I’ve been really enjoying Batwoman’s second season, and at this point, I’d put it just behind Superman and Lois for most enjoyable of the Arrowverse shows. They took a major curveball between seasons and turned it into some great new stories. Now, they manage the first live action appearance of a character that, while obscure to many, has a very devoted fan following among those who know her. We also see the debut of a minor Bat-foe, one of the first to appear fully in costume, and get nods to several other Bat-characters in passing. They also work in a decent way for a new member of the Team Batwoman to join up, and manage to use everyone well in “I’ll Give You A Clue.”
The prelude scene takes place some five years ago, as rookie Crow Sophie Moore sees Arthur Brown put behind bars. Brown is (marginally) better known as Cluemaster, a low level member of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, often treated as a joke by various comic book writers. Here, he rants as he’s locked away, insisting that no rookie could solve his brilliant riddles. Sophie walks away, unimpressed. In the present, Brown makes a violent escape to start enacting revenge. Also that night, Batwoman battles several False Face thugs, mowing them down with no effort, while getting some earpiece advice from Luke. Their plan gets interrupted when the Crows show up, a bit too late to be of actual help, and screw everything up. Tavaroff is just as reasonable as we’ve been seeing so far this season, and Batwoman finally leaves in disgust, making a hasty grapple-gun exit.
It seems no one is having a good night in Gotham. Commander Kane is at a playground where he used to take Alice and Beth, and shoots up again with Snakebite. The man’s life is miserable enough right now that I suppose you can halfway understand his indulging, especially since his initial exposure to the drug was involuntary. While he enjoys his hallucinations, Alice is in the not-so-tender clutches of Black Mask, who has some very creative ideas about torture. It’s an ugly scene, and gets a bit graphic for broadcast tv. I’m sort of surprised some of this made it on air, honestly. Even captured, held down, and under torture, Alice keeps up a running stream of babble that manages to annoy Black Mask, who will do anything to find out who Batwoman is.
After a frustrating night of crimefighting, Ryan comes home to find Mary has company, and it’s Sophie. Given Ryan’s history with the Crows in general and Sophie in particular, she’s not at all happy to see this, and I can’t blame her at all. Mary really should have given her a heads up at the very least. After a lot of snarking, they move on to a game of I Never, where all three characters (and the audience) learn more about each other. Nearing the end of the bottle (which makes me wonder how any of them are still functional) they make a disturbing discovery and find out there’s a lot more to the booze than just the gift for the anniversary of Sophie starting at the Crows she had thought it was. We get a condensed version of Brown’s history in this world, and Ryan impresses the other two by finding a clue leading them somewhere new.
One of the things I give the writers a lot of credit for this season is the evolution of Alice. I was getting kind of sick of her last season, I have to admit, and they’ve managed to make her more interesting and much more than just a vengeance-obsessed madwoman. Don’t get me wrong, she’s that, too, but they’ve shown us more about her. In her next scene, she manages to escape from her torture device in a really impressive way and get the drop on Cerci Sionis, not knowing who she really is. To be fair, Cerci doesn’t know who she really is, either. Truly desperate, Alice makes a very risky phone call. It took a lot for her to try this, and the result is heartbreaking. Crushed, Alice lets her guard down and gets recaptured. Bickering all the way, Mary, Ryan, and Sophie follow up on the lead Ryan uncovered and get a few surprises. They find a deathtrap, more clues to argue over, and, as a prize, Brown’s daughter Stephanie. That’s a big deal to comic book fans, and I’ll do a quick bit on who she is later. For now, the three women have to reluctantly work together and trust each other (although most of the reluctance is from Ryan) to save Stephanie. We learn something important about how Sophie stopped Cluemaster all those years ago, and it turns out to not be what Ryan assumed. Steph gets in some great lines before finally being saved, and the team moves on to the next challenge.
Stephanie herself is the next clue, as she’s had some kind of cipher written all over her, which is a really weird thing for a father to do to his kid, even given the abusive relationship they had. Alice and Cerci do some more verbal sparring, and Alice begins to figure out there’s something off about her captor, aside from the enjoyment of torture. Once again, Alice gets told that all she has to do is give up Batwoman’s name, and she’s free. All of the villains on this side of tonight’s story are obsessed with the masked heroine, which is kind of ironic, all things considered.
Team Girl Power regroups back at the loft, and Steph gets a line that’s a nod to her comic book self. Realizing how desperate things could get with a madman on the loose (what else is new in Gotham?), the team calls for some help, and Luke gets added to the mix. He and Steph have some great chemistry and engage in a sort of introductory word duel, which I really enjoyed. They manage to figure out where this strange scavenger hunt is taking them, and Sophie, Ryan, and Mary take off to check it out, while Luke and Steph stay there to work on the remaining puzzle. Why Mary, with no fight training, went on the dangerous part of the mission, I have no idea. They find something important to Brown’s past, and then end up in another complicated deathtrap that has a twist harkening back to the Cluemaster’s past, and a very amusing commercial break.
While the ladies end up in a deadly trivia night that mentions a lot of Batman villains, some for the first time in the Arrowverse, Luke and Stephanie keep working on the cipher. They sort of flirt/boast at each other, and then Steph has a breakthrough. Because rash decisions seem to be a requirement for the modern Gotham woman, Steph doe something kind of drastic so she can go follow up on the new clue. The woman have managed to get as much of a break as they are going to in regards to their trap, and decide to call Luke for help, but due to the last scene, he’s not answering the phone.
The ongoing byplay between Alice, Cerci, and Black Mask is kind of fun to watch, especially as, no matter who kills who, Gotham ends up a better place. Alice shows that she’s no slouch as a detective, and, when Black Mask is ready to kill to maintain his secret, she brings up one of her odder, but very versatile, skills. The three women keep arguing about how to get out of their trap, and, after a lot of double entendre hinting, Sophie finally reveals she knows the big secret. Running out of options, Ryan drops the pretense and gives her instructions on how to get into the Batcave so she can fetch something to save their lives. After she leaves, Ryan and Mary bicker some more about Sophie, and Mary points out Ryan isn’t exactly objective on this particular issue. Sophie gets her first visit to the cave and eventually manages to find what she needs. Wow, this cave apparently has minimal security, but then, that seems to be a hallmark of all hero bases in the Arrowverse except Gambi’s Grotto and later Sanctum over on Black Lightning. Maybe that’s what Gambi should do when Black Lightning finishes this final season; go around and give security upgrades to all the other heroes.
Off on her own, Stephanie confronts her father, and he finally appears in his actual comic book costume. The two argue for a bit, and then Cluemaster pulls a surprising trick after learning about what Stephanie did to him some time ago. In the loft, Luke recovers from the ambush he was on the wrong end of earlier, follows up on Stephanie’s work, and rushes off to save the day. Little by little, we’re seeing more from him that just “the guy on the headset,” and maybe eventually he’ll become the masked hero Batwing that he is in the comics.
Luke makes a last-minute rescue, and he and Steph get a bit more time together. Ryan finally admits a few things to Mary, Mary shares a worrying theory, and then Sophie arrives in the nick of time. I’m not quite sure how this escape method worked, but it did, and there’s some relieved laughter and the beginning of a bond between Ryan and Sophie. A few things should be different from now on as the show moves forward.
Steph and Luke go their separate ways, but Steph makes her admiration for Luke plain on a few different levels. A worried Mary leaves a message for her father, and then gets even more worried when she finds out more about what’s going on. Sophie and Ryan share another drink (how do either of them have functional livers at this point?) and Ryan realizes how badly she screwed something up recently. There’s also an explanation for exactly what Sophie did to save Batwoman’s secret. They part on a good note, and the final scene shows that Alice can’t catch a break. After more banter with Black Mask, who gets a lot of good lines this episode, Alice displays her talents and creates something new for Cerci. This leads to Alice making a shocking discovery, and the crazed villain breaks down in tears to end the episode.
What I liked: There were a lot of nice things for fans of the comics in this episode. Cluemaster, Stephanie, and the confirmation that several more Bat-foes exist in the Arrowverse were all nice touches. I liked Luke and Stephanie together, and that’s just one of the reasons I hope she comes back. Black Mask is entertaining, from a distance. Alice is impressive on a lot of levels, and they are actually making me feel bad for her, which last season I would have bet was impossible. I’m glad they didn’t draw out the “Sophie knows, but they don’t know she knows” bit.
What I didn’t: Wallis Day, who is playing Circe/Kate, has been used minimally so far, which is a shame as she’s got some talent. Hopefully she gets a bigger part soon. Mary going with Sophie and Ryan made no sense. The Batcave needs better security, and I’m not really sure I buy the big Mary/Ryan escape near the end.
It was a good episode on most levels, and I’ll give this one a 4 out of 5.
So, who is Stephanie? I’ll do a quick character sketch of her comic book history, and larger piece later. Stephanie Brown, daughter of C-list villain Cluemaster, isn’t a fan of the man or his lifestyle, and finally decides he needs to be stopped. She became Spoiler, a vigilante who was mostly concerned with foiling Cluemaster. Eventually she met Tim Drake, the third Robin, and they had an on again, off again relationship. As time passed and the various tensions and allegiances shifted in the Bat-Family, Steph became the first female Robin, and later the third (depending on how you count) Batgirl, in a great series written by Bryan Miller. Steph was one of the people most screwed over by the big reboot, when her entire history and evolution were wiped out and she was reset to Spoiler and Tim’s girlfriend. Hopefully, she’ll get a better history soon.