REVIEW: Scattered Start for ‘Titans’ Still Holds Promise

Judging Titans based on the premiere alone would be a very different matter from judging it based on a handful of episodes, which is why it’s a good thing that DC UNIVERSE made three episodes available for review prior to tomorrow’s release date. The jarring tonal shifts and feeling of being adrift don’t completely disappear after the first hour, but “Hawk and Dove” and “Origins” are noticeably tighter than their predecessor. The gap is so big that I thought I would never want to see the show again after watching “Titans,” then almost wished there was another episode available after “Origins.”

More to this goth girl than meets the eye.

So let’s dive into the Titans, who at times seem to resemble their comic book counterparts in name only, with that learning curve in mind. The four protagonists begin the premiere as far from each – and from their final forms – as humanly possible. There’s Gar Logan (Ryan Potter, who could almost be dubbed Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Series) stealing DVDs in Ohio, Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites in the often thankless role of brooding hero) pulling double duty as a cop and a vigilante in Detroit, and Kory Anders (Anna Diop, giving a refreshingly light-hearted performance considering the material) waking up after a car accident with no memory outside of a girl’s photograph in Austria. The girl in question, Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft), turns out to be the emotional lynchpin of the show and the literal plot device by which these characters are drawn together.

Rachel deserves her own paragraph, because the audience investment in Titans lives or dies by their interest in Raven as a character and their assessment of Croft as an actress. Personally, I found her performance to be quite compelling, though she’s a bit green when it comes to the overly emotional scenes. The show falters, however, when it comes to effectively executing her backstory. The writers want to create a mystery surrounding who she is and why so many parties want to hurt or control her, but instead they merely create confusion. Her dreams of Grayson seem like a neon sign declaring that this is fate, for example, when it would have been more natural and believable if she had simply run into him as a victim seeking help from the police. After all, Dick is a man who can’t say no to helping others, right? He doesn’t need her to tell him that her entire life has led to this moment in order to want to protect her.

That being said, the connection between Rachel and Dick is one of the strengths of the first episode, even if the parallels between Dick’s adoption and his desire to parent Rachel were a little clunky. Part of this comes from the fuzzy quality of his flashbacks, which are happy to name drop Bruce Wayne at every given opportunity but refuse to give him a face. Batman as a failed father figure who looms over Dick’s present works in theory, but in execution it veered towards cheesy. Regardless, Thwaites drops the tough and unaffected act around Rachel, which makes their scenes stand out in a good way. Plus, it’s nice to see a teen in trouble ask for help when she needs it instead of stubbornly refusing until it’s too late.

Trust me, you’ll stan her after one scene.

Scattering the Titans to the four winds is one of the reasons the premiere has so much tonal whiplash, as it’s dizzying to witness Dick’s cop procedural turn into Rachel’s religious horror drama and then into Starfire’s spy action-adventure. Yet the Starfire scenes are some of the best of all three episodes, and that’s purely based on Diop’s take on the character. She takes a confusing storyline and a distracting outfit, and incorporates them seamlessly into a fun, classy and straight up badass woman. Of course, her story is also one where the pacing problems of Titans are the most noticeable – Why did she have to spend a week in the same clothes when traveling from Austria to Washington DC? How did she spend a year searching for Rachel then find her in one weekend while suffering from amnesia? – but it’s also where they’re easiest to ignore because Kory is just so cool.

“Hawk and Dove,” the second episode of the series, is an interesting contradiction in and of itself. It throws off the already awkward pacing by ignoring Starfire and Beast Boy completely in favor of two new heroes, but it also deepens the development for Dick and Rachel in the process. But where it helps the two protagonists, who admittedly already have more of an advantage over the other Titans, I’m not sure it does much for the title characters in question. Dawn (Minka Kelly) is immediately likeable in her role as part-time vigilante and long-suffering girlfriend, but her romantic past with Dick seems like an unnecessary addition that only serves to fill the vacant Love Triangle spot. Meanwhile, Hank (Alan Ritchson) is well-acted but written like the textbook definition of toxic masculinity, making his scenes drag more than a little. Nevertheless, there is enough emotional pull in the hour to make the episode’s cliffhanger hit home – even if it doesn’t quite set the stage for “Origins.”

Not bringing this family up, they’re that lame.

The third hour was also its strongest by far. This is mostly because there was a heavier dose of Starfire, whose level-head despite her fiery powers and off-brand humor liven up the proceedings quite a bit. Her relationship with Rachel becomes just as interesting as Dick’s, though they are very different in nature, and it’s easy to see how Titans could actually form when the three are together onscreen. Once again, Gar isn’t given much to do, but for now moving him physically closer to the rest of the cast has to be enough.

There were a few big sticking points for fans when it came to the trailers: Starfire’s outfit, Dick’s darkness, and Raven’s special effects. I’ve already addressed the first one, and I think it’s safe to say that Anna Diop’s performance is so fun and fresh that it’ll blow any thoughts of her clothing right out of your mind. As for the second one, Dick is just as dark as he appeared in the first trailer – if not moreso. It’s addressed in the script as being an issue and unlike his usual self, but it will definitely be tough to watch if you are at all squeamish. And finally, Raven’s powers are indeed rough-looking, and the supernatural moments in the story are probably some of the weakest. But if you find yourself rooting for her character and her friendships (parent-ships?) with Dick and Kory, then it’s another thing that’s easy to overlook. All in all, Titans is not quite the best DC has to offer, but it has a lot of promise once it finds its footing.

Titans drops October 12th on DC UNIVERSE.