Last episode of Batwoman ended on a major surprise. Somehow, likely as a result of the Crisis, Beth surprised Kate in her office. It was unexpected to say the least, and Kate really doesn’t do surprises well. She shares that with the late Oliver Queen. “An Un-Birthday Present” (another phrase from Alice in Wonderland, of course) starts where the last one left off, and shows us some more of what happened to turn Beth into Alice.
The surprise sisterly reunion doesn’t go well, and Beth proves to be more than just some helpless victim. She manages to get away from a surprised Kate, leaving the hero behind to try and figure out what in the world (or worlds) just happened. Alice, meanwhile, is still in interrogation with Sophie. Bored, she retreats into memory, and we see some of the various cruelties visited on her while she was Cartwright’s prisoner. In the present, Sophie checks in with her imprisoned boss/father figure (where are her parents, anyway? We never hear about them.) who warns her she’s not equipped to deal with Alice. Kate comes in, still seeking rational explanations for her earlier encounter, and gets concrete proof something odd is going on, and then hears someone else has seen what she did.
Following up on the Sherlock Holmes dictum that “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth,” Kate plays detective and gets some help. Approaching the matter like her famed detective cousin, she has Luke check on some actual facts she can handle, and Mary chimes in with some good ideas and some great comments about what to call this new arrival. We also get introduced to the phrase “galactic blender,” which I really hope gets used again. Applying her brain, Kate leaves to track down Beth. We find her someplace we’ve seen before, which is a nice callback, and she and Kate get a much better reunion. Beth, too, has noticed that all is not as it should be.
Alice and Sophie trade barbs, requests, and ominous hints, and, so far, I’d say Jacob was right and Sophie isn’t up for this. Not one to leave things in the hands of others, Mouse has been a busy boy and sets up some bargaining chips for Alice’s release. The bar Kate has been slowly remodeling now has a name, the Hold Up, and she and Beth share a birthday drink. The sisters compare notes on differences and similarities from what they remember of their pasts, and the divergences are interesting. Luke interrupts with a phone call and brings the news to their attention. Mouse’s efforts are being covered, and Commissioner Forbes is refusing to light up the signal, prompting complaints, protests, and speculation that he’s refusing because of Batwoman recently coming out. In the comics, Forbes was a crooked cop who briefly ascends to Commissioner during some of the murky politics and power plays that make up Gotham’s government. Sophie figures if the police aren’t going to call the masked hero, they’ll need the Crows help, because everyone seems to agree the GCPD can’t handle anything more than parking tickets on their own. Sophie dispatches some operatives on various missions, brings something to Alice, and we get more flashbacks of the imprisoned young Beth. Alice, back in the present, makes some cutting and insightful remarks about Sophie’s life, throwing her off a bit.
Zipping through the city, Kate tells Luke to get the suit ready (what does that entail, I wonder) and, after she gets there, worries that she could have saved “her” Beth based on what the other one has told her. Luke gives her a great pep talk over coms, which gets violently interrupted by the Wonderland Gang, led by Mouse. I’m not real clear on how they found Kate, but I guess we’ll just chalk it up to drama points. Kate finds herself in a nightmare that echoes part of her distant origin, but at least she found who she was looking for. Mouse makes some calls and demands, and Sophie finds out the new situation.
In an awkward but rapid conversation, Beth goes to find Luke and gets told about what’s going on, while they compare notes about their realities. Sophie gloats about hidden messages (why would she give a smart enemy any information at all?), and learns two can play at that game. This gives us more flashbacks to something really horrible, and then more threats from present-day Alice. Back at the office, Beth finds out more bad news and then comes up with a plan Luke hates, but he doesn’t have any better ideas. While prisoners exchange optimistic political views, Alice makes more dark comments. This gives us more flashbacks and some grisly details, and more taunts for Sophie.
Not being an idiot, Luke has called for some help, and Mary gets to know Beth as they prepare her plan. It’s a very amusing scene. Now that she’s not pouting constantly any more, Mary is once again about my favorite character on the show. They have a good scene together, Beth tries her approach, and that goes about like I figured it would. When things go off the rails, Mouse gets mad, and now even more people are in danger. Sophie tries to appeal to Alice again, and we go back and see what I believe is the actual moment when young Beth cracked and became Alice. After this, we get more taunts, threats, a somewhat unlikely escape, and a nasty parting shot.
They really set us up to think there’s a nasty tragedy about to unfold, and they handle things better than what I thought was coming, so points for that. After things start finally getting better (Alice, Beth, and Kate have all had a rough birthday), Vesper Fairchild pops up for more voiceover and makes some snide comments about GCPD’s Do Not Call List. Sophie and Kate share a friendly scene, and then we see big pro-Batwoman protests. The woman herself shows up briefly to huge cheers, showing up the GCPD, and giving us the brief and only appearance of the costume this week. The roundup at the end has Sophie with Jacob, a delayed surprise, some fun scenes among the characters, and an ominous development I suspect will be explored in more detail next episode (which is not for a few weeks for some odd reason).
What I liked: We almost don’t get to see Batwoman at all this episode, and they made it work. Mary got some great bits and good ideas. Rachel Skarsten, who plays Alice and Beth, did a great job with both characters, making them very different people. Ava Sleeth, Young Beth, was really good as well. The mention of Forbes was a nice nod to obscure stories (but I still really want to know what happened to Jim Gordon). They were building up for what I thought was going to be a really cheap plot twist, and avoided it nicely. It was nice to see the city rally behind Batwoman in spite of Commissioner Forbes’ idiocy.
What I didn’t: As I said, I’m not sure how the gang found Kate when she was riding around on her motorcycle. Alice’s escape was a bit odd and I didn’t really follow how some of it happened. I’m worried about the end bit.
I thought this was a well-executed episode, making good use of the Crisis to throw some unexpected elements at us. I’m giving this a 4 out of 5.