"Batwoman" Season 1 "Off With Her Head" Breaks All Rules, Invokes All Tropes [SPOILER REVIEW]

This week's Batwoman was a literal gamechanger, and I'm not sure if this episode is one of the best or one of the worst. There's a moment where I knew exactly what was going to happen next and I wanted to throw something at the television. Alas, I knew I had to watch Supergirl next, so shoes were not thrown, televisions remained intact. But some other parts of this episode were pretty great.

Our main conflict in the episode revolves around two prisoners. When Alice (Rachel Skarsten) leaves her kidnapper, August Cartwright (John Emmet Tracy), tied up on a rooftop next to the Batsignal with a note reading "Mommy Dearest" in his mouth, she sets in motion a series of events that will end in tragedy for everyone involved.

Meanwhile, she goes to track down Mouse's location, and upon finding him hooked up to Scarecrow's fear toxin, she frees him. But having been hallucinating Alice herself as his biggest fear, he now knocks her out, ties her to the chair and makes her breathe in the fear toxin. And her biggest fear? Mommy Dearest.

"Batwoman" Season 1 "Off With Her Head" Breaks All Rules, Invokes All Tropes [SPOILER REVIEW]
Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

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We're introduced to Cartwright's mother Mabel (Debra Mooney) and she is a piece of work. We also see the obvious abuse and generational trauma that she inflicted on her son, grandson, and "the girl" Beth. She especially seems to torture Beth over the smallest infractions, especially around the preparation of her tea.

Mother Cartwright also seems particularly fascinated with the necklace Beth wears of the birthstone that her mother gave her and Kate at their b'not mitzvah which matched her earrings so they could always remember her and be close to her.

This moment was heartbreaking. Seeing little Kate and Beth and being told by their mom the symbolism of the color red, to remember courage, passion, war, and love, and to keep them and all emotions in balance is the crux of this episode. The fact that an abuser like Cartwright covets the birthstones so terribly is also a trauma on multiple layers.

Alice's biggest fear manifest by the gas is not only Mama Cartwright but also a vision of her father Jacob (Dougray Scott) and Kate/Batwoman (Ruby Rose) consciously deciding that they don't care enough about her to come and rescue her.

Batwoman
Batwoman — "Off With Her Head" — Image Number: BWN115a_0502b — Pictured (L-R): Rachel Skarsten as Alice and Dougray Scott as Jacob Kane — Photo: Shane Harvey/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

This goes back to the primal nature of Alice's trauma. She really is a scared little girl who feels abandoned by her family and then suffers horrible abuse at the hands of her captors. So then why did she deliver Jonathan Cartwright to her sister?

As Kate and Jacob interrogate him, they also learn about what the "Mommy Dearest" message mean. He continues to goad Kate and eventually gets free and slices his neck open. After Kate saves him with some first aid assistance from Mary (Nicole Kang) over the phone, he continues to goad her even after revealing Alice's location. And here's where I almost put my shoe through the television.

Batwoman
Batwoman — "Off With Her Head" — Image Number: BWN115a_0042b — Pictured (L-R): Camrus Johnson as Luke Fox and Nicole Kang as Mary Hamilton — Photo: Shane Harvey/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

But before we get to that difficult piece, let's talk for a moment about the ray of sunshine that is Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) and Mary getting teamed up. Their amateur sleuthing is fun, as is the game Mary has to continue playing of "I've figured out that my stepsister is Batwoman and I'm trying to show her and her team how awesome and trustworthy I am so they'll bring me in." It's a really layered performance and a lot of fun. the reaction when Luke wonders why Batwoman is calling Mary is also brilliant. They haven't given his character much to do so far, and this has been a good diversion.

And now for the part of the show that made me ragey.

Cartwright's final instigation is telling Kate the final story of Mommy Dearest. One time while trying to find milk for Mother's tea, Beth found a locked fridge but was told to ignore it by August. But after seeing Mama Cartwright wearing the very same earrings her mother had worn, the ones to remind her to keep her mom's memory close to her heart, she knew to go search where it had been forbidden before and. . .  of course finds her mom's head, sans earrings, in the fridge. Yes, they literally put a woman in a refrigerator in this show.

I'm sorry, but I'm done. I thought this show was better than this. Yes, some may say, this subverts the trope, because it doesn't inspire a male character– instead it inspires female characters! Bull$#!%, I say! The loss of their mother is certainly an important and formative experience for young Beth and Kate, but to then also literally put her head in a fridge is a giant wink to the audience and absolutely unnecessary.

And THEN, perhaps even worse, this propels Kate into a murderous rage. She ends up choking Cartwright, who dies in his weakened state. Batman's #1 rule is no killing. How can Kate live with this, especially after opening the episode making her father promise not to kill him? Batwoman, at its heart, is a family melodrama. The interpersonal relationships between the Kanes — Kate, Alice/Beth and Jacob — are the axis around which the entire season has revolved. Where do they go from here, especially after, as Alice points out to her father, both daughters are now killers.

A final scene of Kate drinking in an alley, texting Sophie, and then joined by Beth is pretty on the nose. Especially as Beth reminds her, "Last time I checked, bodies don't bury themselves."

Yowza. And it seems the great Kate-Beth teamup is going to continue next week with a breakout from Arkham as they go "Through the Looking Glass."

About Andy Wilson

A mild mannered digital strategist working for an environmental nonprofit in Austin, TX roaming the interwebs fighting his nemeses by day, and by night consuming all manner of media. You can find him either on his couch or at the nearest Alamo Drafthouse catching the latest. Don't follow him on Twitter @CitizenAndy.

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