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BATWOMAN 2×01 “What Happened To Kate Kane?” Review

“Engaging and exciting. This is a show with a new lease on life” says Neil. Read his review of BATWOMAN episode 2×01 right here.

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Javicia Leslie/Batwoman (Warner Bros. Television)

Synopsis

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN — Kate’s friends and family hold on to hope that Kate may still be found, a homeless 25-year-old named Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) stumbles upon Kate’s Batsuit. Focused on no longer being a victim, Ryan takes the suit to use as armor and goes rogue in the streets of Gotham, taking out various members of a new gang called the False Face Society. Meanwhile, both Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) and Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) launch searches for Kate, Mary Hamilton (Nicole Kang) grapples with losing yet another family member, Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy) struggles with things left unsaid to her first love, and Alice (Rachel Skarsten) is furious that someone got to Kate before she could exact her revenge. At the same time, “Bruce Wayne” (guest star Warren Christie) returns under the pretense of searching for Kate, but the truth is he wants his suit back and it becomes the clash of imposters as “Batwoman” and “Bruce” square off in the action-packed season premiere.

Review

In the 8 months since Batwoman last appeared on our TV screens a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The CW’s latest entry in the so-called Arrowverse, until the arrival of Superman & Lois, certainly faces an uphill battle as it enters its sophomore season.

Critics aside, it’s fair to say that fans struggled to warm to original lead Ruby Rose as Kate Kane. Whilst the Kate of the comics is often stoically portrayed, Rose was criticised for what came across as a one-note performance. Though she warmed to the part by the end of season 1 it was clear that Batwoman was just not for Rose.

So all eyes will no doubt be on this episode to see if new lead Javicia Leslie can elevate the series to something more akin to its Arrowverse cousins. If “What Happened To Kate Kane?” is anything to go by then Batwoman is well on its way to course correction.

Written by series showrunner Caroline Dries, “What Happened To Kate Kane?” wastes very little time in removing Kane from the playing field and introducing Leslie’s Ryan Wilder. The opening scene is as much of a passing of the baton as we’re going to get. Frenetically paced and engaging, it feels like the most fitting way to cross over the two characters.

Perhaps most interestingly is the lack of a body in the search for Kate Kane. It remains to be seen how long the series will continue hunting for her. But for now it would seem that Dries and co. are leaving the door open for Rose to make a guest appearance down the line. But whilst Kate’s spectre looms large, this episode really belongs to Ryan.

Leslie is an incredibly charismatic lead. Season 1 suffered from the comic book legacy of Kate Kane. I often felt like the series presumed viewers had an understanding of her character from the source material. Rather than define this first live-action Kate, instead her motivations were often left to the requirement of the story. That couldn’t be any less of the case with Wilder. First off, she is a completely original invention for TV, but even still there is dedicated time spent in this episode to learning just who she is and what motivates her.

In the space of just this episode Leslie is able to show that she can handle the action sequences as well as the CW brand of dramedy. Similarly to all the other shows we’re seeing her take the journey from civilian to hero. There’s no rush to make her the perfect vigilante so there are plenty of missteps which feel honest to her character’s development.

This is still The CW so there are soapy elements in play. But on the whole Wilder’s backstory feels fitting for a soon-to-be-vigilante. Dries is able to cleverly weave that backstory in to the core of the show via a surprising connection to Alice and also The Crows. It feels organic to the show rather than feeling forced. But more importantly it feels emotionally well pitched and in the right vein for introducing a new Bat-Family member.

Interestingly, it feels like the rest of the cast have all stepped up following the change in lead. It would be difficult to pick a stand out as everyone feels on top of their game compared to last season. Camrus Johnson and Nicole Kang brilliantly enhance the opening scene, providing further context in to what has happened to Kate. Dougray Scott, Meagan Tandy and Christina Wolfe all work in tandem to up the ante on the emotional response to Kate’s disappearance.

Season 1 standout Rachel Skarsten remains on top form. I had wondered how the show would cope with her character without the attachment of Kate as her sister. This episode quickly finds her a new purpose with unseen villain Safiyah. It’s one of the episode’s more convenient plot points. But given that season 1 also setup Alice and Safiyah’s connection its not as huge of a leap as expected.

Elsewhere Batwoman does have to shift gears to catch up with the new status quo. Season 1 ended with Tommy Elliot masquerading at Bruce Wayne (Warren Christie) and making a return to Gotham. Elliot was working with Alice in order to help bring down Kate. With that reason now gone the series does away with Elliot/Wayne pretty quickly making him the villain of the week. Whilst it feels dishonourable to his character, his connection to the story is now far more tangential. It makes sense to allow Ryan Wilder to develop her own cast of characters than simply transposing her in to Kate’s situation.

Batwoman quickly maintains its connections to the wider Arrowverse. There are passing mentions of National City and Supergirl. Much of the plot also circles a certain shard of Krpytonite which has been hanging around since Crisis On Infinite Earths. The episode ends with quite the jumping off point which has me wondering where the story will go next.

Verdict

“What Happened To Kate Kane?” finally sees Batwoman hitting the ground running. Engaging and exciting. This is a show with a new lease on life.

Batwoman season 2 will star Javicia Leslie as Ryan Wilder/Batwoman. The series co-stars Dougray Scott, Meagan Tandy, Camrus Johnson, Nicole Kang, Christina Wolfe and Rachel Skarsten.


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