What is the line between a good vigilante and a bad one? That is, more or less, the question at the center of this week's episode of Batwoman which pits Kate Kane's costumed hero against a villain who wants to solve Gotham's corruption problem the hard way.
After last week's journey down the rabbit hole with Alice, we're taking a bit of a break from that side of the Kane family saga for a little more daddy/daughter drama and a lot more of the big divide in Gotham, though it accomplishes one goal far better than the other.
WARNING: The rest of this post contains spoilers for Batwoman Season 1, Episode 6, "I'll Be Judge, I'll Be Jury."
Following the Great Gotham Prison Break of 2019, there's more tension than ever in the streets, and this week it's bringing all three of Gotham's many crime-fighting units together. When a prominent attorney is killed by a big guy in an executioner's mask, the GCPD springs into action while the city calls on Batwoman to help out. Of course, Commander Kane is feeling like his Crows are being left out, so even though it's outside their district, the Crows swoop into a hostage situation already being attended to by the police and the resident vigilante. Kate and Sophie go in the back way and discover that it's actually a trap for one of GCPD's finest (or not so finest) but before they can warn him he walks into a literal firing squad which kills him and leaves Sophie with a bullet wound and a hankering to reveal that she knows it's Kate under the mask.
Outside of the Sophie stuff, which is more a set up for next week than anything, this episode essentially has three main parts:
1) Kate and Jacob deal with their guilt and emotional baggage over what happened to Beth and the revelations of last week.
2) Alice and Mouse do general creepy nefariousness.
3) Gotham is a mess of inequality and injustice, and vigilantism might not be the best solution to a broken system but it's better than nothing, I guess?
Let's attack this one piece at a time, shall we?
We'll start with the social justice elephant in the room, also known as the plot. As it turns out, the episode's big bad is a former executioner at Blackgate Prison. You see, he was just fine with taking the lives of criminals for years because he trusted that the system only ever sent people to him who were guilty, the worst of the worst. But the system was rigged. It was racist and fueled by money and greed and all the machinations of power you could imagine existing in any part of the real world justice system; police and prosecutors and judges working together to make sure someone went away for all the heinous crimes in Gotham but that it was never a "rich white guy."
So the Executioner decided to take it upon himself to fix it, at least this one small part of it. But how, he asks, is this any different than what Kate is doing? She doesn't kill, okay, but she isn't a cop. She says she trusts the system but still she hides who she is and doles out her own version of justice with no judge, no jury. How can a costumed anonymous vigilante fix a broken system? Either they work outside of it, playing judge and jury themselves which would also require they become either warden or executioner (something Barry and crew actually did on The Flash for a while), or they have to eventually turn their adversaries over to that very system they circumvented in the first place. And then what? Does vigilante justice hold up in a court of law? Supergirl made a halfhearted attempt to bring up this issue in Season 2 but then never returned to it. It would be interesting if Batwoman decided to travel a little further down this road, show Kate struggling to work within and without of the system in an attempt to heal some of Gotham's wounds.
On the other side of the coin, meanwhile, is Jacob and his organization. The Crows are quite literally mercenaries. They've been hired to protect only a small part of the city, the wealthy part, and at least Jacob very much sees them as being above and beyond the GCPD. He storms into their operation at the start of the episode and he continues to investigate the Executioner case despite the fact that it's technically outside of his district and jurisdiction. Then he ends up being the one who kills the Executioner before he can kill Batwoman. His justification, of course, is that he is a public figure and is therefore held accountable for his actions. He's not a vigilante. But he's also not a cop. What laws he is required to follow and his responsibilities to the city and to justice vs his own clientele are still murky at best. No one in this argument has much of a leg to stand on.
Regardless, the evil of the day is defeated and Gotham must now contend with the fact that their system is broken and those in charge don't seem overly committed to fixing it despite the fact that there is a human cost. Luke, for one, has to deal all throughout the episode with his own personal connection to the case, the men who were outed as corrupt were in part responsible for putting the man who killed his father behind bars and now that case and countless others will be reopened. He blames Kate for forcing all that into the light as well, though whether it will actually affect their friendship remains to be seen.
Jacob and Kate, meanwhile, are playing hot potato with the blame for Beth's current state. Kate blames her father for making them stop looking, Jacob blames himself, and then Kate does a bit of a 180 and blames herself, too. After all, it was she who was on the other side of the door, inches away from her sister, and who left her there alone. The only thing either of them can agree on is that their giving up the search is what turned her into Alice. Strange how no one blames the man who took her, who tortured her, or Alice herself for the choices she has made.
Speaking of Alice, she did have a role in this week's events, though she was relegated to a B plot in which she and Mouse began the preparations for their big plan. Sadly, it does involve Mouse stealing people's faces and stealing a gun capable of killing Batwoman from Catherine Hamilton's company. Mouse figures out that Kate is Batwoman and is extremely upset that Alice is protecting her sister. Seems he has the same problem with sharing as Alice herself. We'll have to keep watching to learn their eventual endgame though.
This week started to bring together some of the threads they've been planting along the way but what will be most interesting is whether they continue to make Gotham's social divide a core part of the show or just a background character that shows up every so often. Gotham's reputation as a crime-infested city and the sheer volume of law enforcement entities — legitimate or otherwise — make a perfect backdrop for that kind of story but they're really going to need to get into the trenches, so to speak, if they want to lean into it. Maybe introduce a few GCPD officers along the way ….
Next Week: Sophie knows Kate's secret, but will she tell Jacob?! More importantly: will there be kissing??
- Mary is still awesome, though I've heard there are some in the audience who disagree? I don't see how that's possible. This week, not only did she patch up Sophie despite the fact that she could easily end her clinic, but she took Sophie to task for what she did to Kate years earlier. The girl obviously cares about her sister a great deal more than I think even Kate realizes.
- Speaking of Mary, I wonder if we'll get an episode this season where we see what a night in her clinic is like. If they want to lean into this side of Gotham's residents, it would be a great place to start.
- It was definitely a choice to put Luke on the side of the corrupt system this week, and while having a voice for the families of the victims who will be put through hell when the people responsible for the deaths of their loved ones are freed, I'm not sure having your Black male character argue on the side of the racist system against a rich white woman entirely worked.
- I find it interesting that Supergirl and now Batwoman are the Arrowverse shows attempting to tackle big systemic issues with real-world allegories. Immigration for Supergirl, systemic corruption in the justice system (and elsewhere) for Batwoman. Is it because of their role as the stand-ins for their male archetypes, who are the biggest heroes in the DCU, or do the shows feel like they need to try harder to say something than the rest of the larger universe? Then again, Black Lightning is not a stand-in for anyone and has been tackling big issues from day one …