Titans, Season Two, my rambling review
It’s like playing with Lego blocks that are all the same colour
(Lots of spoilers. This isn’t something to read to help decide to watch a show, this is the kind of thing you read if you want to indulge in bitching about the things that get in the way of a show being as good as it could be.)
Part way through the second season, I realized what’s been wrong all along, working against all the potential.
In spite of all the variety of back stories, powers, and challenges, all these characters speak with the exact same voice. They’re all full of angsty darkness, holding back something just under the surface that they’re afraid to set free. Every single one of them.
There’s a lot to work with here, lots of charismatic actors and compelling characters, and lots of reference material to draw upon from decades of history from comic books. But all of that has been painted over with one, consistent, gloomy tone, making all their variety fade into a blurry, indistinct wash of sameness.
Dark and edgy can be cool and intense and interesting, but there are ways to go about it, and making every single beat for every single character dark and edgy is not it.
The best example of what I mean is Gar, aka Beast Boy, who, in this show, can only turn into a tiger. In a world where people have guns, being a tiger doesn’t seem like it’s really that huge an advantage against anyone except random civilians who have no particular defenses. In the comics and animations, he can instantly blip from one animal to another, being an elephant that hits you hard, and then instantly become a hummingbird that dodges you when you try to punch back. That’s a power. Just being a tiger or not? Meh.
His power is not the problem, though. It’s his attitude, which stands out because in most other depictions in other animated shows and comics, he’s optimistic and frivolous. He’s fun to be around, and often provides comedic relief.
The thing about a character that is happy and optimistic is that it’s so much more sad when something bad happens to them. In this season of Titans, Gar is captured by some evil corporation that’s so generic that I can’t even remember if they have a name, and I’m near certain they have no particular purpose. They’re like the generic brands of food you see in grocery stores, except they sell evil schemes.
So, Generic Evil Corp does some kind of brain surgery on Gar that makes him into a sort of Manchurian Candidate sleeper agent type deal. When the bad guys play some particular music, Gar goes into tiger-kill mode. He’ll kill anyone, even his possible crush Raven, something they test in a virtual simulation. It would be devastating to see a happy character do something truly dark, like kill all his acquaintances at his favorite coffee shop, like he does in a later live test, and then have to deal with the realization of what he’s done. The gap between who he is and what they made him into would be that much more destructive, and thus more dark.
It would be, but, since he was a dark and angsty character before the brain surgery, when he kills a bunch of innocent people, and he deals with it by being mopey and sad, there’s no change. He doesn’t seem any worse off than before, at least not emotionally. There’s no arc, no growth, no basis for comparison. Just constant mopiness and sadness.
It’s less stark with all the other characters, but it’s the same issue. They’re all one note, all the time. Dark, angsty, trying to hold down their feelings.
Mature Robin makes the bizarre choice of getting himself arrested and thrown in prison in order to cope with being bummed out about how things are going since the start of the season. Why he thinks prison will help doesn’t matter in the end, because he just spends his time there being as mopey and angsty as he was on the outside. Hawk and Dove continue to pretend they have purpose and that their feather capes aren’t ridiculous, and they go out to Montana or somewhere to bicker and mope, only taking a break to be apart from each other to mope individually. Young Robin and the girl he has zero chemistry with, daughter of Deathstroke, run away with each other to break into rich people’s apartments so they can argue and be angsty.
Starfire is annoyed to discover her sister has taken over her home planet or something, so she’s decided to stay on Earth to mope. I’m not totally sure what Donna Troy is upset about, but she is constantly furrowing her brows, indicating she’s all annoyed and mopey about something, so whatever it is, it’s really bugging her. Superboy mopes around because he doesn’t know who he really is, deep down. Is he more like one father, or the other father? Life as a person cloned from two men who hate each other is hard. And mopey. And Angsty.
Raven is the one character who has very good reason to angsty and dark because she has literal dark evil power inside her that is hard to control. She’s the definitive hero archetype of Gothy angsty teenage girls. But she gets lost in everyone else’s dark angsty mopiness.
There is, fortunately, some light at the end of the tunnel. Literally in the very last episode when a bunch of Titans have to contend with Superboy being mind controlled and so they have to fight him, they show a little levity when they argue over who should go and confront Superboy first. It was probably the first and only moment of genuine chemistry between the characters in the entirety of the show up to that point, and it was like someone finally opened the window and let some air in. Unfortunately, soon after, things go right back to being a chaotic mess.
I’m not sure why Superboy is an issue with Raven around, because he is definitely vulnerable to magic, and with Raven’s demonstrated power, I think the bigger risk is that Raven might accidentally tear his head off. Now that would be dark and interesting. What was kind of cool, though, was Donna Troy going toe to toe with Superboy, demonstrating that she is of comparable power. The dual punch moment where they hit each other in the chin simultaneously was contrived, but it was nice to know that Superboy doesn’t just automatically outclass everyone.
After the heroes break Superbody free from Generic Evil Corporation’s control over him, he goes and beats up all of Evil Corp’s henchmen. Evil Generic Corp are nearby in a bunch of black vans filled with guys with guns. For some reason, none of them have the kryptonite bullets they used before to neutralize him. You’d think that at least Mercy, the woman doing most of planning for Generic Evil Co. would have one of them kryptonite bullets on her. She’s supposed to be some kind of strategic genius.
Then, out of the blue and for no particular reason whatsoever, there’s this metal tower for holding up lights or something that suddenly falls down. The tower looks to only be about a meter wide, and falling at the speed of dramatic tension, so it seemed like everyone underneath could have easily dodged it with a leisurely couple of steps to the left or right.
Nonetheless, Donna jumps under it to save everyone, and holds up the tower. But it turns out that this tower has five billion volts running through it because maybe this one tower for holding up tents or something in the middle of a carnival is also the central outlet for a nuclear power station or something? She’s electrocuted, and dies. Boom, out of nowhere, a major character is wiped out of the show because of some random OSHA violation. It was so sudden and weird that I can’t help but suspect that there casting negotiations for season three that went awry for the actress.
In the closing notes of the season, we have what I think was a Thanksgiving dinner with Batman in Bruce Wayne form at the table. Batman is so fucking weird in this show. Is he retired? He seems to just be kind of hanging out. Mostly he’s not even there, he’s just in people’s delusions, an avatar for their internal dialog. They don’t really make it clear if he’s still fighting crime in Gotham or not, and without that clarity, his presence is distracting and awkward.
The biggest success of the season by far was Deathstroke. The guy playing him really nailed the part, he seemed to elevate the tension with every character he played off of, and overall they landed his story arc. His daughter being the one to finally kill him brought a nice close to his arc. That said, the fight scene was really strange. Mature Robin and Daughter of Deathstroke are fighting Deathstroke while Raven, Starfire, Donna, and Dove sit in a parked SUV nearby and just watch for some reason. I get that maybe it’s an honour thing, Robin needs to fight his own battle or blah blah blah… but, they don’t even get out of the car for a better look? Get ready to take down Deathstroke in case Robin gets his ass handed to him? Fair fight or not, he’s still a criminal, and Raven or Starfire should be able to basically blow him up without even going near him, so… yeah. Kind of awkwardly handled.
Mind you, not as awkward as Jericho, now living inside his sister’s body. Is he going to be in her brain watching from her eyes as she fucks Young Robin?
It’s disappointing to not have Deathstroke around anymore, but you can’t get mad at the show for making a villain so good you want him to find a way back.
Instead, apparently next season’s villain will be Starfire’s sister Blackfire, who shows up in a teaser scene as a blob of goop that makes a suburban housewife turn evil… or whatever. Starfire came in a spaceship, what’s Blackfire being a glob of goo for? It felt arbitrary and goofy and doesn’t bode well for the villain side of things next season. Much like Trigon was too powerful for the show’s budget, this little preview indicates Blackfire might also force the producers into having to find excuses for why we don’t see the things she’s capable of. For example, not showing up with an armada of space warships like you might expect from a queen with her own military. Instead, she arrives as a little blob of goo.
But on the main cast side, if the show can follow that spark of diverse characters with a capacity for levity and mood changes that we saw a glimpse of in the last episode, season three could be pretty good.