Advance Review: BATWOMAN Shows 'a Lot of Potential' But It Needs to 'Figure Out What It Wants to Be'

Batwoman
Credit: The CW
Credit: The CW

Batwoman, Season 1 Episode 1
Directed by Marco Siega
Written by Caroline Dries
Starring Ruby Rose, Meagan Tandy, Camrus Johnson, Nicole Kang, Dougray Scott
Produced Berlanti Productions, Mad Ghost Productions, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The Arrowverse’s first full foray into Gotham city arrives with the premiere of Batwoman. But rather than picking up where they left off with the character as an already established crimefighter, the team takes audiences back to Kate Kane’s origin - a decision that leads to a mixed bag of a debut. In a TV universe where so much of Batman’s modus operandi has been co-opted by the Emerald Archer, what makes a Batwoman story unique? That’s a question that I don’t think the production team has figured out yet. And without a strong spine, there’s a trickle down effect that impacts both the script and the cast.

Credit: The CW

Since the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, adaptations of superhero properties have been keen on sticking close to the source material while remixing bits and pieces to make them better fit a different medium. Batwoman generally does this well when you consider the original Greg Rucka/J.H. Wiliams III run in Detective Comics but it has an identity crisis when it comes to portraying the world around Kate Kane. The fact is that Bruce Wayne and Gotham City loom heavy over this story but the production team is unsure of what their take on that legacy is. Big, wide shots of Chicago’s skyline and the muted palette brings to mind Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (particularly as Kate speeds along on her motorcycle underneath train tracks.) but the darkness and claustrophobia of some of the sets and locations instantly bring to mind Tim Burton’s more outsized comic book approach. There’s a struggle between balancing a realistic approach with a stylized one and you can see all of that on the screen.

That push and pull extends to the script and the actors themselves as well. Dougray Scott and Ruby Rose are trying desperately to deliver on a strained father-daughter dynamic that doesn’t come together amid the machinations of the plot. A lot of that has to do with the script’s insistence on delivering information by flashback (we see the same one about 3 different times but with only slightly different context) and a voiceover from Rose that doesn’t really add anything to the episode. It’s a strange mashup of elements from the other Arrowverse shows that doesn’t create stakes and doesn’t create tension. Even Kate’s plotline about being ousted from the military for being gay feels woefully out of date because they didn’t even bothering updating that element of the story in the wake of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” being repealed almost a decade ago. There’s definitely a “tug at your heartstrings” play in the episode but with Rose’s steely, one note performance, it’s hard to really feel anything for the characters.

Credit: The CW

If there’s a true highlight, it’s Rachel Skarstens’ performance as Alice. She’s one of the parts of the show that definitely lean into that heightened Burton approach to Gotham City. And while she’s a little bit ill-defined in terms of motivation, she’s one of the better designed Arrowverse villains. Kudos to costume designer Maya Muni on that one. Still, audiences unfamiliar with the character from the comic books will wonder why she’s an Alice in Wonderland-themed villain and what the significance of that is in light of the big reveal at the end of the episode. The show fails to make a concrete statement about that because it crams Batwoman’s origin in with Alice’s introduction. And if the audience has too many questions about what her deal is, I fear that Skarstens’ performance could off as a poorly conceived Joker knockoff.

Despite an uneven debut, Batwoman is a show with a lot of potential - really, any show set in Gotham City does. The wealth of characters and stories that exist within those city limits leaves the door wide open for possibilities. But this show must figure out what it wants to be. With Arrow ending, maybe there’s a space for it to pick up the techy, team approach to city-based crime fighting over time and with a cast of villains that are more varied and over the top. However, Ruby Rose has a lot on her shoulders. She can’t be the charmless foil to a cadre of scene chewing villains - she’s got to inject some humanity into who Kate Kane is and what sets her apart from Bruce Wayne. We’re not seeing it quite yet but Arrowverse shows have a knack for being able to twist the dials on their shows to find the right levels and consistently put out entertaining and eminently watchable TV. Here’s hoping they can do the same with Batwoman.

Credit: The CW

Batwoman premieres on the CW on October 6.

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