`Atonement` brings us back to the present as Dick’s confession to everyone about what really happened causes a parting of the ways leaving only Gar. Trusted to look after the still unconscious Conner we have a lighter interlude as Gar tries to keep himself occupied with positive thoughts, healthy eating and reading classic literature to the sleeping stranger. His positivity lasts all of a few days and then Conner wakes up. Eager to fill him in on the role of a superhero, Gar takes him outside only for Connor to misunderstand the fundamentals and take on a whole squad of police! Ryan Potter has been left on the sidelines in recent episodes so it’s good to see him exercising his comedic side again and the scenes between Gar and the baffled Conner are great fun. It’s good too that at least one person still maintains a sunnier outlook on the Titans and believes they ultimately do good which counter balances the older members angst this week.
Meanwhile we follow Hank and Dawn as they
settle back in the cottage and even indulge in some karaoke. It is quite
impressive if it really is the actors singing, of this was another era there’d have
been a single released. However reality soon creeps back when the sister of
Ellis, the boy they helped who was taken over by Dr Light, threatens them. It’s
an unsettling moment because she has no powers except her grief. This proves to
be something of a theme to the episode which might have been better titled
`Damage` because nobody really gets the atonement they need. Spooked by the
warning, Hank drives off. Whenever these two characters are on screen together they
have a lovely chemistry. Minka Kelly is one of those actors who can convey so
much with subtlety while Alan Richson’s versatility adds much to Hank’s
Kory is having problems of her own- her sister has taken her crown and now tries to trick her into returning home. I do find the machinations of this planet we’ve never seen less interesting perhaps because we haven’t seen it. I suppose it would cost too much to set an episode on another world entirely but it might make the audience feel more for this plot. Even so Anna Diop’s presence ensures it remains watchable as she sees through her sister’s plans.
The episode also follow’s Dick’s somewhat surprising visit to Jericho’s mother. Here the writers seem less sure of what he wants than they are of the sharp response he gets from Adeline (Mako Nguen, excellent). It’s a shocker to Dick and to us that Slade himself in the next room albeit looking rather worse for wear after the recent combat. I like the fact he seems weary and satisfied he’s separated the Titans but leaves a threat for the future. There’s also a big clue that neither Dick nor this viewer spotted at the time even though in retrospect the camera does draw our attention to it. Not sure though why Dick gets himself arrested at the end or why he didn’t just fly to Greenland as he intended. It’s a curious end to an episode that asks awkward questions about heroics and betrayal but doesn’t quite know how to answer them.
Having the team splinter is a good idea in some ways otherwise it could end up as `mission of the week`, and it enables a wider selection of stories. However, it is equally repetitive if it sticks to the team splits, then team reforms they splits again groove. It is also difficult to see why everyone had the same response to Dick’s confession. Donna for example had been all for using Jericho yet suddenly she hates the whole thing. And surely if it was Deathstroke who killed his own son- albeit accidentally- after Jericho tried to save Dick why is this something Dick has to feel is his fault? It surely showed that even if the Titans had been using Jericho at first there was a real friendship there or else why would the boy have put himself in harm’s way. He knew he’d initially been used but still made his choice. I don’t know why Dick would hide that fact in any case. Anyway, if Dick really did want to be on his own, he could just have stayed in Titans Tower!
I’m no expert on the American justice system but I would be surprised if someone could be arrested, processed, tried, sentenced to seven years and transported to the facility in the space of 24 hours!! Unless there’s some time differences between the storylines in `Fallen` that is what appears to happen to Dick. There is even a scene where we see his record on screen and it says `awaiting trial` so why are we told he’s been sentenced? Even if that caption is just to tell us his potential sentence would someone awaiting trail really be taken away to such a high security prison? So the day after Conner’s rampage Gar is still phoning Dick unaware of the velocity with which the latter has been catapulted into prison.
And what a prison it is. The writers may be on solid ground with superhero shenanigans but when it comes to gritty incarceration drama they are less sure footed. There’s lots of menacing immigrants, sadistic guards, sweaty threats, hidden knives, shady looks and an escape plan; all that’s missing is a shower scene! Yet the viewer knows this is just one of those diversions series like this use to pad out an episode when they want to keep a character away from the main action for a while. There is a potentially interesting conversation about a flying superhero one of the immigrants thinks will help them but it is difficult to understand why Dick is putting himself through this. On the one hand he no longer cares about himself believing he has to atone for past acts yet he does enough to keep himself alive. Then he helps the immigrants escape. It’s hard to see where the storyline is going because sooner or later the writers will have to find a way to get him released which is liable to be just as ridiculous as the way he is incarcerated.
Luckily the other main action is more involving. Conner is on the run and eventually, thanks to Krypto, Gar finds him and takes him back to Titans Tower only for both of them to be whisked away by Cadmus’ Mercy Graves. This episode sets her up as the potential Big Bad for the latter part of the season as she has an evil plan (we don’t hear it but she does an Evil Plan Face) involving Gar. Natalie Gumede does well in a role that isn’t the best written but she sells it anyway. Good work from Ryan Potter here too with some steel showing as he stands up to Mercy. At this juncture Gar seems to be the only one who still believes in the Titans.
Meanwhile Rachel is eating at soup kitchens, doing her own slightly safer version of hiding away, where she meets another girl called Dani whom she ends up helping by scaring her nasty father. This has a disturbing turn as, unseen by Rachel, some of her weird black energy stuff flies off on it’s own and causes a stone gargoyle to come alive and fillet the hapless man. So basically she’ s not as in control as she thinks. We also see Donna who’s looking for Rachel and gets back to the tower to find the damage done by Cadmus’ earlier raid. Or maybe she just thinks Gar and Conner threw a particularly wild party. Essentially a holding episode, `Fallen` is not without its moments and includes a neat throwback to last season but lacks the vigour of earlier segments.
The following episode `EL_O` is as curious as it’s title. Donna, Rachel, Kory and Dawn all find themselves in a diner in the middle of nowhere either by way of a message or circumstances. Someone has clearly drawn them all here and that someone turns out to be Bruce Wayne. He’s here to give them a pep talk about getting back together but it only partly works. Donna and Dawn go off to look for Gar while Kory and Rachel set about freeing Dick. There’s a large whiff of theatricality about this episode which features locales more like film sets than real places. The gaudily lit Fifties style diner, an elaborately decorated hotel, the grand curtained house and a school gym all feature and let’s face it, even Dick’s isolation cell looks like stage set. With dream sequences set in a smoke filled monochrome graveyard and Jason reciting lines from the song `Somewhere` to Rose it becomes clear this is the aesthetic of the thing. We even have an imagined fight between Dick and Bruce played out under stage lights.
Jason and Rose have been staying in someone else’s house and in an attempt to be more honest Jason shows her where he lived- in the rafters of the school gym watching “thespians living their best lives.” It’s a neat idea that touch Jason likes the theatre and helps open up the character quite a bit. Jason and Rose seem to make a well suited couple but knowing this show it won’t last long and sure enough we later learn Rose has been working for her father but now wants out.
See what was bugging me is why Jericho didn’t transfer into his father at that moment in the church and why the scene was handled in such a perfunctory manner with no shot of the immediate aftermath. Now apparition Bruce is bugging Dick about the very same thing. It’s all quite cryptic but when Kory and Rachel power their way into the prison to rescue him Dick has gone but he’s left a message- Jericho is still alive. Yikes. Does that explain the missing letter in the title then? EL_O have a song called `Living Thing`!
I’m still not sure about the timeline of this episode but we’re led to believe Dick has been in solitary confinement for several days. The other shock is some brain surgery going on in Cadmus with Gar who is seemingly being programmed to turn into a lethal tiger when a certain piece of classical music plays. The direction in this episode is amongst the best in the series so far- the imaginary fight between Dick and Bruce and the scene where the tiger mauls one of the scientists are gritty in the extreme. Contrasting that there is a magical feeling at times, notably the way the Elko diner is framed and the elaborate interiors.
`Faux Hawk` feels a bit like a compilation of bits left out earlier on. We travel about a lot- back in time for Rose’s origin story then present day as she reveals her prior duplicity to Jason. There’s Mercy testing Gar and there’s Robin who pops up back at Chez Wilson. There’s Dawn and Donna searching for Gar too and there’s Kory and Rachel arguing. The former seems to be losing her powers which seems an element too many to be shoving into the climax of the season. It’s all a bit disjointed and if there is a common theme it’s that the truth finally catches up with you but the way this is presented feels strange. Robin (and we) now know Jericho is still alive and we see a very odd scene of him and his father inside his father’s head.
Hank, who has become a cage fighter (!) starts to realise what he has left behind after a teenager steals his costume and robs a laundry! Mercy takes Gar out to test his tiger feet and teeth on real victims but why would she do that I wonder? Things that would have worked better had they been shown earlier on are languishing this late in the season while the plot elements we might be more interested in at this point are left out. I can see why the Rose material had to be left but it feels too late in the day for the detail of it to make much difference. We don’t find out how Dick actually escaped, or what is happening with Connor or whether the multitude of Kory’s people are any closer to getting here to threaten her- maybe her failing powers are a clue that they are. It feels like they left out potentially more interesting material.
What does elevate these scenes though is the committed performances. Alan Richton is especially good this episode and the tension between Rose and her father is well played by Chelsea Zhang and Esai Morales. Best of all though the scene that stands out is when Jason reacts to Rose’s confession and their promising relationship is brought to a sudden end. Here is an honest argument as Jason finds he is betrayed again and Rose is genuinely sorry and wishes she could take it all back. I think this would all have been far more effective had she explained the whole thing to him in the one simple scene- for once tell rather than show would have had much more dramatic impact. The chemistry between the two actors is palpable and they play this from their hearts. The episode still leaves some doubt as to what side Rose will ultimately take though.
The other thing of course is the Nightwing costume which we almost see and which when this was first shown in late 2019 had the fans freaking out! Knowing next to nothing about comic strip lore I at least knew Robin was about take on a new identity. Yet hearing that Bruce Wayne had commissioned the suit had me thinking- and not for the first time- why doesn’t he take a more proactive role in helping the Titans rather than just coaxing them?
`Nightwing` provides a somewhat underwhelming finale suffering uneven pacing and some odd story decisions which means it isn’t quite the stunner it could be. There’s a confrontation with Deathstroke in which the newly besuited Robin as Nightwing and Rose take him on. However there are other Titans sitting in a car who stay where they are. This will not be the last time the episode seems to have people hanging back when normally they would power into the fight. After all the build- up this battle proves to be merely an appetiser for the main event when the Titans have to take on Conner and Gar, both of whom are spreading mayhem under the control of Mercy while assorted billionaires bid for them. Only Rose doesn’t turn up to this one for some reason and with Kory having mysteriously lost her powers its left to the others to engage which they do one by one. The choreography of this sequence saps any impact it may have as people take turns to fight when this should be an all out battle-fest!
There are a few unexpected elements especially when Rachel enables Dick to enter Conner’s mind and it’s a symbolic sequence with Conner in the dark and Dick smashing through a wall into the light. Rather like Jericho’s body hopping this is all quite convenient if unlikely. Similarly all it takes is a touch from Rachel reminding Gar of their past times and his tiger feet are becalmed again. It works ok but it would be more rewarding if the writers could come up with some more inventive ideas to win the day. Then after the battle is over there is an equally unlikely accident that kills Donna even though Conner or Rachel could definitely save her but they’re just not there. It seems a tacked on ending to make sure the mood stays melancholy.
Unless an actor wants to leave killing off a regular character should have some purpose and I can’t see how this really pushes things forward unless it’s to show in season three how this time they don’t let the death of one of the “family” stop them. . I suppose she was chosen for the chop because she had the least storyline this time but that is the very reason why her demise will have less impact. It’s a shame because Conor Leslie is great when she gets some material. So we have some reflective scenes to fill up the last ten minutes which underline rather too repeatedly the value of families you choose rather than are born in. Perhaps there have been too angst ridden moments in previous episodes, perhaps everyone was tired by the time they made this but the episode doesn’t hang together too well and is punctuated by bizarre plot decisions. And we never get to find out how Dick escaped from that prison either!
Overall there was more good stuff than bad in season two but it probably needed a third ongoing plot to involve some lesser served characters, fewer flashbacks and more varied action. By the time you get to the finale you feel over stuffed by high kicking, fast moving fights and people falling out. More variety in plots and behaviour would make this show better because it has a strong cast and a decent budget to deliver.