Ending superhero stories is tough. By design, they’re meant to go on into infinity, with heroes rarely getting a proper ending to their stories. But with so many superhero shows, this problem has come up more and more. In recent years, we’ve seen Arrow, Stargirl, Supergirl, and others attempt it, and now it’s time for HBO Max’s Titans to take a crack at it. Spoilers follow for Titans Season 4, Episode 12, “Titans Forever.”
When Titans debuted, it was measured against the then-active Arrowverse and DC Extended Universe. Would the show lean on cheesy melodrama instead of superheroics? Could the increased production values associated with streaming give the show a boost over its broadcast brethren?
Titans has been up and down through its four-season run. At times the show leaned too hard on things like Dick Grayson’s trauma and self-flagellation and Hawk and Dove’s substance abuse. At the same time, we’ve enjoyed storylines about Raven’s dark origins, the ongoing battle between Dick Grayson and Deathstroke, and met characters like the Red Hood.
In this last season, the Titans went back to their roots, kind of, by focusing on the cult of Trigon and its leaders, Mother Mayhem and Brother Blood. In the finale we find Brother Blood working essentially on his own. He summons Trigon and then, in a very fun twist, beats the snot out of the demon, tears his heart out, and drinks his blood. Just in case you thought the show was going to make the Titans fight Trigon again.
What actually ends up happening, though, is pretty standard comic book fare. Brother Blood takes over Star Labs to access the Icarus Project, a device that can open up a wormhole from there to anywhere in the universe. He decides to use this to send Earth hurtling toward Tamaran to destroy both planets. Why is this, you wonder? Sebastian explains that he learned–from drinking Trigon’s blood–that if Earth and Tamaran ever team up, they’ll be unstoppable. Sebastian has never shown the slightest interest in Tamaran before this moment, and Trigon was out of his lava-blood-portal thing for all of 15 seconds before his son clobbered him.
So the final battle ends up being in this blue-gray room with a couple of big glowing portals in it. After fighting through a sort of SWAT team, the Titans join Kory and it’s a six-on-one battle. When Sebastian first entered Star Labs, he made everyone in the lobby spontaneously bleed and start dying. For some reason, as Dick and Tim take turns punching him in the face, Sebastian forgets about this and just punches back, occasionally using his powers to push them away or hold them down.
Meanwhile, Gar uses every ounce of his strength trying to detach a set of cables from the portal. Is he using every bit of his Ape strength, Tiger strength, or Elephant strength? No, he’s using every bit of his regular guy strength, as it seems that he too has forgotten about his powers until he turns his arm into a tentacle to hold himself to the floor when gravity starts to fail. Raven used some minor power fighting the S.W.A.T. team, but is relegated mostly to trying to free Kory from her bindings.
Finally, Conner shows up and punches Sebastian into a portal, defeating Sebastian for all of about five minutes, at which point Kory finally embraces her Starfire moniker and drags the guy up into the stratosphere where she disintegrates him and is gone just long enough to make us and the other Titans think she’s dead.
Working on a Budget
Here, it feels like Titans‘ budget had already been spent.
While the costumes and fight choreography have always been a level above what broadcast superhero shows can generally do, we have some of the most powerful magic users in the world, a shapeshifter who is connected to literally every living thing, and a space alien who casually can generate more power than all of the planet Earth, and they just do nothing with any of it. It devolves into a fistfight and an off-screen explosion. It feels like a huge letdown; even The Flash is more creative with its superpower stuff on a television budget, despite so many of its other issues.
Afterward, the Titans go out for dinner together, where Rachel, Tim, Gar, and Conner each reveal that they are stepping away from the group to pursue things like college and flying lessons (there’s a boot-height shot of Superman here, which shows so little of him that it’s less a cameo and more an implication, even compared to the headless Superman shot in Shazam). It leaves the characters all open for a fifth season, though, unless something big changes, that’s not happening.
This season and finale haven’t been bad per se; I was often hate-watching Titans in Season 2 because of how much time they spent on unnecessary flashbacks and Dick torturing himself. I wasn’t hate-watching this season.
I found Brother Blood intriguing, and I hoped that the show would engage with his more interesting elements. This guy was a frustrated loner who was looking for love and attention, and was supposed to have a cult to support him. He did for all of about five minutes across a few episodes before leaving them behind to do his one-man show. He had a hard life, but even when people showed him love, he went Holden Caulfield on them and called them phonies, suggesting that he put himself in his lonely situation; the show never once engaged with that part of the character in a meaningful way, and so we ended up with another villain that just wants to destroy the world just because he wants to destroy the world.
It’s a disappointing ending to what could’ve been a fun season of television. Similarly, Raven’s story seems to have been cut short. She gained control of her magic and went from being Raven the Black to Raven the White, but we never go to see her do anything awesome with her powers. The best episode of the season was easily “Dude, where’s my Gar,” an episode that barely tied into the story and mostly made use of characters from Doom Patrol. This ending, by comparison, falls about as flat as it can. After the tragedy that befell Hawk and Dove, Jason Todd, and Aqualad, the remaining Titans get a happy ending and that’s that.