REVIEW: Titans, S2E4 – Aqualad

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“Aqualad” doesn’t exactly reset the progress made by the last two episodes of Titans, but it does leave the story in stagnation. Rather than follow Jason’s blood spatter down the rabbit hole, the writers take a break to explain why the team was so upset about their current villains. The introduction of Garth (guest star Drew Van Acker) doesn’t actually shed much light on Deathstroke, or Dr. Light for that matter, but it it does give Donna (Conor Leslie) the chance to shine. I’m just not sure this surprise romance was needed to make that happen.

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Garth, we hardly knew ye.

The episode jumps back to five years ago, when the Titans were comprised of Dick (Brenton Thwaites), Donna, Hank (Alan Ritchson), Dawn (Minka Kelly) and Garth. The latter, known as Aqualad, was your average fun-loving water jock who was in love with Donna. After all, who wouldn’t be? The main thrust of his story seemed to be that she wouldn’t love him back, because of her Amazonian destiny. Had there been more development in their dynamic, or had Donna previously thought about him, the fire between Wonder Girl and Aqualad might have burned a little brighter. The idea that running from Garth was enough to push her back to Diana – which was a cool shoutout to the larger universe – rang false. Almost as false as the fact that being with him was enough to keep her in town, and send her handler away satisfied.

Instead, “Aqualad” serves best as a eulogy to the innocent team that Titans once was. The hope, joy and laughter which echoed in the halls of the Tower five years ago are rarely present in the current line-up. On this front, the writers worked in enough of the various friendships to add weight to the first generation of young heroes, although the Dick-Dawn-Hank love triangle remains as murky as ever. But there was a missed opportunity here to directly connect the anxiety over Jason’s fate with the pain over Garth’s, which could have been accomplished by cutting back to the second generation throughout the hour. As it stands, it’s hard to invest in Donna’s doomed romance while worrying whether Jason is alive or Kory is home yet.

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Donna’s tainted love.

Aside from an excellent opening montage of Deathstroke killing people, reminiscent of the Thinker’s operatic murders in Season 4 of The Flash, the famous assassin doesn’t do much. First of all, his target was the Titans all along, so it doesn’t seem like their actions affect Garth’s outcome, which takes away from the tragedy instead of heightening it. The most intriguing aspect of “Aqualad” was actually the peek we got of Slade’s estranged family – specifically his son Jericho (Chella Man). It’s unclear how Dick planned to use to boy at the end of the episode, but that will certainly make for a more exciting episode in the near future. Not least because it might give a hint as to why Deathstroke is still after the Titans 5 years later, and why Rose thinks her dad killed her brother.

In the end, that just might be the biggest issue with “Aqualad.” It was more of a prequel to the showdown that eventually caused the Titans to shutter their Tower doors, not the main event itself. With all the lead-up and hints from the last few episodes, you’d expect an hour worth of flashbacks to finish telling the story instead of barely begin it.

Hopefully Titans steps up again next week and uses the backstory it mined to heighten the stakes surrounding Deathstroke. Esai Morales has done his best to paint a menacing yet complicated portrait of an assassin and would-be family man, but it would behoove the show to give him a little more screen time in which to do it.

Titans drops new episodes every Friday on DC Universe’s streaming platform.