It happens with every show. No matter the time on-air — one year or ten — every network television series will have that bomb of an episode that will have viewers asking themselves “why am I watching this crap?”. This week it’s Batwoman’s turn with “I’ll Be Judge, I’ll be Jury”, the worst episode to air in the series to date.
The first inklings of catastrophe began in the first scene when Gotham’s Assistant DA is murdered by the Executioner. His death nor the manner in which he’s killed (electrocution) are the problems. Rather, his inane decision to climb a fence as water from a broken fire hydrant sloshes towards him instead of walking out the way he came in is so maddening ridiculous that it defies any attempt at suspending disbelief. If things had been left at that—let’s be honest, Batwoman has lacked creativity on several occasions where the absurdity of characters’ decisions allowed the outcome to line up with the plot — things wouldn’t have been so bad, but then the writing just got lazy…or bad; you make the call.
Fast forward a bit to Kate being run over by a truck (because she heard the rev of the engine getting close and decided to stand in front of the flimsy garage door!) and Luke using the information to identify this Executioner: Bertrand Eldon, the former executioner at Blackgate prison. When Kate breaks into his home, she finds Eldon’s confession; after delivering the death sentence on so many men who had the same story (‘I was forced to confess!’, ‘I was framed!’) he realized a few things; not only were three city officials a part of every case—the ADA, a detective that he also guns down, and Judge Calverick—but every last prisoner shared a few traits: black or brown, they were all poor.
While I’m not a fan of the show with an agenda (see: Supergirl) I’m not opposed to creators inserting thought-provoking social commentary in entertainment, even positions I may not agree with, but what I do not like is when a medium inserts issues in a forced and hackneyed means as to take away from what they’re trying to do. Eldon’s “confession” is so over-the-top, it’s difficult to take seriously anything that’s done in the episode.
It’s a similar problem Dougray Scott has when his character (Jacob Kane) addresses the new Batwoman situation to his Crows; the speech is uninspiring and so painfully bad that I have to wonder how the director was satisfied enough with the take not to have him do it again. Thankfully for Scott, he redeems himself down the road. Sadly, the narrative for “I’ll Be Judge” has no such luck.
The social justice sloppiness is the biggest culprit in “I’ll Be Judge” being such an awful installment to the Batwoman library. If this was the only issue, it could be dismissed as a one-off (provided future attempts at social commentary include at least a splash of creativity and subtlety) but what may be more damning are two characters that look to be an important part of the narrative going forward, in Mouse and Sophie. Janky audio issues aside, the Mouse character is just bad, as of yet providing any positive contribution to Alice’s story.
And, not to be cruel, but Sam Littlefield delivers his lines with the enthusiasm of an embalmer. Meagan Tandy hasn’t been much better (granted, in earlier episodes she’s shown signs of possessing a passing amount of charisma) though some of her issues may also fall back to the weak writing that’s been the one thing preventing the show from getting past its current level of middling to something more respectable.
Had things stopped there, “I’ll Be Judge” would have been deserving of a zero…maybe even a negative grade. Thankfully, it wasn’t all terrible. In fact, it had maybe the best moment of the young season when Kate and her father finally make amends and he promises her that, no matter what, they’ll get Beth back. It’s a touching moment between father and daughter, and just as heartbreaking because of his hatred for the symbol Batwoman represents.
Similarly, Luke’s anger at the thought of Eldon’s confession being true is another one of those examples where, if the writers give the characters something to work with, they can make it work. Camrus Johnson is again fantastic here and Ruby Rose, while not as dynamic as she is during the scene with her father, exemplifies the cooler head. As disgusting as it may be to have Lucius Fox’s murderer possibly go free, the right thing to do is, at the very least, re-examine the cases of these corrupt officials.
While I understand the direction they were trying to go with “I’ll Be Judge”, the execution (ha!) of it all fails on too many levels. Like a team that just plays a stinker of a game, the best solution would be if we could just burn the footage. It’s as forgettable an episode as one can have, made all the more disappointing because the two nuggets of excellent acting will be lost in the dogpile of bad. Thankfully, it’s behind us now and I can only hope this is truly the bottom of the barrel for the remainder of the series.
From the Journal of Kate Kane
- Also lost in the shuffle were two very fun name drops. First, the confirmation that this Gotham’s Joker is none other than Jack Napier, a callback to the 1989 Batman where the legendary Jack Nicholson brought the clown prince of crime to the big screen. Then a mention that Oswald Cobblepot was, at one point, mayor of Gotham (and reinstituted execution firing squads). Though I don’t believe this is anything more than an homage to the Burton Batman series, it’s still a nice little Easter Egg morsel.
- As captivating as Rachel Skarsten has been, I’m not sure she can do anything to make Sam Littlefield’s Mouse interesting, from a performance or character perspective. Still, it does look like he’s going to be the perfect plot device for Alice to revert back to Beth and back in the loving arms of her family.