Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided the writer with a free copy of the Blu-ray reviewed in this article. The opinions shared are his own.
With Arrow coming into its eighth and final season, the CW needed a new show to replace it and continue its stable of shows within the Arrowverse. Why not head to Gotham and bring forth one of DC Comics most beloved characters? If not Batman, then why not his cousin? Batwoman may not be an obvious choice to fill in the Arrow's shoes, but then again the Arrow wasn't exactly the hottest property the CW could have chosen to start this whole thing either. And whoever heard of Legends of Tomorrow outside of super DC nerds before that series aired? The Flash was probably the biggest character to come into the Arrowverse but he was hardly the most popular DC character in their roster. For whatever reason, the CW continues to pluck characters out of relative obscurity from the DC Comics universe to help their own series. I'm not versed well enough into these things to know if this has to do with the movies keeping up with the bigger characters or the CW wanting to have fun with lesser-knowns. Whatever the case, it has worked well for them, and us as fans.
Through four other TV series and a few internet-only ones, the Arrowverse has developed a sort-of playbook in which all of the shows adhere to. There is a central hero who may or may not have superpowers but who is certainly the baddest badass around, and they have a team of helpers who always include some sort of tech geek who can "hack" into every system within minutes. This person can also build any weapon or piece of tech the hero needs. There is often some kind of medical person or sentient computer that can heal our heroes' wounds. Money is never a problem and the sources of income for our heroes are often obscure and generally not talked about. There is lots of relationship drama with family, friends, and romantic interests and a rogues gallery of villains including a seasonal Big Bad.
Each series has its own balance between relationship drama, comedy, and action. The shows can get pretty formulaic at times, but the best ones and the best episodes within each series are the ones that find a way to move away from the formula and do something unique.
Batwoman stays pretty close to the formula for the first few episodes and honestly, were I not having to review it I likely would have bailed. Needing to binge-watch, I consumed it alone and I told my wife that this was a show we'd likely not be watching together. Then something happened. Slowly, I was drawn in. The characters began to become well-formed, and the story hooked me. As more and more episodes were watched, the more I found myself really liking the show. It never ventures all that far from the standard Arrowverse formula but it finds ways to become its own thing and once it finds that groove it is quite good.
So, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) returns to Gotham after a stint training with some of the world's foremost super-awesome fighter people. She wants to be good enough to join the Crows, a private security firm now policing the city because things have gotten so bad the actual police force can't hack it. The Crows are run by her father, Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott), but he won't let her be a part of the club unless she can prove her badassedness. Previously, Kate was about to graduate from Gotham's version of West Point, but then she got caught snogging her girlfriend Sophie Moore (Megan Tandy) and apparently this version of Gotham lives in a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell: world because the two are given an ultimatum: sign a paper saying they aren't kissing homosexuals or get kicked out. Sophie signs the document and breaks Kate's heart. Hence, the wandering the world training. Kate is called back by her stepsister Mary Hamilton (Nicole Kang) because the Joker-esque villain Alice (Rachel Skarsten) has targeted Jacob and Sophie.
Did I mention that Batman/Bruce Wayne has been missing from Gotham for the last few years? He just got up and left. No one knows where he went, or why. Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), Lucious's son, is now playing guardian to Wayne Tower. That's how Kate figures out that her cousin Bruce is actually Batman. She sneaks into Wayne Tower one day, meets Luke and then while gazing at those damn pearls (we don't ever watch them fall to the ground as Bruce's mom gets killed, but they are now encased in a little glass case), she twists the case which opens the door to the Bat Cave.
At first, she has no intention of becoming Batwoman but Alice and her Wonderland Gang are wreaking havoc on the city and threatening her family (and dear old Daddy still refuses to let her into the Crows) so she dons the cape and kicks a little butt. Then eventually decides to become Batwoman. All the shows in the Arrowverse struggle in their first season as they've got to give us an origin story while simultaneously introducing us to and developing the hero's team, bringing in new villains, a Big Bad, and generally figuring out what the series is going to be about. Batwoman struggles more than most at first.
Did I mention Alice is actually Beth Kane, Kate's long lost twin sister? When they were but children their mother had a car accident sending herself and Beth over the bridge and into the river. There was a moment when Kate might have been able to save Beth but she was just a child, and terrified, and so she didn't react and down Alice went. The mother died, but Beth washed up ashore and was found by August Cartright (John Emmett Tracy), a psychopath who locks Beth into his basement and essentially enslaves her. His son, Mouse (Sam Littlefield), becomes her only friend. Half his face was burned off in an accident and August keeps him locked up as well, fearing what other children might say if they saw him. Together, they learn to make Mouse face masks out of human flesh which leads to some fun identity theft later in the series.
There is a lot going on in Batwoman. More than I can write about in this review. So I'll not even get into how Alfred Pennyworth's daughter shows up as a British spy or that Hush turns up as a secondary villain. Nor will I even get into Batwoman's awful looking red wig.
Where most shows in the Arrowverse spend a lot of time on Freaks of the Week (villains that show up in one episode and are taken down in the same, never to show themselves again) and keep the Big Bad relegated to minor appearances until the big showdown towards the end of the season, Batwoman keeps Alice at the forefront. This allows the series to really delve into her backstory while doing other things besides discuss her big plan, and generally develop her into a full character. It truly pays off. Alice is one of the most memorable villains in the entire Arrowverse.
I always find the relationship aspects of these shows to be the most boring parts and that remains true with Batwoman. Kate is the first lesbian lead character in a DC series (and don't quote me on this but I think she's the first lesbian lead character in any comic book series or film). That's great for representation, but it still too soapy for my tastes. She pines for Sophie even though it has apparently been several years since she's seen her. Sophie is now married to a man and is a high-ranking member of the Crows. Naturally, things get super emotional between her and Kate as the series progresses. Kate dates/makes-out with various women and spends far too much time talking about her feelings for a show about a woman who dons a cape and rides a motorcycle. Mary and Kate were never close so there are more emotions over that and eventually, Mary becomes part of the team. Soft music, lots of talking, not enough punching.
Once they get the kinks worked out and when it focuses on the Kate/Alice dynamic (instead of the periodic Freaks of the Week), the show finds its groove and really worked for me. I was really looking forward to seeing what they would do in Season Two. Then I learned that Ruby Rose did not sign on for another reason. Reports are vague as to why, but it seems to have something to do with her hurting her back pretty badly and how she had to leave social media because she's not lesbian enough to play the character (Rose considers herself gender fluid, and that apparently means you aren't real lesbian. Or something).
Due to Covid-19, the series ended two episodes before it was originally intended to finish. It winds up ending on a really interesting cliff-hanger but now with Rose not coming back, it is difficult to see how they will wrap that storyline up. Javicia Wilder has signed on to play Ryan Wilder, who presumably will start donning the Batsuit at some point. That's a lot of changes for a show that's still finding its legs to endure. Only time will tell if they can get through them and still make a good show. I'm willing to take that chance. I'm interested to see where they go next.
Extras for this Blu-ray set to include a behind-the-scenes look at the series, clips from the 2019 Comic-Con Convention, deleted scenes and a gag reel. The entire Crisis on Infinite Earth crossover event is included on a separate disk (Batwoman's episode in that is also included within the regular series disks so that if you don't want to watch the entire event you can still easily watch her episode).