[Review] Batwoman Episode 1×15: “Off With Her Head”

written by Kate Danvers

Content Warning: I’m going to forego the usual funny before-the-cut goof to say hey, this episode has some messed-up stuff in it like child abuse, lots of blood, DIY first aid with tools not meant for that, gore, suicide attempts, and two kinds of gratuitous murders. I’ve got to describe this stuff in the review because that’s my job, but I’ll try not to get too graphic. Still, as pivotal as this episode is, there’s some really rough stuff in it, so be advised.

And if you still want a goof before the cut, um…butts.

I tried.


A flashback to Kate and Beth’s bat mitzvah answers the question I never thought to ask before: Where was Jacob when the car wreck happened? Turns out, he’d gone on ahead in a separate car packed full of the girls’ presents. Gabi has one more present for her daughters, though: their birthstone necklaces. She also shows off a matching pair of earrings she has. Aww, how sweet.

In the present, Batwoman rescues a woman from a stalker, then goes to GCPD because the Bat-signal is on. There, she finds August unconscious on the roof with a note in his mouth: “Ask about mommy dearest.” Kate takes him to her bar and calls Jacob who, to his credit, does actually ask why she has her sister’s kidnapper tied to a chair. Kate breaks the news that Alice is still alive and that August is also Campbell.

Alice goes to a creepy abandoned house to find Mouse. She frees him and, after some disbelief, he’s convinced she’s real and still alive. He describes the place as the “Queen of Hearts’ house.” Another flashback reveals the Queen of Hearts is August Cartwright’s mother Mabel, who came to stay with them in her later years at a time when even August had started to call Beth “Alice.” Mabel seems to have an immediate resentment of Alice for her youth and beauty.

Back in the present, Mouse turns on Alice, ties her to the chair, and gives her the fear toxin. She begins to have hallucinations of Mabel.

Luke goes to see Mary, who has a lead on Beth’s killer. A car matching the description in a reward flyer Mary put up was found by someone in a junkyard. Luke is skeptical, but the pair go to investigate.

“One is a supervillain, another is weirdly knowledgeable about the Batman’s rogues gallery. At least my stepdaughter has perfectly normal hobbies.”

August tells Kate and Jacob about the fear toxin, and I love the look Jacob gives Kate when she knows who Jonathan Crane is, knows he’s Scarecrow, and knows how fear toxin works. August planted the suggestion in Mouse’s mind that Alice is to blame for everything, so he’s confident that Mouse has dosed Alice with the fear toxin by now. He warns that if she’s not given adrenaline to counteract it, she’ll lose whatever sanity she has left. In return for Alice’s location, August wants his freedom. Kate stops Jacob from trying to strangle him.

Another series of flashbacks show Alice being repeatedly abused by Mabel over the years. She was struck, had her hands burned with hot tea, had her hair cut against her wishes, and lived in constant fear of the woman. When she spoke out against Mabel, August struck her. This continues after Alice is grown up, and one day she finds a locked freezer in the shed.

Hang on. By this point, August has had Alice sewing masks out of human skin for over a decade. What could possibly be in that freezer that’s worse than that?

Jacob takes August’s cell phone to trace his location history in an effort to find Alice. August says that Alice wanted him to tell Kate the story so she would kill him. Then he asks for water. Kate gives it to him, but August takes the glass, breaks it, and slits his own throat.

Mary and Luke search the junkyard for the shooter’s car, while Mary takes the opportunity to be like “See how useful I am? Tell me the secret. Tell me.” Honestly Mary, if Luke and Kate are too dumb to figure out that you know at this point, you’re better off going into the hero business by yourself. Maybe as some sort of a Bat-Girl. Or if bats aren’t your thing, how about birds? Maybe a flaming bird of some kind. We’ll workshop that. They find the car and the rifle used to kill Beth, but Mary gets a call from Batwoman about August and talks her through some quick first aid with a staple gun.

No, you’re not getting that image. Here, look at Mary in her cute coat. Not appropriate for a junkyard, but gosh darn it, she’s a fashionable sleuth.

Kate manages to stop the bleeding. Luke wants to know what’s up, but Mary claims “doctor-vigilante confidentiality.” Mary Hamilton: still too good for this bullshit. They go back to Wayne Tower and search for the license plate record. Well, Luke does. Mary searches for how to open the Batcave. Luke finds the plates in the expired registry and finds that the car belongs to Mabel Cartwright.

Alice hallucinates Jacob and Batwoman coming to find her, and after a scuffle, Jacob convinces Batwoman that Alice isn’t worth saving. She sees them leave, “abandoning” her again like they did years ago.

The real Kate offers August his freedom if he’ll tell her where Alice is. He’s skeptical, thinking Kate is just going to kill him as soon as she has the information, so she tells him who she is.

KATE: “I am everything you stripped away from my sister. Hope. Honor. Integrity. I’m what she would have been if not for you.”

Once August gives up the address, Jacob swoops in just in time to stop Alice from killing herself. He gives her an adrenaline shot and she starts to recover. Jacob tells her he came because he still cares, and that Kate is with August. Hearing that August is still alive, Alice thinks that means he never got to the “mommy dearest” part of the story. When Jacob says he knows about Mabel, Alice corrects him.

Luke and Mary call Kate about the car and she asks August where Mabel is. Mabel is dead. Has been for years. August further enrages Kate by admitting to killing Beth, saying she looked just like Alice. “Even wore a necklace that matched those damned earrings.”


A final flashback shows Mabel trying on Gabi’s earrings to taunt Alice, calling them a gift from her son. Alice finally remembers where she got her necklace and the significance of it, so she checks the freezer in the shed. Gabi’s head is in the freezer.

Remember when I asked what could possibly be worse than the horrors of August’s skin mask experiments? THIS. THIS IS WORSE.

Nope. Not getting that image either. Have a cat. Ain’t she AdoraAbel?

August explains to Kate that he got Gabi’s head from the river when he found Beth. Mabel wanted a fresh start and begged for Gabi’s face, but August knew the complications so he kept putting it off while keeping the head on ice. Kate strangles August. In the flashback, Alice marches back into the house and uses Mabel’s oxygen tank as a makeshift flamethrower to burn the old woman alive and torch the house.

Kate comes to her senses and tries to revive August, but it’s too late. Between the strangling, the neck wound, and the wound being reopened by Kate’s attack, August is dead. Kate has broken her no-killing vow. Jacob and Alice arrive at the bar and Alice congratulates Jacob, saying that both of his daughters are killers.

In the alley outside, Kate is drinking and texts Sophie. She can’t bring herself to do more than ask if she’s awake. Alice comes out and tells Kate they have a long night ahead of them…meaning getting rid of August’s body.

You know, my initial reaction to this episode (and actually several times throughout it) was “Thanks, I hate it.” But admittedly…I really like this one? Don’t get me wrong – it’s bloody, visceral, gory, horrifying, and I’ve never actively rooted for two characters to die as much as I did August and Mabel. And oh yes, all of the trigger warnings for this episode. But overall it was well-written, well-told, and well-acted. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth because it’s supposed to.

Also, that episode title is really horrible in hindsight.

I feel like we finally have the full picture of Alice. The trauma, the kidnapping, the abandonment issues, the years of mental and physical abuse, and her first kill was the monster who scarred her both physically and mentally. It doesn’t excuse her own actions in the present, but it gives a damn good reason for why she is the way she is.

Right, so let’s talk about what Kate did. I’m always of the opinion that superheroes shouldn’t kill people. I’ve brought this up in film reviews, television reviews, etc. I’ve accepted that not every hero is going to stick to the no-kill rule (the MCU is especially bad about it), but some have it so ingrained in their character that having them break that rule bothers me more than others. Superman and Batman are notable examples. Do I think compelling stories can be written where those heroes break that code? Yes. Kate herself broke the code with intent to save lives in the comics, though it turned out the guy survived.

My major issue is when that code is broken without thought or remorse. Like, say, Batman being portrayed with as much regard for the lives of the people he’s fighting as that of an ’80s action hero mowing down bad guys with a machine gun.

In this episode we see Kate give into her emotions and strangle a prisoner to death. It’s a mistake. She knows it, we know it, and it’s not handwaved away. It affects her and it’s probably going to affect her for a long time. At the end of the episode, she’s consumed with guilt. It’s not a question of whether August deserved it – he most certainly did – it’s of whether Kate was right to take vengeance into her own hands. I don’t think this betrays what the character stands for; it just makes her human. What will define her moving forward is what she does from here on out. Is this her only one, or is she going to be like Green Arrow: starting off killing, making a promise to stop, then breaking that promise when convenient? She broke her code; now how does she move forward?

Next time: Alice needs a teensy little favor from her sis: a jailbreak.


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

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