REVIEW: Batwoman, S1E1 – Pilot

batwoman 101 pilot kate

Reviewing Batwoman brings an old adage to mind: don’t judge a book by its cover. Similarly, you shouldn’t judge a show by its pilot, since so much can change from conception to series. But when a pilot is all you have, Batwoman must suffer the slings and arrows of criticism as she strives to become the hero Gotham needs. Lest that sound too dire, rest assured that the series is not irredeemable. There are kernels of a strong story to be found amidst the wreckage, but first the showrunners must find their way out of thee clutter and give their characters some breathing room.

batwoman 101 pilot jacob

Daddy issues make the world go ’round.

Speaking of characters, Batwoman‘s fate rests squarely on the shoulders of one Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), and it’s not clear yet whether she’s up to the task. The actress has clearly put a lot of herself into the role, physically speaking, and her scenes with the suit on are a testament to that. But out of it, the combination of thin writing and one-note acting leave Kate feeling like less of a lead and more of a shadow. A shadow of Batman, specifically, as the script never fails to point out that she’s the “female Bruce” – which only makes sense if you assume everyone knows his secret identity, or if you equate defying the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy to a playboy billionaire parading around town like a lost cause.

Even Kate’s feelings about her cousin, explored via vague flashbacks throughout the pilot, are more extreme than complex. She goes from idolizing Bruce and despising Batman to idolizing Batman because he’s Bruce, and the lack of middle ground is disconcerting. But perhaps baseless repulsions and attachments run in the family, because series villain Alice (Rachel Skarsten) suffers from a similar ordeal. Skarsten brings a lot of life to her Joker-esque character, but her big plans are really all about getting General Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) to notice her. Even if Batwoman hadn’t pulled the trigger on the sibling reveal – far too quickly, in my humble opinion – it would be blatantly obvious from the way she talks about Daddy Dearest. She goes so far as to insist that Sophie (Meagan Tandy), Jacob’s star employee and Kate’s ex-girlfriend, is the favorite child and therefore must be punished. This accusation is as baseless as it is toothless, and Kate easily shrugs it off despite spending her life convinced her father hates her for reminding him of the family he lost.

batwoman 101 pilot alice

The glorious war of sisterly rivalry.

The one way that Sophie may seem favored over Kate is by actually working for Jacob’s security company, which ostensibly protects Gotham in Batman’s absence. No word on what they were doing three years ago, before he disappeared, but what’s more important is that Jacob made up excuse after excuse for why his daughter couldn’t join. This sent her to the corners of the Earth, gathering training tips from anyone who would provide them, in order to prove to her dad that she has what it takes. However, the stakes feel almost comically low when the only thing standing in Kate’s way is her dad’s overprotective tendencies. She comes home after Alice kidnaps Sophie, and her father welcomes her with open arms despite not wanting her to join the search. They don’t feel anymore strained that a typical father and daughter, especially not in the wake of the devastating tragedy that alienated them in the first place. Their final confrontation doesn’t even build to much of a crescendo, but at least it helps Jacob become a more three-dimensional character.

Batwoman‘s saving grace is probably its supporting cast, who carry hidden gems with them if the writers utilize them properly. Tandy brings a bittersweet aura of tragic first love as Sophie, but she’s also highly competent as a member of Gotham’s private security. Her scenes with Kate also help Rose simultaneously lighten up and be more vulnerable, helping her character sketch immensely, and her moment with Batwoman was just short of electric. The only issue is how the show will handle her marriage twist moving forward. Meanwhile, stepsister Mary Hamilton (Nicole Kang) was a delight, exhibiting surprising duality as a flighty socialite turned night nurse without skipping a beat. Her warm relationship with Kate also feels very natural, though it once again calls into question the supposed tension between Kate and her dad. Finally, the nervous and techy Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) has all the ingredients needed to turn into another fan favorite a la Felicity or Cisco – let’s just hope he gets to put his own spin on the archetype.

All in all, Batwoman‘s pilot is a little messy, a little rote, and a lot stuck in Bruce Wayne’s shadow; but the potential for more is undeniable. If nothing else, we need to stay tuned for more of Rachel Maddow’s excellent Vesper Fairchild voiceovers. Progress can be tracked every Sunday at 8/7c on The CW.