Titans – Season 1 Episode 9
“Hank and Dawn”
The backstories of Hank Hall and Dawn Granger are revealed, detailing the past trials and tribulations the pair were put through that led to them donning the outfits and masks of their vigilante alter egos Hawk and Dove.
Seriously: What? The? Hell?
Right at the moment that Titans got itself under control and was about to launch into an actual linear story that may well have been both exciting and compelling – and that was left on a cliffhanger moment – it’s been decided that this would be a perfect moment to jump into another side story. I know that many people have been enjoying this series a lot more than me for reasons I won’t ever understand, but I doubt that even the most die-hard of its fans were clamouring for an episode devoted entirely to an origin story for two characters who really weren’t all that interesting first time around and who had barely enough presence to carry scenes in an episode titled after them. It’s a frustrating imbalance to accept, especially since objectively Hank and Dawn might actually be the best episode of the series so far.
The events are completely self-contained, with only a few moments taking place in the present and no attempt made to link them to the main series story, aside from a few scenes seeing Rachel attempting to contact Hank through reflective surfaces seen in the memories. These go nowhere, do nothing, and don’t even make it clear how or why Rachel is doing it, especially since when we last saw her Kory was about to break her neck. All in all, it’s a little ironic that the least compelling moments of the episode are the ones that attempt to directly tie it to the main narrative. Aside from those occurrences, the episode on its own is a superbly and sensitively written one, portraying a number of very human issues that many people have had to deal with, vigilantism only being seen briefly and superpowers completely absent.
The story starts with the stories of Hank and his younger brother Don (Elliot Knight), the original Dove both here and in the comics when the duo were used as representations of the opposing ideals on the necessity of war. Don is the more reasoning and rational of the two and less likely to wade into danger unprovoked, but is also someone who Hank has always felt like he needs to protect, seen early and in a highly sinister way by keeping him away from a school PE teacher whose demeanour radiates nauseating paedophilic undertones, instead accepting the abuse himself. A throwaway line about them having different fathers justifies the contrasting ethnicities of the two, and shows how easy it is for such mismatches to be sidestepped if the right actor is otherwise good for a role.
When they’re kicked out of college for starting a flight in a library, they decide to go after convicted paedophiles housed in the same area they live, reasoning that people who abuse children will go down much easier than the hulks on an American football field Hank previously faced. People with anger issues generally require something to channel them, since without that outlet it ends up exploding at unpredictable moments, and if Hank needs something to direct his otherwise unfocused rage, then there are worse ideas than aiming it like a guided missile against people who deserve it.
Meanwhile, Dawn is introduced as a ballerina whose mother (Marina Sirtis) keeps returning to an abusive relationship, making excuses for her abuser and blaming the actions of herself and others for his outbursts of violence. The language used is all too familiar to anyone who has heard similar stories – be it from fiction or real life – and equally aggravating to watch someone willingly condemn themselves to the role of a permanent victim.
The four meet after literally bumping into each other at a news stand where headlines immortalise Hank and Don’s exploits, then Dawn’s mother and Don are both suddenly killed in a vehicle collision when a truck careers onto the pavement. It’s a completely random and unpredictable occurrence, and this is precisely the point. Not every death that informs a character’s development needs to be the result of some great conspiracy or earth-shattering event; sometimes we lose people in as a result of incidents completely without significance to others, and that’s all there is to it. “It’s not fair that it wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Dawn later comments during a survivors’ meetup. Not having somebody to blame for the death of a loved one is a cruel mockery of the event’s meaninglessness, leaving you with nothing towards which you can direct your anger and not able to do anything but pick up the pieces of your shattered life and try to move on.
Hank and Dawn spending time together and their subsequent attraction and eventual hooking up is not based on the blind lust or co-dependent personalities that TV shows typically use to thrust people together, but rather their mutual need to know that someone understands the torrent of conflicting emotions raging in their head, and feel some reciprocal empathy from someone who actually understands what it is they’re going through, allowing them to feel something other than the cold emptiness hollowing out their insides.
After Dawn discovers Hank and Don’s extra-curricular activities, he tells her what happened to him as a young boy, explaining that if he had gone after the teacher “It would make it all real.” She makes the decision for him, forcing him to come after her and they end up killing the man together, even after he gives her the choice to leave and not take any responsibility. It’s a dark and uncompromising moment, and while there aren’t many people who would feel much sympathy for a child molester being beaten to death, the mutual decision provides a strong foundation for everything they’ll have done going forwards.
The themes of people doing what they can to overcome pasts of tragedy and abuse are important and significant, and the experiences portrayed are ones with which many viewers with be familiar and so can personally relate to. This is exactly the kind of story that should have been left for a potential spinoff series where the whole focus of events would have been on the two characters, and so would have become an integral part of that story and not tangential to this one, and so would not by definition have been an unwelcome distraction from what was just about to become a compelling development.
Taken by itself, Hank and Dawn is a poignant meditation on survival, loss, and what we do in order to reach a point where we can move past the awful things that have happened to us. However, its positioning right now in the current series of Titans is wholly inappropriate, making it an unwelcome interruption of a crucial turning point in the narrative that seriously distracts from what would have otherwise been a highly recommendable piece of television.
- The convincing portrayal of grief and loss
- The sensitive inclusion of difficult subjects
- The focus on the human aspects of the story
- The far better characterisation of Hank and Dawn
- The appalling timing of the episode
- Rachel’s distracting appearances
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