- Spoiler alert: some plot elements discussed below.
What a difference a couple of episodes can make, eh? After my lackluster response to the series opener of Titans, I am pleased to report that episodes 2 and 3 (“Hawk and Dove” and “Origins,” respectively) have definitely course-corrected into a more enjoyable show. This response doesn’t mean that the seeds of these new episodes weren’t present in the premiere, just that the characters and plot lines needed more time to mature. And what improved, exactly?
Team-ups have begun! From meeting the Hawk & Dove duo to road-tripping with Starfire and Raven, everyone hits their rhythm with a partner. Characters using each other as sounding boards and stress relief valves instantly makes them more relatable. Raven and Beast Boy play pinball together! Dick (he’s not Nightwing yet) and Koriand’r (Someone call her Starfire, already) disagree about the best way to protect Raven! Hawk and Dove thrash as hard in the streets as they do in the sheets! These characterizations work to the tonal strengths of writer Geoff Johns, namely his career of balancing the gritty and the sweet. “Hawk and Dove” can strongly tempt viewers to compare it to Mark Millar material like Kick-Ass, especially with its torture scene and gory callback when Dick stabs a sadist in the crotch. However, it is balanced somewhat by scenes of Dove literally handling doves out of a birdhouse on top of an apartment building. That balance is then wrecked when she is tossed through the birdhouse to her demise on the pavement below. Cliffhangers become cliff drops on Titans.
Everyone got more personality! Continued flashbacks show how Dick behaved soon after his adoption by Bruce Wayne. His present-day self is still trying to protect Raven, while we get to see why he might be able to relate to reckless rebellion through his wilder years. Looking back at “Titans,” Brenton Thwaites seemed to have been in a situation similar to Stephen Amell in the first season of Arrow, detached from those around him because that was true to the character. In this case, Thwaites & Co. already seem so much more comfortable in their roles and have more sides of themselves to show. Likewise, Teagan Croft gets to add “amused and impressed” to her reactions repertoire, Ryan Potter seems in awe of the superheroes he’s on the cusp of joining, and Anna Diop still steals the show as the most believable amnesiac alien flamethrower this side of Gotham. Side note: Robin takes Raven to Hawk and Dove. What’s with all the birds here?
The settings are all over the place! Dick isn’t stuck in an office feeling angsty, he’s zipping across the Midwest reminiscing about that time he joyrode past cops in one of Bruce’s sports cars. Starfire isn’t paying visits to random mafia goons, she’s wrecking some misogynist rednecks in a diner to Raven’s delight (God bless the waitress who gifted them chicken and waffles for the trouble). Even better: disco music plays when Starfire’s about to go off on someone, which serves the escapist superhero angle well when she breaks wrists and balls. They were bad people, so it’s all okay, or so the show would have us believe when a hero isn’t unconscious in an ICU. The lighting crew deserves a round of applause for setting dramatic and incidental moments alike in dramatic spots and shadows. Characters’ faces are often half in shadow, and light pops out of dark corners, whether in an alley brawl or roller rink.
By the end of “Origins,” a family theme sets in, with a group of serial killers resembling a nuclear family committing acts of violence but otherwise behaving in a wholesome manner reminiscent of a Mr. Rogers revival. A villain supervising the malevolent search for Raven declares to these minions:
“Research suggests two-parent families have a better chance of success. How about we get you another dad?”
Dick and Starfire definitely seem like the parents of the Titans, with Raven and Beast Boy as the misunderstood, impulsive adolescents. The closer these young protagonists get to acting like a family of choice, the easier they are to watch, complete with demonic drama and bloody vigilantism. The action still seems brutal for edginess’s sake, but now the show feels like it’s building a richer narrative full of character interactions. And next episode sees the Doom Patrol enter the picture? This could get downright entertaining.
Verdict: 3 out of 5.