Titans: Season 2 — a review

TitansS2

I watched the final episode of the second season of DC Universe’s Titans this morning. Appropriately enough, it was titled “Nightwing,” and featured the first appearance of Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) in the Nightwing costume. The Boy Wonder has finally grown up.

This season showed me that it was possible to be both impressed and underwhelmed by a show at the same time.

The special effects were good but understated throughout. I liked the liquid shadow-energy effect of Rachel/Raven’s (Teagan Croft) demonic superpowers. Her abilities had to be extra-impressive because, frankly, she would have looked like a child among adults otherwise.

New characters were added to the roster almost seamlessly. We were formally introduced to Conner Kent/Superboy (Joshua Orpin), with his dog Krypto, after both escaped from Cadmus Laboratories. I enjoyed Conner’s “stranger-in-a-strange-land” vibe. He is essentially the tabula rasa newborn offspring of Superman and Lex Luthor. Yeah, you heard me correctly. We also welcomed Rose Wilson (Chelsea Zhang) to the team. She’s a white-haired, eye patch-wearing super-ninja. She is also the daughter of Slade Wilson/Deathstroke (Esai Morales), who proves himself to be a worthy villain this season.

The mystery behind the deaths of Aqualad (Drew Van Acker) and Jericho (Chella Man) are revealed through Lost-style flashbacks. So, we get to meet characters who were already deceased before the series began as well.

This series’ version of Bruce Wayne grew on me this season, although Iain Glen was obviously struggling to keep his accent in check throughout. We can’t really call Glen’s character Batman because that’s not been his role on the series so far. He is Dick Grayson’s mentor, sometimes the show’s “man in the chair,” and sometimes a figment of Dick’s imagination. More on that in a moment.

Our main cast returns this season as well. Jason Todd (Curran Walters) is the reckless and impulsive Robin that Bruce Wayne sent to Grayson for either punishment or more training, I’m not sure which. He is the team wildcard, his actions often endangering both himself and the team. He becomes romantically involved with new Titan Rose as a matter of course, and at the end of the season he seems to have quit the team. I expected him to die this season, to tell the truth, but he didn’t.

Kory Anders/Starfire (Anna Diop) gets a story arc this season that involves her sister stealing her throne on her homeworld and trying to kill her on this one. Then, towards the end of the season, she loses her alien superpowers.

Dawn Granger (Minka Kelly) and Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchson) have a story arc that seems familiar from every other TV couple we’ve seen. They leave the Titans but can’t seem to adjust to “real” life, then they rejoin the Titans but are now having romantic problems and break up. Hank begins using again and, in one memorable mid-breakup episode, he sells his Hawk disguise to some poor schlub who takes a stab at being a superhero.

Garfield/Changeling/Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) often seems to be serving as the viewer stand-in. He is the chief character who wants to keep the team together after Trigon’s defeat. His go-to changeling form is still the green tiger, mainly, though we know he is capable of taking other forms. I know this is a special effects cost-control issue, and I understand that. I just don’t want his superhero name to become Tiger Lad. Gar provides a bit of comic relief at times, which is great since everyone else is always so serious. His story thread becomes more complicated when he taken prisoner and brainwashed by Cadmus, along with Conner Kent.

Donna Troy (Conor Leslie) doesn’t get a lot to do this season outside of her Aqualad flashback. She does go toe-to-toe with a certain Cadmus brainwashed Young-Man-of-Steel at one point. She is a formidable hero.

While I thought the casting was great across the board, the story this season seemed less focused than the first season. The anticipated showdown with Trigon (Seamus Dever) was over with quickly. It was a bit anticlimactic. Most of the rest of the season was about Deathstroke exacting his revenge upon the Titans for the death of his son, Jericho. Nothing in the season is that straightforward, though. The Titans break up. Dick Grayson sends himself to prison, which he has to break out of later in the season. Dick also begins seeing Bruce Wayne as his “imaginary friend.” This imaginary Bruce mentors, berates and cajoles. I guess we’re to assume that Dick had a full-on psychotic break after the Titans fell apart. The other members of the Titans are brought together in Elko, Nevada, by someone they—and we—think is Bruce Wayne after Dick is in prison and Gar and Conner are kidnapped by Cadmus. This scene is trippy and far-fetched, pulled off with something more like magic than Wayne Enterprises technology. This part of the series is further complicated in the finale episode, when everyone is having dinner together and Bruce claims he was never in Elko, Nevada.

There are two post-Trigon Big Bads this season. Deathstroke is the major antagonist, of course, He also brings Dr. Light (Michael Mosely, who also had a terrific guest-starring role in the Netflix original series Ozark) to the bad-guy side, and his own daughter Rose becomes a double (perhaps triple) agent. Mercy Graves (Natalie Gumede) is the face of Cadmus Laboratories, and the agent of the not-yet-seen Lex Luthor. Collectively, they are the second Big Bad. Graves is responsible for kidnapping and brainwashing Conner and Gar. This story line is the last one to be resolved.

There were things about the season that I didn’t like quite as much as the first season.

The entire Dick Grayson-goes-to-prison sequence was ludicrous. It was the writing staff’s heavy-handed attempt to give Nightwing a more rounded origin story. The entire sequence made little sense, and, since he later escaped, I guess now Dick Grayson is a federal fugitive.

A lot of action this season fell into what I would consider to be “non-real” space. The Aqualad and Jericho flashbacks qualify as this category as well, but I didn’t mind those so much. I thought they were well-executed. Moments such as Dick’s imaginary-Bruce conversations, the surreal Elko sequence, the Cadmus brainwashing interludes, and Jericho inside Deathstroke’s head, all include events that don’t happen in the show’s main reality. There’s also a scene in the finale in which Rachel uses her powers to put Dick inside of Conner’s head to help him break the hold Cadmus has over Superboy. The brain-projection Dick breaks down mental walls to allow imaginary sunlight to shine on Conner and bring him back to his senses. It’s a bit much. Something more in keeping with the esthetic established by Doom Patrol.

Another thing I didn’t care for—mini-spoiler coming at you now—was the “death” of one of the Titans immediately following the resolution of both the Deathstroke and Cadmus story threads. The “death” wasn’t directly caused by a story villain but by a malfunctioning piece of carnival equipment. The quotation marks are there on purpose, because the way it’s been clumsily telegraphed, I don’t expect this character “death” to be a permanent one. A third season has already been confirmed. This particular team member will be back.

I would also like to see Bruce Wayne treated as less of a god-figure on the show. If he’s not guest-starring in Dick Grayson’s fever dreams, he’s magically summoning the Titans to an Elko, Nevada, diner or providing a literal deus ex machina to interfere with Cadmus trying to auction Conner to the highest bidder.

In spite of these minor quibbles, I did enjoy the season. I like getting the violence you don’t see as graphically on the CW, and I don’t mind the occasional swear word when it’s not completely gratuitous. I’m counting on the creative team behind Titans developing more cohesive story arcs for Season 3.

Firewater’s Don’t-Call-Us-Teen-Titans Report Card: A

A

Half a letter grade below the first season, but still good television.

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