“What Happened to Kate Kane?” introduces a new Batwoman and some new storytelling potential, but it’s still hampered in the usual way by just not being that good.
This recap of Batwoman season 2, episode 1, “What Happened to Kate Kane?”, contains spoilers.
I distinctly remember the fuss surrounding the first season of The CW’s Batwoman, which is funny in retrospect since it turned out to be such a nondescript show that the energy hardly seemed worth it. For the most part, it wasn’t bad, per se, just another example of mid-tier small-screen superheroism not at all unlike all the countless other examples in the Arrowverse. It got points for representation in fronting an openly queer character and then lost a load with wooden acting and merely serviceable plotting. Ruby Rose was great as Kate Kane, as long as she wasn’t required to emote in any way, and after a full, rather elongated season, it just seemed like the only really noteworthy thing about the show is all the stuff that seemed like it was going to be noteworthy to begin with and then turned out not to be.
It doesn’t look like much has changed, at least not as of the second season premiere, “What Happened to Kate Kane?”, which in fairness has the decency to answer its titular question in the first few minutes. After Ruby Rose announced her departure from the show after Season 1, putting the writers in something of a predicament, she’s presumed dead in a plane crash virtually immediately here, leaving her suit and the responsibilities of Batwoman behind to be inherited by Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie), who’s not just queer but also Black, and has a traumatic, disappointingly trope-y backstory – including a very personal connection to Alice. The fact that the show’s previous protagonist can be suddenly killed off without much else needing to change probably says more about it than I could.
Batwoman season 2, episode 1 seems to announce right off the bat – sorry, couldn’t help it – that it’s not planning on doing anything all that interesting with Ryan’s backstory. The immediate question of how a background full of hardship and poverty might skew the attitude and perspective of a vigilante who has always been intimately tied to wealth and privilege is largely ignored in favor of repeated flashbacks to her defining trauma. You could essentially predict a lot of the bumps in the road along the way, all of which are rather artlessly revealed to the audience in the usual medley of flashbacks and tortured monologuing. Ryan’s birth mother died in childbirth. Her dad wasn’t around. She grew up in the system, was led away from a life of wrongdoing after being adopted by a kindly woman, and then that woman was battered to death by a gang of squatters right after she and Ryan had moved into their nice new apartment. After that, Ryan was framed on drug charges and incarcerated. Now, she lives in a van, unable to find work because of her criminal record, and this happens to be precisely where the fiery wreckage of Kate’s plane comes tumbling down around her.
Yikes. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with any of these individual characteristics or the storytelling devices used to communicate them to the audience, at least not in and of themselves, but burdening Ryan with all this baggage feels like overkill. And that’s without the mandatory connection to the main plot, which is that the squatters who killed her adoptive mother were members of Alice’s Wonderland gang, which means that no sooner has Ryan found Kate’s suit than she’s out on a revenge mission.
In fairness, Leslie takes to the role really well, and “What Happened to Kate Kane?” accommodates her quite efficiently. Some of the potential family drama involving Kate, Jacob, and Alice is now obviously a write-off, but that’s okay since it gives a new dynamic to the old rivalries. Alice giving Tommy Elliot Bruce Wayne’s face so he could infiltrate the Bat Cave and steal kryptonite for Jacob plays out here, and interestingly enough the kryptonite ends up embedded in Ryan’s chest, so there’s plenty of potential there to shake things up even further.
Whether or not that potential will be realized is anyone’s guess. Batwoman season 2, episode 1 certainly feels different, but it also feels very much like Batwoman – which is to say just not that good. As a hero, though, Ryan seems worth rooting for, and here’s to hoping that she’s the harbinger of a real change for a show that always failed to live up to the fuss surrounding it.