Review - Titans Season Three Eps 9 - 13


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 drink.

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.

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