SPOILER ALERT: This review will discuss significant plot elements from the final two episodes of Titans Season 1. You have been warned!
It all comes down to this, huh? The inaugural original DC Universe series took some bold steps forward with its characters on the small screen. Yet, the burning question remains: was Titans worth connecting my laptop to the TV with an HDMI cable and plugging it into the only available outlet across the floor, just barely holding on for dear electricity?
Episode 10 – “Koriand’r”
The penultimate episode falls into fairly blunt territory, on many fronts. The plot is as straightforward as the primary action. People get in cars and drive til the end of the episode, starting with Kory rediscovering her cloaked spaceship (with Dick and Donna in tow), then ending with them all driving back, when they learn that Rachel’s demonic side is prophesied to grow into a galactic threat. Over at Angela’s hideout, she ducks the local sheriff, who straddles the line between nosy childhood friend and justified investigator. Between getting chumped by Kory (along with Dick) and sickened by the haunted house, Gar is cannon fodder. Even his animal form gives him trouble, as he struggles to feel in control of his transformed self.
Angela gets a killer reveal when she turns on the sheriff – hey, he turned out to be a good cop! Donna continues to dunk on Dick when she calls out his physical relationship with Kori:
“You have a thing for dangerous women – except for Dawn. You fucked that up.”
Donna also busts out a golden lasso to bring Kori to her senses, in a great (albeit brief) action scene which cements her as the coolest addition to the Titans team.
I can’t say that anyone’s relationship to anyone else really changes in this episode, except for the obvious reveal that, yes, Rachel’s demonic powers come from an insidious source. In fact, most of the episode consists of the rest of the cast also coming to this realization, with a side bonus of Kory’s Tamaranean origins. Each character’s standing remains interesting by virtue of their tension between who they were/are and the potential of who they clearly ought to become. Dick struggles to think of himself as living in Batman’s shadow, so, of course, his eventually adopting the new mantle of Nightwing makes sense. Kory’s restored memories as Rachel’s assassin are at odds with her newfound care for Rachel, so of course she rests hope on finding a nonlethal solution. Last, but not least, Gar doesn’t always like his powers as Beast Boy, yet his condition is irreversible.
Rachel, though… as of this episode, she has the ripest arc. What’s so wrong with enabling your demon daddy Trigon, when he heals your best friend, your long-lost mom approves of him, and he’s a really good hugger? The same mirror-self that poses a threat to others has also empowered her to stand up for herself. Why give that up now? How is it any different from the violence wreaked by the psychopaths around her, and why shouldn’t she have the means to defend herself?
The answer to that lies in a serious curveball of a finale.
Episode 11 – “Dick Grayson”
The Titans creative team liked Trigon (Seamus Dever) so much that he’s apparently going to be central to launching Season 2. So, what we get for the Season 1 finale instead is a corrupted dream from Dick, about his near future. He lives clean as an LAPD cop with Dawn until a wheelchair-bound Jason arrives with a bad omen. Following the deaths of Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, Bruce is done operating by a code, and Joker’s on top of the hit list. We also get this death knell for Gotham dramatics:
“You know how Riddler never uses a gun? Well, now he does.”
Why shouldn’t Batman just turn into the Punisher at that point? He’s no longer striving within a pulpy capes-and-tights story, if his rogues are just blatantly gunning people down. When Batman meets lethal force with a lethal reaction, is that a cautionary tale or a continuation of the Bat-fantasy? Even within the context of Dick’s dreamworld, the angle is played for entertainment value, but it’s a view that can only be indulged once, in my opinion. Some Elseworlds need to remain unrealized.
I will leave the Bat-centric details to other reviewers, because Dick’s dream-Gotham is way more interesting to me and easily the best character of the episode. Everyone knows Gotham is a hellhole, and it shows. Dick’s cab driver says the best hotel in Gotham is the Four Seasons in Boston (zing!). The cabbie won’t go to the bad part of town, but that means every part. For comparison, the Batman & The Justice League manga presents a Gotham that is so mercilessly brutal that you can’t even cross the bridge into town without running into crooked cops, who fall asleep on the lookout for tourists to fleece. That portrayal is lightweight compared to what Titans shows. People are having sex in alleys, there are open fires and fistfights out in the street, and a vaguely drunk/doped up malaise plagues the sidewalks. Kory tells Dick he chose the better life, and honestly, yeah. To be Batman for so long and have so little effect isn’t the work of a caped crusader. That’s Sisyphus.
Star cameo goes to Dick’s horrible hotel. Is this place a combination of the producers’ horror stories from the convention circuit, or what? Rooms are $55 per night, paid up front, with fresh sheets optional for an additional $6. Rooms can also be checked out by the hour, the elevator’s broken, and Dick’s neighbors are a domestic abuser and his victim. The Gotham City Police Department respond with a swiftness to break up the violence, but ultimately have no effect. In all, the story is fairly miserable (to say the least) and pushing Dick to his moral breaking point, in order to give Trigon an edge in the real world. Dove uses the phrase “But what if?” and frankly, that would make a great alternate title for this episode.
What if this arc ended with something more definitive? We’ll have to find out next season! The casting and production quality make me hopeful for Doom Patrol and Stargirl, at least. I’m grateful that reviewing Titans has not been a series of disappointments. This show is so darn earnest and wears its heart on its sleeve… as well as its bloodstains.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5.