Batwoman boss explains why Kate needed to break Batman's biggest rule
Warning: This article contains spoilers from Sunday's Batwoman, titled "Off With Her Head."
"I've demonstrated there is no difference between me and everyone else. All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man to lunacy."
That's what the Joker tells Batman in the climax of Alan Moore and John Higgins' The Killing Joke after trying to drive Commissioner Jim Gordon insane. While the Clown Prince of Crime is specifically talking about sanity, it’s hard not to think about that quote after watching the most recent episode of Batwoman when Ruby Rose’s Kate had a very bad day that pushed her over the edge, causing her to break Batman’s biggest rule: She killed a man. (Full disclosure: The episode in question was written by former EW staffer Natalie Abrams).
Sunday's episode, titled "Off With Her Head," started off with Alice leaving a subdued August Cartwright for Kate. While Jacob runs off to find Alice, Kate hangs back with Cartwright, who regales her with the story of Alice's very first kill. Alice ends up reliving this traumatic experience at the same time because a brainwashed Mouse hooks up her to Scarecrow's fear toxin.
Through flashbacks we learn that Cartwright's abusive and vain mother Mabel (Everwood's Debra Mooney) came to live with them and terrorized Alice for years. Eventually, Alice discovered that Cartwright had not only salvaged her mother's head from the river but he was preserved it so he could give Mabel her face (because this family has never met a face it didn't want to play with). This is the final straw for Alice, who proceeds to burn Mabel to death. Similarly, Kate snaps after hearing this story and strangles the life of out Cartwright.
"I purposely wanted this moment to be Kate with her bare hands, not using the filter of a Batsuit, not hiding her identity," Batwoman showrunner Caroline Dries tells EW. "It’s just visceral, primitive Kate acting with her true emotions that are bubbling out of her. There’s no uniform. There’s no justification [like] 'I’m the vigilante of the city that protects people from bad guys like this.' It’s just a human girl killing the monster that destroyed her family."
Even though superheroes killing people isn't as taboo as it used to be (shoutout to Arrow's "nobody can know my secret" moment), it's still surprising when it happens, especially for someone like Kate, who wears the Bat-symbol. Kate herself is shocked and horrified by what she did at the end of the episode. Dries, though, believes it was important for Kate to cross this line, and below, she explains why and teases what's to come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you know you were heading toward this big moment of Kate killing someone since the season started?
CAROLINE DRIES: Yes, this episode was planned out very early in my thought process of what the season would be. I knew Kate was needing to kill somebody and I knew the only person “worthy” of Kate crossing that line would be the man who kept Alice in captivity for so long. It was just a question of when it would happen and I knew it needed to happen once Batwoman’s confidence was at its pinnacle — you know, doing really great things for the city and then she does this horrible, awful crossing the line. With good reason, in my opinion.
Why was it important to take Kate in this direction?
It was important to me because I was trying to figure out Kate’s own morality and who Kate was. There’s this assumption, because she’s wearing the Batsuit, Kate follows Batman’s rule book and is gonna follow the Bat-code: Batman doesn’t kill people. As I was thinking about that and interviewing writers at the beginning of the season, everyone had that assumption. But I was like, a code is something that evolves through your own personal journey and Kate hasn’t been on her journey yet. We’re on the journey with her. So Kate doesn’t really know what her code is until she hits those lines in the sand that she doesn’t know if she wants to cross or not. We’re watching her develop her own code. To me, she needs to make — I don’t want to necessarily call it a mistake — moves that have very intense consequences in order to figure out who she actually is.
So, it was about not taking for granted the fact that she is a superhero and all superheroes are the same as well?
Yeah. The interesting thing to me is, when I originally pitched the whole season, more or less, this became sort of a talking point. Not that anyone was against it, but people pushed back a little and were like, “Well, do we really want Kate to kill? Who is it going to be?” I was like, “Does anyone want to go back and watch Arrow episode 1 and go to the end of Act 2 and just watch that scene?” It’s like Oliver’s killing people at the end of Act 2 of the pilot. So I’m telling a story of a woman who is a hero and who kills the absolute person in the world with her bare hands. To me that was sort of an interesting moment where I found myself having to really make her kill righteous.
And you had this moment arrive in alongside Alice’s first kill, too.
Basically what we’re doing is: This isn’t just the story of Batwoman and how Batwoman came to be Batwoman. This is a story about a villain named Alice and how Beth, this innocent girl, because a super-villain. At the end of the day, these two women share the same DNA and that’s the point — one turned out good, one turned out bad. My favorite line of the episode was when Cartwright is like, “How do I know you’re not going to kill me?” And she’s like, “Because I’m me. This is what integrity looks like. I’m all the things that Alice isn’t because you stripped them away from her. I’m sort of the good version of that person that’s left.” To me, it’s the yin and yang of that.
Also showing the line separating them isn’t as thick as we thought it was, either?
Exactly. What makes Kate so interesting to me is that she’s not this earnest cookie-cutter good guy. She is totally flawed, has a lot going on, is really complicated, tries to the right thing, and has a good moral compass, but she’s also human and lets her emotions takeover sometimes.
From Alice’s perspective, did you see this as Alice forcing Kate into this position as a form payback for Kate choosing to save Beth over her, or was this really much more about Alice showing Kate they aren’t that different?
We get into that in the next episode. I think it’s pretty obvious that if Alice wanted to kill Cartwright herself, she could have. She had him in her possession. With Alice, there is a method to her madness.
What does this mean for Kate’s relationship with Alice?
The whole point is Kate saying to Cartwright, “I am not Alice. She turned out bad, I turned out good.” Obviously now, things are blurry and we saw that they need to go bury this body. That’s where we’ll pick them up in the next episode. They need to work as a family. Now this family has this huge secret. For Alice, this is good. In episode 10, she told Kate, “Just let me be! Stop judging me! Accept me as your sister!” And Kate’s like, “No you aren’t. You were, but you’re not anymore.” Alice is hoping that if Kate can be less perfect and be as dark as she is, then maybe Kate will stop judging her and accept her, and so maybe they can actually be real sisters. For Alice, this is great obviously. For Kate, it has her questioning a lot of things. Was Alice right? Do I know myself at all?
The trauma of this moment will obviously have an impact on Kate going forward.
It is a trauma and it’s not something she can just shake off, and it’s not something that you can just go through a character journey in one episode, wrap it in a bow, and move on. This will have residual effects. That’s the whole point of earning her to actually commit the act and then making the consequences feel real.
At one point in the episode, Mary tells Luke they can count on Kate to bring Cartwright to justice. This clearly isn’t what she had in mind. Will Mary and Luke find out happen, and how will they react?
Part of dealing with the consequences of this will be how Kate decides to tell, or not tell, the closest people in her life. That decision will give insight into how awful Kate feels about this.
Batwoman airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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