Titans – Season 1 Episode 1
Titans is the first scripted show to air on new streaming platform DC Universe, and adds another to the informal set of dimensions in which the publisher’s properties are being adapted, existing as it does outwith the DCEU, the Arrowverse and whatever pocket reality Gotham takes place in. The Teen Titans are a supergroup of young heroes with an ever-revolving roster (here it consists of Robin, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy) although at the point this first episode begins the team isn’t yet even an idea. Instead, we get leisurely introductions to three of the four central characters, the latter only appearing in a glorified post-credits scene.
First is troubled teenager Rachel (Teagan Croft), haunted by nightmares and periodically hallucinating a J-horror jump scare in her own reflection. Isolated and friendless, and living in a house crammed full of crosses, crucifixes and religious iconography, things get even worse when the woman it turns out is not actually her mother is executed in front of her by a man referred to only as the Acolyte (Jarreth J Merz). He’s one of those irritating villains who talks entirely in cryptic proclamations absent any elaboration, and by the episode’s end he’s stated enough to establish him as some kind of holy warrior who – seeing himself as a hero as any religious crusader does – believes that killing Rachel will save the world from a great evil. This throws up some distinct possibilities of what’s planned for her since it seems that exactly who she is will be the focal point of the series, but I’ll avoid mentioning them for now in case of pre-emptive spoilers. Anyway, the sudden and rather satisfying explosion of her demonic reflection taking over and liquefying his lungs soon puts paid to the attempted ritual murder, but there are doubtless more where he came from. Also, since Rachel seemed unaware of her dark side coming out, the implication seems to be for her to have the potential to go villainous without realising it.
Then there’s Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), a Detroit police officer and secretly Robin, the former sidekick of Batman. Maintaining his former vigilante life, he interrupts a drug deal with the intention of meting out justice on a child abuser who escaped punishment. Rather than the agility and acrobatics that Robin’s fighting style is typically portrayed as, he instead utilises a combination of street brawling and blind fury, as though a well of rage and anger is fuelling his strength. Perhaps his declaration of “Fuck Batman” was a little far, but it firmly establishes Dick’s primary motivation in starting a new life as efficiently as his later statement that he left his previous ‘partner’ due to becoming too much like him. However, rather than simply incapacitating the anonymous thugs, he then continues to cripple and mutilate them, which would suggest that he didn’t leave the life of the Dark Knight’s protégé in time and has become even more extreme. As a detective, he’s given a new partner in Amy Rohrbach (Lindsey Gort), who is a comics import of one of Blüdhaven’s few non-corrupt officers, with the setup being not entirely dissimilar to Dick’s development in the comics after he leaves behind the Robin identity and becomes Nightwing, which may well be an end point of his personal character arc for the season.
Over in Austria, an exotic, green-eyed, fuchsia-haired beauty (Anna Diop) awakes after a car crash and is immediately set upon by armed thugs. After escaping and realising she has lost her memory, she takes the name Kory Anders from one of her multiple passports, discovers that she is apparently rich enough to have an entire hotel floor to herself and has been involved in some shady goings on with sinister men in black leather jackets, led by one Konstantin Kovar (Mark Antony Krupa). In the comics he is the father of a Russian superhuman codenamed Red Star, but given his swift death by immolation it seems a rather arbitrary use of a character with potential relevance, unless Kory’s as-yet-unspecified past with him will become more significant in forthcoming episodes.
Although amnesia is such a hackneyed plot device it’s almost impossible to take it seriously any more, in this instance it actually works quite well. As all of Kory’s scenes are from her perspective, we learn things about her at the same rate she herself does, and it’ll be interesting to see just how much of her comics history will be incorporated. Most specifically, whether or not she’s an exiled alien princess or simply a powerful metahuman, and exactly how she is involved in the search for Rachel, along with which side she’s on.
The great thing about the episode’s development is that it presumes no familiarity with the characters, so someone coming to the show with no prior knowledge of who they are would be able to follow the story as much as a long-time fan intimately familiar with their comics histories. Ironically, the largest piece of character backstory – that Dick’s parents were circus acrobats killed by a fall during a performance – is the one thing that most viewers are likely to already know about. There are aspects that comics readers will be able to infer, such as the hotel concierge being coy about supplying men to satiate Kory’s sexual appetite or Kory Anders being the closest Western name you’ll get to Koriand’r, but any such detail is tertiary to proceedings and is merely a bonus for those who pick up on it. The leads are each perfectly serviceable in portraying the dominant character traits of their respective roles – Dick brooding, Kory adaptable and Rachel vulnerable – but there’s not been enough opportunity yet for them to establish any real nuances.
One main point that detracts from the episode is the lack of focus. While the overarching mystery surrounding Rachel’s origin is interesting enough, much of the action revolves around each of the three featured protagonists dealing with an inconsequential one-shot villain that pushes things forwards very little. This is why premiere episodes are sometimes double bills; one episode to get things going and another to actually progress the plot and keep you interested, something that would have been quite effective in this case.
Another slightly distracting aspect of the episode is its inability to decide exactly what kind of show it is, as each character seems to be in a story from a different genre. Dick is the detective in a crime drama, Kory is dumped into the middle of an espionage thriller, Rachel is stumbling through a horror movie, and although only briefly seen, Gar (Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), seen in a scene tacked on at the end stealing computer games as a shapeshifted tiger) is the featured presence in an offbeat comedy. While it gives some contrast to the different situations in which each respective character finds themselves at the episode’s commencement, it does raise the question of exactly what kind of story we’ll be getting once they inevitably come together.
As premiere episodes go, the redundantly and somewhat inaccurately titled Titans is a compelling if slightly ponderous beginning that gives us a decent idea of what kind of characters we’ll be following, if not so much why we should care. Now that the scene has been set, hopefully the next episode will go further into establishing what the actual story of the series is going to be.
- an engaging mystery
- solid performances
- plotlines not relying on comics knowledge
- gruesome use of Raven’s power
- confusion of what kind of show it’s trying to be
- the slow pacing
- the little sense of the principal plot
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