Titans Episode Review S01: E08

After watching Episode 8 of Titans — titled “Donna Troy” — I can only ask myself one question. Where has this quality been all season? Why have we been flip-flopping between “plot episodes” and “character episodes” when, as made clear by this week’s episode, an effective combination of the two could be so easily accomplished?

After some much needed recouping from the hell that was the Asylum, the team has to move on from squatting in Batman’s safehouse. Dick is feeling a little lost at this point, so he decides to head off on his own for a little while, with the rest of the group migrating to a house that may or may not belong to Rachel’s birth-mother. From there, the story is divided between two paths — one in which Dick pals around with Donna Troy and one in which everyone else is stuck on a train for the majority of the episode.

Character-building is the best it has been all season with everyone getting something concrete and interesting added to their identities. Even though Gar gets the short-stick again, the subtle nuance in his body-language and mood is a prime example of the old adage, “Show don’t tell.” It’s executed so effortlessly that, again, it’s a shame it’s so underutilized. Rachel’s development is a tad stagnant, but it’s exploring what seems like an earnest relationship between her and her birth-mother. This will most likely end badly for Rachel, but the show is investing time into that relationship to make that eventual turn much more effective — you know, how you should generally build character dynamics.

Conor Leslie as Donna Troy is great, and her friendship/ confidante-role with Dick is something new for the brooding hero. The main issue with Dick’s character so far is that it’s pretty one-note; beyond being angry or sad, we haven’t seen Dick really be a person. Donna helps show how much of a character Dick can actually be. He’s inquisitive, he’s vulnerable, and — gasp — funny. There’s a throw-away gag about a well-known Batman villain that not only had me chuckling but also further illustrated Dick’s inability to just live life. He’s constantly in “vigilante-mode” due to Bruce’s own obsession, and this kind of multipurpose story-telling is littered throughout the episode. It’s simply a breath of fresh air.

This leads into Kory’s portion of the episode, and on it’s own, it’s a fine internal character struggle. I derided her treatment in the last episode as serving no purpose, and I’ll be the first to admit that some patience would have benefited my viewing (though the show has mustered very little goodwill in that department). We do see that Kory has by no means escaped her torture unscathed, with the experiments sort of unlocking PTSD-laden memories from her past. Kory struggles with these new, painful memories that exacerbate her worst tendencies — paranoia and violence — and that makes sense. It’s when her seemingly unrelated  narrative coalesces with Dick’s that everything really clicks. It’s bit of a deus ex machina, but it ultimately serves the a purpose and is, frankly, fun.

Episode 8 is, so far, the best Titans episode to date. It expertly weaves plots, character motivations, and relationships that would normally all be relegated to separate episodes. It’s exactly what a show about a team should be — all of our heroes being connected even when they’re apart. It’s a little late in the game to say this will be the turn-around for the show as a whole, but it’s a shining example of what Season 2 can aspire to be.

9/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review S01: E07

Episode 7 of Titans — or “Asylum” — is a strange product. Along with “Together”, it’s probably a pretty good representation of what the show will be if it ever decides to actually be a show about the Titans, rather than a show about Dick Grayson. Yet it’s also more evidence for how truly thin the show’s plot is, despite it having so much potential.

The episode starts off on the right foot. We get a bit of insight from Adamson concerning what he and his group want with Rachel, as well as the knowledge that her mother (original, not adoptive) is alive and being held captive in a secret facility. Following this, mistakes are made, and the quartet find themselves captured and subjected to various types of torture.

This is where the episode starts to devolve. Kory and Gar are once again shortchanged in favor of a larger focus being placed on how these events affect Rachel and Dick, the prior of which at least makes sense in the context of the episode. We’re starting to see glimpses of what a confident Raven looks like and how her powers can be more than just a cloud of evil smoke. The methodical evolving of her character into a quietly terrifying force of nature is truly gripping and probably the high-point of the episode, if only because Gar’s development didn’t have the proper foundation leading into it. In fact, Episode 7 is a true testament to just how much Beast Boy has been neglected by the writers, squandering a truly devastating character arc for him in the process. The result of his torture is tragic and will likely last past the end of the first season, but the gravity of this is at odds with how little attention is paid towards it.

It’s still better than Kory being merely relegated to the body-horror portion of the proceedings. She gains nothing from the pain she endures, except for possibly the knowledge that she can heal quickly; but this isn’t “character development”, it’s “power development”. In reality, she’s just laying on a table for the majority of the episode. It’s like if Eli Roth did a “made-for-TV” movie; there’s no ultimate rhyme or reason for this character to suffer the way she does. That’s not a larger point being made either — like “sometimes there is no reason” — because everyone else has some sort of an attempt at character development accompanying their imprisonment. Even if Dick’s is the same thing they’ve been telling us for what seems like A THOUSAND EPISODES, there is still an objective at play.

And while all of this results in a neat climax, it kind of feels like any of the build we had for the show’s antagonist — what little there was — was just tossed aside. This seems like a definitive end to a story arc, which is incredibly confusing and unsatisfying. The show needed to have started really hammering us with a true villain two weeks ago, and instead, it looks like we’ll be starting from square one next week. I am legitimately stumped as to how we’re expected to have any sort of investment in a singular villain going forward. Why even bother at this point? If the show is really supposed to be what I felt like last week’s episode was (“Monster-of-the-Week”), then it should just lean into that. Don’t attempt this quasi-vacuum experiment in which the larger narrative only matters occasionally because, the fact of the matter is, the season isn’t long enough to do that.

Titans has so much potential, and every episode offers passing moments of that potential being realized. Which makes it so frustrating when the show continues to waste it so wantonly. This feels like such an easy fix, but it’s so ingrained at this point that it would take drastic measures to properly course-correct. For crying out loud, Dick Grayson is the main character of ANOTHER EPISODE next week! This show is called Titans, right?

5/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review: S01: E06

Another week, another new episode of Titans. This episode, titled (rather unceremoniously) “Jason Todd”, picks up immediately after the closing moments of the last. Focusing almost entirely on the new and strained relationship between Old-Robin, a.k.a. Dick Grayson, and New-Robin, a.k.a. Jason Todd, the episode follows the duo as they attempt to track down a serial killer who has a penchant for acid-baths, and as luck would have it, his sights are set on Dick. Kory, Rachel, and Gar make minimal appearances, though they do contribute a few good laughs.

First, let me just say that I did, overall, like this episode. It focuses on one major conflict, with that conflict being character driven, and nearly every action serves the purpose of pushing that conflict to its logical conclusion. It’s well-crafted, it’s evenly-paced, and it’s engaging. Curran Walters turns in a performance as Jason Todd that is decidedly his own, albeit a tad cheesy. The character is clear foil to Dick Grayson, and Walters uses a style that is both energetic and laissez-faire to accentuate that idea. While Dick is generally contemplative and solemn about his upbringing as Bruce Wayne’s ward, Jason is outwardly excited and grateful for it. Whether or not Bruce does more harm than good with his adoption and subsequent use of orphans in his fight against crime is not a new line of debate, but it’s still effective and, in this instance, boiled down to the important talking points.

All of this introspection, however, is to the detriment of the episode’s villain. He serves no purpose other than to continue the “Monster-of-the-Week”-formula that is still severely crippling the show, and the climax of the whole thing is such a one-note affair that you could practically sleep through it without missing a beat. This isn’t anything new to the narrative strategy that the writers have taken with the show, but at least with earlier episodes it was still vaguely connected to the overall plot. With both the character development and active threat being almost entirely removed from the show’s main story, what exactly does this episode contribute?

At this point, the show is on its second half, and as such, we should be building towards a central threat and, ultimately, a satisfying conclusion. Yet, I find myself asking this week, “What purpose does this serve?” Why is it that, with no proper antagonist other than the vaguely defined “Them” referenced by Anderson in Episode 5, we’ve devoted a whole episode to saying, once again, “Dick doesn’t like Batman.” That is, perhaps, an oversimplification of the internal struggle that Dick goes through when faced with his replacement and what it means to him; but at the end of the day, it’s a development that doesn’t fit in the spot it’s been given. This would have worked better either earlier in Season 1 or at the beginning of Season 2. Make no mistake, in a vacuum, Episode 6 is one of the better episodes of the series thus far. However, as a piece of a larger story, it never manages to become anything more than filler.

7/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review S01: E05

It’s been an interesting road for Titans up until now. With eleven episodes planned for the season, Episode 5 — or “Together” — marks the closest thing to a “half-way point” the show is going to have. So how does that point fare? Well, it’s nothing spectacular, but it does at least continue the trend of being “potato chips” (take a look at my review for Episode 4, if that throws you for a loop). That being said, there is one major slip-up that the episode makes that could very well irreparably damage the show as whole.

Before we get too carried away, however, let’s recap. Following a series of events, which include but are not limited to both blowing up a church and meeting a fully cognizant robot, all of our main players are now in one place. Dick takes this as an opportunity for the “team” become more familiar with their own abilities. There’s only one problem: a renewed Nuclear Family is hot on their trail. Suffice it to say, the results are explosive.

So let’s start with the good. First, the show is immensely more enjoyable when it has everyone in one spot. It feels more organic when a character is allowed to focus on more than one problem, something that becomes easier the more people someone can interact with. Granted, everyone sort of gets the short end of the stick compared to Dick Grayson, but they still have different stories building at the same time. Frankly, it adds some nuance to the decidedly straight-forward proceedings.

Without getting too close to spoilers, the choreography in this episode is quite good as well. Unlike the infamous alleyway fight from Episode 1, movement doesn’t feel as jerky or sped-up here. Camera cuts are fast, but not so fast as to be confusing. There is a slight dip in quality midway through one fight scene…a dip that, at least in terms of what this point entails, doesn’t really make a whole lot of narrative sense. However, even that is miles ahead of what we’ve seen up until now, and the quality also ramps back up after a brief interlude.

Now, what about the bad? Well perhaps the most pressing is that, at this point, the show seems to be meandering quite a bit. After Episode 3, it felt like we were on the cusp of getting some sort of answers, and I forgave the slow build-up to that point because of course you can’t have everything all at once. Yet, two episodes later, and we really don’t have any new knowledge in terms of the larger, overarching plot. On top of that, it doesn’t seem like the show even knows how or when it’s going to divulge something critical. The whole affair is somewhat of a confusing mess, and it feels like the writers are just going to keep stringing us along until Episode 9.

And as for my not-at-all-hyperbolic position of the show being in ruins due to ONE decision? Well, depending on who you ask, it may not be as doom-and-gloom as that, but it is indicative of a larger problem in terms of character-building. There is one interaction between two characters that, if you know anything about the source material, is not exactly a surprise, but is also done so haphazardly and hastily that you might get whiplash from seeing it. This is something, that if played right, would have been an easy home-run — something so expected yet hoped-for that it wouldn’t have mattered if it didn’t have the best lead-up. Instead, the writers opted for NO lead-up whatsoever. It’s a nonchalant rush to the finish, and it makes about as much sense as that phrase.

So, yes, Episode 5 is a glimpse at what the entire show is leading to — a fully-functioning Titans squad — and that’s very exciting. Despite all of the show’s problems when it comes to its script, CG, or just acting in general, it still knows how to relish in the fun of finally throwing all of its heroes together (sorry, I couldn’t resist). However, it still can’t seem to get past its extremely lacking writing quality and character development. In earlier episodes, it was just something to hopefully chalk up to growing pains, but as we approach that 60%-mark, the show desperately needs to find something to give us that’s more worthwhile than just, “These are the Teen Titans you know…with a twist!”

6/10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!

Titans Episode Review S01: E04

Titans is quickly becoming the television equivalent of potato chips; there’s no substance and it’s not very good for you, but it’s pretty tasty and I would definitely eat two family-sized bags in one sitting if DC let me. To that end, while Episode 4 of the series — titled “Doom Patrol” — is still good, it does feel like it somewhat wastes the momentum the show had coming out of Episode 3.

Jumping in, Rachel has just blown up a convent (subtle, eh?) that was holding her captive and is now running through its backyard-forest. Soon, she’s intercepted by Gar Logan, a.k.a. Beast Boy, who takes her to his home to hide out. It’s here where we’re introduced to a ragtag bunch of misfits who are hiding out to avoid persecution for their physical abnormalities. Those who know better will recognize these characters as Robotman, Negative Man, and Elastic Girl.

I really enjoyed the banter and lighter tone that this partial Doom Patrol lent to the episode, and I think Geoff Johns (the episode’s sole writer) did what he could to keep it enjoyable while very minimally pushing the narrative forward. And while, yes, there is very little of consequence that occurs throughout the hour-long run-time, I get why it had to happen this way. At least while nothing was happening, most of the dialogue (that wasn’t coming out of Dick Grayson’s mouth) was fun. It seems fairly obvious that the Doom Patrol series that’s slated for 2019 will most likely take a few cues from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films (honestly, what ensemble-driven media isn’t?), but hey, if it works — which in this case, it does — I say go for it.

Jokes and unlikely companions can only do so much, however, and that’s a lot of heavy lifting for, admittedly, fairly weak concepts. No matter how effective such tertiary details are, any problems with the primary events are going to somewhat overshadow them. That’s not to say that this episode is bad — far from it. It has a decently intriguing plot and it’s probably the best episode in terms of “pace” so far. However, much of it is just sort of “fluff”. Rachel feeling confident enough to voluntarily use her powers is certainly an interesting development, but that 30-second exchange is essentially the biggest take away from the episode until the VERY end. Even that ending borders on amounting to nothing because it’s something that anyone who has a passing understanding of the property, or even someone who has only ever seen Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, knows is going to happen at some point.

Additionally, the show-runners are going to have to come up with different things for Rachel to do other than the same thing she’s be doing for four episodes now. Her entire narrative up to this point can be summed up by this sequence: girl is upset and skeptical of new person, girl learns to trust, girl shows kindness despite being literally possessed by Evil incarnate, girl finds herself restrained or in a situation in which she must now use her dark powers, girl learns that maybe you shouldn’t trust EVERYONE. Lather, rinse, repeat. Thankfully, it does look like we’ll be switching gears starting in the next episode, but for the good of the show, this formula needs to go away for a very long time.

When it’s all said and done, however, I do think the show has finally hit its stride. While it’s not as bombastic and tense as the previous episode, Episode 4 is still very enjoyable even when nothing is really happening. As long as these chips keep tasting this good, I’ll keep stuffing my face.

7/ 10

Titans is released every Friday only on DCUniverse!