When it first premiered, Titans, the flagship title of WarnerMedia’s super-niche superhero streaming platform, offered up a hollow exploration of grim and gritty vigilantes with a penchant for dropping f-bombs in relation to a top-tier member of the DC Universe who, at the time, may or may not have been too big to make an actual appearance on the show. The tale of former Boy Wonder, Dick Grayson/Robin (Brenton Thwaites), and his many grievances against his surrogate father, Bruce Wayne/Batman, was painted with the darkest brushstrokes possible, with the now-grown sidekick striking out on his own, apparently to stab bad guys with garden shears, right in their bathing suit areas.
The series went all-in on its oppressively heavy atmosphere. Dick Grayson’s Batman-level crankiness was matched at nearly every turn by the story of Rachel Roth/Raven (Teagan Croft), the would-be bringer of the apocalypse and daughter of an intergalactic demon named Trigon. In addition, there was Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dawn Granger/Dove (Minka Kelly), a pair of aging, broken heroes with complicated pasts, and Koriand’r (Anna Diop), a super-powered alien on a mission to kill Raven before she can fulfill her father’s murderous agenda. Lastly, there was Gar Logan/Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), a seemingly nice boy with green hair who can turn into animals (provided the episodic effects budget can make that happen).
The show’s inexplicable need to be as dark and gloomy (read: edgy) as possible was just one of the many faults on display during the first season that ended on a cliffhanger after watching Robin hunt his former mentor before stepping on his neck. That all turned out to be a dream manifested by the demon Trigon, though the evil being’s influence was far from over by episode’s end. As such, the season 1 finale delivered an unfulfilling, truncated story that finds an equally truncated resolution in the aptly titled season 2 premiere, ‘Trigon.’ As season premieres go, ‘Trigon’ feels like two distinct episodes roughly stitched together, rather than a proper start to a new season. The show’s simply carrying too much baggage at the start and is reaching for a conclusion too long after the ostensible end of season 1 to deliver much in the way of a fulfilling resolution or a promising new beginning.
The first half of the hour is spent with Dick chasing Rachel and Gar through a house literally haunted by her immensely powerful father. Dad/Trigon (Seamus Dever) has to break his daughter’s heart in order for him to be able to destroy the Earth. How any of this works is beyond Titans’ ability or ambitions to answer, so it settles for having the remaining heroes question the metaphorical nature of Trigon’s to-do list, with the implicit understanding that nothing makes much sense, but at least it sounds kinda good in an angsty teen poetry kind of way.
What follows is an extension of the season 1 finale, wherein the series aims to examine the various malfunctions of each character (i.e., their inner darkness). That decision more or less prolongs the inevitable. Rather than demonstrate the team's ability to act as a team, Titans luxuriates in demonstrating just how close to the people they’re hunting these heroes actually are. The scenarios vary in intensity, language, and violence, but they mostly arrive at the same conclusion: there is very little keeping these heroes from being what they’re going after. It’s clear the intent is to humanize these superheroes by dramatically underlining their biggest flaws, but that would require the characters to have had a human-like dimension to begin with.
Instead, ‘Trigon’ mostly peddles in third-rate “what if?” scenarios that allows Titans to be extreme without having to pay the price for its facile maximalism. Characters are charred, beaten, shot (and shot-up), but none of it matters. What’s worse, the series has already told the audience there will be zero consequences to what they’re watching, which makes each scenario painful to watch in a way that’s radically different from what the series intended. The descent into faux darkness is compounded by a deeply unsatisfying resolution to the Trigon threat that is absurdly simplistic and far too reliant on unconvincing special effects, further limiting any chance the show had at reaching a meaningful conclusion with this arc.
Though Titans begins by serving up reheated leftovers from season 1, it at least makes an effort to cook up something fresh for the second season. Much of that comes in the form of Dick’s efforts to clean up his act, and to deal with his emotions toward his dead family and the surrogate father he recently shunned. This brings Game of Thrones’ Iain Glen into the fold as a surprisingly sedate Bruce Wayne. Though he doesn’t appear particularly weary, Glen’s plays Wayne as a little older, a little wiser, and more open toward forgiveness and acceptance than viewers may be used to seeing from the Dark Knight.
It’s perhaps the most interesting thing Titans has done so far with its various re-imaginings of famous (and not-so famous) DC Comics characters. As an added bonus, this one actually delivers a substantial result by opening the door for Dick and the others to step out of the darkness and literally into a new home. There’s little doubt the series won’t darken again soon enough, as the hour also makes time to introduce Deathstroke (Esai Morales), after Jason Todd (Curran Walters) announces “Titans are back, b*tches!” on a local news station. But with any luck, Titans season 2 will find Dick and the rest of the new Titans responding to their foe’s reemergence by acting like heroes, rather than once again becoming what they’re fighting.
Titans season 2 premieres Friday, September 6, exclusively on DC Universe.