Continuing my bit of DC focus, I rewatched the first season of Titans and finally got around to the second season. As I’ve said before, I really liked Titans, and the second season proved to be even better. The first episode of the new season neatly wraps up the cliffhanger from the first season, and we step back from the brink of becoming a bit too dark and edgy just in time to lead into another twelve episodes that show the team growing into a found family, only to be shattered by lies and secrets from Dick Grayson’s past, with the individual members of the team left to decide just how valuable saving this new family of choice is.
More specifically, with the Trigon arc concluded, we have a few different story arcs that wind together over this season:
- Rachel continues to grow in power, having evolved further in the wake of defeating Trigon, and she must learn how to come to terms with the darkness within her;
- Dick brings the team together, along with Jason Todd (on a bit of a Bat-probation) and new metahuman stray Rose, to form the Titans–or rather, to reform the team, we learn;
- In a series of flashbacks, we learn more about what happened to the original Titans when they crossed paths with Deathstroke, and why it led to the dissolution of the group;
- Deathstroke returns on the scene and charts a diabolical path to take down the new Titans;
- Hawk/Hank and Dove/Dawn struggle with the return of the team, with their relationship, and with Hank’s addiction;
- Kory, memories restored, attempts to avoid becoming entangled in the royal politics of Tamaran; and
- Conner, clone of Lex Luthor and Clark Kent, escapes from Cadmus and brings the Titans into the organization’s sights when he crosses paths with the team.
There’s a lot more going on besides. I didn’t say anything about how Wonder Girl or Beast Boy fit into all that, for instance, or the critical parts that Rose and Jericho play! It’s amazing that the show manages to give the increasingly large ensemble cast room to breathe. Dick, Jason, Rachel, Kory, Garfield, Donna, Hank, Dawn, Rose, Conner, and Jericho all have several opportunities to display full personalities and internal lives (though I’d peg Dick and Rachel as the central protagonists, with their mentor/mentee relationship continuing to be a core element of the show). And there’s a lot of hyper-violent, brutal action scenes throughout on top of that! (While there are several great fight scenes this season, my particular favorite was a relatively low-stakes one in which Hawk, at a low point, is fighting in cage matches for cash, all choreographed to DMX’s “Party Up.”)
Once more, the show did make some choices that felt a little too grimdark, but overall the balance between darkness, violence, and heart continued to be carefully maintained, perhaps more so than the first season. They did take some of the characters to some very dark places, and it’s clear that while there’s still a continued draw from comic book storylines and prior incarnations of the characters in other media, the show’s creators also want to do something new. While I can certainly pick out some of the storylines and character traits taken from other sources, I’m not enough of a comics nerd to know, for instance, if the places they take Beast Boy this season have any clear analogue to a comics arc. (The Beast Boy arc is an example of something going uncomfortably dark for a while.)
This season offered more of a glimpse of a larger world of superheroes, supervillains, and metahumans. This still came mostly in the form of small teases, but as the team has grown, all their immediate connections have brought in an increasing variety of characters and concepts. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get the sense of a living, vibrant world packed with superpowered adventures happening just off-screen, but to be fair, I already get plenty of that in Young Justice (and that is one of the reasons why it’s my favorite DC show).
My favorite character was once more Jason Todd. He’s given more emotional complexity and vulnerability over the course of this season, and it’s clear that he’s never stopped feeling like an orphaned outcast. The show takes him on an interesting journey. By the end of the season, he’s reached a point, much like Dick, where the Robin identity doesn’t really work for him.
I was also fascinated by what the show has done with Bruce Wayne, here portrayed by Iain Glen. While the first season gave us glimpses of Batman in Robin’s worst nightmares, we see the real Bruce on several occasions this season, but never suited up. This Bruce is older–Glen’s 59, and Brenton Thwaites is 31, giving the actors and their characters an age difference that approximates that of a real parent-child relationship. That age difference works well as the show teases out elements of their background and relationship; Dick realizes over the course of the show that Bruce was at least subconsciously doing his best to reach out and create a family for the two, even though the former Robin remembers much of their years together in a decidedly darker light. They have an awkward reconciliation of sorts over the course of the season, but the Bruce Wayne of Dick’s imagination proves to be a consistent influence in the latter half, with Dick hallucinating the man’s mocking presence in a variety of high-stress situations, providing some very surreal and absorbing television.
I’m pleased to see that Titans continues to find ways to distinguish itself among all the other DC productions out there. Its special blend of elements would be welcome for many more seasons.