"The CW’s hit Batwoman was put in a nearly impossible position when star Ruby Rose announced she was leaving after Season 1," says Alex Zalben. "How do you continue a superhero show without the lead, one who is not only plot-wise intrinsically tied to every other character on the show; but also a show identified with Rose’s performance, which brought Batwoman into live action for the first time? The answer, as ably laid out in the first two episodes of Season 2 provided for review, is: you don’t. Instead, what showrunner Caroline Dries and company have smartly done is essentially reboot the show, now with Javicia Leslie as the lead, playing an original character named Ryan Wilder. Though the season premiere far from ignores the absence of Rose — the title of the episode is 'What Happened to Kate Kane?' to give you an idea of how prominent she still is in the plot — it’s Ryan’s show, from the very first scene. Ryan, unlike Kate, is dirt poor and all apologies to Chris Farley, living in a van down by the river. There’s a lot more to her to unspool over the course of the episode, but that opening image is clear, and the show swiftly refocuses to revolve around Ryan. Like Kate, Ryan is an out and proud Lesbian — a flashback with her adoptive mother doubles down on the show’s core mission of putting sexuality front and center without shame or recrimination. She’s also highly trained in combat, and has a strong, though underdeveloped moral compass. She’s also Black, something that is highly important to at least the early going with Ryan."
Javicia Leslie's introductory episode is scattered and cluttered: "Batwoman didn’t have many great options going into season 2," says Caroline Framke. "Not only did the CW series lose its star when Ruby Rose decided to leave, but the first season wasn’t able to be filmed in its entirety once the coronavirus pandemic shut the industry down last spring. Even though the last episode to air ('O Mouse!') ended with a decently intriguing cliffhanger, it still didn’t have nearly enough time or foresight to wrap up everything that needed wrapping before jumping into another character’s story. In that respect, the premiere of the second season has a series of extremely tough jobs to do, narratively speaking. 'Whatever Happened to Kate Kane?' has to explain the absence of Rose’s Kate Kane, deal with the fact that her psychotic sister Alice (Rachel Skarsten) has outfitted one of her goons with Bruce Wayne’s face (played in this disguise by Warren Christie) and, most crucially, pass the Batwoman torch from Kate to Ryan (Javicia Leslie), who will be wearing the Batsuit until further notice. Any one of those storylines could have individually powered an entire episode, but the extraordinary set of circumstances that brought the show to this point mandates that they all need to collide onscreen simultaneously. The result is messy, as was maybe inevitable — but it’s also not particularly satisfying, which was much more avoidable."
Leslie brings warmth and humor to Batwoman that Ruby Rose lacked: "Aside from also being gay, Ryan is everything Kate wasn’t," says Jessica Mason. "Ryan doesn’t have money, is burdened by a criminal record that she was unfairly saddled with, and she doesn’t have the support that Kate in terms of family or privilege. But Ryan is also a fighter with a moral core and when she puts on the Batsuit, it’s not just about claiming power, it’s about doing what’s right because no one else will. I really enjoy Leslie as Ryan. She brings warmth and humor to the show that Ruby Rose lacked. And while the emphasis on Ryan’s intersectional marginalization is a bit hamfisted sometimes, it’s still refreshing to see a show that’s willing to confront race, poverty, mass incarceration, and homelessness head-on in a meaningful way. Batwoman isn’t always subtle, but the series is aware of how important it is and the messages it has a duty to promote."
How Leslie approached working on Batwoman after Ruby Rose cited the challenging schedule for her exit: Leslie didn't talk with Rose before stepping on set. "I was coming from doing two television series at the same time, God Friended Me and The Family Business, and not only was I doing them at the same time, but they were on different coasts, so I came from already busting my ass and really working hard," says Leslie. "So really, this is all of that but without having to do all the flying! It was really just about getting the flow. It’s not difficult in a way where it’s hard, it’s just making sure that I maintain my energy, maintain my health, and our production does a really great job checking in to see how the schedule is treating (me). I think the only difference is, in the other two shows I wasn’t necessarily a lead, but with how often I was working, it’s still very similar. Maybe if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic my answers would be different because I’d have to fly around to do press and there’d be so much going on in life, but because the world is pretty much at a standstill, all of my energy that I’d normally have to direct in other directions is being directed into the show. It gives me an outlet when it feels like the world is on fire."
Leslie on playing the first Black Batwoman and Ryan Wilder vs. Kate Kane: "It crossed my mind a few times during the audition, but it really landed after I got the part," Leslie says of her new role. "When I saw myself on a billboard as Batwoman for the first time two weeks ago, I just had to take a minute to live in the moment." As for her character vs. Kate Kane, Leslie says: "They come from different worlds. Ryan has a bit of comedic energy because she’s very flawed. I always think of her as someone who smashes a bowl in a china shop, like: 'Oops, my bad. I didn’t mean to do that, but I’ve done it.' She’s not as smooth as most superheroes are. It wasn’t a situation where I had to try to make her different from Kate — she just is."
Leslie didn't feel pressure because she was cast in a whole new role: “It doesn’t feel like I’m trying to live up to someone’s reputation,” she says. Leslie adds that she doesn’t read the episodes immediately so she can give each episode room to breathe and certainly feels represented in all facets. “When I read it, all of our voices are so unique and different. It’s a great representation of our communities and each of us, as actors, come from,” she says.
Leslie wishes she could do a "Super Black" Arrowverse crossover: “I’m so heartbroken about the COVID situation because I know that it’s Black Lightning's last season, and I would have loved to do a crossover with them," she says. "Nafessa (Williams) and Jordan (Calloway) are really good friends of mine, and it would have been great to play with them and be superheroes all on the same show. That would have been epic."