So with everything going on for me in October, I totally forgot the Arrowverse resumed, and have been frantically catching up. Since NaNoWriMo started, I’m probably going to remain a bit behind, but I’m definitely going to be pushing to get caught up. Being sick Friday gave me a great chance to dig into one of the shows, and I went with Batwoman. It was first on my list because of three factors – Ruby Rose is a phenomenal actress, I love the idea of non-powered vigilantes and with Arrow ending I’m glad we have a new entry into that category, and because it was shiny and new and exciting.
And then I looked at the online reviews. Critical reviews were mostly positive. Fan reviews were sitting somewhere between abysmal and horrendous. So, of course, I look to see what the negative reviews have to say, curious about why this show is so reviled.
Of course, the very first review I see is “Go woke go broke.” The second review I see is talking about the “sissification of Hollywood.” The third includes the line “Yet another left-wing agenda pushing show.” The fourth includes actual critique of the show’s quality, but none of the issues aren’t shared among all CW show. The fifth uses a homophobic slur. The one that starts with F.
I stop reading there and start the show. You see, in recent years I’ve developed a policy, one that has served me well. If I’m on the fence about a show, movie, book, game or whatever, and see it gets review bombed because of trolls like this, I pick it up. This is why I remembered to watch Watchmen last week, it’s why I picked up Carnival Row on Amazon Prime (which I will be reviewing soon), and it’s why I’m going to be going to Terminator: Dark Fate in spite of the franchise having been terrible for almost three decades.
Because if the media in question was legitimately bad, the trolls wouldn’t need to slam it for its politics. They could just talk about what’s actually bad about it, or they could just ignore it and let it die on its own due to poor quality. If they need to launch into an attack on the show’s politics, that means they have nothing else they can complain about.
So, did that policy serve me well for Batwoman?
What I’m most reminded of watching Batwoman is the first few episodes of Arrow, and it has the same problem. Over-reliance on flashbacks we don’t have a reason to care about, a main character having some kind of neo-noir voiceover that tells you things you can figure out by just watching the show, and characters sometimes stating their motivations outright. Those are all problematic elements that I hope go away in later episodes, and I wouldn’t blame them being dealbreakers for anyone who’s watching it. It happened for every other Arrowverse show, so I fully expect it to happen again here.
Also, if you’re a die-hard Batman fan, you might not like the show’s treatment of the Caped Crusader. He’s MIA for mysterious reasons, and the show definitely isn’t kind to everyone’s favorite Dark Knight – and by that I mean the show doesn’t salivate over him at every opportunity and makes it clear that he was flawed and made mistakes, which for a certain stripe of fans is being unkind. As someone who’s kinda been over Batman since The Dark Knight Rises and desperately wanted to see something new and interesting done with his mythos, I’m fine with it, but I can see it being off putting to people who don’t like to see him be anything other that the Bat-God he is often portrayed as.
Now, putting those flaws aside, how was the show?
Well, once I got past those problems, it was enjoyable as hell.
Ruby Rose is a phenomenal actress and while the show doesn’t take full advantage of her range yet, she still does a great job with the occasionally wooden dialogue. The actors have great chemistry – of course they do, it’s a CW show, that’s the one thing they get consistently right – and the fight scenes are among the best non-powered battles that the Arrowverse has put on screen so far, already on par with some of the best moments from Arrow. They don’t have the same spectacle as the CGI slugfests from Flash and Supergirl, but they don’t need to be. The initial villains are interesting, charismatic and perfectly suited to the tone and lore that’s built up around Gotham – you can easily see them sitting in Arkham alongside Joker and Scarecrow.
To talk about the plot a bit – the show picks up three years after Bruce Wayne has mysteriously vanished from Gotham. In his absence, Gotham’s criminal class has gradually been re-emerging and getting more bold. A new villain, Alice, played by Rachel Skarsten (who is an absolute delight in the role), has emerged to take over Gotham crime. She abducts a member of an elite police force called the Crows that’s trying to fill in the void left by the Bat’s absence.
Unfortunately for Alice, the person she abducts is Sophie Moore, played by Meagan Tandy, who happens to be the ex-girlfriend of one Kate Kane – Bruce Wayne’s cousin and our leading character. Obviously, super heroics ensue. The first episode ends on a twist that is so predictable I was able to see it coming while half paying attention since I was editing book three of Small Worlds while I watched. However, it does set up some interesting conflict for the later episodes, so I’m just glad they revealed it at the end of the first episode as opposed to waiting till sweeps week to try and wow us with how clever they were.
I won’t get into the plot of the other episodes, but it’s pretty clear the show’s central narrative arc is going to revolve around Kate dealing with her backstory trauma and growing into the hero she’ll be in the later seasons. If this sounds a lot like the plot of Arrow Season 1, it’s because the flaws aren’t the only thing Batwoman shares with Arrow Season 1, but the characters and setting are different enough where that doesn’t matter.
Also, yes, it’s very nice to see an LGBTQ+ superhero in a leading role. Seriously, it’s taken us way too long to get here.
Is the show subtle in its pro-LGBTQ+ stance? Of course not, it’s a CW show. Supergirl wasn’t subtle about feminism, Black Lightning (which isn’t part of the Arrowverse but I wish they’d at least do a cross universe crossover at some point) was unabashed in addressing issues that are important to African Americans, Flash was unashamed of being “nerds are awesome,” and Arrow wasn’t subtle in its dislike of the rich and powerful. Legends of Tomorrow didn’t really have a central message like the other ones, which is part of why it was the weakness of the Arrowverse at its start. CW doesn’t do subtle. If you’ve watched the Arrowverse up to this point and missed that, like I said with Watchmen – just because you didn’t see the themes doesn’t mean they’re not there.
Will the show live up to its potential? It’s too early to tell, although by episode four I was feeling much more comfortable with it. The show has some initial flaws that need to be corrected and somewhat detracted from my overall enjoyment, but it’s off to a solid enough start that I’m intrigued to see where it goes. Of the two live action TV shows I’ve watched in the last two weeks, Watchmen is definitely the better written option and the one that I think will end up better at the end of the season, but Batwoman is the one I’m looking forward to continuing more.
While you’re waiting for more Batwoman, why not check out my books? It’d be pretty cool if you did.