What’s up with the Afterlife in Titans?

There are as many conceptions of the afterlife as there are stories about it, from versions that include a formal heaven and hell to more Buddhist-informed versions with reincarnation, to stuff like The Good Place, which is kind of a mix of all of it. Titans, too, has its own conception of what it might be like to be dead. Spoilers follow for Titans Season 3, Episode 9, “Souls.”


Seriously, if you’re not at least caught up through episode 9 of  Titans you should stop reading right now.

Episode 8 ended with Titan-hopeful Tim Drake following Jason Todd to Scarecrow’s operation. There, Drake runs afoul of Scarecrow, who shoots him in the back as he runs away. Then Jason wakes up on a train where everything is in black and white. It’s not hard to figure out what the train is. A vehicle that can only move forward, constrained to a single destination? Tim is dead, and the train is carrying him to the afterlife.

This week’s episode is all about death, and the whole thing is really weird.

The train is a metaphor

Tim awakens, confused by his surroundings. I can’t help but think of that Twilight Zone episode, “A Stop at Willoughby.” He runs away from the train conductor toward the back of the train, right past Donna Troy. The hero, unable to help herself, runs after him. She knows what’s happening, and thinks she’s accepted it; she encourages Tim to give in and do the same. He’s not ready yet, though, and leaps off the train; unlike the guy in that Twilight Zone episode, he survives the jump. Donna follows.

The pair runs through the forest, encountering hooded beings who fire energy blasts at them. When they reach a road, a car pulls up playing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Guess who’s inside? That’s right, Hank isn’t done quite yet.

Crossing Styx

Hank takes them back to an empty bar, tended by a bartender, though the ghouls catch up quickly and they’re soon on the road again, trying to find the supposed bridge back to life. When they get there, the threesome is overwhelmed by ghouls, and both Donna and Hank are learning to summon weapons to fight. Donna struggles for a little bit before mastering it and manifesting her lasso and sword; Hank, meanwhile, goes through a small pile of weapons including a pair of nunchucks that don’t work nearly as well as he probably would’ve imagined.

Donna and Tim make it across the bridge, but Hank is caught on the other side. He fights off the ghouls and heads back to find his long-dead friend, the original Dove, waiting for him. The two decide to be Dove and Hawk (or maybe Hawk and Dove), helping people in the purgatorial place they’re trapped in. Tim and Donna wake up in their bodies.

On the outside, Bruce Wayne is signing his last will from an island mansion he keeps in Europe, after which he pours out a can of gasoline and lights it on fire in a very theatrical suicide attempt.

What is going on here?

The Titans’ version of the afterlife is really weird. One upside I’ll mention is that it makes Donna’s decision to come back to life a decision that she gets to make. She’s not unwillingly resurrected by a Lazarus Pit or Raven’s dark magic, so it seems unlikely that we’ll get some “Donna is infected by darkness” storyline–we’ve had enough of those on DC shows at this point–and the heroine gets plenty of agency in the decision.

But that’s about the extent of what makes sense here. Tim dies days after Hank, who died months after Donna, who died well over a decade after Don Hall, the original Dove. How are they all in this place at the same time? Or has Don been hiding away in purgatory for all that time, waiting for Hank to show up? Why does this place have cars? Who is the bartender?

Tim and Donna make it back to the real world, and wake up in their bodies; Tim is still bleeding from his gunshot wound. If you remember just a few episodes back, Jason’s heartbeat bomb emulsified Hank. Where would his soul have gone? He’d just have been a lost soul if souls need a body to inhabit.

That’s not Bruce

The whole episode seems to be about death and life, and it’s similarly strange. As I mentioned before, Bruce Wayne tries to kill himself by way of smoke inhalation. Somehow, though, Donna shows up to rescue him. There’s no indication of how she could’ve possibly known that Bruce was there.

I also take issue with the idea of Bruce Wayne committing suicide. There’s no question that the man behind the Bat Cowl is a deeply troubled individual. He wakes up literally every day and chooses violence, as the meme says. He employs orphaned young men to act as his co-soldiers in his one-man war on crime, which has left both of them deeply scarred. He’s screwed up, even if he’s also intelligent and capable beyond most peoples’ comprehension. The one thing I can never imagine him doing, though, is killing himself. He’s too stubborn for that.

The thing is, I don’t put much stock in canon; there’s very little about Batman that I need in place to believe he’s Batman. But there’s no version of him that people like that is capable of such a thing.

Not bad; just weird

This season is, generally, much easier to enjoy than Titans Season 2, but this episode stands out as one that has tons of potential but ended up coming across weirdly. It was a good way to say goodbye to Hank and give him something like a conclusion, and I’m relieved that they didn’t try to revive him. It makes more sense for Donna and Tim–they’d already hinted that Donna wasn’t done, and Tim was still bleeding out through all of this. And again, I’d take this over another Lazarus Pit event. DC leans a little too heavily on that deus ex machina when it wants to have both the drama of death and the continued marketability of a character.

But each scene brings up more questions than it answers, and I’m left here wondering, what the heck is up with the afterlife in Titans?