Batwoman (2019) s01e03 – Down Down Down

Ruby Rose flirts with a bartender played by Brianne Howey from “The Passage,” which basically makes the episode. It's in the middle of Rose investigating Tommy Elliot (Gabriel Mann in a part he really ought to appreciate more), billionaire pal to Bruce Wayne who seems to know about Bruce’s other life. Rose has time for the investigation because Rachel Skarsten is taking it somewhat easy this episode.

Howey’s the first modern working actor to show up. Recognizable to me anyway. She adds a lot of class to the product. They didn't cast down acting-wise for a Rose love interest, they casted up.

The stuff with Mann gets a little too long in the tooth and must be even less interesting to people who don't know he's going to be coming back as villain Hush. The show’s doing long-term planning by episode three… which is confident, perhaps overly so.

The best parts of the episode, other than involve Rose’s step-sister Nicole Kang. She's stuck at Mann’s party, which ends up being an attempt to draw out the not available Batman (the city thinks Rose’s Batwoman is the original male model), and in danger, with only Meagan Tandy (Rose’s ex) and her dimwit husband Greyston Holt to protect her. Holt doesn't know Tandy used to be with Rose (or is bi) and Kang has a lot of fun teasing the situation. Even though Rose and Kang are on the outs from last episode, Kang’s still getting a lot, which is good. Kang’s the best regular cast member… Skarsten might usurp that title but not yet.

Speaking of Skarsten, she gets the C plot this episode. The plotting details on whether Skarsten is Rose’s long lost twin sister aren't amazing—they're trying not to be too confusing—but the pacing of the plot is good. Even in this episode, which gets a little long.

Of course, if it didn't have Rose’s terrible letters to Cousin Bruce as narration, it might not seem so long. They're really, really bad. They seem bad at the beginning of the episode, then they get worse. The last one implies the first three episodes are the real pilot too—Rose gets her full Batwoman outfit for the last fight, along with portentous “I will not fail my city” narration nonsense.

So a significant dip down from last episode, but not necessarily in as bad of shape as after the actual pilot.

Batwoman (2019) s01e02 – The Rabbit Hole

It’s a much better episode. While it’s not great, it’s at least enjoyable this time. The direction’s a lot better than the pilot; there’s not a lot of Batwoman action, but there’s a lot of action. Including civilian Nicole Kang having to defend herself from a bad guy because the show’s all in on the Batwoman (Ruby Rose) and Alice (Rachel Skarsten) are sisters and step-sister Kong is making Skarsten jealous by the end. It’s impressive, how immediately and seriously the show takes the whole sisters arc. Rose isn’t… great but she’s not bad and she’s definitely getting better. The show’s got a weird narrative distance with her, a lot more comfortable with Skarsten’s villain or even dad Dougray Scott’s private military force thing. The show’s desperate to namedrop Batman and Bruce Wayne, all of it entirely on Rose, and it’s all pointless.

There’s some really bad narration—Rose’s emails to Bruce or something—and it stalls the show’s momentum. But it doesn’t kill it, because this episode’s pretty good.

The weakest link—other than Scott, whose not Dennis Quaid enough for this part—is ex-girlfriend Meagan Tandy. She and Rose get thrown together, but they don’t have much energy and even less chemistry. The stuff with Rose and Skarsten—and there’s a ton of it; like I said, show’s going all in on it—that stuff’s good. It makes the episode and seems like it’ll help make the show.

And Kang’s really good. Yes, she’s got an interesting character built-in—ostensibly stupid famous social media influencer is actually a genius medical student who runs an underground clinic but Kang brings the right personality to the part. “Batwoman”’s got a tenuous grasp of its own reality and Kang’s a great grounding force. She makes Rose and Scott and all their nonsense seem a little less unreal, whereas Tandy just brings out the absurdity.

As the seemingly duplicitous mom to Kang, step-mom to Rose, Elizabeth Anweis is way too low energy. Though it could also be the thin part.

But, big improvement. Enjoyable episode. What more do you want.

Evil (2019) s01e05 – October 31

There’s something up with the racial optics on “Evil.” The all-Black Catholic parishioners is a thing. The show kind of dares you to notice it, but it’s a thing. Black Catholics are not a familiar TV trope; I can’t think of one besides Frank Pembleton and they made a big deal out of the Catholic thing. Irish folks, Latinx folks, they’re mass media Catholics. Not Black people. Or maybe “Evil”’s just doing a godawful job introducing the general audience to the realities of Black Catholic life. Like the possessions and the ominously mentioned “Sixty,” which the head Catholic guy (who’s white, see, optics) told Mike Colter not to worry about.

Clearly it’s a building storyline because this episode leaves Colter and Katja Herbers on the outs. Even more than on the outs, Colter didn’t help her save her kids from a possibly dangerous Halloween prankster. We don't really know if she's dangerous because deus ex machina; even if she's not it's some really exploitative manipulation. The grandkids are in danger because grandma fell for a psychopath because she's a drunk. And easy.

See, grandma Christine Lahti starts the episode getting picked up by the guy who’s stalking and threatening her daughter, Michael Emerson. Emerson and Lahti are a lot closer in age than I thought—she’s only four years older—but one assumes, even if Emerson is playing his actual age of sixty-five, Lahti isn’t playing her age of sixty-nine. She certainly seems like she’s playing at least ten years younger. Though, I guess both Emerson and Lahti look great for their ages (I seriously thought he was like forty-nine)… so maybe it’s some CBS boomer thing. I don’t know.

Regardless, I don’t buy Lahti would fall for slick, slimy, and not hot Emerson. I also don’t buy that Herbers is keeping her mom in the dark to the degree of not mentioning the psychopath-creating clinical psychologist she met. Emerson gives her his real name. She checks his LinkedIn. Or whatever the “Evil” variant.

It just doesn’t seem likely. Even if you assume the characters are real dumb… it doesn’t seem likely.

Anyway, Aasif Mandvi has an okay (comparatively) plot about meeting YouTube ghost-hunter Nicole Shalhoub and getting flirty while appearing on her dumb show, but comparatively is the key word. Mandvi doesn’t get anything to do where you’re left wondering how he can function when the show isn’t happening. Colter and Herbers are all of a sudden dangerously near that point. This episode does them no favors. Not them, not the show.

And the Exorcist homages were stupid.

(Also, I checked the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI)—Black Catholics aren’t a statistically significant thing according to them).

Evil (2019) s01e04 – Rose390

The show goes a little overboard with the scary tech angle. Even more than last time. This time it’s pedophiles hacking AR games and grooming kids when they’re playing on their headsets. The kids in question are lead Katja Herbers’, as it’s not clear the problem child at the center of the episode (Luke Judy) is even using the headset. It’s also not clear if the hacker is a pedophile or if they’re Michael Emerson, who doesn’t appear in the episode, but maybe because he’s hacking AR games to encourage kids to kill.

“Evil” appears to work a lot better either with Emerson and without Herbers’ kids or without Herbers’ kids and with Emerson. Maybe because with Emerson around you can’t believe Herbers wouldn’t have her family locked in a safe room, clutching a shotgun. The show hasn’t really done anything with Emerson threatening her family. It’s just an “of course he did, he’s the bad guy,” which seems narratively and dramatically suspect.

Mike Colter gets something to do except mope about not getting as good of God visions when he trips anymore. Funny how he played Luke Cage but now he’s the one chasing the dragon. Wokka wokka. This episode is all about him bonding with annoying little Judy and even trying to give him psychiatric advice even though Colter’s just guessing what he ought to say. One would assume, despite him shrooming to see God, Colter at least knows not to mess with burgeoning serial killers’ minds. Surely the Catholic Church wouldn’t let him act so irresponsibly. For a different kind of wokka wokka.

Speaking of the Catholic Church, Clark Johnson’s back as Colter’s exorcist priest buddy. It’s nice to see Johnson but it’s a kind of crap part. He’s around to add some dramatic heft and he doesn’t even get to add much.

But it’s a more solid episode. The stuff with the family is actually good and disturbing instead of being annoying. Sure, the show’s take on hacked AR games probably ought to be a little more grounded in reality if they’re going to terrify parents. It’s all so creepy they could’ve gotten away with Herbers reading a number aloud to call to report the game or something.

The Flash (2014) s06e04 – There Will Be Blood

It’s a big sad episode, with all the men going through their pre-Crisis sads about Barry (Grant Gustin) dying in just six weeks. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) is sad so he steals the super-cure they’re supposed to be stealing to save villain Sendhil Ramamurthy, who is stunningly bad at the acting thing. They clearly hired him because he’s a hot dude, not because he can convincingly blather pseudo-scientific superhero show dialogue. To himself, of course. He talks to himself all the time. If Ramamurthy were better, it could be a great hammy villain. But he’s not.

So then it turns out Hartley Sawyer is sad too. Iris (Candice Patton) finds out because she does nothing this episode except go visit her friends. No one in Central City calls, texts, or e-mails. They go visit. Makes sense for Gustin, since he can run super-fast, but presumably Patton took a Lyft or something? Anyway, she checks in on Sawyer but he’s in a weird mood. Turns out he’s just sad about Gustin. Jesse L. Martin goes to talk to Sawyer, which affects Martin, so he and Gustin have a big hug scene at the end of the episode only it’s not one of those great Gustin and Martin hug scenes because 1) there’s no “Dad” and 2) it’s just Crisis. Who gives a shit? DC does one every few years… Arrowverse is overdue.

But seriously, the show’s dealt with impending, observed future death so many times, it’s not really surprising Gustin’s so nonplus. Though, just because it’s “The Flash,” he’s inevitably going to have to have a breakdown episode. Patton hasn’t had one either. She and Danielle Panabaker are just there to keep the boys functioning this episode.

On the only real plus side… liking Tom Cavanagh now. The tease of Cavanagh last episode wasn’t enough, you need full Cavanagh. The multi-dimensional adventurer thing is fine. He still gets to the fun stuff.

The Gustin and Valdes stuff is exhausting. Six weeks to Crisis. Can’t come soon enough.

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e13 – The King Without a Face

This episode is a direct continuation of the last, but from James Maxwell’s king’s perspective. At least at the start, tragedies quickly start changing it up and Queen Norma West ends up with the most to do… then the episode brings Maxwell in and gives them a joint focus, then it shifts to Maxwell for the finish. In most ways, the episode fulfills the promises of the first couple episodes and nothing since. It doesn’t matter “In the Shadow of the Tower” turned into a phenomenal anthology series about Henry’s rule or went to crap because of the Richard Warwick episodes–The King Without a Face very ably rids the show of any residual Warwick stench. It’s a good closing episode, though problematic as far as the show’s legacy.

Anyway. The episode covers a lot of time and a lot of events and a lot of reactions to these various events, usually with West and Maxwell. The biggest supporting player here is John Bennett as the Spanish ambassador. He’s been kicking around the show for a while, at least the last few episodes, but he’s never gotten such a good part as in Face. He and Maxwell end up having this wonderful character relationship as events make Bennett the only political ally Maxwell can stomach being around. Doesn’t hurt Bennett’s a complete lush.

There’s a lot of character development for West and Maxwell (nothing about them arranging the murder of her cousin last episode but whatever, there’s still a lot of other good character reveals); the episode finally gives West a great part, something I’d been assuming the show would do since the first episode (and then didn’t). Maxwell gets an excellent arc too with some really chewy scenes.

“In the Shadow of the Tower” starts all right, ends all right, has some great episodes in the middle, and some middling and worse towards the end. It’s a mixed bag as an anthology. It’s still successful, but it’s nowhere near as good as it could have been. If only they’d cast Warwick’s part with someone who could act.

This episode makes up for a lot.

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e12 – The Fledgling

I really had no idea how far “Shadow” could drop, did I? I mean, The Fledgling manages to be the worst episode of the series (with only one left) and with Richard Warwick in it but nowhere near the worst part. Though, to be fair, Warwick is in a much reduced role compared to the last two episodes. Instead, Christopher Neame is the lead, playing the grown-up Earl of Warwick (who was in the first couple episodes). He’s been living in the Tower of London since Henry (James Maxwell) came to power and spends his life in his rooms, rarely getting to go outside, very little contact with anyone other than his keepers. Maxwell had promised to never kill him but Neame always thinks the order is coming.

This episode is about how and why the order finally comes. See, Maxwell wants to marry off his son (Jason Kemp) to the princess of Spain and the Spanish rulers demand he kill Warwick and Neame. The throne must be secured and the Spanish see those two guys as problems. Only Maxwell doesn’t want to kill them; they didn’t do anything after all. He doesn’t seem to remember promising not to kill Neame, but then Queen Norma West also doesn’t seem to remember she didn’t want Maxwell to kill him back in the first couple episodes either.

So Maxwell and his people come up with a plan. Convince Neame there’s a plot against him to try to get him to commit treason with Warwick (the actor who’s not playing the Earl of Warwick) so Maxwell can kill them both. Neame he just has to terrorize with innuendo but Warwick they throw man-meat Hayward Morse to inspire Warwick’s lust for multiple things, including treason.

Neame’s not great, but he’s at least trying with the part; his character’s been isolated for ten years, with all sorts of psychological issues no doubt. He’s sympathetic as all hell, which just makes it worse when Maxwell’s so callous about killing him.

Making Maxwell evil, with one episode to go, is a weird flex. It’s a disappointing episode to be sure.

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e11 – The Strange Shapes of Reality

Oh, no, Richard Warwick is back. And now we’re getting the story of his time just imprisoned, because the king (James Maxwell) pities him so won’t just execute him. Executing him means taking him seriously as a threat to the crown and Warwick can’t be seen as a threat. And so on and so forth. So we get an entire episode about Warwick being a brat in captivity, but his keepers still give him a blind boy. Like… literally, a blond, blind boy to comfort Warwick. Meanwhile Warwick’s wife, Elizabeth MacLennan, has to learn to deal with being nobility falsely married off to a pretender and how’s she going to cope. Plus there’s the whole thing where her identity is changing completely out of her control and through no fault of her own. Everyone lied to her and used her as a pawn.

MacLennan’s good. Like, the episode’s not good, but MacLennan’s good. And her story arc, where Maxwell sees her as a pal so much MacLennan gets confronted by Marigold Sharman (as the king’s mother), which leads to a good enough scene. Shame they can’t bring the same humanity to Warwick.

So, again, there’s stuff in the script for Warwick to work with. He gets to see how a real king—Maxwell—behaves. He gets humiliated at public confessions. He has these potentially great scenes opposite MacLennan. But Warwick’s just too flat. His take on the character is he’s too stupid to know what’s going on, which clashes with the various acts of agency he’s had throughout this episode and last. It’s kind of what he was like in the first appearance small part, but Warwick really ought to have tried to develop the character past that point… But he didn’t, because Warwick’s bad.

At this point, I’m just hoping “Tower” doesn’t drop too much further or I’m going to be eating my words on the comedy episodes making it all worth it. Because it’s worse than just mediocre, it’s a misfire. The show has done much better and much, much better. Warwick is bleeding the show.

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e10 – The Man Who Never Was

I was unprepared for The Man Who Never Was, even acknowledging the anthology nature of the show, which has had great successes, could also have great failures. And the episode is most definitely a failure. But because of casting. It’s a strange episode in general—lots of flashbacks, lots of seventies sly “oh, maybe he likes boys” hints, which then get more explicit and then what the show seems to think is obvious but it’s really sexual assault. Okay, maybe not all of it is casting this episode. Maybe director Darrol Blake just has the wrong take on how to present a lot of things. But even if he’s askew, he’s not responsible for lead Richard Warwick.

Warwick is a pretender to the throne, the most popular one, but as King James Maxwell’s reign has continued and hell hasn’t frozen over, he’s lost favor. He was in the last episode for so short a scene I didn’t remember it was Warwick, who looks so much like Dylan Walsh in am eighties blond surfer wig it’s distracting. So I was blank slate with Warwick here and, wow, is he terrible. He’s “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a bad performance on the BBC” bad. It’s like someone in casting owed a really, really, really big favor and Warwick was it.

So even though the script offers a lot of direct and indirect possibilities for the role, Warwick plays it like he’s an idiot. Sure, a victim of sorts, but because he’s an idiot. The show’s classism shows a little, as it tries to imagine his motivations dramatically and sympathetically while syncing with some historical realities. The stuff with his wife, Elizabeth MacLennan, for instance, seems like it’s there to be a control. Because otherwise it’s just Warwick trying to chew on scenery and slobbering on it instead. It’s uncomfortably bad to see. But then the show will have some bad reveal on Warwick’s past and you’ll get sympathetic—to the historical figure—again; a moment or two later, Warwick will ruin even that detached sympathy.

He’s real bad.

And I’m not sure anyone told him he was supposed to be bi. Like, the other guys in the scenes know they’re supposed to be gay, but Warwick never seems to get it. It’s very, very strange.

But it’s just one episode, right? And I said, no matter what happens, the comedies of “In the Shadow of the Tower” cement the series.

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e09 – Do the Sheep Sin?

Continuing the hit streak is this episode, Do the Sheep Sin?, which has King James Maxwell dealing with a protest march. He’s been taxing the hell out of the poor, albeit somewhat unintentionally (he thought he was taxing the rich, they just put it on to the poor), and the poor decide they’re going to march on London to plead relief. “Tower”’s 1972 shows a little as the suffering peasants plead with their betters, only for their betters to give them pointless advice and the show’s middle class values are firmly with the betters telling the poor to get over it. They’re not even telling them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps—there’s no Calvinism yet—they just tell them to suffer.

Suffer so Maxwell can wage a war on the latest pretender to his throne, Richard Warwick. Warwick, playing a guy named Perkin Warbeck, is barely in the episode. And there’s a confusing bit about protest leader John Castle, who’s phenomenal, sending secret messages—unless I missed one, and I don’t think I did—there are actually two secret messages while the viewer is left thinking a single secret message was delivered. It’s a messy moment in the script, which is otherwise dead-on. Except, of course, the utterly lack of humanity when it comes to Maxwell’s take on the poor. Was medieval royalty so inhumane as history—even positive history—presents them? Bunch of pricks.

Anyway. So long as the protest doesn’t have arms, it’s not considered a revolt or whatever. So much of the episode is Maxwell sitting around, waiting for the protest, while Castle is drumming up drama. He’s got a hero of the people figure, John Woodvine, making the protest seem kosher, while Castle’s been hoarding weapons for the first chance to take things up a notch. Castle’s ambitions are rather interesting as he’s able to recognize actual injustice and exploit it to manipulate the peasants. He’s the son of a noble, natch, and noble daddy David Garth is actually the one who narcs on Castle to the king. The king investigates, the peasants take up arms, now it’s able minimizing the public image damage.

It’s good. It starts better than it finishes, but it’s good. The script, by Anthea Browne-Wilkinson and John Gould, also has a bit of a determinism problem. The only reason Maxwell is able to drum up trouble in the protest is because Castle’s corrupt. If Castle weren’t corrupt, which Maxwell has no idea about, the investigation is just information gathering, the protest wouldn’t have turned into rebellion. What was Maxwell going to do then? Browne-Wilkinson and Gould don’t even suggest Maxwell would consider that possibility, over ten thousand peasants asking for an audience with their king.

It’s a missed opportunity and a dodgy move.

But otherwise, a rather strong episode, which is good; it’s Maxwell’s biggest part in the story in quite a while.

Scroll to Top