Note: This post contains spoilers for recent episodes of The CW’s Batwoman.
Gotham City has always been home to the most impressive rogues gallery in comic history. As such, villainous excellence is not new to any story featuring a member of the Bat Family. For a long time, Batman and the Joker reigned supreme as the city’s most impressive adversaries, but the World’s Greatest Detective and the Crown Prince of Crime may have officially been dethroned.
The tale of Batwoman’s Kate Kane and Alice (formerly Beth Kane) has been a curious one from the start. Alice has always been meant to be Batwoman’s Joker, while Kate’s clear parallel rests in her name, but each of the two women quickly transcended the idea that they’re simply the female versions of male characters. Especially so far as the Arrowverse is concerned.
While each is their own person and characterization, their unique stories are only part of what elevates their rivalry. At the end of the day, they still maintain the same “two sides of the same coin” vibe that keeps Batman and the Joker’s war so alluring. But Kate and Alice bring something completely unique to the table that neither of the aforementioned men ever will—they love each other.
That love adds a level of complication that is impossible to overstate. It’s why Alice keeps Kate’s identity a secret. It drove Kate to murder. We could honestly sit here all day talking about the layers that brings to an already highly complex relationship. But first we need to address the elephant in the room.
Kate was willing to let Alice die so that Beth’s doppelgänger could live.
Here’s the thing about that: the Beth Kane that stumbled onto Earth Prime by way of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is everything that Alice was supposed to be. That’s not meant in the “she made some bad choices and ended up where she is now” kind of way. That’s meant in the “she was tortured and broken and has proven that she does not want help resolving murderous tendencies” kind of way. The choice was cosmic and nearly impossible to make for Kate even with the knowledge that her sister was a remorseless killer.
There was no Hail Mary batarang or solvable puzzle that could could have saved them both. Not only did Kate ultimately make the impossible call, she also went to be with Alice—not her doppelgänger—as she died. There’s no denying that act of love in the face of cosmic unfairness.
Kate and Alice contrast each other’s natures. Hero and villain, good and evil, yada, yada. Their love, that damnable emotion that can save or ruin lives depending on its whim, drives them to go against those natures. There’s no predictable choice when it comes to this rivalry. Sometimes it’s because of that love. Other times it’s because that love, in certain specific instances, has been acknowledged as the weakness that it is so far as the greater safety of Gotham is concerned.
Take Kate’s exceptional monologue before Cartwright returned to shift the narrative back to Alice’s trauma. Alice was fresh off of the realization that her sister was willing to kill her and wanted to be sure that there was hell to pay. Kate, with the realization that her other-earth sister could have had a life, just couldn’t be bothered to care. Alice allowed a moment of weakness to peek through her rage and admitted that she didn’t want her sister to give up on her. Meanwhile, Kate was simply done.
This love of theirs has resulted in every single recent Kate/Alice arc to be downright delectable. Even better, all of the complexities can be explained. The writers don’t simply shift from an unbothered Kate to one who’s desperately concerned for Alice’s well-being. Each move from the hero is explained by recent actions from her sisterly counterpart. Two sides. Same coin.
We’ll wrap things up with the murder of August Cartwright, not because it’s narratively most recent, but because it’s where things shift from interesting to downright fascinating. After Beth’s murder, you think that perhaps Kate truly is done. The aforementioned monologue certainly lends to that belief. To be honest, she might have been if Cartwright hadn’t reared his ugly head again. But as anyone who has a sibling can attest—no one’s allowed to hurt ‘em but you.
So, Cartwright came back and made a big oopsie by tricking Mouse into trapping Alice and hooking her up to some good old-fashioned fear toxin. Both Kate and Jacob hopped on the case, with daddy dearest sprinting to find his baby girl before the toxin made her even more of a monster, and Kate staying behind with the monster they already have. If you’ve seen the episode, you know the (not so) good doctor doesn’t survive the night. Kate accidentally kills him in a fit of rage over what he did to Alice.
As it happens, that’s exactly what Alice was after.
The episode that follows illustrates the complexity of the sisters’ relationship better than anything we’ve seen yet. Kate goes against her better judgement and helps Alice try to find Mouse, eventually going so far as to agree to help break him out of Arkham. Alice plays nice with a witness and even makes a promise not to kill and sticks to it.
Through the complexity and fear and loss and grief that riddles through their relationship, the two women know when they can trust each other. Or, at least, they thought so. Devastatingly, Alice trusts a little too hard and finds herself locked in with Mouse once they find him in the Asylum. But the thing is, Kate didn’t lie. Even better, she’s clearly deeply conflicted by what she’s done.
The last we see of the two sisters is one clearly hurt and the other obviously in agony over the betrayal. What’s fascinating is that locking Alice in that cell was undoubtedly the right choice. Kate’s not conflicted because she has delusions that Alice will change her ways overnight. She’s conflicted because she hurt her sister.
We’re eight years into the Arrowverse, and it’s delivered its best emotional conflict between a hero and villain yet with the Kane sisters. There will be more wrath now that Alice has found herself betrayed, but I get the sense that this dance is going to continue for quite some time. And that’s great news for Batwoman.
Batwoman airs Sundays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. Visit our official Batwoman page for more news, features and articles on Kate Kane's life behind the cowl.
Amelia Emberwing writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and is a frequent contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Look for more of her writing on Birth.Movies.Death., Collider and Slashfilm, and follow her on Twitter at @BrowncoatAuror.