REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: ALL 4
With the coronavirus halting production on three of the CW’s DC Comics-inspired shows, storylines were curtailed and will have to be picked up at the beginning of the next season, in January 2021. For Batwoman, Ruby Rose's resignation from the titular role will be another obstacle to overcome, although just how much of a problem will depend entirely on her successor.
Rose never truly felt like Batwoman or Kate Kane – the Bat’s civilian identity - and was hurt badly mid-production by a stunt gone wrong, and so there are understandably mixed feelings about her leaving the show. With Batwoman having done the best job of tying up its season-long storyline, the new actor shouldn’t have too much trouble settling into the role; besides, Batwoman is very much a show that is not about its eponymous hero, anyway…
From the off, Batwoman built an ensemble cast, a lesson learned halfway through the first season of Arrow, but unusually that ensemble included the show’s principle villain, Alice. Rachel Skarsten, who did DC time in the past on the short-lived Birds of Prey show, is the Lewis Carroll-themed bad guy, and quite honestly she’s the best screen version of the Joker since Cesar Romero. Alice isn’t supposed to be the Joker, but you can forgive the showrunners for taking that route, playing up the crazy arch-nemesis in place of the cult-like High Madame of the Religion of Crime from Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics run.
Skarsten is wonderful, and brings a gravitas to a role that could easily, in the hands of a lesser actor, become an exercise in over-acting, and the full season run gives her ample opportunity to show all facets of Alice’s character, with sterling work also done by Ava Sleeth as a young Alice in flashbacks. Skarsten’s performance demands a strong lead to stand opposite, but the heavy lifting on the opposite side of the scales is done by Nicole Kang and Camrus Johnson, as Kate’s sister Mary and this show’s version of Felicity Smoak, Luke Fox, respectively.
Less engaging are Dougray Scott as Kate’s father Jacob (leader of the weird private police force that runs Gotham) and his lieutenant, Sophie Moore, played by Meagan Tandy. The show clearly wants you to care for Moore but they do a terrible job of going about it, and Scott’s wandering accent grates.
Alice is the CW’s customary season-long villain, but there are Arrowverse introductions for Batman villains like Magpie, Nocturna, Duela Dent and Hush, all fitting seamlessly into Batwoman’s rogue’s gallery in the absence of her famous cousin. Oh, yeah, that; Bruce Wayne has been missing from Gotham for years, and Batman with him, and there is a hint given as to why late on in the series, but this is a mystery that dangles throughout, with Kate Kane trying to fill some very big shoes.
None of the CW’s DC shows arrive fully-formed, even one that got a backdoor pilot as part of 2018’s crossover, Elseworlds, but there is a lot to like about the freshman season of Batwoman. With Arrow finishing its eight-year run mid-season, the Arrowverse needed a darker show, and Batwoman steps up to the plate. Like its contemporaries, it could do with a little more cross-pollination with the other CW shows – although the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover is a satisfying mid-season feast – and it falls into the trap of building a world that you’d think would be very much of interest to the greater powers in that world, but Batwoman is off to a strong start. It needs to hit the ground running with its new star – whoever that may be – but, as long as Rachel Skarsten is there to carry the show, it’s in good hands.