Titans Season 3 is a huge improvement over Season 2

Titans Season 3 is, easily, the best of the show’s three seasons so far. That risks sounding like a backhanded compliment with how bad Titans Season 2 was, but I actually enjoyed watching Titans Season 3. It felt smarter, more cohesive, more agile, and more self-aware than the second season by a huge stretch.

Flashbacks Suck

The first and easiest thing to pinpoint is that the show doesn’t lean on flashbacks like the second season did. There are some, sure, but they each move the story forward. Looking back at Titans Season 2, it feels like the season was as much place setting for Season 3 as anything, along with just drawn-out explanations for why the Titans are such a broken crew.

The problem with flashbacks is that they are good for telling, but often terrible for showing. With a flashback, we already know where things are going to end up–we’re in the present, after all–so the stakes are entirely different. The drama and tension don’t work the same way. Season 2 wasted our time devoting an entire episode to a dead character we’ll never see again.

But let’s focus on Season 3. There’s a lot of stuff I enjoyed throughout this season.

Red Hood Rises

Curran Walters has, historically, kind of annoyed me. Now, he was supposed to be annoying, but there are ways to make annoying characters endearing, and earlier seasons didn’t do a great job. This season acted as a redemption for his portrayal of Jason Todd even as it damned Todd himself.

This season did a much better job of justifying the city-block-sized chip Jason has on his shoulder and then actually put that to work inside the Red Hood storyline. Jason’s frustration makes sense–he reaches out to Bruce for help over and over again, but Bruce stymies him at every turn. Instead of bringing Jason in, Bruce isolates him over and over. As Batman’s sidekick, Jason is already pretty isolated. His only friend is pushing him away.

When you pile on the feelings of betrayal and ostracization Jason built up throughout his time with the Titans, what happens next makes sense. Jason is hurt and vulnerable when he goes out on his own, and so when he stands before Scarecrow–or, more accurately, Jonathan Crane–he’s ripe for the picking by a villain who excels at manipulating people using their fear and insecurity.

Jason Grows

This provides Jason with a believable arc to grow in. Under Scarecrow’s influence, he makes the kind of mistakes you don’t come back from and has to cope with the terrible things he’s done. He starts to back away as he realizes just how far he’s strayed, and then reclaims responsibility for his actions and becoming his own person. It feels at the end of the season like Jason has gone through meaningful things in a believable way and come out a different person. This might be my favorite take on Red Hood.

The same goes for his big brother, Dick Grayson. Raised by Bruce, Dick learned how to bury his emotions until they bubble over, and we’ve watched him hallucinate those emotional responses more than once. As the season progresses, though, Dick gets better at including the team in his plans. He still struggles, as we see when he knocks Conner out with Kryptonite dust, but the two actually deal with that like adults after the fact.

That’s what the season, in general, feels like–lots of adults handling things like adults instead of adolescent kids in drama class.

The Women of Titans

The women of the Titans team, too, felt better utilized and more fully realized. The story alluded to a future between Koriand’r and Dick, and dove into the on-and-off passion between Barbara and Dick, but the only real romantic relationship was between Komand’r/Blackfire and Conner. They’re both very much fish out of water–powerful people split between two worlds/two halves, struggling with the instinct to use that power selfishly. They find kindred spirits in each other, and both have to learn from each other how to handle the idea of being with someone so different from themselves.

Rachel, Donna, and Starfire each get to be powerful characters in their own right, leading their own parts of the story. Rachel comes back from her time on Themyscira believably in control of her powers, and Donna resurrects with what seems like newfound determination to use her powers to help people. Kory, in repairing her relationship with Komand’r, comes into her own as an independent character.

A favorite character this season was Barbara Gordon. Savannah Welch feels like kind of dream casting for this character–she actually has experience living in a wheelchair, she looks the part, and she’s a solid actor. She felt like a good match for Brenton Thwaites’ Dick Grayson–they always came across as equals who respect each other, but who also have a lot of emotional history.

There were things I didn’t enjoy quite as much, though.

Bruce is a Snooze

For one, the Bruce Wayne stuff still sucked. Iain Glen’s American accent has gotten better, sure, but this version of Bruce still feels implausible. This is the same problem that the CW’s Batwoman suffers from–finding a Bruce that feels like he’s been Batman for decades, but who still feels like the Batman we know. Glen delivers on being a crappy father figure for Dick and Jason, but I still don’t believe for a second that he’s Batman.

I also found myself wanting with Scarecrow. The overall plot–manipulating Jason through his fear to destroy the Titans–worked, but the actor didn’t feel like Crane. Further, he never put his mask on. Titans has killer costuming; those fights with Nightwing and Red Hood looked awesome. So why didn’t Scarecrow ever put on his mask? The story tried to justify it, making it about Crane wanting to prove that he can be a villain without anyone’s help. That felt like justification rather than actual characterization. The mask is integral to Scarecrow in a way that it isn’t for many other villains. It would’ve been great to see a properly creepy mask.

The season is far from perfect–the last arc of Scarecrow’s plot doesn’t hold up quite as well, for example–but it’s much easier to think of parts I liked; a big turnaround from Titans Season 2. Things I enjoyed but don’t have a lot to add to include Barbara’s fight against Lady Vic, Gar’s continuing evolution, Hank’s afterlife goodbye, and Tim Drake’s entry into the Titans world.

It’s hard to recommend Titans because Season 1 was just okay, and Season 2 was much more bad than good. But having watched those two, it was easy to enjoy this season without reservation, and I’m glad I watched it. I’m looking forward to Season 4.