NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the second season of, “Batwoman” are present in this review
Batwoman has objectively proven to be the Arrowverse’s weakest link and most troubled experiment since its premiere in 2019. The series already got off to a shaky start with its first season, headlined by Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane, where it was frequently criticized for being a lesser hybrid of Arrow and Supergirl, while also packing in ill-conceived storylines that were loaded with shaky social justice posturing. Then things only got worse after the conclusion of said first season, whereupon Ruby Rose unexpectedly left the series and vacated its lead role, resulting in an extensive rework around an all-new Batwoman, and series lead. That lead eventually manifested as Ryan Wilder, an all-new character played by Javicia Leslie (albeit one that has since been given a small civilian role in the DC Comics Universe), this time a lower-class ex-con Black woman that nonetheless remains a lesbian (though she appears to have shed Kate Kane’s Jewish roots), and winds up inheriting the Bat Suit after Kate is missing and presumed dead in a plane crash.
Rose’s departure was an impossible situation that Batwoman tried to manage as professionally as it could. Predictably however, the sudden changing of the series’ lead role leads to a ton of problems in Season 2, both narratively and logistically, and that’s before we see that Batwoman has still failed to remedy several of its most pressing issues. Perhaps there wasn’t time for that while the writers were contriving some positively crazy justifications for how a whole new Batwoman could rise in the Arrowverse’s Gotham City, and I doubt that production complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic helped matters. Regardless, Batwoman’s sophomore season remains a colossal mess, one that inevitably suffers from a serious identity crisis in the wake of its sudden lead character change, even if it does manage to tease what’s hopefully a steadier, overall better era for the series to come in Season 3.
First, we have to address the elephant in the room; Ryan Wilder. To Javicia Leslie’s credit, she’s a solid fit for Batwoman’s new lead role, plus her headlining performance is actually pretty solid, nicely calling back to the highlight years of Arrow’s Oliver Queen at its best. That being said though, it’s clear that the writers are still trying to figure out who Ryan is as a character, and this often intrudes on Leslie’s portrayal. Even by the end of Season 2, Ryan doesn’t feel like a character so much as she does a collection of ‘woke’, ‘badass woman’ tropes. Her superhero ideology is incredibly inconsistent at times, and her dramatic turns seem to unfold purely as the plot demands, with a few especially frustrating episodes even featuring ‘idiot plots’ that simply have Ryan creating an obstacle simply by being stupid for stupidity’s own sake. Hell, the series can’t even commit to a consistent love interest for Ryan at this point, with an initially proposed drug cook girlfriend, Angelique being shuffled off before long, while another new girlfriend related to a community center project gets even less bearing on the story, all before Batwoman seems to shrug and just put Ryan on Kate’s formerly destined path of hooking up with Sophie.
Speaking of Batwoman’s established lead ensemble, their dynamic also got noticeably rumbled by the series having to change lead characters, but it surprisingly didn’t prove to be fatal. There were some early concessions to losing Ruby Rose for sure, specifically the show’s Hush storyline being cut short in the Season 2 premiere, when it was obviously meant to encompass a much larger episode selection, while several of the series’ leads noticeably had their destinies changed. Sophie and Jacob were the two most obvious victims here, with Dougray Scott even exiting the series by the end of Season 2, using the excuse that Jacob is taking the fall for the malfeasance of the Crows, which he also shuts down before being permanently transferred to a prison in Metropolis. The destruction of the Crows is one of the biggest and most exciting swings that Batwoman took in Season 2, and this does set up a legitimately exciting new destiny for Sophie in Season 3, who still appears to be a part of the show’s lead ensemble at this point, alongside Luke, Mary and Alice.
Oh, and to add insult to injury regarding lost characters, despite the showrunners’ former claims that Kate Kane would not be recast in Season 2, that’s exactly what ended up happening! After Kate’s return became an apparent necessity within the narrative, Krypton’s Wallis Day ended up succeeding Ruby Rose as the Arrowverse’s Kate, with her altered face being explained by a combination of severe burns, plastic surgery, and a strange affiliation with one of this season’s biggest arch-villains. Day is a natural fit for the role of Kate, and her arc isn’t exactly terrible, even if it is undeniably weird, though this does beg the question; If Kate was going to be recast anyway, then why not just do that to begin with? Why was this whole song and dance with Ryan Wilder even necessary? It stinks a bit of Batwoman’s showrunners caring more about placating Ruby Rose fans than actually doing what’s right for their show, when they should have just made the hard call. Instead, Day is thanklessly used, and ultimately tossed aside in the Season 2 finale, whereupon Kate officially passes the Batwoman mantle on to Ryan, before breaking up with Sophie forever, thus negating most of their Season 1 storylines in an instant, and ultimately taking off on a likely permanent quest to find her missing cousin, Bruce Wayne. I doubt we’ll ever see Kate in the Arrowverse again, which is a shame, because Day definitely could have mixed it up with Gotham’s worst criminals on a regular basis, no problem!
On that note, between the two major threats that the series presented in Season 2, one was definitely realized better than the other. The superior of these two villains was the False Face Society, headlined by Peter Outbridge’s Roman Sionis, a.k.a. Black Mask, a new set of foes with a heavy connection to Ryan, who were seemingly added to the season after Rose’s departure. Ryan’s own criminal past ends up clashing with False Face and Black Mask in a legitimately interesting way, one that eventually builds to a drug epidemic in the city that ultimately carries major consequences for Gotham as a whole. Granted, there’s a considerable chunk of Black Mask’s endgame that feels positively head-scratching, but the attempt to create a dark counterpart to the legacy of Kate Kane, and the newly-launched superhero tenure of Ryan Wilder, is a legitimately interesting idea that proves to be exciting in motion. This is especially true with Outerbridge presenting a more comic-accurate take on a live-action Black Mask as well, as opposed to the more heavily altered, zany Black Mask portrayal by Ewan McGregor in last year’s DC Extended Universe movie, Birds of Prey.
On the negative side however is Coryana, a faraway island where magical cure-all flower, the Desert Rose is exclusively grown. Coryana has been teased on Batwoman since early in Season 1, back when the series was still part of The CW’s Pre-Crisis ‘Earth-1’ universe, rather than its current Post-Crisis ‘Earth-Prime’ continuity. It’s obvious that Coryana was meant to tie heavily into Kate’s continued evolution as Batwoman, and as a way of getting around this, the writers appear to have switched all of Coryana’s storylines to instead involve Alice. To be frank, it doesn’t work, at all. The result sees Coryana and its leader, Safiyah Sohail being non-sensically grafted into affiliation with the False Face Society, while Alice is egregiously undermined as a character by making her the victim of a hypnotist called Enigma, the apparent daughter of the Arrowverse’s unseen Riddler. Yes, rather than being responsible for her own criminal actions, Alice was essentially psychically influenced the whole time. That’s already infuriating, considering that Alice is Batwoman’s best lead character at this point, but even worse is the fact that the almost-certainly planned Kate/Safiyah romance got an awkward surrogate through a secret Coryana boyfriend for Alice, Ocean, a character so useless and dramatically convenient that it’s basically a relief when he’s simply killed off by Safiyah’s lead agent towards the end of this season.
Coryana’s blatantly compromised storyline isn’t even the last heavily botched element of Batwoman’s sophomore season either. It should come as no surprise that the series still absolutely sucks at its social justice elements, presenting a laughably naive worldview that’s about as subtle as a brick to the face. Story elements like Team Batwoman magically solving crime in Gotham freakin’ City of all places by building one community center are head-slappingly idiotic, and at worst, Batwoman can even become inadvertently offensive with how it exploits real-world issues for cheap CW drama. Easily the worst offender on this note is when Luke is the victim of a racially-motivated police shooting by comically evil Crows agent, Russell Tavaroff, which results in supposed city protests that are forgotten by the end of the very next episode, especially when Luke is magically cured by Desert Rose in the end. This is an inconceivably stupid story turn, one that criminally minimizes the very real, life-altering stakes of racially-motivated police shootings in the U.S., and makes them seem like no big deal, because if you’re Black and the cops shoot you, it’s fine, since you’ll be cured by the power of friendship. Yeah, that’s probably not the message that Batwoman intended to send here, but that’s nonetheless the one it sent, and that’s just one of several heavy-handed, ham-fisted social justice themes throughout Season 2 that this series is not nearly smart enough to be featuring!
Foundational issues like that can’t simply be blamed on Batwoman suddenly having to change its lead. Unfortunately, the series still just isn’t that well-written in too many respects, leaving Season 2 to be uneven at best, and outright awful at worst. The series’ lead characters largely improved in Season 2 at least, with the aforementioned Crows shutdown, and Luke’s eventual evolution into new Gotham vigilante, Batwing being particular highlights in Season 2’s narrative, but the storytelling in Batwoman is still pretty bad nonetheless. As with Season 1 however, the show’s Season 2 finale does at least appear to tease what’s hopefully a better era to come, specifically when ‘trophies’ from several of Batman’s iconic villains end up lost and washed up on a Gotham shorefront, seemingly for any citizen to pick up and weaponize. Sure, this is just the latest method through which The CW can get around not having the rights to Batman, nor most of his high-profile villain roster, but the idea of Penguin’s umbrella, Clayface’s mud, Bane’s strength-enhancing Venom supply, or Poison Ivy’s vines, among other Batman Family villain trademarks, potentially winding up in anyone’s hands, does immediately present a solid foundation for Batwoman’s upcoming third season, which is scheduled to premiere this October.
Again though, this doesn’t change the fact that Batwoman remains the weakest link among The CW’s current roster of DC dramas, as well as the worst Arrowverse series made so far. Batwoman’s second season still had some successes, especially in its final few episodes, but the show’s frequent growing pains were exacerbated further by having to suddenly change around its lead character. That’s also before considering that Batwoman still doesn’t seem to have learned that it flat out sucks at social justice commentary. Fortunately, with Black Lightning having now joined Arrow in retirement as of a couple of months ago, the Arrowverse has finally left the necessary space for Batwoman to find its niche as this universe’s resident street-level superhero drama. Even if it no longer feels like a vestigial tail however, Batwoman still has a ways to go before it can keep pace with even The CW’s flagging veteran DC dramas like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. That’s also before considering The CW’s fresher, more interesting DC shows like Superman & Lois, Stargirl and the upcoming Naomi, all of which are threatening to further bury Batwoman’s appeal and necessity from here.
- Javicia Leslie is a great new lead
- Black Mask and False Face Society are solid villains
- Bold decision to shut down the Crows
- Ryan's character is inconsistent and ill-defined
- Safiyah/Coryana storyline is terrible all around
- Social justice commentary remains juvenile and misguided