Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 12, 2020)
With Gotham off the air, I guess DC Entertainment felt the need to launch another series that dealt with Batman lore. As such, Batwoman hit the CW Network in October 2019.
All 20 Season One episodes appear on this five-disc set. That fifth disc includes all five programs that comprise the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” “crossover event”, one that also included shows from Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.
The plot synopses come from the package’s insert. Here’s the Blu-ray’s general blurb to introduce Batwoman:
“Kate Kane never planned to be Gotham’s new vigilante. After Batman disappeared, Gotham was in despair. Until she returned.”
“Armed with a passion for justice and a flair for speaking her mind, she soars through the shadowed streets of Gotham as Batwoman. But don’t call her a hero yet. In a city desperate for a savior, she must first overcome her own demons before becoming Gotham’s symbol of hope.”
Pilot: “Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) returns to Gotham City.”
Like most pilots, this one needs to achieve a lot in its limited time. We learn a bit about the main characters, as the episode sets them up as well as scenarios and conflicts.
Though it attempts to pack too much into its 42 minutes, “Pilot” still becomes a good launch to the series. It can feel like a two-hour film whittled down by two-thirds, but it offers enough action and intrigue to start matters well.
The Rabbit Hole: ‘Kate is haunted by her sister’s tragic death.”
On one hand, I’m glad the pilot offered a big reveal that felt predictable, as I feared the series would stretch out that tease much longer than it did. On the other hand, I worry that S1 will devolve into too much family melodrama, as a lot of “Hole” follows that path. Still, it comes with enough action to keep us engaged.
Down, Down, Down: “Bruce Wayne’s friend Tommy Elliott (Gabriel Mann) visits Kate.”
Boy, these shows sure come with vague synopses at times, don’t they? That overview fails to relate that Tommy offers a super-wealthy rival and a potential Bat-foe. He doesn’t seem like the most interesting character, but at least he branches the series away from its relentless focus on Alice (Rachel Skarsten), so that acts as a good change of pace.
Who Are You?: “Batwoman tracks a new villain, Magpie (Rachel Matthews)”.
With Magpie’s presence, I hoped “Who” would separate from the oppression of the constant emphasis on Alice. Alas, Magpie barely registers, as she comes and goes with nary a whimper. Some of the character moments in “Who” work, but I sure wish we’d get a little more villain-related diversity.
Mine Is a Long and Sad Tale: “Alice recounts her tragic life after the accident.”
Any hopes S1 will eventually become less Alice-centric remain on hold. As that synopsis implies, she stays at the core of “Tale”. We do get some decent exposition – and even a little actual emotion – so the episode gives us what it needs, but I continue to hope S1 will broaden its narrative horizons eventually.
I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury: “A disturbing death has Gotham reeling.”
Once again, we get a brief view of a new villain, and this one makes a bigger impact that the feeble Magpie, even if the Executioner feels a bit like an attempt to involve social issues into the season. Still, something new becomes a good way to go, and that factor allows “Jury” to offer a decent show.
Tell Me the Truth: “Kate and Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy) reconcile with their past.”
Inevitably, that leads to a soap opera theme, as the flashbacks to younger Kate/Sophie and their current heart-to-hearts create a melodramatic vibe. Otherwise, the rest of the show seems fairly good, even if it doesn’t quite ignite.
A Mad Tea-Party: “Alice and Mouse (Sam Littlefield) construct their most evil plan yet.”
Approaching S1’s midway point, “Mad” comes with some pretty significant character points, including the death of a semi-prominent role. These add up to some of the usual melodrama, but they give the series momentum that I hope it’ll carry.
Crisis on Infinite Earths: “The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) sends Harbinger (Audrey Marie Anderson) to gather the worlds' greatest heroes – Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), The Flash (Grant Gustin), Green Arrow (Stephen Amell), Batwoman, White Canary (Caity Lotz), The Atom (Brandon Routh) and Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) - in preparation for the impending Crisis. With their worlds in imminent danger, the superheroes suit up for battle while J'onn (David Harewood) and Alex (Chyler Leigh) recruit Lena to help them find a way to save the people of Earth-38.”
As mentioned at the start of the review, “Crisis” offers a five-episode “crossover” that spans Batwoman and four other DC series. Disc Two of this set presents “Hour 2”, the portion that ran in S1 of Batwoman.
As also noted, this 5-disc S1 set includes all five episodes of “Crisis” on the fifth disc. It makes sense that this package offers “Hour 2” on its own, since that’s how it appeared during the season, but I can’t imagine many will watch it isolated from the other four shows. That’s how I viewed it, as I skipped the isolated “Hour 2” and took in “Crisis” all in one fell swoop on Disc Five.
I’ve enjoyed prior crossovers, and this one comes with a decent level of excitement and fun, some of that sparked by clever cameos. However, “Crisis” also comes burdened with messy storytelling, a factor that means it can become tough to follow and semi-incoherent. “Crisis” still entertains, but I don’t dig it as much as I hoped.
How Queer Everything Is Today!: “Kate decides to honor Batwoman’s identity – and her own.”
Reader ratings of Batwoman on IMDB tend to be low, and I suspect a lot of that comes from caveman types unhappy that the series promotes the “gay agenda”. To my surprise, “Queer” – which lives up to its title, since it “outs” Batwoman – got a somewhat higher than usual score. Perhaps others gave it higher than average ratings to balance out the trolls.
While I approve of the series’ “agenda”, I do see that it uses Kate’s sexual orientation in a clumsy manner at times, and that seems true for “Queer”, as it occasionally feels like a theme with a story cobbled around it. Still, a few good plot points emerge.
An Un-Birthday Present: “An unexpected visitor returns to Gotham.”
No, it’s not Bruce Wayne. “Present” reflects the aftereffects of “Crisis”, and it uses those connections in an interesting way. This twist turns this into a pretty engaging show.
Take Your Choice: “Kate must choose between two sisters.”
Hasn’t that been a theme all season? Different sister, as Kate dealt with issues related to Alice vs. stepsister Mary (Nicole Kang). This one capitalizes on the “Crisis” issue for an interesting tangent, if a contrive one.
By the way, at the start of the season, I initially thought Mary and Catherine (Elizabeth Anweis) were supposed to be sisters, not daughter/mother. I then figured Anweis must be 20-25 years older than Kang and aging incredibly well, but it turns out Anweis is only 38, 10 years older than Kang. Anweis plays older than her actual age, as Catherine is supposed to be 45, whereas Mary seems to be about 24, so Kang plays younger.
Drink Me: “A new villain sinks her teeth into Gotham.”
While we still get plenty of Alice, at least “Nocturna” (Kayla Ewell) adds a new spark. That helps bring a bit of freshness to the episode.
Grinning From Ear to Ear: “Alice focuses on her plans for retribution.”
We also get a scarred villain who carves smiles into faces - shades of Joker! Duela (Alessandra Torresani) doesn’t feel as derivative as this sounds, though, and since Joker clearly exists in the series’ universe, we don’t get the impression Duela appears to pretend to be him. Her presence creates an intriguing episode.
Off With Her Head: “August Cartwright (John Emmet Tracy) shares a twisted story about Alice with Kate.”
I admit that I tire of flashbacks to young Alice’s life, though the introduction of Granny Cartwright (Debra Mooney) adds some life. As tired as I might feel with the emphasis on Alice, “Head” does offer some decent twists.
Through the Looking-Glass: “Alice seeks her sister’s help with a special task.”
This episode implies a conclusion to the Alice plot, though I doubt that’ll prove to be true, as she’s been too integral to the season’s arc. Still, a boy can hope, and the development of issues related to Lucius Fox’s murder take us down an intriguing path.
A Narrow Escape: “An old villain tests the heroics of Gotham’s citizens.”
Though that synopsis infers we’ll greet a classic Bat-baddie, instead we get the no-name Detonator, a character whose method here borrows liberally from The Dark Knight. That plot seems tedious, and the immediate return of Alice – replete with an absurd twist - makes this a lackluster show.
If You Believe In Me, I’ll Believe In You: “Alice gets a surprise visit from Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott), who needs her help.”
That ridiculous plot twist in the last episode continues to rear its ugly head here, and “Believe” adds more silliness to the mix. S1 seems determined to go off the rails as it nears its end.
A Secret Kept From All the Rest: “Kate questions the loyalty of everyone around her.”
With little time left in S1, “Rest” manages to jack up some plot threads, and it shows the evolution of a regular character into a known Batman foe. These factors make it reasonably engaging, but S1 seems less focused as it goes. This means it feels like those involved throw whatever they can find at the wall and hope some of it sticks.
O, Mouse!: “Commander Kane refuses to retreat from his war on Batwoman.”
S1 ends with some excitement, but the episode doesn’t connect as well to the overall arc as it should. Primarily, Kane’s opposition to Batwoman feels underdeveloped, as he hates her more than he should based on the season’s patterns.
Yeah, the episode gives him a reason, but it feels unconvincing, and I find it hard to swallow that a private security firm would feel it’s cool for them to attempt to murder Batwoman. Throw in too many allusions to the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy as well as a lackluster tease for Season Two and this becomes a less than great end to the year.
I’ll be interested to see how S2 proceeds, especially because Rose left the series and they’ll bring in a totally new character as Batwoman. How do they make all the Kane-related threads work without Kate?
I’ll worry about that in summer 2021 when I watch those Blu-rays. As for S1, it becomes mostly entertaining but spotty, as it feels like the producers never got a great handle on where they wanted to go.
Perhaps the new Batwoman in S2 will focus matters – or maybe she’ll make them worse. As it stands, S1 offers decent entertainment, but it doesn’t connect as smoothly as I’d like.