“Rule #1” begins a new phase of Batwoman’s second season, as Black Mask steps to the forefront as the Big Bad.
This recap of Batwoman season 2, episode 9, “Rule #1”, contains spoilers.
There’s a lot going on in “Rule #1”, which begins something of a new era for Batwoman’s second season. After the various revelations of the previous episode, not all of which I was keen on, this week’s chapter is all about establishing a new status quo, promoting a new villain to the role of Big Bad, and laying the groundwork for two or three major storylines that look set to develop against this new backdrop. That leaves a fair amount to unpack, so let’s get on with it.
For one thing, Ryan has healed thanks to her deus ex Desert Rose, and with the news that Kate Kane’s body parts have been discovered off the coast of Bludhaven, we seem to have left Coryana behind – at least for now. Ryan is instead devoted to establishing her own legacy behind the cowl and helping to heal a Gotham City that is being blighted by Snakebite, a new designer drug being peddled by the False Face Society under the leadership of Roman Sionis (Peter Outerbridge), aka the Black Mask. The opening of “Rule #1” reveals that Black Mask is in possession of a badly wounded and completely disfigured Kate Kane, and we learn later that a) she’s apparently responsible for the death of his daughter and b) he plans to use Enigma to remodel her memories and personality to suit her new face.
In the meantime, Batwoman season 2, episode 9 weaves the plot of the week in with Ryan’s romantic woes, since Sophie’s younger sister, Jordan (Keeya King), a broad archetype of a Gen Z artist-activist, witnesses the assassination of Gotham’s police commissioner by the False Face Society and identifies Angelique as the getaway driver. Angelique, having recently dumped Ryan, was looking to get out of the criminal life and had agreed to do this last job to escape and be with her love, but after being kidnapped and subsequently rescued by Batwoman and Sophie, she ends up confessing to the commissioner’s murder in order to protect Ryan. It’s an oddly poetic end to their relationship, really.
This is all part of Ryan’s “becoming Batwoman” arc, which in truth has been going on since the premiere. But in “Rule #1” it certainly feels more definitive, since at one point she literally lays out the rules on a whiteboard for the benefit of Mary and Luke. This, the show seems to be saying, is how we’re going to be proceeding, with the Bat Team all on the same page, and the considerable resources of the Wayne empire being put to use in addressing some of Gotham’s systemic woes. Ryan hasn’t been shy when it comes to griping about those, but the introduction of Jordan seems to be intentionally giving the issues a mouthpiece. She’s too on-the-nose for my tastes, but she fulfills a specific role within the plot, and the idea of the Bat Team replacing the criminal elements that Batwoman removes with actual, tangible change isn’t just thematically resonant but actually answers that terribly dorky question of why Batman never just pumped billions into institutional reform instead of punching people in the face. This is the best of both worlds, I think.
The matter of Kate Kane does still loom large over Batwoman season 2, episode 9, though, but I’m inclined to believe the show has found a decent balance. She actually shows up in two different forms here, both as the ruined version in Black Mask’s captivity and as a child conjured up by another of Alice’s psychological breaks. It’s hard to say where that latter plot is going, but it seems like Alice is trying to forcibly move on from Kate by pretending she never existed in the first place. That’s certainly one way of dealing with it and fulfills the same plot function as accepting she’s dead, but it’s also decidedly, deliberately unhealthy – the chickens will come home to roost, I’m sure, but probably not yet.
We can speculate about what the long-term plans for Kate are, but with Enigma’s involvement, it’s easy to take a punt and assume she’ll be a temporary villain, some kind of False Face Society enforcer, made to do their dirty work so that Sionis can take some measure of satisfaction from corrupting her. If that’s the case, I can live with it, since it won’t necessarily overshadow Ryan’s role as Batwoman. The question is, after her inevitable factory reset, what does that mean for Ryan? Having her once again put on the cowl would seem a right slap in the face for Ryan but having two of the same hero running around is probably overkill. It’ll be interesting to see how the show addresses these questions going forwards.