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(Spoiler Warning) Titans Season 2 Review

Dick Grayson in his Nightwing costume from Titans Season 2 Finale
Copyright by DC Comics, and Warner Bros.

WARNING: There are spoilers of Titans’ second season, so don’t read this review if you plan to watch it.

The key to making a good adaptation is to stay true to the spirit of the property you’re adapting. If you’re looking to adopt a comic, book, manga, or video game into a series or a film, chances are that this property already has a fanbase and that’s because it has certain attributes and characteristics that people enjoy and relate to–once you remove those elements or stray away too much from the traits that made this property work, things can only go one way.

Titans is a show with so many entertaining stories in the source material, and this makes the uneven quality of this series even more frustrating. We’re talking about a show that has Dick Grayson, Raven, Beast Boy, Starfire, Donna Troy, Deathstroke, and Bruce Wayne! Add to that a potential target audience that grew up watching the Teen Titans animated series (I include myself in that group). This show should be just as good as the Daredevil Netflix series, but it’s not. Not even close. The second season started with a lot of promotion and with claims that it was going to be bigger and better than the first one that, while flawed, was enjoyable. Then, Deathstroke was announced as the main antagonist and this increased my interest in this season, but then we start to run into multiple problems with this series and why it never truly gels or manages to find a unifying style.

 

Image of the Titans from the DC Universe TV Show. The Image includes Wonder Girl, Dick Grayson, and Hawk and Dove.


Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros. 

The first season had a very grim tone and while it hurt a few characters such as Dick Grayson (more on him later), it was overall consistent, but this season finds the series often switching from dark and gritty to lighthearted and throwing lots of jokes in moments where there is supposed to be tension, like the confrontation against Superboy at the season finale. You can tell that the scripters were self-aware of the criticism of the previous season about being too dark, but the reality is that it never clicks the way it should.

And speaking of clicking, the plot is an area where this season truly faltered. Most of it is due to the fact it's doing the exact same thing that it did in the previous one: Dick is trying to build a life away from Bruce and Gotham in another city (Detroit/San Francisco), he finds a girl that is escaping from the main bad guy (Rachel/Rose), a lot of past and present members of the Titans get together to face the threat, Hank (Alan Ritchson) and Dawn (Minka Kelly) argue about their relationship, they bicker and fight each other because of superficial drama and it ends up with Rachel/Rose standing up to her abusive father. The only difference is that this season decided to add more after the story’s conclusion, but we’ll get to that in a moment.


The problem is not only that the structure is the same, but that it also presents very uneven and poorly written arcs for the characters. Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) is the main protagonist and he gets a lot more screen time than the rest of the Titans, but if we watch the resolution against the villain of the first season (which was ironically the first episode of the second season), Trigon, Dick seems to have accepted and got over his personal problems with Bruce and feels happier and willing to move on with his life, showing in this first episode glimpses of that classic, uplifting and friendly Dick Grayson from the comics. And then in this season, we go back to the same doom and gloom with Dick, which ends up becoming annoying and unnecessary because his traumas from the previous season (his anger with Bruce) seems to have remained and we have added elements that were never alluded to before (his decision of using Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, against him).

Batman of the Titans TV Show holding Batarangs which confirm his identity

Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros.  

There were leaks of the aborted season 1 finale where Dick shows up as Nightwing against Trigon alongside the rest of the Titans and that would have been a better resolution, paving the way for a better version of the character. I think Brenton Thwaites is a solid actor and he has the tools to play a magnificent Robin/Nightwing, but he was never given much to work with beyond a character that seems to switch between self-doubt and being a jerk with anger issues.

This is something that we can also see very clearly with characters such as Kory/Starfire (Anna Diop) and Rachel/Raven (Teagan Croft): they are very inconsistent throughout the season and they never get enough time to grow and develop. The lack of understanding (or perhaps lack of care) is particularly notorious with Kory. I won’t get into the whole race swap controversy because that has been beaten to death, but rather I want to talk about the fact that she doesn’t behave like Kory: she doesn’t have her cheerful nature, her capacity of taking every feeling to the max, her misunderstanding of human customs and nature and the obvious fact that beyond a one-night stand, she doesn’t have much of a relationship with Dick and I don’t mean in a romantic manner, but rather as simple friends, although that last part applies to much of the Titans. This isn’t Starfire, but rather a completely different character with Kory’s royal titles. Nothing less, nothing more.

Rachel is pretty much the same, without a clear arc and often serving just as a plot device in the second half of the season through her dreams to get the band together to find Dick after another team breakup (the third one in just two seasons, by the way). Her romance with Gar (Ryan Potter) is still poorly written and they rarely spend quality scenes together, truly digging and developing who they are; for the vast majority of the season they don’t have much to do and it shows that the writers of the series didn’t know what to do with Rachel after her arc with Trigon was done–this was highlighted hilariously when the team broke up and asks Donna to leave with her and then ditches Donna in the next scene.

And that’s where the source material and this adaptation clash: this show has put so much emphasis on the gritty, dramatic and dark elements of the story that it ends up feeling like The Boys without the self-awareness. The Titans are by and large pretty unlikeable characters, often ditching one another despite this constant talk of them being a family and looking for reasons to fight. It doesn’t feel important because it isn’t and doesn’t move the story forward, which is something that is shown through Hank and Dawn’s “arcs”, which lead nowhere.

During this season we see and hear a lot of the Titans talking about what they stand for and how they are trying to help as heroes, but we never see them during these two seasons doing anything heroic; most of their enemies come from their personal backgrounds and they spend more time-fighting cops than the likes of Deathstroke, so you can imagine the problem.

Image of the Deathstroke from Titans Season 2

Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros. 

Talking about Deathstroke, he is definitely the star of the show and the big highlight of this season. Esai Morales does a great job not only in looking like Slade Wilson, but he also manages to look threatening and imposing, like the expert assassin that he is playing, just by standing there. He is really good and I hope that his death is retconned because I think that every scene he was in he absolutely dominated. He is the Titans’ biggest nemesis in the comics and I’m glad that Morales put the effort in that the role demanded, but it’s a real shame that the show ended his plot in the first fifteen minutes of the season finale.

That’s another problem with this season, even beyond poor characterization: plots threads seem to come and go and they are solved in a poor manner or are just forgotten. This is actually something that has been plaguing the show since season 1, really. I mean, does anyone remember that Dick had a job as a detective in Detroit at the beginning of the show and that was simply ignored, without addressing the ramifications that his partner was murdered because of his connection to him? Nope, and that is something that carries through this season.

Dick Grayson speaking with Wonder Gal in Titans Headquarters.

Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros.

There are two flashback episodes (technically three) that show how messed up this season has been. The first one presents the first Titans team that was active five years ago in the series and when Aqualad (Drew Van Acker) was killed by Deathstroke, which led to the Titans using Jericho to use him (again, all for personal reasons, not helping people). Aqualad was in love with Donna Troy (Conor Leslie) and vice versa, but the latter’s turmoil, sense of loss and anger towards Slade is never solved or discussed after the episode. She suffers a very pointless death by being electrocuted (despite surviving being hit by Superboy) after the threats are done and her arc linked to Aqualad just fades away, without any kind of resolution. It would have been a lot better to have her die fighting Deathstroke if they were hellbent on killing her off, but that shows how messy this show is.



The other one was the episode where we have flashbacks of Jericho (Chella Man) and we see how he was “killed” by accident by Slade while fighting Robin, but it turns out that Jericho used his power to transport his soul to his father’s body and stays there for the next five years. And once that is revealed, we start to have scenes of Deathstroke failing to control his body, but that is never shown before and makes it all so lazy and predictable.

On the other hand, the third flashback episode (I say technically because it shows events that happened that same day but only a few hours before), where we are introduced to Superboy, Conner (Joshua Orpin), we can see a properly well-written episode. We get to meet Conner, his origin, his motivations (or lack of), doubts and the ending of that episode, him saving Jason Todd (Curran Walters), shows us Conner deciding to be a hero, to help people. He is the most honest depiction of any character in this show and it’s interesting to see someone like him in a more nihilist and darker environment–it’s, in fact, something I wish Zack Snyder had done with classic Superman in Man of Steel, instead of changing his personality. But of course, that didn’t last and Conner was quickly mapped out with an injury and later brainwashed to become a killing machine.

 Image of Superboy from the Titans DC Universe TV show

Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros.

There’s an alarming lack of consistency within the season and it makes every chapter almost feel like it is part of a different show–there’s no coherent direction or a common theme that connects these plots. They focus too much on the aspect that they are all broken, but the reality is that they don’t find any comfort among each other and only reject the others through snapping with anger or constant bickering without any sign of real friendship like the real Titans do. Even the animated series handled this concept a lot better and it was aimed for kids: they were characters that had complicated backgrounds, a lot of flaws and adversities, but their friendship was their core value and what made them grow. We don’t see any of that here.

I put a real emphasis on the friendship and heroism parts because that’s what keeps the Titans together in every single version. If they don’t have that, why should they stay together? What forces them to stay in the Titans Tower? Nothing, and it shows when they leave during the middle of the season and Dick punches a cop to get arrested and “atone for his sins in jail” (reality: we need a weird and unnecessary prison subplot where a Latin guy tells him his country’s legend that would lead to Dick choosing the name Nightwing and helping two criminals to escape because apparently that’s heroic nowadays). They obviously don’t like each other and that transmits to the viewer; there’s nothing wrong with people that don’t like each other working together (in fact, it can be quite interesting), but here it’s written in any way that is not compelling and only gets more tiresome as the story progresses.

Image of Jason's Todd's Robin badly damage after an intense battle.

Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros.

I mentioned earlier the weird mix of grittiness and humor in this season and while that is predominant during the season finale (especially in the exchange between the women fighting Superboy), I think no character suffers harder than Jason Todd. I thought that Curran Walters’ portrayal of the second Robin was really solid in the first season and I definitely wanted to see more of him in the next one, but here he is mostly a comic relief character in the first part of the season that no one takes seriously or a tortured teenager filled with rage and self-contempt in the second part.

Regardless, no one cares about Jason here and that’s a problem. Considering that the season ends with him parting ways with both the Titans and Batman, one could argue that the reason he goes through so much stuff and gets ignored is because they wanted to take him to that point so that he could break away from those two shadows in his life and that would be a very good arc for him if it wasn’t for the fact that it makes no sense that Dick didn’t address the fact that he is leaving or that we don’t get to see a reaction from Bruce and he just stays eating in the Titans Tower at the end. Bruce trusted Jason’s safety and development to Dick and we don’t see any ramifications of him leaving–not even a cliffhanger of things to come with that character in terms of his relationship with Batman.

Hell, he was about to get killed by Deathstroke and we don’t see ramifications of this beyond just one episode.

Rose Wilson (Chelsea Zhang), Slade’s illegitimate daughter, is a character that is played very decently by the actress but doesn’t have much to work with beyond the now cliché tough girl persona. And around the middle of the season, she is almost forgotten, given the fact that we’re busy dealing with the Titans barking at each other and then we have this resolution where she manages to defeat and kill his father, who is, in theory, a walking killing machine. I’m sorry, but there’s not enough logic to make that plausible considering the context of the story. But yet again, considering how they killed Donna Troy, anything is possible in this show and it’s mostly for the worse.

I know it’s probably unfair to say this because I know a lot of people worked hard on this show, but it honestly feels like the writers don’t care that much about these characters and I’m only writing this because it gives you that feeling. These characters feel empty and their sadness, pain or turmoil feels superficial as if brooding a lot is a sign of depth when the reality is that, from these Titans, only Rachel and Jason should be the ones facing inner darkness and inner turmoil. But instead, we have Beast Boy murdering people each season as a tiger. Lovely.

Nightwing reveals his new suit, and is fighting Deathstroke.

Copyright by DC Comics and Warner Bros. 

This may sound like I’m being too harsh on the show, but the reality is that I wanted this show to be great. I’m a huge DC fan and I wanted to see the Titans in all their glory. I want Dick’s transition from Robin to Nightwing to be hard, but EARNED, becoming a better man in the process; the first appearance of Nightwing here is objectively great, but we don’t feel that he has earned that growth and that development. I wanted to see Deathstroke being the unmitigated badass that he is, not dying in a very weak manner. I want to see great stories and great character development, not Superboy recovering control of himself through the power of friendship (What friendship? He didn’t even know Nightwing at the time).

And it’s a shame because this show has potential even beyond the memorable source material. The cast, in general, is pretty great, the costumes are gorgeous for the most part and in most cases, they try to depict the characters as they do in the comics, but when it comes to their characters and to their heroic nature, that’s where they have failed. These characters feel like distorted versions of themselves, never fully reaching their potential.

Season 3 has already been confirmed and I don’t know if I’m going to come along for the ride. There’s a very small chance that they follow the ending and develop a more uplifting and heroic version of the Titans, but yet again, that was also promised with the first season’s ending and look what we got. I don’t have a lot of hope for what’s to come. Especially now that they have wasted Deathstroke, who is always the main bad guy to use in a Titans story.

In the end, I see Titans as a missed opportunity and a continuation of DC’s hit and miss strategy when it comes to live-action adaptations. And considering the number of great stories that they have at their disposal, it’s almost tragic that they are struggling so much.

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Kevin Tanza

Kevin Tanza is a Venezuelan writer who fell in love with stories, music and soccer/football when he was a child and since then, he hasn’t stopped writing about them. He has been published in multiple websites in both Spanish and English. You'll find his work at MusikHolics, Good Comis to Read, Gemr, The Busby Babe, Chiesa di Totti, La Soledad del Nueve, Sail Away, Colgados por el Fútbol, Genre, United’s Red Rain, Mariskal Rock, Sugati Fashion, Indie Artists Go and Music Existence. He has also published a series of short stories. Feel free to use the links provided below to follow Kevin on social media. For business inquiries, please contact him via email.

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