“Batwoman” Keeps Getting Gayer and Queering Superhero Tropes

It’s no great mystery why so many queer people are, and always have been, drawn to superhero stories. Secret identities. Double lives. Mutants who discover their powers when they go through puberty and are ostracized from society if they reveal them. This week’s Batwoman, “Who Are You?,” spoke the metaphor right out loud, and then flipped it on its head. In an early-episode voiceover to Bruce, Kate says after coming out when a kid on the playground called her gay — “Yeah? And?” — she never looked back or tried to hide her sexuality. Choosing to become Batwoman is choosing a closet, hiding a huge part of herself away, and she wonders if it’s worth it. (Also, yes, Bruce: she’s quoting Rihanna.)

That’s not the only thing making Kate question her choices this week, or the only superhero trope Batwoman‘s writers queer right up. Kate really hit it off with Reagan after their meet-cute at last week’s near-murder party. They’re cozied up in bed together, smoochin’, flirtin’, being real tcute,when hey’re interrupted by a text from Luke — who is supposed to be a great keeper of secret identities, but closes his message with a red bat emoji?? — and Kate lies, badly, about a plumbing emergency and darts. On her lunch date with Reagan, on a casual stroll through the city, Luke breaks in with another urgent Bat-situation, and Kate dips again. She does invite Reagan to this week’s fancy third act festivities, a party full of priceless antique jewelry (like these museum curators don’t know what city they live in), and Reagan reluctantly agrees. After an awkward meeting in which Sophie and Regan smile painfully at each other, Reagan and Kate finally settle into a drink at the bar — when Magpie shows up to stuff her pockets with broaches and pendents. And Kate bounces, again.

This is truly a superhero trope as old as time — but oooh it makes me antsy to see flaky and emotionally unavailable masculine-of-center gay women on TV. We do not need to keep hammering out Shane McCutcheons in perpetuity. But Batwoman totally zigged when I thought it was going to zag!

At the end of the night, after Batwoman saves the day and the Bat-brand and especially the life of a little girl who idolizes her, Kate and Reagan get real. Reagan’s not needy, she doesn’t want to be the anchor of Kate’s life, they just met — but if she misses a spin class or trades a shift at work to hang out and Kate bails on her, that sucks. Kate doesn’t make excuses, promise to be better, coax Reagan into giving her another chance. She agrees she’s been a jerk. She likes Reagan. She can’t be fair to her right now. So probably it’s better if they stop seeing each other. I’ve watched Clark Kent drag Lois Lane through flaky, bad boyfriend hell for at least 13 full seasons of TV and five full-length feature films. These two women talk out their feelings, explain their needs and desires, and handle the dissonance like adults in 42 minutes. (GAAAAAAY.)

This absolutely won’t be the end of Kate and Reagan, or if the whole Kate-Reagan-Sophie triangle, but the episode does a nice job beginning to establish the personal cost of being a superhero, to the cape-wearer and the people who love them. And though I’ve seen this story about ten billion times between a guy superhero and his gal, I’ve only ever seen it twice between two women: in the Batwoman comics in Maggie and Kate’s New 52 Batwoman storyline, and on last season’s Black Lightning between Grace and Anissa.The queer novelty has not worn off!

“Who Are You?” also continues to shade in the lines of its supporting women characters in a way that absolutely delights me. Every episode gives me another reason to want to prove my love for Mary by stepping in front of a bullet for her or pushing her off some train tracks or just making her a nice cozy bowl of homemade soup and some fresh-baked bread. This week she meets Batwoman for the first time. To keep her identity safe, Kate uses a voice-modulator to make her sound like an Australian doing an American accent in a slightly more husky way. Mary is starstruck, but chill about it (mostly). And she’s immediately all-business when Batwoman reveals she’s brought a half-dead man — Alice’s boyfriend who tried to kill Mary once already — in for her to save. Mary keeps him alive, valiantly; she also scolds Batwoman for mistreating him and uses his morphine haze to pump him for information about Alice. Which is to say, she remains perfect.

And Rachel Skarsten continues to chew through Alice’s scenes with the nice mix of playfully unhinged and downright psychotic. She forces Katherine to tell Jacob that the authorities actually never found Beth’s body. Those skull fragments were from a deer and Katherine paid the doctor doing the DNA analysis to say they belonged to Beth. And Alice only has to cut off one guy’s finger with some hedge-clippers to make it happen! Imagine what she could do if she had a 3D printer like Magpie’s that uses the apparently widely accessible office supply of: explodable ink!

The CW has already given Batwoman a full-season order. That’s plenty of time for Bruce Wayne to make his way home — but after only four episodes of Ruby Rose in the cape and cowl, I can honestly say, I don’t care if Batman ever comes back to Gotham City.

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1022 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. I wish she’d given a little bit of info about her “on call” type job before the first date. “I can’t tell you details about my job yet, but I’m on call 24/7 and may duck out. It’s not you, and I hope we can see each other around my janky work schedule” is enough explanation to give a date a chance to decide if it’s worth trying without causing hurt feelings. Even if you’re not filling in all the blanks, be honest about the blanks and don’t lie.

  2. Mary doing her best Alice impression to get info from her patient/would-be-murderer was so amazing!
    Also, I really hope Reagen comes back soon–I like her chemistry with Kate and people-reading skills. Every new episode seems to add and develop Batwoman’s female characters, which doesn’t happen often enough on other shows.

  3. IF this show simply existed, it would have been enough. That this show is far better than I expected – that too was enough. If they had only sponsored content from Autostraddle which wins them a special place in my heart, that would have been enough. That this show is predominately run by women (including 3 central women of color) and a token man who is perfect and also a person of color – it would have been enough!!

    But on top of all of that – HEATHER HOGAN IS WRITING ABOUT IT WEEKLY!!

    We are so blessed, and Passover isn’t even for another 6 months.

  4. Kate is so bad at lying to her girlfriend about her secret identity.

    Maybe Kara can give her some pointers.

    …oh, right.

    ——–

    So far every character is interesting in some way, but Mary continues to shine. She’s obviously the smartest person on this show, so it’s only a matter of time until she figures out Kate’s secret.

    ——–

    I do not believe for one second that the entire bat suit fits in that tiny duffel bag.

    ——–

    This week’s one liner that doubles as a fanfic premise is: “I’m allergic to feathers.”

  5. Gay, Gayness everywhere. This show has already gone way beyond my initial expectations. Even the red wig actually looks okay.

    A soft, tender ‘morning after’ scene that actually last. And real communication.

    That scene where Reagan, Kate and Sophie just look at each other. I was wheezing. It’s awkward for them but I was having a blast.

    And Mary imitating Alice was everything. So many great ladies.

  6. I feel like Alice is mori girl aesthetic meets unhinged pastel goth.

    Anybody else notice the Kane gravestones had the Magen David on them?

    And yep Mary is the best side character, she’s comic relief but a complete 3 dimensional character with her own motivations and goals.

  7. My queer little heart was SO happy this week.

    I’ve been RIDICULOUSLY charmed by Brianne Howey’s entire everything since earlier this year with The Passage (where she’s SO charming that she got me deeply emotionally invested in a canon straight romance?? can’t remember the last time that happened), so I’m really excited to discover her gaying it up on other TV shows

    I love seeing all of Kate’s looks every week too! A protagonist who’s an unapologetic masc-of-center lesbian? I WILL TAKE TWENTY PLS

    It’s just so refreshing to sit down and watch a fun, interesting (at times cheesy) superhero TV show that centers queer experiences so directly (and also so casually?) the way this show’s been doing. WE DESERVE THE SUPERHERO ROMPS, GDI. I love seeing queer lives exist in a genre other than “we’re sad and repressed, and then we’re not repressed anymore but we’re still sad, and then everything falls to shit.”

    • I feel it necessary to tell any human charmed by Brianne Howey about the hugely underrated “Exorcist” series that came out in 2016 where she also plays a very cute tough complex lesbian (among other compelling queer characters!!!)

  8. The bed scene with Kate and Reagan was so hot, and I am so 100% here for this. I’m bummed they split, but it could never work unless Reagan was in on Batwoman. I wonder if she’ll come back, and if it’ll be in a good way or a villain way.

    I was majorly excited to see the scenes of them in Chicago, I’d love to watch them film next time they come around here.

    Mary is my favorite character, but I’m really enjoying all of it and am so excited for a full season!

  9. This show is surpassing my expectations for sure. I remember being so let down by RR on OITNB, but it turns out that her impassive delivery and muted emotional range suits the character of Batwoman perfectly. That accent tho – I’m used to British/Australian actors being much more masterful imitators of dialect, so it’s kind of amusing see one who’s pretty bad at it and get a sense of how people from other countries feel when North Americans butcher theirs :P

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