NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Batwoman” are present in this review
Batwoman’s troubles just never seem to end. Right as the show’s third season was set to premiere, original series star, Ruby Rose had criticized its set as being irresponsibly managed and dangerous. This is simply the latest controversy for a long-struggling Arrowverse series that has never quite been able to consistently find its feet, both creatively and logistically. Fortunately, as of this latest season, second lead, Javicia Leslie can now better settle into the revamped lead role of Ryan Wilder, and with that comes a deeper connection to the Batman mythology that will hopefully boost Batwoman’s appeal among fans of the Dark Knight. For better or worse, Batwoman is determined to soldier on and keep trying to earn its place in the Arrowverse’s lineup, even as the rest of The CW’s shared DC TV Universe also starts to find itself on shakier ground in the premium streaming era.
I can also confirm that, while it still suffers from feeling too juvenile and pretentious at times, Batwoman’s Season 3 premiere is a huge step in the right direction, one that may just promise that Batwoman has finally started to find its appeal for Batman/DC fans in particular. “Mad as a Hatter” picks up after the very exciting cliffhanger ending tease from last season, involving Batman’s displaced super-villain trophies now floating around Gotham City for anyone to pick up and abuse. Ryan and co. have managed to recapture at least a couple of these non-descript trophies in the meantime, but the majority of them are still unaccounted for. Not only that, but a particularly dangerous trophy, the mind-controlling hat of Jervis Tetch, a.k.a. Mad Hatter, has now found its way into the hands of mentally unstable college student, Liam Crandall, who just so happens to be a very big fan of Alice.
This is a genuinely inspired way to create a shared Alice in Wonderland connection between this new Mad Hatter and Alice, with the latter being an established nemesis on Batwoman since its debut. It’s also a good way to begin foreshadowing the latest alliance between Ryan and Alice, after Alice believes that her father is contacting her with a means of escape, despite Jacob being separately incarcerated in Metropolis. Since Dougray Scott formally left Batwoman last season to boot, viewers know that Jacob isn’t actually coming back, and sure enough, Ryan eventually determines that Alice is imagining these communications from her father. It’s a nice twist with a decent amount of clues before the big reveal, though I must nonetheless admit that the Ryan/Alice tension still feels too forced, especially when it’s fairly obvious right from the jump that Alice is not going to stay in Arkham Asylum for very long.
Alice’s latest get-out-of-jail free card comes by way of Renee Montoya, a recognizable former GCPD officer from DC Comics lore, who, funny enough, is played by Victoria Cartagena on Batwoman. Cartagena also portrayed Montoya in FOX’s former Batman prequel series, Gotham, creating a bit of a cool nod to that show by the Arrowverse, and while it’s nonetheless obvious that Gotham takes place on a separate, self-contained Earth, the idea of the Arrowverse’s Montoya being a multiversal doppelganger of Gotham’s Montoya is nonetheless pretty cool. In any case, this new take on Montoya has the character being placed in charge of a specialized ‘Rogues Unit’ by Gotham’s mayor, a response to the eventual and inevitable return of Batman’s familiar gallery of super-villains, and their various technological and metahuman threats that Gotham already endured under the tenure of Batman and Jim Gordon.
Montoya comes out of the woodwork after Crandall starts abusing the Mad Hatter’s hat, initially coercing a drunk college guy to slice his buddy’s throat in the sewer. Crandall’s crime spree escalates quickly from there, eventually making its way to Mary’s graduation ceremony at Gotham University, where Mary is set to speak as valedictorian. Rather than do her speech as normal however, Crandall uses his hat to paralyze the audience, and compel Mary to denounce Gotham’s medical establishment, before forcing her to perform surgery on the head of her program, removing organs until the man dies. This creates a genuinely disturbing and effective time limit for Ryan and Luke, who must quickly find a way to disable the hat’s hypnotic technology. Yes, Batwoman has real stakes in this season premiere, plus it manages to effectively embrace the dark sense of humour behind Batman’s villains, even when they’re only here in spirit. It’s very promising stuff, and it suggests that Batwoman is finally going to get serious about embracing the best elements of Batman’s rogues gallery.
Ryan and Luke meanwhile face their own mysteries and challenges aside from Crandall. Ryan continues to be tormented by the revelation that her birth mother is still alive, for example, with Sophie eventually looking into the affair herself, and discovering that Ryan’s birth mother may be a certain wealthy CEO. Ryan however rejects this information when Sophie offers it, leaving the audience (and Sophie) to learn the truth separately. Luke, meanwhile, is struggling to get a handle on his new Batwing suit, another inspired examination of how Batwoman’s vigilantes aren’t efficient crime fighters right from the jump. This is something that Batwoman explored well even during Season 1’s original Kate Kane era, admittedly, and it’s good to see that Luke isn’t simply being handed a prestigious career as a superhero. Likewise, the idea of Lucius Fox spiritually enduring in the Batwing suit as an A.I. could serve as another cool way to get around The CW seemingly not having the license to portray that character, while also helping to develop Luke’s character in a fun new direction, now that he’s fighting crime alongside Ryan.
I do wish that the show had found a better excuse to force Ryan and Alice into an alliance yet again, rather than simply rendering Ryan’s latest betrayal of Alice completely pointless, after Alice is conscripted to stop Crandall, only to be immediately thrown back in Arkham afterward… For a few hours. Why bother having Ryan betray Alice at all then? Still, “Mad as a Hatter” nonetheless seems to have Batwoman kicking off a new season with more style and confidence than it ever has before. Even if the series doesn’t actually feature Jervis Tetch here (though it does mention his former history battling Batman), its Mad Hatter plot is effectively twisted and exciting anyway, while the new challenges facing Ryan, Luke and Mary alike prove to be equally tantalizing. Now that we no longer have to rework plots and shuffle actors as well, Batwoman can better focus on fleshing out its world with more effective tie-ins to the Batman Family’s legacy, while also setting up several promising character mysteries on its own terms.
Batwoman still has a lot to prove before it can start being declared as a worthy Arrowverse addition in earnest, but these early successes in the Season 3 premiere could indicate that the show’s extensive growing pains may finally be starting to subside. Could this finally be the genuinely good Batwoman season we’ve been waiting for? Maybe. Colour me interested.
- Genuinely cool, twisted Mad Hatter storyline
- Luke's early troubles as Batwing
- Montoya's interesting new role in the Arrowverse
- Some of the leads (especially Mary) remain juvenile and annoying
- Ryan/Alice tension continues to feel forced