Batwoman: 2.02 Prior Criminal History
*Warning: minor spoilers below for this episode of Batwoman as we continue US-paced review of the show
The second episode of Batwoman's second season, Prior Criminal History, continues the story of Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) and by the end brings her into the role of Batwoman full-time. Meanwhile, Jacob Kane and Sophie are still trying to find leads regarding what happened to Kate, while grappling with the fact that a new Batwoman has arrived in Gotham. At the same time, Alice is up to no good and it has everything to do with the mysterious Safiyah.
As the episode title implies, Prior Criminal History deals in large part with how Ryan's criminal past, deserved or not, impacts her life both as herself and as Batwoman. After foiling a robbery, Ryan is cornered and arrested by an officer who assumes she's the culprit due to her race. It's only the existence of security cam footage that clears Ryan of suspicion, and it's a pointed reminder of how big an issue racial profiling continues to be.
It's good that Batwoman isn't shying away from how Ryan's race will be an ongoing issue going forward. It also helps the story by establishing an antagonistic relationship between Ryan and Sophie, leaving the latter completely in the dark as to who the new Batwoman really is. One thing is being made clear: Ryan is going to put her own unique spin on the Batwoman identity; her time in prison giving her a unique insight into the criminal mindset that Kate, for all her talents, couldn't achieve due to her privileged upbringing.
And speaking of race, it was really eye-opening for me when Ryan revealed the reason she thought Jacob Kane hadn't killed Alice yet. Of course, we're all thinking she's about to reveal that she somehow knows about Alice's true identity as Beth Kane, but instead she reveals that she believes it's because Alice is white, insinuating that had she been black she would've been killed a long time ago. That moment hit hard, but it's a hit that needed to happen, because these are issues that should not be ignored.
Another element that's handled very well is the ongoing introduction of Safiyah, the as-yet-unseen woman being set up as the major villain for this season. While first referenced towards the end of season one, we have yet to see Safiyah in person, though this episode goes a long way towards establishing why we all need to be afraid of her coming to Gotham. If Alice, a completely deranged psychopath, is afraid of Safiyah, then you know that this is a character everyone should be afraid of. By the time we finally meet this character, she's been built up so much that her entrance will mean something, and that's good storytelling.
Mary Hamilton and Luke Fox continue to grow as characters and it really shows in this episode. Luke, understandably, is very loyal to Kate's memory and is resistant to the idea of anyone, especially Ryan, taking over the mantle of Batwoman. Even when he does, begrudgingly, agree to Ryan taking over the role, he's still determined to set the tone of this arrangement, emphasizing that "Batwoman doesn't kill." I found this ironic and more than a tad hypocritical since Luke knows and the audience also knows that Kate has in fact murdered someone. This insistence on no killing may come back to bite Luke if Ryan ever finds this out, especially given her reasons to want Alice dead.
Mary, in complete contrast, is not only completely supportive of Ryan, but she's also becoming very vocal when she feels strongly about something. It helps that both are bonded by the trauma of losing their mothers to a violent death. The episode where Mary loses her mother, A Mad Tea Party, is referenced several times, and it goes to show just how much Mary has grown since experiencing that trauma. Of all the characters on this show, Mary has visibly grown the most, starting as a seemingly vapid influencer, but is now a vital member of Team Batwoman, unafraid to speak her mind. It will be fun to see her friendship with Ryan grow as the season progresses.
Prior Criminal History provides another example of excellent storytelling in the ongoing story of Ryan Wilder and Batwoman. While Ryan did get to wear the Batsuit again, she's still not quite got the hang of being a superhero just yet, and it will be thrilling to see Ryan come into her own as Batwoman as the season continues. With this episode also hinting at Safiyah's imminent arrival, Ryan will soon be facing her biggest challenge yet.