Batwoman season 1, episode 15 review: Off With Her Head

Batwoman -- "Off With Her Head" -- Image Number: BWN115a_0427b -- Pictured: Rachel Skarsten as Alice -- Photo: Shane Harvey/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.
Batwoman -- "Off With Her Head" -- Image Number: BWN115a_0427b -- Pictured: Rachel Skarsten as Alice -- Photo: Shane Harvey/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved. /

Kate and her dad have to find an Alice haunted by her greatest fear before she loses her sanity and Kate breaks the Bat’s one rule.

Previously on BatwomanKate had to sort out the romantic entanglements that put others in danger, and keep her from being the hero she has to be, while doing battle with a version of Joker’s Daughter, Duela Dent, whose twisted nip-and-tuck spree was defacing the beautiful people of Gotham.

At the same time, Alice sought revenge on August Cartwright and to free a trapped Mouse. This week, though she finds her playmate and glorified henchman, it’s the worst outcome for her. She winds up strapped to a chair and, dosed with Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin (no, he doesn’t peek his burlap face into the picture), has to face her greatest fear — as the old cliche goes.

Queen of the Heartless

That turns out to be August’s abusive mother, Mabel (Debra Mooney who’s been in everything from Tootsie and Dead Poet’s Society to TV’s Everwood) — a.k.a. “The Queen of Hearts” or “Mommy Dearest” — an old bat lugging around an oxygen tank and lamenting her lost beauty. Mama Mabel is behind a lot of the abuse Alice suffered as a child in captivity.

This feels like such a deflection and a cop-out for a show which has been adding the layers to Alice all these months — sometimes more than needed. We know Alice was broken (numbed, as Cartwright put it in this episode) by the man that took her against her will, a condition exacerbated by his treatment and manipulation of his son who has strings he continues to play with. To pin it on a new and disposable character this late in the game is one twist too many.

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It’s bad enough they couldn’t keep August dead but now they diminished an already underwhelming and uneven foil further. On the one hand, he is painted as this fearsome criminal mastermind; on the other, he has the toughness and stature of Joker’s goon Bob from Tim Burton’s Batman.

Alice, played to the hilt by Rachel Skarsten every week, is tortured and complex enough. She doesn’t need the extra baggage. The fact she is a fairly sympathetic villain and has a soap opera going with her hero sister and father should sufficiently hold the rest of the season together.

The One Rule You’ll Have to Break

August Cartwright becomes a bigger burden to Kate and the family as well. He not only knows Alice’s location but is the one guy Kate must break Batman’s, and Batwoman’s, one rule with to know everything he does. You can guess how that turns out and how it made her feel.

“The Batman does not kill!” Really? Are they referring to all those times he didn’t despite the other times he did? This is an old debate that lost its legitimacy a long time ago. Now it’s tiresome and played out, only giving writers an excuse to prevent the Dark Knight from killing The Joker, his most important foe readers, most of all, couldn’t live without.

That Batsy has tried to kill Superman several times should be enough to prove he is willing to resort to desperate measures. Kate shouldn’t beat herself up if she is occasionally no better than her enemies.

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Regardless, Episode 15 was pretty good with decent performances from Skarsten, Debra Moody, and Dougray Scott. Leaning hard into that TV-14 rating in ways unthinkable on primetime network TV only a decade or more in the past, it went to some unexpected places and upped the gore factor to 11.

Tune in next week when things get more fun: Alice and Kate head to Arkham. Leave your thoughts on what you expect below.