One of the things that is really separating Batwoman from the other CW shows is that they are devoting a lot of time to character work and focusing on one major story, the twisted and tragic tale of Alice. There have been a few “villains of the week,” but even then, Alice is generally lurking in the background, and her story has affected just about everyone on the show. Now we see a lot more about her background, as well as get some developments for other characters, in “Off With her Head,” continuing the trend of Alice In Wonderland-themed titles.
The show opens with Beth and Kate’s Bat mitzvah, a scene that was filmed for, and then cut from, the pilot. I think it takes place just before the fateful bridge accident, and it shows a rare scene between the girls and their mother. We see the origin of the necklaces that Beth/Alice and Kate wear. Mom gives them a good speech about character being revealed by how you handle conflicting emotions. There’s a lot of great setup in this scene. Jumping to the present, a woman gets stalked on the street and Batwoman intervenes. We get an enjoyable beatdown of a slimeball, a great test of the ballistic properties of her armor, and an interruption via Bat-Signal. Getting to the signal, and it’s not clear where that is, Batwoman gets a surprise as a special package has been left for her- August Cartwright, all tied up and with a little gift card from Alice.
After a change of venue and clothes, Kate calls her father to her bar, which is well on its way to becoming an auxiliary Bat-cave. Jacob arrives, not in the best of moods, and even madder when he sees August tied up to a chair. Kate and Jacob argue about Alice being alive or not, and Kate evades questions about how she ended up with August. As they try and get that sorted out, Alice goes looking for Mouse. She finds him, frees him, and we get our first reference to the Queen of Hearts.
Cue the flashback as we get to meet August Cartwright’s mother, a thoroughly horrible woman with her own oxygen cylinder and arsenal of guilt trips. It’s a nasty, unpleasant scene, that sets her up as a thoroughly unlikable character, also focusing some unwanted attention on Alice’s necklace, which she lies about. In the present, Kate tries to get around the “Alice is dead” issue by drawing on the general weirdness of Gotham, which is fair enough. Jacob is not in the most receptive mood, not helped any by August waking up and being impressively snarky. Alice’s rescue of Mouse goes seriously sideways with an unexpected reversal and some of August’s work paying off for him, not so much for her.
Another different thing about this episode is Luke and Mary spending time apart from Kate. We see Luke find his way to Mary’s clinic, and she brings him to Mad Dog, who has information about the flyers they’ve been posting about the car linked to Beth’s shooting. Luke is dubious, but Mary believes the story. They get in some more great banter, and end up going to follow up on the lead. At the Hold Up, August does more boasting to Kate and Jacob about what he’s been up to, including a reference to Dr. Jonathan Crane, better known as the Scarecrow. Kate encountered his work back in her first appearance during Elseworlds. August is smug and obnoxious as he tries to cut a deal with the Kanes. Even Jacob losing his temper and getting physical doesn’t put a dent in August’s attitude.
Back in flashback land, Mother Cartwright continues to be a nightmare. She gets very abusive over the serving of tea, and this mixes with some nightmare images from Alice on her seriously bad trip in the present. Desperately trying to live up to the evil old woman’s standards, Alice goes to August’s workshop and notices something odd. In the present, August keeps going on about Alice’s misery, and what happened to her when she was younger. Jacob leaves to follow a lead or two, and Kate falls for a fairly obvious trick, although in her defense, I didn’t see what was coming falling out exactly this way. August is committed, I have to give him that. Mary and Luke continue their junkyard tour, and Mary proves to be a decent detective. Luke does get in some good lines at least, and between them, they find some significant evidence. They get interrupted by a frantic call for Mary from Batwoman, which leads to some improvised medical treatment, a lot of confusion from Luke, and the wonderful phrase “Doctor-vigilante privilege.”
Alice continues to suffer under the onslaught of fear toxin, and has some really ugly hallucinations. She’s always had a wretched past, and this really made me feel worse for her. Desperate to help her sister, Kate finally cuts a deal with the demented Dr. Cartwright, and sends what she learned to Jacob. Kate is uncharacteristically out of the action for most of this episode. While Mary extremely unsubtly pokes around Kate’s office, Luke does some detective work of his own that leaves a bit to be desired before finally getting on the right track. They do finally come up with some good information, although I believe they are duplicating what Kate and Jacob have already learned. Alice gets partially free and almost does something drastic before the timely arrival and intervention of Jacob. His attitude towards Alice does seem to change a lot. As Jacob tries to care for Alice, she reveals there’s more horrific pieces of her past to come. Kate starts down that same path as the story returns to the issue of jewelry.
With another horrific trip to the past, Alice finds something gruesome even by the current story’s standards. It’s enough to send her over the edge and do the first thing we’ve seen in the past that matches present-day Alice’s actions. It’s not quite technically possible, but still a good scene. In the present, August tells Kate the same thing we saw Alice discover, and she loses it completely, if understandably. Enraged beyond measure, she breaks the hero code that most of them go by, barring Green Arrow in some seasons of his show. Horrified by what she’s done, Kate tries to fix it, but both her and her father’s efforts are too late. Pleased by this development, Alice reverts to her default setting of Lewis Carroll quotes, rubbing things in with Jacob. While Mary and Luke continue their investigation, Kate tries to figure out what to do next, making several bad decisions including a drink with her sister. The episode ends on a dark line from Alice and Kate making things worse.
What I liked: This was dark, but well-written for the most part. Luke and Mary potentially going over the same ground that Jacob and Kate did made perfect sense, since there’s no communication between the two teams. Mary is continuing to be my favorite character. The early scene with Batwoman and the stalker was well done. It was good seeing Luke and Mary away from Kate, and I loved the call to Mary for advice.
What I didn’t: They keep whipsawing between Alice being evil and tragically misunderstood. I’d like them to pick one. Alice and Batwoman both make serious mistakes in combat they shouldn’t, and Luke similarly screws up his computer work. They’re all supposed to be better than that.
It was a pretty good episode with some really well-done writing and a few tragic reveals. I’ll give it a high 3.5 out of 5.