[Review] Batwoman Episode 1×01: “Pilot”

written by Kate Danvers

The Fall TV season returns as Batwoman begins her journey to bring about a new dawn of justice and forever leave her mark on superhero television. Read on to see if this new Dark Knight will rise to the challenge.

and Robin.

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Permit me a little fangirl moment before I get into the recap properly. I’ve been waiting for this. As soon as they announced that Batwoman would be in last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover, I had hope that they would give her a series. When they announced they were filming a pilot, I was through the roof. When that pilot got picked up for a series, I asked my editor to let me review it (she didn’t take much convincing). Batwoman means so much to me both as a character and a concept, and seeing her in a live-action TV series is a dream come true.

The story begins with Kate Kane training in…Canada? Alaska? It’s not clear. In a voiceover, she tells us that Batman left Gotham three years ago and that her father, Jacob Kane, created a private security company called the Crows to serve as Gotham’s protectors in Batman’s place. She also has flashbacks to when her mother and sister were killed in a car wreck – something she partly blames Batman for.

At a ceremony to permanently turn off the Bat-Signal, a new villain – Alice – and her goons attack, kill some Crows, and capture Crows agent Sophie Moore. Surveillance footage was shut off at the time, so they have no leads. Kate’s stepsister Mary Hamilton calls her to tell her about Sophie, prompting Kate to return to Gotham. She goes to see her dad first thing and we get a bit more exposition about how she was off training to become a Crow, that the Crows are all ex-special forces, and how Kate is Bruce Wayne’s cousin.

If all of this seems very exposition-heavy, it’s because it is. We’re going to get into why in my criticisms, but I don’t see this as a negative as much as other reviewers. It’s a little clunky, but this is a pilot. Pilots are like that. Just smile and nod while we get through it.

No excuses for the “You take after your cousin. You’re a female Bruce Wayne” line, because that was eight layers of cringe.

Flashbacks to Kate’s time at West Point show that she was in a relationship with Sophie and got kicked out for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is actually part of Kate’s comic origin that I feel is important. Unfortunately, the show utterly fails to understand the point of that moment. In the comics, Kate was brought before her superior and given the option to deny the accusation and graduate. Kate declines and comes out as gay, receiving a discharge. Afterwards she returns home to her father and tells him why she was kicked out, effectively coming out to him too. Jacob even spells out the point of it – she was honest and kept her integrity. Military service was her dream and she gave up on it because she wouldn’t lie about who she is.

On the show, it just smash cuts to Kate wadding up the denial paper she was supposed to sign, saying the military could kiss her ass, and asking Sophie to ride off into the sunset with her. There’s nothing wrong with that particular reaction – hell, it would be how I would react, only I’d be swearing at the guys in charge until I was dragged out of the building – but that’s not Kate Kane. In the comics, this was a devastating moment for her, and one that left her listless until she found her own way to become a soldier. Instead, the focus is on her breakup with Sophie, who chose to lie and remain at the academy. There is some good stuff here like Kate correcting Sophie’s “I told them what they needed to hear” with “you lied,” and rightly pointing out that the military doesn’t want them. Like I said, it’s good, it’s relatable…but it’s not Kate Kane.

In the present, Kate breaks into Wayne Enterprises because their city-wide security tech isn’t on the Crows network. She’s caught by Luke Fox, who points a taser at her, handcuffs her, and doesn’t buy her “I’m Bruce’s cousin” story. Coincidentally, Bruce has also been gone from Gotham City for three years. Luke calls the cops, Kate picks the lock on the cuffs with a paper clip, handcuffs Luke to a server rack, downloads the security footage she needs, then drops Luke’s keys on the floor just out of his reach.

Oh, I’m going to love the friendship between these two.

Kate shows the video of Sophie’s abduction to her dad and figures out that Alice’s gang is hiding at Burnside Orphanage – a place Kate and her sister Beth used to sneak into as kids. We get some good fight scenes as Kate pummels her way through Alice’s goons. She gets knocked out and strung up in front of Alice, who makes her agenda clear: She’s trying to get to Jacob, so she kidnapped his favorite daughter to do it since Sophie was “the daughter he always wanted.”

Ouch.

Kate is knocked out again and dumped on the doorstep of an illegal clinic, where Mary coincidentally volunteers her time and her medical school’s supplies. Mary is shaping up to be the show’s Bette Kane, Kate’s cousin in the comics, and I already like her.

Jacob and Kate have an angry talk about Kate rushing in to save Sophie instead of waiting for the Crows. In another exposition dump, we learn that Jacob was supportive after Kate was kicked out of the academy, but sent her off for training directly afterwards. Kate suspects he never had any intention of giving her a job as a Crow. She thinks he’s pushing her away because she reminds him of her mom and her sister. She storms off, hurt and angry.

At Wayne Enterprises, Kate threatens Luke with violence if he doesn’t call Bruce back to Gotham, but then she notices the pearl necklace on a nearby shelf has been moved…the pearls that once belonged to her aunt Martha.

*sips tea* What? I didn’t say anything. I just paused to take a drink. Stay hydrated.

Kate moves the case containing the pearls, and a hidden door to an elevator opens. She just found the Batcave! A swarm of bats fly in a circle around her because that’s like a Bat-family baptism or something.

Luke sheds some light on the day that Kate’s mom and sister died. Batman didn’t abandon them; he set two cables that should have held the car in place and kept it from going off the bridge. Thinking his last living relatives were safe, Batman went after the school bus that hit them, which was full of kids and had been hijacked by the Joker. Kate was able to escape, but the shoddy metal of the car tore free from the cables, and the car went off the bridge. Bruce regretted his mistake from that moment on.

Kate checks out the gear and the suit and requests some modifications. Yeah, they kept the “when it fits a woman” line from the trailer. It’s cheesy, a little cringey, and was probably made more for the trailer than for the episode. But seeing all of the nerds cry about “feminist agendas” for months made that line grow on me.

At a movie in the park, Alice has filled a Crows truck with bombs with the help of an accomplice in the organization. She gives Jacob an ultimatum by phone – either Sophie dies or everyone at the event does. Kate swoops in wearing the Batsuit, takes out Alice’s goons, but her fight with Alice herself is interrupted by having to save Sophie from falling off the building.

The news announces the return of “Batman” because no one besides Alice and Sophie got a good look at the Bat. Kate reunites with Sophie at the Crows’ headquarters and meets Tyler, Sophie’s husband. Oof. Kate talks to her dad again. Jacob admits he didn’t want her to be a Crow, and was even planning to call in a favor to get her put at a desk job had she stayed in the military – all to keep her safe. By way of apology, he offers her a job with the Crows, but she declines.

Kate writes all of these events in a journal written for Bruce when he comes back. Luke tells her that Bruce never stopped looking for Beth’s body…and I think that’s the first mention of Beth’s body not being recovered? Kate ponders this, then looks closer at the butterfly knife Alice used when they were fighting. It has the same jewel as the one from her sister’s necklace. As Kate realizes that Alice is actually Beth, Alice is looking at a photograph of them as kids, thinking she will win Kate over and they’ll rule Gotham together.

So I gotta start by saying I think that the Alice=Beth reveal should have waited a few episodes. Yes, it’s obvious to the viewer, but Kate figuring it out this soon kind of removes some of the punch, what with everything else going on in the episode. And that’s my biggest criticism of the episode: It’s a pilot. It was created to be a vertical slice of what to expect from the series, so it was exposition-heavy, light on character development, and heavy on setting up all of the pieces. That’s nothing new and nothing exclusive to Batwoman. The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning – all of these shows had some clunkiness in their first episodes because pilots aren’t written with the audience in mind; they’re written to sell network executives and focus groups on a series concept.

Even without excusing that, the episode was good. There are a lot of changes to Kate’s story – some good, some bad, but overall I feel like they’re going in their own direction while keeping the spirit of the character intact. Kate declines the job with her dad because, like Bruce, she wants to do things her way. There has been some criticism over her just taking Batman’s gadgets and using them as her own rather than starting from scratch, but even in the comics she was inspired to become a vigilante by seeing Batman and gets all of her gear from Jacob and his military connections. This setup lets her plausibly have Bat-gear while keeping her separate from Jacob.

I read concerns over Ruby Rose’s acting ability when she was cast, but honestly? She’s fine. There are a few times when her Australian accent breaks through, but she’s good. She plays Kate as confident, charming, and capable. She’s also got a presence that you really need from your lead character in a show like this. I’m looking forward to seeing her grow into the role more.

The other actors are good, at least what we saw of them. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Luke, Sophie, Jacob, and especially Mary. Alice was kind of a surprise. I actually stopped watching the trailers before we were shown much of Alice and I’m happy with the direction they took her character. She’s over-the-top like any good Bat-villain should be, but she gives the impression that her Wonderland bit is just an act and a gimmick. She’s not so absorbed in it that it’s become her whole identity like her comic counterpart is. You can actually see how she got from point A to point B.

In conclusion, I’m a happy fangirl with high hopes for this series. I want more.

Batwoman airs Sunday nights at 8 Eastern/7 Central on the CW. Kate can be found on Twitter @WearyKatie.

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