‘Batwoman’ Season 2 Boasts a Great New Lead but Needs To Solve Its Own Story

The second season of The CW’s “Batwoman” takes on the challenge of having to recast its title lead, somehow keep the plot sensible and continue promoting diverse values. It certainly scores on the first and last. Javicia Leslie now dons the mantle of the bat, furthering the show’s groundbreaking defiance of old gender and ethnic norms in the Batman franchise. That was the real value of the first season as well. The writing and style might have been typical CW gloss, but it was refreshing to see the original star, Ruby Rose, turn Batgirl into Batwoman and reimagine her as a Jewish lesbian. Then Rose abruptly quit the show last year, citing its physical demands. Leslie is a welcome replacement, now turning Batwoman into a strong Black female persona, even if the writing feels like it’s winging it.

Even the title of the season premiere makes no secret about knowing what viewers will be asking, “What Happened to Kate Kane?” As the season opens, it seems like Kate Kane (played last season by Rose), might be flying back to Gotham City after a trip to try and destroy a small bit of Kryptonite. While sleeping in her van, a currently homeless Ryan Wilder (Leslie) sees a flaming jet crash nearby. When she rushes to see the wreckage she just so happens to find Kane’s Batwoman costume intact. But there’s no Kane. Back at the Batcave, Kane’s usual helpers, Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) and Mary (Nicole Kang), desperately try to decipher what just happened. Was Kane on the crashed jet? Her powerful dad Jacob (Dougray Scott) would like to know too. Unbeknown to them all, their arch nemesis (and Kate’s twin) Alice (Rachel Skarsten) has sent into Wayne Enterprises madman Tommy Elliot (Warren Christie) disguised as none other than his obsession, Bruce Wayne. Meanwhile Ryan has decided she will try that bat suit after all and hunt down the scum that killed her adoptive mother.

The intentions of “Batwoman” in terms of pop representation are so welcome you can almost forgive the absurdities in the plotting. There’s a mad dash to try and smooth over the transition from Rose to Leslie. One feels for the showrunners, who were forced to make the switch in the very middle of an ongoing plot. There’s not even the slightest effort to give Ryan a proper introduction to the whole Batwoman world, or even job requirements. How convenient that she’s already a martial artist who can’t get a job at any dojos. Apparently the Batwoman costume comes with its own self-explanatory manual, because once Ryan puts it on she’s immediately off to leaping across town and beating up two alleyway thugs. No training necessary. Per the requirements of Bat world, you can’t wear the cape and cowl unless you have serious parental trauma. Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed when he was a kid. Kane’s dad is a Trump-style jerk. In Ryan’s case, she witnessed her adoptive mother die at the hands of Alice’s Wonderland Gang. It’s a bit too convenient in terms of plotting, but at least it gives her understandable drive.

The CW has gained a reputation for its brand of flashy shows with B-movie production values, sometimes decorated over with colorful photography. “Riverdale” is still the network’s crowning achievement. But somehow the network also has a pretty woke edge that it tries to inject into every title. Its teen shows are more open and casual about sex, while the superhero offerings truly diversify the casts. This new take on “Batwoman” makes the admirable effort of putting in some real social commentary. Ryan lives in her van because following a wrongful arrest it’s hard for her to find a job. She can’t help but scoff at the whole Batman legacy when Luke and Mary try to pressure her into surrendering the costume. Kate Kane, like Bruce, had the luxury of being rich, while Ryan is “the 327th baby of a Black woman who died during childbirth that year.” This show is no “Black Panther,” but it does address the issue of ethnic representation within the genre in a blunt way that’s ironically more doable in a show where big speeches are crammed into the dialogue. 

How the season deals with the show’s loose threads seems like a complicated maze to get through. In the season premiere Kane isn’t exactly killed off. For now she’s missing, which is a real problem for heroes in Gotham since the show is also set in a timeline where Batman has gone missing for five years. Ryan is given a fitting first episode however, complete with a car chase into an abandoned theme park where she even takes a shot of Kryptonite from Tommy Elliot. Speaking of Tommy, he also has some moments that feel like self-satire. As a false Bruce Wayne he enjoys the perks, like sleeping with two super models. He’s also done away with by the end of the episode when Ryan pounds his fake face off with her fists, despite the whole set-up involving Alice. If there is a send-off for Kane it might be a moment where girlfriend Sophie (Meagan Tandy) receives a letter from her confessing she was Batwoman all along. Moving, but how the show truly explains away Kate’s departure remains to be seen.

So now “Batwoman” has a new revenge plot thread to follow as Ryan is bent on finding Alice. Alice is herself in a rage over her schemes against her sister (and dad) seeming to fall apart with that plane crash. It’s the dark cousin of the original ‘60s “Batman” show, where it’s all meant to be entertaining for its own sake. The deeper meaning is in what Ryan now represents in terms of what kind of superheroes we should be accepting more of on TV. Javicia Leslie never leaves a doubt that she fits naturally into the role. With a great new lead, “Batwoman” just has to solve its own new story structure, which can be more challenging than any scheme by the Joker.

Batwoman” season two premieres Jan. 17 and airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.