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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iBatwoman/i deals with identity in a clumsy but emotionally satisfying episode
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The biggest problem with the first season of Batwoman, other than than the often eye-roll-inducing dialogue, is the storytelling. It’s been, to put it lightly, a bit of a mess. There are some interesting ideas and themes at play here, but they’re often underexplored or completely ignored for episodes on end. That creates a jumbled narrative arc that, so far, Batwoman has struggled to gain control of.

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I mention this from the outset because I think “Grinning From Ear To Ear” is an episode that’s particularly representative of the season as a whole. It has its ups and downs, its fun moments and its tedious ones. It can’t decide on a tone, and there are narrative arcs left dangling, but there’s still just enough forward momentum to justify the show’s existence.

The episode begins with a disturbing scene set in 2011. A teenage girl puts makeup on her face while her mother yells at her from outside the bathroom. When she looks into the mirror, all she sees is ugliness. She breaks the mirror and slices her face open with the shards. That sets the stage for a series of gruesome attacks in present day Gotham, as the former teenage girl is now a sociopathic killer determined to scar the faces of various social media influencers. Apparently Gotham has a lot of those?

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The hunt for the killer is the episode’s least interest aspect. Either the writing is too on-the-nose—the scene where the killer threatens to murder her mom and explains exactly why she’s doing what she’s doing is a perfect example of Batwoman’s inability to keep the subtext from becoming text—or the ideas are too thin. There’s some brief promise in the idea that Alice might have an ally in this killer, but that quickly goes downhill when we once again get a face-stealing scene.

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I don’t know, I’m just a little tired of the many, many face-swapping moments that count as twists this season. They all feel like narrative cheats, and the show’s gone to the well over and over again. It’s not all that surprising anymore, and it’s hard to shake the idea that these “twists” are just a narrative shortcut for a story that doesn’t have any legs or real dramatic tension.

At least the show is making some headway when it comes to Sophie’s relationship to her sexuality. That’s been a troubling storyline all season, moving in fits and starts (and don’t even get me started on the show going back and forth on whether she knows who Batwoman is). While her romance with Batwoman is thwarted, she does come to realize that she can’t keep living a lie. Again, the writing annoyingly makes the subtext into text, with Sophie talking about “wearing masks,” which she’s done in previous episodes, but the emotional progress is promising.

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The scene where Sophie finally reveals her sexuality to her mother is predictable, but it works because of how far Sophie has come this season. She was a fairly cliche character to start, but her journey has been emotionally sound, and it’s played well against Kate’s own identity-seeking journey as Batwoman.

The show would do well to focus more on the inner lives of its characters, and flesh out their motivations. This episode mostly does a good job of that. Despite the tacky writing, we leave this episode with a better understanding of how Kate is viewing her role as Batwoman, and how that impacts not only Gotham, but the people around her. Add in Sophie’s own growth and Mary starting to claim some space for herself, and you’ve got all the ingredients for Batwoman to start developing more meaningful storylines.

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Stray observations

  • Hey everyone, I’ll be filling in for Alani this week and next while she’s on vacation. My thoughts seem to be on the harsher side compared to hers, so perhaps this is the beginning of a solid hero-archenemy rivalry between us.
  • Jacob is slowly starting to realize that his specialized police force run with very little oversight is perhaps just a little bit corrupt.
  • “Mentally deranged leader?!?!” Rachel Skarsten is very good at line readings.
  • “Where’s the dislike button when you need one?” For a radio personality/blogger, Vesper Fairchild is very bad at speaking like an interesting, normal person.
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Kyle Fowle is a freelance writer based out of Canada. He writes about TV and wrestling for The A.V. Club, Real Sport, EW, and Paste Magazine.

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