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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled An emotional iBatwoman /idrives the wedge deeper between sisters
Photo: Shane Harvey (The CW)
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In the immediate aftermath of Crisis On Infinite Earths, Batwoman took its time getting its bearings. Thankfully, “An Un-Birthday Present” is a great reminder of what this show can do—it’s a real gift, if you will.

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The scheduling for The CW’s big crossover was split up by the winter hiatus for the first time, which made a certain amount of sense, given that there are five shows (for now) in the Arrowverse (officially—Black Lightning remains on its own for the most part). The move also ran the risk of stunting the crossover’s momentum, but this week’s Batwoman proves it was the right choice. Beth’s big return manages to feel both surprising and inevitable.

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But don’t tell that to Kate, who gives into aggression as soon as Beth shows up. Where Kate’s anger was once directed at Alice’s situation/circumstances, it’s not aimed directly at her twin. But with Jacob Kane in jail and Mary devastated over the loss of her mother, Kate has to seize this moment and get Alice before she escapes. Even though fans might find it frustrating that Kate doesn’t figure it out right away, it seems like a natural response.

Speaking of Alice, she’s locked up for most of this episode at the Crows’ facility. Sophie’s interrogation allows the audience to finally get more of Alice’s story growing up as a hostage in an evil man’s house, which consists of an incident only seen on the likes of Don’t F*ck With Cats. It’s been said before, but the child actors in Batwoman are top-notch. Viewers get to see the exact moment when young Beth goes from herself to her Alice persona, and it’s chilling. Without absolving Alice of the horrible things she’s done, knowing what led her to compartmentalize her real self away in her brain is tragic.

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Illustration for article titled An emotional iBatwoman /idrives the wedge deeper between sisters
Photo: Shane Harvey (The CW)

The oddest thing this season so far is probably seeing adult Beth in such a sane position. Alice has been maniacal perfection, and having Rachel Skarsten switch things up as a brunette astrophysicist creates a distinct second character. The characters and audience are all well aware of the differences between Beth and Alice, and Batwoman really leans into that juxtaposition here, especially in the scene where Beth explains how her Earth’s Kate saved her from the car crash where Batwoman’s Kate lost her sister. Directly following that, Alice describes how she was trapped, with the emotion and crazed passion clearly visible in her eyes. The switch is eery and unsettling. The way Alice reacted to Mary—her jealous rage about someone trying to fill Kate’s sibling void—is still so fresh. Catherine’s murder is just a reminder that Alice has no time for mercy when it comes to acting on her emotions. Once Alice finds out about Beth, deadly poison might be a blessing compared to what she’ll cook up for her doppelgänger.

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Despite the focus on the Alice/Beth split, Kate still manages to find redemption this episode. No one outside of herself blames her for Beth and their mom’s death. Everyone close to her has said for over a decade that she made the right, safe choice not to go back to the car and save her twin. She, of course, never forgave herself, and hearing that Beth’s Kate saved her on their Earth is a double-punch to the gut. It reopens that wound of losing her sister to madness and confirmed to her that she hadn’t done enough.

Illustration for article titled An emotional iBatwoman /idrives the wedge deeper between sisters
Photo: Shane Harvey (The CW)
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Given the chance to save her sister again, Kate doesn’t want to fail. The plan to send Beth undercover as Alice has holes in it, with the biggest one being Alice’s crazed nature. They couldn’t have known Mouse would have a slew of codewords that Beth wouldn’t have knowledge of ahead of time. Kate and Beth’s duplicity may not have worked out, but the scene where Kate has to save Beth from a burning car is expertly done. The stakes were as high as they were in the twins’ childhood—it really felt like Kate might lose Beth again. This Beth is so new to the crimefighting world, and she already doesn’t feel like she should exist at the same time as Alice. Her death felt almost inevitable, even though it would have been the cruelest of jokes.

Now, having saved (a) Beth, Kate finally has that chip off of her shoulder. But as is the rule in the Arrowverse, you can’t have happiness for too long without tragedy around the corner, which Beth’s head pain at the end suggests. Even more ominously, one of the Beth Kanes needs to die in order for the other to stay on Earth Prime. We know which one Kate’s gunning for, but we’ll have to see how things shake out.

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Stray observations:

  • I commend Sophie for sticking with her resolve when it comes to Alice, but shouldn’t there be a good cop, bad cop scenario going on? It’s just that Sophie isn’t getting anywhere with Alice, and the toughness obviously isn’t working. But I guess nothing would when Alice doesn’t want to reveal information.
  • It was a little off-putting to hear Alice mock Sophie’s decision to hide her sexuality, but she is evil, so I guess it does make sense. And she was using it to sort of compare it to her situation. Maybe it wasn’t mocking so much as trying to reach a twisted common ground.
  • How shitty do you think the kid of the police commissioner feels, knowing his dad would rather uphold archaic, homophobic beliefs than call on extra help to save his son? Big yikes.
  • Did anyone else see Mary try to toast with Kate and Beth and totally get denied? Was it just me? I’m sorry, I’m sensitive to Mary and her ability to make friends so, maybe it’s all in my head. Unless...
  • Errant, random, unrelated thought here but: let’s bring Reagan back. She was great.
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Alani Vargas is an entertainment writer and A.V. Club contributor. Her work also appears on Showbiz Cheat Sheet, INSIDER, Bustle, Refinery29, and Elite Daily.

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