When the second season of Batwoman began, the show faced an interesting challenge. Right after the first season finale, it was announced that star Ruby Rose would not be returning as Kate Kane, and that the character of Kate Kane would not be recast. Instead, the decision had been made to transfer the mantle of Batwoman over to an entirely new character named Ryan Wilder, who was described in a casting notice as “nothing like Kate Kane, the woman who wore the Batsuit before her.”
When Javicia Leslie was cast as Ryan just a few months later, Batwoman not only had to tie up any loose ends with Kate Kane and establish a new character in the show’s leading role, but also make sure that Ryan was not overshadowed by the sudden departure of a character with a long-established legacy. While the roles of Mary (Nicole Kang), Luke (Camrus Johnson), and even Sophie (Meagan Tandy) were something that could be adapted to Kate’s absence and Ryan’s presence, there was the loose thread of Alice (Rachel Skarsten) that needed to be resolved. Alice’s existence was deeply intertwined with Kate’s, and when it comes down to it, this element of Batwoman weighed down the second season of the show.
Batwoman’s biggest mistake was in the way it linked Ryan and Alice (which has since been remedied in Season 3). Instead of focusing on Ryan, the show centered on Alice, ultimately working against its own efforts to solidify Ryan as the true center of the story. Alice’s disappearance overshadowing Ryan’s kidnapping when they were children was topical social commentary, but for Alice to have been the driving force in her mother’s murder and a specific variable in trauma Ryan experienced specifically because of her racial and family background makes her more important to Ryan than she ever should have been.
To connect the two of them on this level and give Alice a storyline that was largely separate from Ryan didn’t help these missteps, and the reintroduction of Kate Kane—recast as Wallis Day in a classic face-swapping plot—moved the story away from Ryan once again. Ryan is Batwoman at this time, of course, but much of the back half of Season 2 is about getting Kate back, with Ryan simply along for the ride. While Kate giving Ryan her blessing was a nice moment, it closed out a season that Ryan never really got to herself. Just when she had really come into her own, Kate Kane is back, and while she may not have been sidelined in the more literal sense, the show was never really hers.
Thankfully, that has all changed in Season 3. With Kate Kane out of the picture for real this time, every element of the show is finally something that is tied to Ryan. Batwoman has taken time this season to build upon the relationships Ryan forged with Luke, Mary, and Sophie, and has actually found a way to keep Alice in the loop without hinging on her sister. The villains they face do hold some connection to the legacy that the missing Batman left behind for Kate Kane in Season 1, but it doesn’t feel like Ryan is out of the loop anymore because she’s the one who has to clean up the messes they create without the shadow of Kate looming over her.
Ryan has finally been given her own set of villains as well this season in her mother, brother, and best of all, in Mary. In this, we are finally able to see a version of Ryan that has a true and deep personal stake in the terrible things these people do, not just because they are bad, but because they are her family, and all that she wants at her core is a family—found or by blood. Tying the villains to the thing that Ryan desires most makes them hers, first and foremost. It hurts more when Jada does terrible things because she’s decided to reject Ryan as her daughter—a stark contrast to Ryan’s belief that she had died—and that impact is not lost when Ryan learns that her mother has done all of these things in order to try and stop her son from becoming a second Joker. Jada’s endeavors manage to seep into Ryan’s relationships with both Sophie and Mary, disrupting the trust that Sophie and Ryan struggled to build in the first place, and making Mary feel like she’s not seen as an emotional equal in her friendship with Ryan. Not only has her blood family let her down, and even turned on her in the case of Marquis, those things have led to the fractures in her found family, especially with Mary deciding to leave with Alice and go full Poison Ivy in the wake of discovering her new powers.
None of these things would have been possible had Kate Kane still been hanging over Ryan like she did in Season 2. Instead, we are able to see a story where the most important character is finally the center of attention like she should have been all along. Though they didn’t get all of the attention they deserved, the relationships and emotional journey that were established for Ryan in the second season of Batwoman work as an amazing foundation for her this season, and with no one to hold her back, the show can only get better from here.
Batwoman airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
Kathryn Porter is the TV Intern for Paste Magazine. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.