Unlike the pre-Crisis world, this new Earth-Prime universe is governed by strictures that ArrowVerse characters and viewers alike are still getting used to. For Alice and Beth, the universal anomaly that brought Beth to Earth Prime warrants only one instance of a person able to occupy the same world. This seems like an arbitrary change in the familiar rules, created for the sole purpose of adding drama to Kate’s life and though it could have been mildly entertaining, “Take Your Choice” ends up exactly how everyone assumed it would.
Some of the more pronounced mistakes often made when crafting a primary antagonist is a character that’s too over the top, lacks a compelling backstory, or missing the strength of a capable actor. Think about the some of the better comic villains in recent years like Thanos, Zemo, and Zod; or, looking next door to those present in the ArrowVerse itself (Deathstroke, Zoom); all have had that killer combination of good (to great) acting, a stimulating backstory, and reasonable (if not a bit barmy) motivations. While her coco-for-Coco Puffs persona is right in line with another Batverse sociopath (Heath Ledger’s infamous Joker), Rachel Skarsten’s Alice, whose backstory is rather heartbreaking, is bereft of Ledger’s depth or superb writing of The Dark Knight. Like Batwoman itself, for every two steps Alice takes towards becoming a passable antagonist, the writers fall into insipid behavior that forces her back a step. “Take Your Choice” showcases all the major flaws that have affected the series thus far that often debilitate some moments of a genuinely good narrative.
One would think that, with such an agonizing choice of saving her sister of this world or the ideal sister from another, Kate would have a much greater impact to the story. Instead, she’s more of a bystander, helpless to do anything but make a choice that, regardless of the outcome, will haunt her for life. It may sound like a complaint, but this is one of the better parts of “Take Your Choice”. Kate’s able to spend a bit more time with Beth while also being at Alice’s side at the very end. The latter is especially emotional, with Ruby Rose committing herself to the agony of failing her sister for the second time.
Skarsten complements Rose nicely, tapping into the frightened part of Alice, the little girl that went into hibernation all those years ago, only reappearing as she readies to take her final breath. Had Batwoman been courageous and taken a chance, they would have let Alice die. Instead, she lives after Dr. Campbell (who is none other than August Cartwright) kills Beth just as Luke drives her to safety. It was a ‘twist’ many saw a mile away and with the necessity of keeping Alice alive and more vigilant than ever to make her sister suffer, Batwoman lost what could have been a welcome turn from the predictable path it’s been on for most of the season.
Perhaps the greatest sin, though, is not in reviving Beth but resurrecting August Cartwright. John Emmet Tracy is decent enough but there is nothing about his character that makes me long for his return. It’s that go-to dramatic farce many shows, especially those of the CW, like to make. Creating a vile, irredeemable enemy with zero redemptive qualities. Sure, a phenomenal actor could make it work but even then, we’re getting a two-dimensional character, at best. Maybe Cartwright has a plan so fascinating that I’ll be forced to reconsider my position but, as of now, the folly of returning him to the fold weakens an already stunted antagonist in Alice.
It’s unfortunate that the Alice/Beth angle I thought would carry on for at least a handful of episodes lasts but two. This could have been such a powerful arc that would have been a perfect conclusion to the season but instead “Take Your Choice” plays almost as an afterthought, one of harried writing and clumsy editing. Kate choosing Beth over Alice may pay dividends from a narrative perspective but also further diminishes any depth Alice could have had. Feeling more betrayed than ever, her mission will be to make Kate suffer and while that has all the makings of an inevitably violent showdown, the intrigue is all but gone. It’s another one of those choices that, when looking back on Batwoman’s freshman campaign, we’ll be left to wonder “what if”.
From the Journal of Kate Kane
• If there were two better examples of uninspiring leadership than Jacob Kane and Sophie Moore, I don’t know what they’d be. Neither possesses the strength necessary to run an organization like the Crows. Much of this is due to the writing but also the performances of the actors themselves. I’ve mentioned Meagan Tandy’s limited range, but Dougray Scott is the more disappointing of the pair; all too often it’s like he’s mailing it in. It’s a shame too since, had more time been taken to develop the organization, it could have paid major dividends in later seasons.
• While I understand the necessity of ‘plot-by-convenience’, Batwoman may be the worst offender in the entire Arrowverse when trying to make sense of event happenings. The ease in which Alice always gets the drop and wins against the supposedly elite Crows (and Kate), the sheer ineptitude of the entire Crows organization (and their laughable security protocols), and everything in between, has gone well beyond annoying and into all-out frustrating. I’m not sure if a rushed schedule (something TV shows like this often have trouble with) is to blame or just a lack of creativity. Whatever it is, should Batwoman return next season, I really hope these type of poorly developed narrative steps are cleaned up or I doubt we’ll get a third year.