While the comic book shows on broadcast television generally content themselves to muck around in superhero melodrama, the premium shows try to dig into themes. Watchmen was about the ways people use masks, while The Boys is all about the way power can corrupt anyone. Doom Patrol is about how wounded people can come together to support each other and become stronger for it. Titans‘ unifying idea seems to be that capes make everything worse. Light spoilers follow for Titans Season 3, Episodes 1-6.
Titans Season 3
If you’ve watched any teasers for Titans Season 3, you know that the superhero show’s third season focuses on the Red Hood. You’d have to be living under a comic-book rock at this point to not know that the Red Hood is a resurrected Jason Todd with an ax to grind against Gotham and Batman in particular.
That puts Jason Todd and actor Curran Walters at center stage for, at least, much of the first half of this season of Titans, and we quickly run into a bit of an Anakin problem.
In isolation, the Red Hood is a dastardly villain, making clever plans that confuse and frighten the members of the Titans, and who will stop at nothing to mete out revenge on those who he feels has wronged him.
But for the version of Jason Todd, none of that feels right. For one, this version of Jason Todd is kind of a dumbass, and this season doesn’t really do anything to dissuade us of that notion. He’s a punk kid who runs headfirst into every situation and then gets mad when it doesn’t work out as he planned. He’s a skilled fighter to be sure, but we never get to see Jason as any kind of planner or strategist.
The show offers up an explanation for this later–Jason is working with one of Gotham’s worst to execute his plan. But even then, it still feels way out of Jason’s depth, and the show hasn’t done anything yet to show that it knows that.
Come to the Dark Side, Anakin
The second aspect is who he’s taking revenge on. Any adult with any amount of life experience has been emotionally hurt, and often in some pretty deep ways. As the Red Hood, Jason is responding to these lies with elaborate Saw-style murder-revenge plots.
As much of a brat as Jason is throughout this tenure on the show, he just never comes off as a murderer. The show brings him back the same way as the comics do, and that does provide a potential explanation for why he’s suddenly so murderous, but the show doesn’t really set that up in any meaningful way. It’s something I knew because I’ve read and watched years of other comic stories.
So we’re supposed to believe that this immature, brash, kid is suddenly a genius-level serial killer, and the show just doesn’t justify it.
Bruce Wayne, Absent Father
Throughout this tale, we get lots of scenes with Bruce Wayne, played again by Iain Glen. He’s worked hard on his American accent, and while it’s not a very good American accent, it doesn’t sound quite so much like a thinly-veiled Scottish accent anymore, so that’s nice.
With that said, I’m just not a fan of this version of Bruce. The basic idea informing him is solid–a Bruce Wayne full of regret for years of subjecting Dick Grayson to physical and psychological training that leave him emotionally scarred and angry. The first couple of seasons spend a lot of time dealing with this. Like, it’s kind of the whole point of Dick’s story arc.
And yet, even as Bruce continues to agonize over his past decisions, he just keeps making the same stupid decisions again. When Bruce orders Jason to get therapy with Leslie Tompkins, he leaves out all of these poorly-hidden tidbits of information that serve to push Jason further away. When Jason is frustrated, Bruce just stonewalls him. If we want to say that Bruce is too emotionally stunted to learn from his mistakes, that’s fine, but it’s not consistent with the Bruce we got to know in previous seasons. Worse yet is when Dick discovers that Bruce had a database of potential third Robins for consideration–a move that makes him look even meaner and creepier.
It’s one thing to take in a kid who needs a family and help to deal with tragedy and another to keep a list of potential future child soldiers.
What’s everyone else up to?
All this focus on Dick, Jason, and Bruce also has the negative side effect of putting virtually everyone else on the backburner. There’s an episode focusing on Starfire’s visions, and Hank unwittingly finds himself at the center of another, but Conner, Gar, and Dawn don’t get much to do at all. Outside of their dedicated episodes, Starfire and Hank are pretty bored, too. This is just Bruce and His Very Damaged Sons.
All of this isn’t to say that there isn’t good in Titans. For one, the costuming continues to be great by and large. I’m sure some people will take issue with Starfire’s outfits, but I think they largely work. Meanwhile, Nightwing and Red Hood are absolutely perfect and a blast to watch.
When the Titans are working together, it’s fun, and the action is exciting. There are some really cool fights, especially between Jason and Dick, that show off Nightwing’s acrobatics. Another comes in the sixth and final preview episode when Barbara Gordon, commissioner of Gotham PD, faces off against a minor villain she’d fought when she still had use of her legs. Babs faces off against the villain with herself in her wheelchair and the villain on their feet, and the end result is some really cool fight choreography that we normally don’t get to see for handicapped characters.
We should break up
The overall picture, though, is pretty bleak. Not a single one of these characters’ lives is better for being in the Titans or knowing each other. You could make the argument that Conner and Krypto would be stuck in a testing lab, okay. But poor Gar is just a sweet boy, a big nerd who can transform into a tiger and who just wants to help, but no one appreciates him, no one listens to him, and he barely gets any agency in the show.
The Titans ruined Hank and Dawns’ lives both apart and together. Dick is miserable, and his misery pushed Jason into this plotline, even if it’s not super believable. I don’t know why these characters are still together. I don’t know why any one of them would view Dick as a leader when he just goes off and does his own stuff constantly, without regard for anyone’s feelings. The lives of almost all of these characters are markedly worse for knowing each other.
They don’t work together like a team, they don’t treat each other like a family. It’s less like a superhero team and more like MTV’s The Real World: Gotham. We asked six super-powered people to live in a ridiculous mansion, and now we’ll see what happens when superpowered people stop being polite and start getting real.
At least the flashback episode wasn’t a total showstopper like the ones last season. Titans is absolutely packed with potential, but it leaves all its best stuff on the floor.
Titans season 3 will debut on HBO Max on Aug. 12.