Titans is now running full steam ahead: we have an assembled team that mixes younger heroes and more jaded ones, we have some dark pasts to explore and, most importantly, we have Deathstroke.
I was in Japan when Titans episode 3 hit, so we’re going to dig into 3 & 4 together. Let’s take a look at what Titans looks like when it’s running full steam.
Expect spoilers for Titans episodes 3 & 4.
Episode 3: Rose
The interactions between the Titans and the Teen Titans (and Dick!) have mostly been cooperative. The drama thus far, revolving around Trigon, has meant that the Old Titans and Kid Titans have had to scramble to survive. With things a bit more earthly, and a few months of peace in between the Titans and their literal demons, there’s been enough time for some conflict to start brewing, and that’s where episode 3 kicks off.
Episode 3 starts to show us where both of these groups are at psychologically. The Teen Titans (And Dick!) have a lot to prove to the ex-Robin that they’re ready to fight. That means that Rachel hides her evolving and frightening powers while Jason Todd deals with the frustration of seemingly being demoted from being Batman’s sidekick to being Robin’s sidekick, Second Robin. Both of them think they have something to prove and have to cope with that.
The Titans, meanwhile, are suspicious of Dick’s motivation for doing an in-universe reboot of his superhero team. They all know why the team split up (hint: it’s probably Deathstroke), and they’re not eager to see him make the same mistake with a second group of young vigilantes and metahumans.
They also can’t but notice that the team is also housing a still-healing young woman who happens to be the daughter of Deathstroke. This is a group that is used to people being outcasts in need of a safe place; the original Titans were composed of a runaway Amazon and Atlantean, a guy who does vigilante work to cope with his past abuse, and a guy who was literally raised by a superhero. And they spent the whole first season rescuing a girl with mysterious, world-ending powers with the help of a runaway alien princess.
These people take one look at Rose and say NOPE in all caps. This helps establish just how afraid of Deathstroke these heroes are. These people know that someone who connected to him, even if they’re hiding, is too dangerous to get close to.
In the background of all this is Kory Anders, Tamaranian royalty. Previously she’d been framed as a woman on a mission, but her kidnapping by one of her former royal guard frames things another way: Kory has a responsibility back home on Tamaran, and she’s on the run from it. This tidbit gives Kory some personality and lets us establish some stake in her past and future.
We also get to see our heroes do some actual hero work, even if they’re not in costume for it. The Old Titans team up to search for and go after Dr. Light (who at this point seems more like a Mr. than a Dr.) in a solid action sequence. We get to see the Titans at work and to see how Dick himself has changed while away from his old team – enough that it surprises Hank when Dick doesn’t immediately take a kill shot.
This episode has tons of action, actually. Dick also goes head to head with Rose and we get a moment that almost seems like a clean break between his Robin persona and his Nightwing persona. He’s said “Fuck Batman,” he’s burned the suit. He’s reassembled the team, come back from a nightmare at Trigon’s hands, and he held back from taking lethal action when offered the opportunity. During his fight with Rose, he picks up a bo staff. During the fight, Rose slices the staff right in the middle. Dick immediately switches to using the two rods as Kali sticks. The bo is a Robin weapon, while Kali sticks are a Nightwing joint. I feel like the guy we’re going to see from here on out is Nightwing.
It doesn’t help that Robin gets his ass kidnapped by Dr. Light and Deathstroke like five minutes later. Kory, who might be the person who tips the balance in the fight between these villains and the hastily-reconfigured team of heroes, is on her way back in the meantime.
Episode 4: Aqualad
But we don’t get to capitalize on any of that, because it’s time for a flashback! Before Rachel had weird powers, before Robin had a Version 2.0, there were the Titans. This version of the team feels like the version we would’ve gotten in a mid-2000s live-action incarnation of the team. Look at all these sexy young adults hanging out in a house together!
I’m going to tell you right now, this episode kind of sucks. I hate it.
A huge portion of this episode is built on us, the audience, liking Aqualad. And boy did I dislike him from the moment I saw him.
This episode takes place four years prior to the events of the Titans show. We watch Deathstroke stroking a lot of death, and Dr. Light adopting his Laser Tag Gladiator look for the first time. At the core of the episode, though, is the dynamic of the Titans in a pre-Deathstroke world. Robin and Dove are very snuggly. Aqualad, known to his friends as Garth, has meanwhile been chasing after Wondergirl, or Donna Troy, for some time. Donna has rebuffed all his efforts.
The dynamic between the two for most of the episode made me distinctly uncomfortable. The writers were trying to show us that Donna felt other obligations keeping her from a relationship she wanted, but Aqualad’s constant badgering and winking and nudging combined with her always turning him down made it look more like he’s a douchey bro guy who doesn’t get the hint. I mostly just wanted Aqualad to lay off Wondergirl.
His other interactions didn’t endear me much, either. He just comes across as a Cool Fun-Lovin’ Dude and not anyone terribly interesting.
We learn shortly afterward that Donna is on what I saw described by someone as a sort of ‘Amazonian Rumspringa’ – she’s experiencing the freedom of being out on her own as an adult before heading back to Themyscira to become a warrior. Because of that, she doesn’t want to develop a romantic connection with someone who can’t come with her.
Aside from a great action sequence between the Titans and this new villain Dr. Light, though, this episode is really boring. It’s dependent heavily on this interpersonal drama and a relationship between two characters that either the writers couldn’t capitalize on or the actors didn’t have the chemistry to realize. When Donna finally throws herself at Garth, it just didn’t work. Nothing about Garth worked for me.
Subsequently, when Deathstroke pops Aqualad, it was more of a relief than anything. Oh good, this irritating character isn’t going to be around for the rest of the season.
Aqualad isn’t a miscasting on the level of Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne, but he feels like a miscalculation. He feels more like another way to make Deathstroke scary.
The flow of Titans episodes 2 and 3 feel muted after this flashback episode, but I’m still excited. Deathstroke is cool, and I’m eager to see how he compares to Arrow‘s take on the character; that’s one thing Arrow definitely got right. I’m also excited to see how the two generations of Titans mesh together with all the pieces that have been laid. There’s a lot of history and potential for these characters to cope with and realize, and it’s starting to feel like the Titans we were looking forward to.