How 'Batwoman' Is Using Don't Ask, Don't Tell to Explore a Different Kind of Coming Out Story

Showrunner Caroline Dries and co-star Meagan Tandy open up about the freshman drama's big episode.
Courtesy of The CW

[This story contains spoilers from the Nov. 17 episode of The CW's Batwoman.]

Billions of box office dollars have been made in recent years based on a pretty simple concept — it's not easy to be a superhero. And on television, The CW's Batwoman has been exploring that concept with an additional twist: Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) isn't just a superhero. As showrunner Caroline Dries said Friday during a press screening, the character is "a lesbian who is a superhero."

Thus, the fact that Batwoman's alter ego is a lesbian is part of the fabric of the show, as Dries said, and The CW drama will continue to explore Kate's efforts to have a personal life outside of her superhero-ness. "She's a person who falls in love. She's a human being," Dries told reporters ahead of Sunday's episode, which leaned harder into the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy first revealed in the pilot that resulted in the woman behind Batwoman being kicked out of the military and losing the love of her life. 

Sunday's "Tell Me the Truth," which the openly gay Dries co-wrote alongside openly gay staff writer Natalie Abrams, features multiple flashbacks to Kate's relationship with her ex-girlfriend, the now-married-to-a-guy Sophie (Meagan Tandy). Sophie and Kate were very much in love while attending military school, but broke up after their relationship was discovered. Kate was expelled, while Sophie lied about her status in order to graduate.

"Tell Me the Truth" explores Sophie's complicated relationship with her sexuality, which Dries acknowledges has already faced online criticism because, as she put it, some people feel that "we're not going fast enough with Sophie's story and her coming out and her being comfortable with who she is."

Sophie on Sunday tells her husband, Tyler (Greyston Holt), that for three years, she was in a serious relationship with Kate, which Tandy told reporters was a relief for the character. "That in and of itself is a weight just completely lifted off of her shoulders," she said. "At the very end, she's like, 'Hey, it's all about you. You're the one I've always loved.'"

But Tandy is aware that her reveal is only the start of a larger conversation with her husband. "This is like a bomb that I'm dropping on him that he never even knew in the past," she said. "He's going to want a little bit more information about it. And so she's definitely going to have to deal with that now, bringing him more into what her past was like."

A factor in this is how Batwoman is reflecting Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the all-too-real U.S. military policy that former President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994 that was ultimately repealed in 2011. Dries wanted to make sure to acknowledge the history of how gays in the military were treated, but because, as she acknowledged, both Sophie and Kate are slightly too young for the official policy to affect them, the showrunner instead created the fictional military academy Point Rock. That way, she said, "I felt way more comfortable working within our timeline, and we can stay true to historically what happened."

In the episode, it's revealed that while Sophie was originally planning to stand with Kate when their relationship was discovered by Point Rock authorities, she was talked out of doing so by none other than Kate's father, Jacob (Dougray Scott). This, Dries said, was a reflection of the fact that while Kate has the advantage of her background to hold to her convictions, "Sophie happens to be in that situation where, [she's] like, 'I need a college education.'"

"We were like, what is the most grounded way of making Jacob approach this? And he's like, 'I am,' which is just very pragmatic. Like, here are the facts. And Kate is very much like, 'We got this, we can do this.' Her hope sort of blinds her. Whereas Jacob is like, 'Look, I've been out in the real world. This is how the real world works.' And I think he gave [Sophie] a gift because the reality is she probably would have gotten kicked out, and what's the next step?"

Sophie's decision ultimately ended her relationship with Kate at the time, but Dries has sympathy for the former because, "I feel badly for people who somehow feel shamed that they were lying about who they were — people who were part of Don't Ask, Don't Tell who just kept their mouth shut. Is there a part of them that feels shame that they weren't open? Everyone's situation is different, and I think we just have to respect it."

Tandy, for her part, was cast as Kate/Batwoman's love interest without so much as a chemistry test with Rose. The actress told reporters that she was "nervous" to shoot flashbacks of their characters' initial intimate relationship. "Literally, like from day one, it was just like an instant magnet, and it's been honestly really, really nice."

While filming the episode, especially the scene when Kate is kicked out of a fancy restaurant because the owner disapproves of her holding hands with Sophie, Tandy and Dries noted there was a reason Sophie refrained from speaking up and defending Kate from the homophobic restaurant owner.

"Sophie is so deeply closeted that the amount of shame fogging everything she does and every step she takes is so debilitating and uncomfortable for her," Dries said. "So that's where we're coming from. It doesn't just go away overnight — there are all of these baby steps to be comfortable with who you are. I'm gay and I'm married, and I still find myself apologizing for it."

The storyline is part of what Dries noted is "a very long journey" for Sophie. "I want Megan's character just to be able to go through that. Luckily, we're on The CW. We have 22 episodes. We have the real estate to do that," she said.

The episode also introduced Julia Pennyworth (Christina Wolfe), daughter of Bruce Wayne's legendary butler, Alfred — with whom Kate has a romantic history. Julia also plays a central role in Sunday's episode as she steps in as Batwoman and helps keep Sophie from learning Batwoman's true identity.

As for what's ahead for the freshman drama from super-producer Greg Berlanti, Dries said Kate will find herself back in a different sort of closet: the superhero closet. While Kate "is a gay woman who's always been comfortable being gay, it's never been an issue [for her], and now she's literally changing her identity. And Gotham is assuming that she's straight. And that's going to be something that starts to irk her.... It makes her question, like, 'What am I actually doing? I'm a symbol, but what is the point of that? What am I actually accomplishing, being this person but nobody knows who I actually am?'"

Those questions will likely be a part of the upcoming midseason finale, which will feature (as hinted at by the final scenes of the episode) a very special tea party by Kate's demented sister, Alice (Rachel Skarsten), as the first chapter of Batwoman's freshman run comes to a close.

As for how Kate responds to the homophobic restaurant owner, Dries revealed that the gay bar Rose's character opens across the street from said restaurant will be a regular set for the series to use. "We realized while breaking the first few episodes of the season that we have a lot of great, beautiful sets, but, like, Mary doesn't have an excuse to go to the Crows' [office]," Dries said. "We wanted to find a place where they can all overlap naturally. You'll be seeing more of [The Hold Up] as it goes through its renovation."

The origin of the name, Dries said, won't necessarily be mentioned much on screen, but she said that it came from the fact that "the bank went into foreclosure because it was held up so many times." Life in Gotham, as Batwoman has shown us all season long, is prone to danger.

Batwoman airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on The CW.