REVIEW: Titans S1E4-6

Do you ever feel impatient for a hyped TV show to “get to the good part?” For example, you may have heard a lot about the nature of good and evil in Lost, so you sit through one scene after another of the cast screwing and unscrewing water bottles. Why isn’t anyone talking about the myriad mysteries floating around? Well, these Titans reviews have been taking on longer stretches of the show each time, and the show has improved from its ghastly origin and okay early goings to a genuinely entertaining middle trio of episodes.

Episode 4 – Doom Patrol

Ah, Garfield, “Gar,” Beast Boy. We finally get a look at your origins, and they double as an introduction to the Doom Patrol! While the episode serves as a one-off look at the mansion of the “conventionally challenged,” the ending set to Sinatra belting out “We’ll Meet Again” makes me glad for an imminent reunion.

The Titans may not feel like a team of superheroes yet, but they’re at least coming to terms with being super. Rachel expresses her anxiety to Gar: “I’m changing, and I can feel it, and it’s getting worse.”

Gar returns the sentiment: “Freaks all around, I guess.”

What better meta-family to explore one’s abilities with, than the Doom Patrol? The production crew make the robotic Cliff, bandaged Larry, and shape-shifting Rita work wonderfully. Every DC Universe show should come with a “bumming with the Doom Patrol” episode; meeting them would never get old. Cliff is sporting his Young Animal look designed by Nick Derington, Larry dances around the kitchen to AC/DC while preparing a mountain of rich foods (burgers, steaks, fried chicken, onion rings, waffles, spaghetti, the list goes on), and Rita plays the part of a graceful Clayface-lite. They are a makeshift family who call The Chief’s mansion their sanctuary… or is it more like a gilded bird cage? How much do they owe to the man who took them in?

The little moments endear the Doom-Patrol-Plus-Rachel to each other and to the viewers so much. Cliff gets a plate at the dinner table, even if he can only reminisce about how food tastes. Rachel does The Robot in front of him. Gar’s geek cave fridge is stocked with root beer, Orange Crush and Grape Crush. Old posters of movies starring Rita adorn her bedroom in an ambiance of nostalgia and crushed dreams. Rachel asks Larry if he’s invisible underneath his bandages; “If only,” he replies.

Meanwhile, Dick and Kory are hot on Rachel’s trail. Along the way, a completely innocent father gets a beating from Dick, followed by a wad of apology money from Kory. Oops? And in front of his kid, no less! Dick will be ruminating on that mistake for years.

Episode 5 – Together

As much as I enjoyed episode 4, this is the one where everything clicked for me. For one, the Titans are always on the move, which feels refreshing compared to the three-set pattern of the Arrowverse. The rest all comes down to childhood superhero logic. When the Nuclear Family attack the Titans at a rundown motel, Dick is able to hold his ground pretty well for someone caught off-guard. The fight choreography is excellent, with combatants respectively wielding a hammer (Dad), electric carving knife (Mom), and armored briefcase (Dick). Dick takes a fall while the other Titans cover one another. Kory would blast everyone with fire, but she’s out of energy for the night (solar recharging, natch). The Nuclear Family seem unstoppable until a couple of smoke grenades roll into view and Dick emerges in uniform to kick ass. Everyone gets in on the battle, but Dick takes them all on with renewed confidence and competence. Of course he fights better in uniform and with his special staff/sticks. Of course the Nuclear Family have trouble fighting back against a masked opponent. That’s how superheroes work!

And the heroes owe it all to an earlier obligatory group chat to suss out their goals and powers (complete with a barnhouse demonstration).  There’s something to be said here about the power of friendship to combat depression – how finding ourselves in others teaches us more than listening to our own reflection. A great illustration of this comes after getting teased by her inner demon for the nth time, when Rachel has Dick flip a mirror around for her. Rachel had to repress everything about herself with her adoptive mom, but now she’s finding freedom in her found family. Gar describes his transformation powers to her, and it’s easy to see how that affects her perspective of her seemingly cursed powers:

“You feel totally free… all that strength, you want to run, you want to jump, you want to break shit. You feel like you can do anything. You want to roar, not because you’re angry, because you want to let it all out. So roar.”

Dick, of course, has reservations about how Rachel and Gar’s powers are utilized against villains:

“I feel bad for turning them into weapons. Once you see the world that way, you never go back, not ever.”

The balancing act between these perspectives fills these episodes with flavor. Being a superhero rocks when bad guys get wrecked and your friends get in on the action like it’s a big party. Being a superhero in the DC Universe is also a psychopathic act of violence that will either cause good people to perform terrible acts or cause terrible acts to be done to them (hey, Hawk and Dove!). At least the Titans are good to each other, right?

Especially Kory, she is extremely good to Dick, showing up to his motel room with a bottle of tequila and plans for an intimate evening with the freshly showered Robin. (Sorry, thirsty motel owner lady, that Dick is taken.) Brock Samson of Venture Bros. fame would approve of their bedroom exchange:

“…I can’t get your boots off.”

“I want them on.”

Episode 6 – Jason Todd

There is a joke in Matt Groening’s comic Life In Hell that goes something like this: “The best way to annoy a poet is to be another poet.” Dick has spent so much time mulling over his previous life, hinting at so much drama and conflict like a case of TNT in search of a fuse. Enter Jason Todd (Curran Walters) to flick firecrackers at his wounded pride by simply being another Robin.

The rest of the Titans are kind of along for the ride with this episode, but their relative absence is excusable in exchange for a scene with Kory (plus new disco duds) getting a giddy Rachel and Gar to sit down purely with her stare and tone of voice. Part of me wonders if Dick’s status as a former Robin matters to Rachel and Gar so much as his role as the father figure of the group. I think they’d be impressed by Dick’s stock car collection, if he took it seriously enough.

True to his comics roots, Jason is a hot-headed bad boy who gets by on sheer bravado. His armor’s tougher, his internal monologue says he’s Dick’s replacement, and he embraces everything I so love about superhero logic, that I mentioned earlier. “That’s the coolest part of wearing the mask. I can do whatever the fuck I want!” Indeed, he knows how to handle himself in a fight, making his debut by saving Dick’s bacon from Nuclear Family’s black ops cleaning crew and rendering the latest villain null and void (we’ll get back to that). He even calls out Dick’s double standard over his Bat-separated status, bluntly observing how much Dick says he’s moved on from being a Robin while wearing the Robin outfit. Dick and Jason have an excellent reluctant sibling chemistry together, practically demanding their own TV arc full of Robins vying for supremacy via ultra-violent bro-downs.

The past comes back to haunt Dick in more ways than one, as the vengeance he took on his parents’ killer coming full circle. You see, Dick really took that line to heart, in Batman Begins, about not killing people but not having to save them either, and he pulls that routine on the acidic Tony Zucco. Zucco Jr. is still kicking, though, complete with a misogynist backstory that tries to make him sound sympathetic for losing his wife, daughter, and mother (but just proves that the show killed a trio of women off-screen, so a man had hurdles to suffer through). Zucco Jr. takes one of Dick’s last surviving circus mates (Lester Speight as the sensitive strongman Clayton) hostage. Thanks to Jason, Zucco Jr. doesn’t last long, but Jason also unnecessarily tears through a squad of cops.

“Cops are a joke, man. There are two kinds – useless and dirty.”

Uh, okay Jason, but you literally shot some of them with their own guns. Bruce is probably going to revoke your Batmobile privileges, when he finds out.

Mean Titans Go

This trio of episodes comprises “the good part” I was waiting for in the season. The show kind of has its cake and eats it too, with the Titans and other heroes acting out so much violence, especially in the realm of morbid injuries and deaths. Nobody seems particularly troubled by reducing people to ashes or repeatedly shooting them or stabbing them with broken glass (and in more than one episode!). At least Rachel is a vulnerable, victimized teen and Gar just flings people around; Dick, Jason, and Kory are putting morgues and hospitals through their paces like it’s routine. Dick tells Kory not to expect any Robins returning from the Zucco trip. Will Dick rewrite his legacy by a new set of rules?

On the other hand, watching these protagonists go through the growing pains of maturity and bonding as superheroes somewhat demands an unrealistic set of expectations. Dick and Jason were raised as child soldiers, of course they’re not just happy go lucky acrobats in bright colors. We don’t even know Kory’s full deal yet, just that Anna Diop continues to out-glam everyone else on the show. This season has made it clear that the only happiness that lies ahead for the core players is in finding sanctuary with each other, because beating up bad guys only leads to a cycle of violence, but protecting others can justify at least some acts of heroism, and ground them with a family that understands them.

I like understanding them, too. The Doom Patrol aren’t doomed, so there’s hope for the rest of us, right? Six episodes in, and only six episodes left!

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5.

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Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.

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