She has some stiff moments in the pilot, but even by episode two she’s warmed int the role and she makes Kate into something unique an believable. But what really makes a superhero succeed is the strength of the ensemble that supports them and the supporting cast of Batwoman prove that with real excellence.
Scott and Anweis are great as the parental generation, and I love that theirs in one of multiple inner-racial relationships on the show. Scott in particular shows Jacob as both a concerned father and flawed leader. Johnson is twitchy fun as Fox, filling in the Felicity-Cisco-Wynn back-up role an making it his own. But the two big standouts for me are Skarsten and Kang.
Rachel Skarsten is an actress I’ve loved for years, from Lost Girl to Reign and all the way back to Birds of Prey, and she steals every scene she’s in as Alice. She’s frightening and compelling, yet still pitiable; and so much fun to watch. As for Kang, I simply adore her and Mary. Mary Hamilton, first seems to be a vapid, social-media obsessed cliché, but she very quickly shows surprising depth and strength and will very likely be a key ally for Kate and Batwoman as the series goes on. I love that she comes into the pilot as a multi-layered character and that she’s and Anweis are adding to the growing list of Asian women in television.
Speaking of diversity, it’s worth noting that the pilot is very, very gay and the fact that Kate is a lesbian is both key to the plot and who she is; but isn’t her only defining characteristic. Her relationship with Sophie is key to everything, and Rose and Tandy’s chemistry is off the charts great. The fact that Batwoman isn’t the first or even the tenth queer character in the Arrowverse really does make a difference – her queerness is simply part of her and the world, and it’s never treated with sensationalism or prurience. It simply is and that’s so great to watch as a queer viewer.
I’ll freely admit that Batwoman isn’t for everyone – because no show is for everyone. It’s a comic book superhero show on the CW…can comic book superhero shows on the CW are great fun. It’s the perfect companion to Supergirl, with a more mature and darker tone compared to the girl of steel. If you’re a fan of the Arrowverse, or just women kicking ass and being generally great, you’re for sure going to enjoy Batwoman. As I noted, there is a lot in the pilot, but, having seen further episodes, I can assure that as things slow down and we going deeper into the plot and characters (and Rachel Maddow is around?!), things only get better. This is the beginning of something big, and we’re very excited its finally here for us all to enjoy together.
Batwoman premiers Sunday, October 6th at 9:00 p.m. after the season premiere of Supergirl on the CW.
(featured image: Elizabeth Morris/The CW)
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