Synopsis: Set in a timeline where Batman has abandoned Gotham City, Kate Kane, Bruce Wayne's cousin, must overcome her demons in order to protect the streets as Batwoman and become a symbol of hope
Review: It seems like we are reaching peak wokeness with the latest addition to the Arrowverse on The CW with Batwoman starring Ruby Rose. Introduced during last year's crossover event, Rose's take on DC's female version of Batman was quickly greenlit for her own series. But, where the crossover with Arrow, Supergirl, and The Flash gave us a Batwoman already established as a Gotham City crimefighter, her eponymous show is a true origin story that shows us how Kate Kane went from ex-military cadet to the Dark Knight's heir apparent. Unfortunately, the series fails to capture any of the magic that Rose brought to her guest role and instead is as stilted and underwhelming as the trailers released to date.
Screened as part of San Diego Comic Con's preview night, Batwoman's first episode offers a lot of familiarity to fans of the Arrowverse and Batman in general. Opening with Kate Kane training in a remote tundra location under the tutelage of an Asian master, Batwoman looks a lot like the Christopher Nolan take on the mythology and even uses the same Chicago locations to represent Gotham's skyline and Wayne Enterprises skyscraper. Aside from that, Batwoman unfolds in a way that feels like a cross between Arrow's first season and FOX's Gotham. Like Arrow, this show aims for a dark and gritty tone but ends up with a campy style reminiscent of Gotham's early episodes. We find ourselves in a Gotham City abandaned by Batman three years prior which has given Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) and his private security firm The Crows the task of maintaining order. When a criminal named Alice (Rachel Skarsten) and her gang kidnap Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy), Kate's former lover, Bruce Wayne's cousin returns to her home town.
While the present day storyline gives us Kane delivering a voice-over about her new alter ego, we get flashbacks showing two significant parts of her back story. On one hand, Kane lost her sister and mother in a tragic accident at a young age that caused a rift between Kate and her father. On the other, we see how Sophie and Kate's love affair came to light during their academy days which broke the military code of conduct and eventually ended their relationship. Both of these have a major impact on how the pilot episode ends with a pair of cliffhangers that will lead into season-long arcs when the show premieres in earnest in a few months. The problem is, neither twist is handled particularly well and both can be seen coming a mile away, especially for fans of the DC Comics stories that inspired this series.
In fact, the idea of making Kate Kane a lesbian is far from a groundbreaking idea as it has already been introduced in the comic series. While LGBTQ characters have populated various other Arrowverse shows, Batwoman struggles with a tactful way of handling this element of the story. The military code of conduct part of the story feels very dated for a show set in the 21st century. When the show gives us Kate struggling with her feelings for Sophie, it works naturally but when it force feeds us dialogue about being a woman crime fighter or being a gay woman, it feels like it is treading in cliche narratives that would have been groundbreaking if this show premiered in the 1990s. As it is, this episode is very uneven. In fact, if you have seen the extended trailers, you have pretty much seen the entire first episode.
Directed by Marcos Siega (The Passage, The Following), Batwoman has some decent action sequences featuring Ruby Rose in an adapted Batman costume, but the version featuring the trademark red logo and hair does not make an appearance. In fact, seeing the standard Batman costume ends up looking like a teenager cosplaying as the Dark Knight rather than appearing as an imposing superhero threat to the villains. Even Alice seems like a weak choice as the big bad for the season even though seeing Rachel Skarsten return to a DC Comics series (she previously played DInah Lance on the short-lived series Birds of Prey) is a nice touch. Dougray Scott is solid and Ruby Rose is still an inspired choice for Batwoman, but the rest of the cast are not very exciting. From Kate's step-sister Mary (Nicole Kang) to Bruce Wayne/Batman's loyal guardian, Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), the supporting cast are very underdeveloped yet all hit the same formulas as the casts of every other Arrowverse series.
Batwoman did not grab my attention like Arrow, The Flash, or any of the other CW/DC series and that is saying something. I feel disappointed since Ruby Rose was a highlight of the Arrow/Flash crossover but here doesn't seem to do much with the extended screen time. I can admit that this may not be a show aimed at me as a straight white male, but I have been able to find enjoyment in Supergirl and Black Lightning despite not being the target demographic for either show. Batwoman has a lot of potential but this pilot feels too torn between following the formula of what came before it and being intentionally direct about addressing Kate Kane's sexuality. When the show is not trying too hard, it works decently. But, when it forces itself to deliver messages, it falls apart.
Batwoman premieres October 6th on The CW.