The family slowly comes together.
Warning: The following contains full spoilers for Titans Season 3, episode 1, “Origins.“
The third episode of Titans makes it even more abundantly clear that it’s going to be a while before we see this scattered group of heroes come together as a legitimate team. This is the first time we get to see Robin, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy actually standing in the same general place, and even that only lasts a few seconds. The series is providing viewers with a real slow burn of a narrative (arguably needlessly slow at times), but one that’s proving to be rewarding all the same.
The biggest disappointment with “Origins” is the way it so abruptly abandons last week’s Hawk and Dove storyline. As it is, it felt like a strange time to introduce two more characters not intrinsically tied to this incarnation of the Titans. As much as I enjoyed Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly in those roles, this episode only further raises the question of whether there was any point to adding Hawk and Dove into the mix so soon. The good news is that at least it appears they’ll be back before Season 1 is through.
And the upside to veering away from Hawk and Dove and back to the main quartet is that the series delivers plenty more of Anna Diop’s Starfire. Diop is easily the strongest member of the cast so far. She brings a fun yet dangerous edge to a character who’s usually portrayed as sweetly, naively innocent. This is a huge departure from the source material in a lot of ways, especially with the whole amnesia angle and the fact that Kory appears to be trapped inside the body of a human woman. But these changes suit the darker, relatively more grounded tone of this universe.
Starfire really embodies the gulf between what Titans seemed to be in those early trailers and what it actually is. Her costume design invited certain assumptions about the direction of the character that, thankfully, aren’t borne out in the finished product. Maybe “Titans: Not as Bad as it Seemed” isn’t the greatest tagline, but this is definitely a case where the early advertising did the series few favors.
In addition to being an enjoyable character in her own right, Starfire seems to bring out the best in Teagan Croft’s Rachel as well. Pairing Rachel with Brenton Thwaites’ Dick early on resulted in a kind of one-note surly teenager performance that quickly wore thin. But here, Rachel and Kory quickly form their own weird little friendship, with Rachel finding a role model in Kory she clearly doesn’t see in Dick. The hope is that the small, contained cast of characters will allow the writers to really hone in on these dynamics and treat the team like a dysfunctional family. How Beast Boy will fit into that equation is very much an open question. I don’t think Ryan Potter has had more than 90 seconds of screen time across these first three episodes. There, more than anything, is where the sluggish pacing is starting to become frustrating.
One other area the series could stand to improve right now involves the depiction of Rachel’s dark side. Whether because of underwhelming makeup and special effects or just poor stylistic choices, those glimpses of the supernatural terror within don’t do much to inspire fear or dread. It’s a little surprising that a series that revels in violence and misery has so much trouble capitalizing on the supernatural horror angle. It not only hinders Rachel herself, it also works against the gradual buildup to her father’s debut. Why should we be afraid of Trigon if even Raven herself fails to inspire dread?
At least the show’s minor villains are faring better. The Nuclear Family makes for a fitting foil to our slowly gestating team of heroes, one that’s both comical and disturbing. Yet even they have a certain degree of sympathy to them, as we see them facing the prospect of death in this episode and the realization of what will happen if they fail to capture their prey next time.
This week also brought a familiar Greg Berlanti DC trope into play with a series of flashbacks centered around Dick Grayson’s chaotic early days at Wayne Manor. These scenes worked well enough, both because they added to some context to why Dick is so attached to his Porsche and because they draw parallels to Rachel’s own struggles as a newfound orphan.
That said, it’s looking as though Titans is going to do that thing I disliked so much about Supergirl Season 1, where we never see Bruce Wayne expect in muddled silhouette form. I get the logic here, just as I did with Supergirl. This is Dick’s story, not Bruce’s, and the writers don’t want to distract from that. Plus the fact that Batman is a notoriously difficult part to cast, and why go through that effort if he’s not going to be a major presence on the show? That all being said, the refusal to ever show Bruce’s face or voice is distracting, and the series would be better off downplaying the character entirely than jumping through hoops to keep him just off-camera.