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All right, Batwoman fans. We're back after another tiny break and this week's episode tried to do so very much in its relatively short runtime. Perhaps a little too much. It had to tackle a new villain, Alice discovering that her former captor is back in Gotham, Mary's tiptoeing around her knowledge of Kate's secret, and the aftermath of Kate and Sophie's rooftop makeout. And that's before they added more Crows drama and Sophie's mom showing up unexpectedly. It was a ton to cover in 42-ish minutes and the results were … mixed.
So, what worked and what didn't? And does Sophie know that Kate is Batwoman? Let's get into it.
WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Batwoman Season 1, Episode 14 "Grinning From Ear to Ear."
We will get to Duela Dent and her face slashing in a moment, but first, we've got to answer the question on everyone's mind. It's the question I ended my recap with a few weeks ago. Does Sophie know that Kate is Batwoman?
No. She doesn't. And yes, I'm as shocked as you because everything television and movies have ever taught me about love has convinced me that you will know your true love by their kiss. How does she now know?! Is she so in denial? Is she so convinced that Batwoman is someone else? Or just so content to be with someone whose identity she doesn't know (as Batwoman points out later in the episode)? Did TV and movies lie to me??
Despite the fact that she doesn't know who Batwoman is, Sophie is more than content to continue their secret romance. When Kate comes to her apartment the following night to break it off, Sophie does her best to convince her otherwise, and it works, at least until Sophie's mother comes barreling through her apartment door. She wants to know what's been happening with her daughter. Why she's broken up with her husband and gotten suspended from her elite job. What is she planning to do with her life? The answer is simple and not.
Sophie has been on a journey this season, one in which she has slowly started to lower the walls she'd maintained her whole life and allow herself to tell the truth about who she is, even if only to the person in the mirror. Part of what has held Sophie back for so long, what has kept her mostly inside the safety of her closet, is the fact that her parents are homophobic. It's no surprise then that, as she's finally admitting to herself what she really wants in life, her next hurdle will be her mother.
There are a lot of things Batwoman does really well. Alice is one, of course. But the way it handles the nuances of the LGBTQ+ story at the center of the show has been another. It's probably one of the most important narrative through lines the series will need to navigate over the course of its life. The show and its creators bear a lot of pressure — Batwoman is the first show with a lesbian hero as its leading character. Those relationships will always be front and center and they have to handle them with grace and care. So far they have done so beautifully. This episode is no exception.
Sophie, in particular, has been a wonderful surprise in how important her story is to the LGBTQ+ narrative. Kate is out and proud and carrying the weight of being a queer icon, but Sophie stands for those who struggle, who fear, who hide because they don't feel safe or are terrified of upending their lives on the hope that something will be left when the dust settles. Which is why the conversation she and Batwoman have is so important. Kate isn't really worried that being in a relationship will cause Sophie harm. She doesn't want to hurt her, but Sophie can take care of herself when push comes to shove. Sophie, for her part, is excited about feeling something again. And she feels safe with Batwoman — not just because she's saved her life a dozen times over, but because Batwoman, as Kate points out, is not a person. Batwoman is a mask, an idea. She's safe because she's not fully realized. If Sophie wants a relationship, then it will need to be with the person under the mask, because a relationship with an idea isn't a relationship at all.
It's what finally makes Sophie realize that what she's been chasing with Batwoman has also been an idea. It's an idea of the person she was when she was with Kate, a person who was happy and honest and entirely who she is. So she stops running, she faces her mother, and she is rejected, just like she feared she would be. It's heartbreaking, but it also comes at the perfect moment, because the Sophie that was strong enough to tell the truth is a Sophie that is strong enough not to let this break her. One who knows not just who she is but who she can trust, who accepts her, what she wants in a job and a life. And now the weight of that secret is gone and she can move on into the next phase of her journey.
For all that Batwoman really understands how to tell this queer story, the show struggles just as much to tell one about larger social issues. I've discussed this sporadically over the course of these recaps, but once again the attempt to create a villain who comments on something larger, some greater injustice or societal struggle, fell incredibly flat. This week's villain was none other than Duela Dent, known occasionally in the comics as The Joker's Daughter (and sometimes as Harlequin), though her relationship to the Clown Prince of Crime is never confirmed. The character is a good choice, as she draws parallels to Batman's greatest foe while allowing the series to offer commentary specific to young women, and her comics history is so scattershot that you can drop her into most situations without offending anyone. Batwoman's version is a young woman who, eight years prior, mutilated her own face out of what seems like a deep hatred both for her appearance and for what the culture and her mother told her she should do with it. Now, Duela is hunting down Instagram models famous for their perfectly sculpted features (literally, as they all had plastic surgery) and carving a gruesome smile into their famous faces.
The episode wants to make a commentary on the beauty industry and the effects its messaging has on teen girls. It wants to point fingers at beauty bloggers and Western standards of feminine beauty. It wants to, but outside of two specific moments, it doesn't make much commentary at all. The closest it gets is allowing Duela to point out the hypocrisy of calling what she did crazy but what these young women did (in getting plastic surgery) perfectly acceptable. That moment, though, is undercut by the fact that she's making it while dangling her victim over a vat of acid. Ultimately, all Duela managed to be was a mouse for Batwoman and Sophie to chase in between conversations about their relationship.
What's frustrating about Batwoman is that it can do so much better. It does so much better right here in this episode. Sophie's story is handled with so much love and care while Duela's story is thrown together between the scenes. Both say something important about social pressure and the way we hide behind personas we've built to show the world but only one is allowed to drive that message home while the other ends the way every villain story has ended: dismissed, locked up, ultimately forgotten.
Well, all except Alice, of course. She appears sparingly throughout the episode, only popping in to bridge the gap between her finding out last week that the man who held her captive for 11 years is still around and back for more. She drops in on Duela to borrow the girl's face and uses it to confront and ultimately capture him. But he's got an ace up his sleeve, and that ace is strapped to a tank of Fear Toxin.
Next Week: Alice is being tortured with Fear Toxin and that is not going to go well for anyone. Bright side? So much room for Rachel Skarsten to shine like she has all season long.
- No, I didn't really talk about Mary, but man was she great in her limited screen time this week. I was expecting her to come right out and tell Kate she knows her secret but instead, Mary seems to be taking the "it's important that you trust me enough to tell me on your own" approach and all I can say is protect her at all costs!
- Looks like we're inching toward a more Luke-centric episode in the next couple weeks? Turns out the inmate who saved Jacob's life a while back is the man in prison for the murder of Luke's father. It also turns out he could be innocent and the Crows may have been involved in framing him. Luke warned that turning in the corrupt law enforcement officers back in the fall could mean re-litigating his dad's case. Now it looks like it could get thrown out altogether.