Mild spoilers below for Batwoman 214, “And Justice For All.” Note (especially if you read these without watching the episode first): content warning for discussions of violence against Black and brown people.
Coming into this episode of Batwoman, I had no idea how I would do justice (ha) to what I correctly assumed would be an incredibly powerful hour of television. After 58 minutes, the skeleton of a recap was assembled in my head and I felt inspired and hopeful by what I had just seen. And in the last two minutes of the episode, that feeling was shattered. So let’s get into it, folks. This one won’t be easy, but let’s do it together.
Previously on Batwoman, Sophie Moore. That’s it. I mean, some other stuff happened like the team solved a puzzle by a deranged former game show host, Snakebite Jake OD’d, and Alice made CirceKate a new Wallis Day-shaped face. But mostly, Sophie Moore.
Speaking of Wallis Day, we pick up right where we left off last week with Alice staring down her very alive and very brainwashed sister, Kate. Alice calls her “Kate” again, and Circe’s indifference as she asks “Who?” hurts something fierce. Now that he got what he wanted, Roman allows Alice to leave, but she tries to use face maintenance (LOL) as an excuse to stay with her sister, but it doesn’t work.
Somehow there are even more False Face members roaming Gotham, because one of them is trying to sell what appears to be a new version of the drug to a guy in a very fancy car. Batwoman shows up, takes down the dealer, and follows the buyer into an abandoned church. Well, abandoned save for A WOMAN EATING ANOTHER PERSON AND NOT IN THE SEXY WAY (actually, if zombies are your thing, no kink shaming here. Just…be careful?).
Okay so you know that scene in every Black cookout movie where That Song plays and everyone is grooving while they pour drinks, play games, or otherwise just fellowship? That’s exactly what’s happening at The Hold Up because there is a fundraiser poppin’ off and it’s a joyous brunching good time. Ryan’s making pretty drinks when Luke comes over to tell her about the zombie situation which leads Ryan to hilariously quipping that she’s never eating spaghetti again. Sidenote, in an episode that’s so heavy, Javicia Leslie really brought her comedic line delivery A-game. And speaking of game, Imani comes over to flirt with Ryan and y’all, the way I screamed at Ryan’s little eyebrow raise!! Ryan’s still getting the hang of the secret identity thing and we find out she came up with a ridiculous lie to get out of spending time with Imani the previous night.
Outside, a white man (yes, this is relevant) swerves his car over and inspects the new Snakebite when a cop knocks on his window presumably because he’s waving illegal drugs around IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. Just kidding. The officer simply warns him about blocking a hydrant and then goes along his merry way. Despite being unsure about the shady looking drug, HE INJECTS IT ANYWAY (?!) and wouldn’t ya know it, his eyes start to look just like the zombie eyes.
While Luke explains to Ryan that the reason Kate was so broody all the time was because dating with a secret identity is nearly impossible, two GCPD officers show up to check out a “noise complaint.” I knew it was coming, it was in all the promos, and yet I don’t think I breathed during this entire scene. The officers demand they shut down the fundraiser or else they’d have to pay a fine. Ryan refuses to back down while Luke attempts to diffuse the situation by apologizing. Neither tactic works though (le gasp), and the officers grab Ryan and Luke, slam them down and arrest them.
Sophie shows up to The Hold Up just as the place is cleared out and the cops are writing up their report. She asks what happened, sees that the report states a noise violation, and merely says that the security cameras will confirm what the officer wrote down. The officer, faced with a Black woman standing up to him, of course calls Sophie aggressive. Because to them, unless we are making ourselves small and “yes sir”-ing, we are a threat. Sophie is a Crow, and says as much, and the officer still threatens to have her removed. Our girl refuses to back down; she rises and rises and calls him on his bullshit because she knows she’s right and she knows she deserves to be heard.
At the jail, Ryan and Luke don’t have anyone’s numbers memorized (lol) so they can’t even make their one phone call. Both of them are on edge; Ryan is annoyed with Luke shucking and jiving for the cops, and Luke tries to explain that he was just trying to peacefully diffuse the situation. And here’s the thing, we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Ryan doesn’t go so far as to call Luke an Uncle Tom, but it’s clear that she thinks his upbringing led to him playing nice with law enforcement, especially white law enforcement. Luke explains that there’s a difference between playing nice and keeping his head down though. He goes to call the Crows hotline to hopefully get in touch with Sophie, just as she’s brought into their cell.
Meanwhile, Snakebite guy is super hungry and he doesn’t know why. He corners a lady and tells her he wants to eat her face off before telling her to run away. A cop approaches him calmly (lol), the guy admits to being on Snakebite, and the cop still emphasizes he won’t hurt him, but then he’s taken down by a group of zombies. I can’t believe that’s a real sentence I get to write.
Back at the jail, Sophie tells the rest of the team that the cop didn’t believe she was a Crow because she wasn’t in her uniform. Ryan tells Sophie that as soon as she thinks they’re getting somewhere, she reminds her that she’ll always be a Crow first. And the look Sophie gives Ryan broke me into a million pieces.
Oh hey, remember Dr. Rhyme, aka Enigma? Well Alice sure does, and she has her tied up in her own office, questioning her about Kate being alive. Rhyme shifts the blame to Roman (Blame the man, sis. I ain’t mad at ya.) and explains that this is different from her and Ocean’s brainwashing because Rhyme had to completely shatter Kate’s psyche. She tells Alice to bring her something that’s uniquely Kate’s in hopes that it will rattle her memory.
At the clinic, Mary’s observing Jacob and asks him what happened. He tells her some version of the truth, but she knows that’s not everything. The Hungry Hungry Snakebite guy from earlier barges into the clinic, cuffs himself, and calmly introduces himself as the guy who will probably try to eat them alive. Chill.
Down in Alice’s subway lair, she’s looking for something of Kate’s, finds a set of keys, and starts to head back to the doc’s office when Ocean (lol I forgot about him) stops her. He’s been waiting down there for two days (what’s the food and shower situation though?) but she tells him it’s not a good time because Kate’s alive.
Meanwhile Zombie Richie’s housing a pizza while Mary says some very sexy science words explaining how this strain of Snakebite is affecting him differently than the old one. He was so willing to take the new drug because he just wanted to see his dead wife again, even if it was only in a hallucination.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this scene right here, with Ryan, Sophie, and Luke in the jail cell is probably my favorite one in the entire episode, and it’s so important. It shows that no matter how uniformly non-Black people might see us, every Black person has a different story and a different experience that informs the way they look at and move through the world. Take The Talk, for example. There are so many versions of it, and I’m certain the version Luke got and the version Ryan got and the version Sophie got were all different because they had to be. Luke’s talk probably included something to the effect of “just because your white friends can mouth off to cops without consequences doesn’t mean you can. Be polite, don’t talk back, and you’ll get out of there alive.”
Whereas Ryan grew up hard. And I don’t mean her situation, though that was difficult to be sure. But she had to build up a hard exterior to deal with the world and the system constantly beating her down. She learned to stand up for herself because if she didn’t, who would? And Sophie? Well I would bet anything that Sophie’s talk involved her hearing that she needed to work twice as hard to get half the recognition her white peers did. And that once she put her entire self into that system, maybe she’d be able to make a difference for her and for little girls like her who had to watch their neighborhoods policed by people who didn’t look like them.
And here’s the thing, all of those Talks are right, and even Ryan admits that she admires why Sophie is doing what she’s doing. The problem is, even when we twist and contort ourselves to fit whatever the idea of a Good Black Person is, it’s not enough. I think the writers did an excellent job showing that despite Ryan, Luke, and Sophie’s different approaches, they all ended up in the same place because of the color of their skin.
Ryan reminds Sophie that the Crows are just the wall between the 1% and reality, and Sophie explains that while Ryan gets to choose when she’s Batwoman and when she’s not, Sophie is always Sophie; in and out of the uniform. A while back, I wrote about intersectionality and the way it affects how I move through the world and specifically how it affects the way I watch television (in that case, Black Lightning). It’s impossible for me to watch Ryan and Sophie without thinking about how the world perceives each of them; and how they perceive themselves. They are both queer Black women who, in different ways, have another identity that is more palatable to white authorities in Gotham; Ryan as Batwoman and Sophie as a Crow. I think the two of them have more in common than Sophie realizes though, because even though Ryan gets to choose when she’s Batwoman and Sophie is always Sophie, in the eyes of the GCPD, when they’re “masked”, they are versions of Black women they can handle. They follow rules they’ve established and they operate under a code they control. Without those uniforms, GCPD sees both women as threats.
No sooner has the Bat Team (minus Mary) declared their intention to burn it all down, than a white dude gets thrown into their cell for grand theft auto. He does that thing where he wants so badly to be persecuted and claims to be “one of them” before telling them about the zombie takeover.
And as if to illustrate my earlier point, as soon as the GCPD can’t handle the zombie situation, they turn on the Batsignal in hopes that a Black woman will save their asses yet again.
Ryan’s pacing the cell, itching to get out there when Imani shows up to tell them a civil right attorney is working on charges against the cops and that they’re free to go. Unfortunately, Ryan isn’t exactly free for a date night with Imani because she has zombies to take care of.
Back at the clinic, Kane is helping Mary while Zombie Richie eats his own hand?? Mary figures out that the new formula makes anyone who takes the drug crave memories.
Meanwhile, now that Sophie’s free, she’s back at Crows HQ giving orders to use non-lethal force on citizens at the church. That Guy doesn’t want to help because it’s outside their jurisdiction (okay so, I was confused about the GCPD and the Crows both operating in Gotham, but are the Crows just private security for rich people?) and wants to know if Kane gave the order. ACTING COMMANDER Sophie Moore informs him that Kane is MIA and the order comes from her, HIS BOSS.
Because Mary is who she is, she figures out a way to get the bad Snakebite out of everyone’s system, but the catch it, Ryan is going to need to dose every person individually.
Ocean and Alice arrive at Rhyme’s office and Alice explains that she brought the keys to Kate’s motorcycle because they will unlock her deep feelings of freedom. Enigma warns Alice that it’ll also unlock pain for Kate. Plus, she still needs the trigger word to fully bring her back. Before Enigma can give Alice the word, Ocean runs over and snaps her neck.
Batwoman makes her way to the church and begins injecting the zombies and hilariously censors “asses” to “booties.” She fights and injects her way through the crowd of zombies, but the Crows come in hot and shoots every last one of them. We can hear Sophie screaming at That Guy to stand down, but he says indifferently that they were a lost cause.
Back at the clinic, Mary tells her dad that she knows why he kept using Snakebite, but that he isn’t the only one who lost everything. She lost all the same people he did, but she’s learning to live with it because she cares enough about him to do so. Her voice cracks as she says she thought he felt the same about her. And then my heart shattered AGAIN. STOP MAKING MARY CRY CHALLENGE. Apparently Zombie Richie had been eating his hand this entire time, because he’s free and runs out looking for food. GCPD tries to stop him but Batwoman swoops in to save them.
At The Hold Up, Ryan updates Luke and Sophie on what the media is saying about the zombie situation but Sophie’s not paying attention. She’s decided she’s done with the Crows for good. Ryan reaches over and TOUCHES HER ARM (look, I’m ride or die Wildmoore, okay?) and reminds Sophie that the Crows don’t deserve her. The three cheers “to different minds, but the same heart.”
Back at Enigma’s office, Ocean admits he doesn’t want Alice to get Kate back. Alice accuses him of being jealous, but he replies that he loves her. Which is a very bold thing to say considering the fact that literally everything that comes out of his mouth next is the opposite of love. Look, A LOT happened in this episode, but I do want to take a second to give Rachel Skarsten her flowers for this season because she absolutely killed it. The look on her face when Ocean says he loves her was the look of someone who never expected anyone to love her again. Which makes his desire to control her hurt that much more. How dare you police her trauma, sir. He claims Kate is the toxic one, but he’s standing in front of Alice proving that the title actually belongs to him.
Ryan and Imani are at the bar, and Ryan admits she hasn’t been completely honest with Imani and apologizes for not being able to give Imani what she deserves.
And that’s where I wish the episode ended. Because if it had, we would have gotten a satisfying end to Sophie’s “will she or won’t she leave” arc and the start of watching her burn it all down. If that’s where the episode ended, we would have witnessed a new way to show the effects of systemic and institutional racism; one that owned and flipped the narrative. But that’s not what happened.
I’m not going to break down exactly how it went down, because we’ve all seen it before. We’ve all seen images of Black people being shot point blank because of a “perceived threat.” The worst part about this last scene was that I didn’t expect it even though I probably should have. I didn’t expect it because this show has proven to us this entire season that they care about their viewers and honestly, they proved to me in the previous 58 minutes that they could tell a story about racism and police brutality without traumatizing their Black audience. For 58 minutes we saw the nuanced depiction of three unique Black experiences that resulted in the same outcome of arrest. For 58 minutes we listened to Ryan, Luke, and Sophie explain how they viewed the world. But the feeling I had in the last 2 minutes of the episode was the same feeling I had when I rejoiced over the Chauvin verdict and then immediately found out Ma’khia Bryant was murdered by police. It’s the reason I’m almost constantly on edge and why it’s hard to trust good news; I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop because it always does. I just hoped in this case, fiction wouldn’t mirror reality.
I want to be clear, I think it’s important to show the real world on scripted television because these shows don’t exist in a vacuum, and racial and social themes have been part of these comics for decades. However, I also think these shows have a responsibility to not cause further harm to their Black audiences in the name of making a point.
I wasn’t in the writers’ room, but I do know this episode was written by two Black women. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it was for them to take the reins on such an important episode and I’m grateful for everything they poured into it. I imagine they had a reason to end the episode the way they did because the cast all seems to be behind them on this one; but I don’t know if there’s a reason that will ease the disappointment that I and a lot of other fans are feeling.
I believe in loving loud and hard, but also holding the things you love accountable, especially when you know they’re capable of being Great. This show has given us greatness and I believe it still can, and that’s why this hurts so much.