Titans has never
looked more gothic than it does in `Souls` which could be a pilot for a
spin off series. We left poor Tim Drake last episode after he’d been shot by
Crane and this episode opens with him on an old fashioned steam train being
bothered by an especially aggressive conductor. Also on this train is Donna Troy
who of course died at the end of last season. Before long Hank turns up with a car as the other two escape the train and head into a snowy forest. We’re in a
monochrome afterlife which makes a nice change to the usual grim Gotham
streets. It’s best not to examine too closely just how any of this can happen-
especially when they discover they can dream up weapons to fight off shadowy
ghouls- and go with it. As well as being visually interesting this episode also contains some great character beats and given the subject matter some humour as
well. Just listen to the song playing when Hank draws up- `Living on a Prayer`!
This is intermingled with Rachel who is trying to bring Donna back to life on
Paradise Island and it’s great to see so many characters back again.
There’s also a more sombre sub plot suggesting Bruce Wayne
intends to commit suicide by burning down his holiday villa (I hope it’s his!)
only to be rescued at the last moment by Donna. Whether as strong willed a
character as Bruce would really be driven to such an extreme act is something
fans have debated since this episode first appeared last year. I feel the
writers are trying to add something fresh to a character who has had so much
written for him over the decades and find a new way to present him. It’s not a
Batman series per se so surely they are entitled to push the envelope with
Bruce? The push and pull of accepting
fate and fighting against it runs through the episode whose script by Richard
Hatem contains just the right balance of serious and funny, light and heavy.
The look of the episode particularly impresses and those ghouls are such good
monsters I’m hoping we may see them again.
“I’m running out of ideas. Resorting to bad ones” says
Dick Grayson and he could easily be quoting from the script meeting for this
episode! `Troubled Water` is an attempt to show a city wide descent into
chaos when you don’t have the budget to actually show it as a film might. So
many of the problems that emerge from thousands of people drinking the strange water
that’s got into Gotham’s systems come via serious looking people reporting the happenings to Commissioner Gordon. Yet despite the city being sealed off and apparent
mayhem everywhere there is a place where Barbara and Dick can go for a quiet
While the citizens have been warned that it is the Titans
who are ruining the city they are polite enough to attack one at a time when
facing our heroes in a somewhat oddly placed confrontation at a skateboard
park. The editing seems all over the place in this episode as we don’t see Rachel
till the end and Donna is waylaid by a wholly unnecessary `training` exercise
to see if she’s ready to come back from the dead even though she’s just come
back from the dead. Where is the similarly risen Tim Drake in all this? Or the
just saved Bruce? Well, nobody even mentions them! As for Dick’s plan to get
the Commissioner to be seen to arrest the Titans and then for them to carry on
under the radar, it was never going to work.
The series is trying to create interesting developments
but doing so either too obviously or without any reason at all. For example,
Barbara is arrested for shooting a corrupt cop who directly disobeyed her
orders so why is that wrong? She saved an innocent person from being shot! You have to see why Crane is looking so
pleased with himself – his scattershot plan has somehow worked because he has
the script writers on his side! The progress of various characters in this
episode has not even been thought through- people show up in all sorts of places
randomly without a clear indication of how and why. Or else they don’t show up
at all. “Welcome to Crane Manor” declares our villain at the end settling into the leather sofa at Wayne’s no former abode
as Jason slashes a portrait of Bruce and `Back to Black` starts playing. I know
this series takes leaps into the dark at times and sometimes appears to make
little sense but this episode has to take the biscuit on that score. Witty
title, shame about the storyline.
The very odd thing about this season is how it zips all
over the place and its slippery qualities are both appealing but also frustrating.
Jason’s story arc has oscillated between him being a willing participant in
Crane’s mayhem to being appalled by what he’s done. The only problem with that
is that these reactions switch in the space of a minute to suit some dramatic
moment. In `The Call is coming from Inside the House` we see him goading
Grayson into a meet to `settle this one and for all` while revelling in the
chaos across the city. Yet when Dick is shot by one of his supporters Jason is
horrified to see it unfold. Which would be fine except we’ve been through this
story at least twice before this season. Surely a way could have been found to
gradually increase Jason’s doubts and fears as matters escalated? Instead, you
feel as if the characters are just being moved like chess pieces to fulfil
story beats regardless of any logic.
Much of the episode is spent with people wandering around
the city looking for ways to deal with what has happened. Tim has popped up again
and we visit his `secret headquarters`, a cellar full of tech that nobody from
that part of the city would be able to afford, When his mum says she thought
they kept food down there (in other words she has no idea a large room in her
house is full of scanners, computers and suchlike) its another credulity
defying moment! Equally unlikely is the way that Starfire’s visions are used to
propel the character through new developments. There’s a laboriously spelt out
flashback in which we learn she didn’t really have powers on her home planet,
instead Blackfire’s were given to her and this is interesting material to work
on but then moments later she is shot by a crazy and gains new powers which,
she suddenly realises, she had all along.
To be enjoyed though are Crane’s big scenes in which he vacillates
over whether to kill an unfortunate pizza delivery guy (they get a terrible
time in American dramas- I really want to see a superhero who also delivers
pizza one day!). This refusal to directly take action and rely on others is an
interesting concept and Vincent Karthesier earns his money with a bold
performance showcasing the ugly side of the character. For me this should be
the trigger that makes Jason change his mind but he's not here to see it. I
suppose it could be that different actors were unavailable due to pandemic
restrictions and that’s what gives this season a fractured appearance?
The next episode `Prodigal` actually does a better job at drawing some of the disparate story strands together to create something of a momentum towards the finale. Dick becomes the fifth (!) character this season to come back from the dead using that gooey Lazarus pool as did Jason back at the start. The scenes inside this strange place are well mounted with a sense that Dick is really fighting his own demons. The sisters’ story also has a surprise fork in the road as a lovelorn Superboy finally gets a decent plot trajectory destroying Blackfire’s only chance to get back home which she has decided she wants to do after hearing of her destiny. And even Gar gets more to do albeit turning into a giant green bat for the positively surreal elevation of Dick’s body. There is still a whiff of convenience about these plots but at least they are coming together as the resurrected Dick convinces Jason to help even though telling him he’ll never be a Titan again. Or so he says. With this series absolutely nothing is certain.
The problem the show now has is that the characters have
become invincible. While mortals die by the handful, our heroes always seem to
find a way to come back even from terminal injury and this reduces the tension.
Will they make it through? It doesn’t matter because those that don’t will
be resurrected somehow. I suppose this is in keeping with comic strip hyperbole
where every gesture is bright and bold,
each plot designed more to keep the title going than anything. The writers are
trying to make points here about bravery, sacrifice and heroism, taking a
microscope to the life of superheroes. Yet these points are fleeting and I feel
that if the plots were less crowded they could be made more easily. Sometimes-
and it may be due to production issues for all we know- the obvious is missed.
The scene where Dick re-appears before Jason is one example of how sometimes
the show is underwritten whereas Tim’s lengthy explanation as to why he wants
to stay and fight is thought through.
`Purple Rain` has
some well- staged moments and brings together the plot elements well enough but
seems to lack a tension that you’d expect from a season finale. There should be
at least one- and preferably several- scenes where the Titans’ plan looks like
its not going to work yet there really aren’t any. Instead the plan is hatched,
plays out more or less as planned leaving a generous fifteen minutes at the end
for sundry goodbyes and look forwards. That said, the resolution does utilise
the multiple concepts that have been spread across the season, the way the
Lazarus pool is used being particularly inventive and ending up creating the
purple rain of the title.
It’s a quieter climax after all the fireworks with only a
token number of fight scenes inside Wayne Manor and a visual extravaganza over
the city. The ideas strain the budget so a sequence where people wake up which
would have more emotional strength if it were whole crowds is reduced to a
handful of citizens. And I can’t see why Crane delays exploding more than his
first bomb and instead spends his time watching old war films and quoting
poetry. He’s been an odd villain, lacking in physical or mental strength yet at
the same time managing to scheme his way into taking control of the police
force and the city. Not to take anything away from Vincent Kartheiser’s
performance which has been stand out. Many an antagonist in this sort of show
delivers a mannered performances but the
actor channels the genuinely crazy and
is off the leash in a manner that is always great to watch. However, I should also acknowledge that accusations of inappropriate on set behaviour were levelled against him last year though these are disputed. So many talented actors seem to come with personal flaws it seems and the list is getting longer.
Overall though I feel this has been weaker than the first two seasons. I can see why the producers and writers didn’t want to repeat the
formula but moving all the action to Gotham has turned it into a series that
the budget can barely manage. It's also been overpopulated with regular
characters whose storylines are never given enough space. There are repeated
themes about cowardice, reputation as well as mentor and pupil issues but too
often they are repetitive so characters never truly develop. Titans is
still a very watchable series but needs to sharpen its storytelling and live
within its means to really become essential.