Batwoman had a pretty big shadow over it. Much like Supergirl did at the beginning of its run, the shadow of Batman looms over the series.
Even with that, the show offers a lot of what fans expect to see from a story that takes place in Gotham: a family tragedy, strained relations, villains with more underneath the surface, cool gadgets, and a solitary figure dressed in black trying to protect a city on the brink the best they can.
The Arrowverse has been waiting years to tell a story in Gotham. With Batwoman‘s pilot, I can say that they have one with a lot of promise once it goes through new show growing pains.
If you ask me, judging a pilot is tricky business. They have a lot of information to get through, a lot of characters to introduce, and a concept to set up. They’re rarely perfect. Even if they start out perfect, then it’s hard for them to improve and get better.
Batwoman is not a perfect pilot. There are some pacing issues (Kate got over her dislike for Batman far too quick, for instance), character choices that come out of nowhere (Kate’s influencer stepsister is also a secret doctor!), and some clunky dialogue (the whole line about the suit being perfect when it fits a woman was a little cheesy). Those issues aside, there is a glimpse of a moody and affecting series that pays homage to Batman while also being its own thing.
Hopefully, over the course of the first season as the creative team settles in, we’ll get a more focused series.
One thing that the show did well is Batman’s absence. Superman was a shadow over Supergirl‘s first season. Someone that we would see in profile or over text, but never in person. It was explained as Clark wanting Kara to find her own two feet as a hero, but the question remained.
Here Batman and Bruce Wayne are missing and have been for years. They abandoned Gotham for parts unknown with the reason why being a mystery. Yeah, it will be something that show will have to address sooner or later, but, for now, we know that we won’t be seeing either anytime soon, which gives the writers a chance to focus on Kate (Ruby Rose) and her story without feeling the need to shoehorn in, like, a flyby Batman thumbs up or something.
The show also takes care with exploring its LGBTQ+ themes. The flashback scenes with Kate and Sophie (Meagan Tandy) at West Point are very affecting. Taking place before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the show shows that not all LGBTQ+ people are afforded the same opportunities. While Kate could take her discharge from West Point, Sophie couldn’t because she doesn’t have the same opportunities in this world as Kate, mainly because she’s a WoC and LGBTQ+. It’s a subtle scene, but demonstrates a reality a lot of people faced.
The character work is equally brilliant. Rachel Skarsten (who, incidentally, was on another series with a missing Batman – Birds of Prey) relishes her role as the villainous Alice. She swings on a dime with her emotions, giving the feel of someone who is dangerously in control of herself while teetering the edge of sanity. The rogues gallery for Batman is one of the best. Period. Populated by villains that are, largely, sympathetic and in need of help just as much as the people of Gotham are. (Except the Joker. But he’s a special case.) While fans of the Batwoman comics know the reveal of Alice being the believed to be dead sister of Kate Kane, the show unveils it right away. It’s honestly kind of refreshing. Sometimes superhero shows can waste their meatiest reveals or ideas until it’s too late.
The rest of the main cast settles into their roles. Camrus Johnson does a solid job as Luke Fox, showcasing a great chemistry and interplay with Rose. Tandy exuded competency as Sophie and the flashbacks were some of the best parts of the pilot. Dougray Scott, at times, gave a really fragile vulnerability to Jake Kane, showing someone who is scared to lose someone he loves so much. Nicole Kang gave my third favorite performance of the night (following Skarsten and Rose). Her Mary Hamilton was a great character and I love how she clearly wants a relationship with Kate. It’s nice to see stepsiblings on TV who care about each other.
We can’t end this review without talking about her title character. I haven’t seen Ruby Rose in anything before “Elseworlds” last year and now the Batwoman pilot. I think that she really makes the role her own. Her Kate can go from wry, snarky humor to badass to someone clearly trying to find a place in the world on a dime. It’s a really great performance. The Arrowverse has a great eye for casting its series leads and I think that Rose has really done an excellent job as Kate and immersing herself into the world. I like that while she can be a bit brooding at times, she doesn’t let it weigh her down too much. She can still crack a joke and be mischievous. I think that kind of levity is needed. People focus way too much on the brooding aspect of Gotham and the Batman mythos. It is a large part of it. So why not have its protector be a little light without being swallowed by the dark?
It’s not a perfect pilot, but the series is off to a pretty solid start. Honestly, with some work and sharpening that story, it could soar.
Like a bat.
PILOT GRADE: B
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