After almost two years, Titans returns for a third season on an entirely new streaming service, HBO Max. A lot has happened since we last saw the Titans crew, but the overwhelmingly disappointing finale still burns in our hearts as the upcoming season begins. With the promise of a Gotham-heavy story and the introduction of Red Hood, we remain cautious about the show’s efforts to right its wrongs. Fortunately, the season premiere is a solid opening to what could be a tighter, well-rounded installment in the dark and gritty saga of DC’s superheroes.
The following contains SPOILERS for DC’s Titans Season 3.
The opening of the season wastes no time in killing Curran Walters’ Jason Todd, and although they still utilize the Joker, the show makes it clear they are separating themselves from the source material. When Jason finds out the exact location of the Clown Prince of Crime, an absent Bruce Wayne tells his sidekick that he should stand down and wait for the Batman to arrive. Of course, Jason is going to Jason, so the Robin goes after the Dark Knight’s most formidable foe by himself. That’s not before inhaling some type of drug to hype himself up before putting on the suit, a moment that will make the hardcore fans point their fingers to none other than Scarecrow. Of course, when Jason arrives to the amusement park, he falls right into the Joker’s trap and is beaten to death with a crowbar. Despite not actually showing the Joker’s face, it’s a decent portrayal of the famous death scene fans are far too familiar with.
Despite the grim opening, the show doesn’t fall back into its old ways (for once) and actually attempts to allow the Titans team to work together. The crew, led by Brenton Thwaites’ Nightwing, takes down obscure comic book villain Gizmo and has fun while doing it. Nightwing gets a few neat action beats while Beast Boy resorts to hand-to-hand combat before transforming into a Tiger. Superboy has a brief moment to show off his strength, but like Starfire, it’s clear he could take down the whole operation if the show’s budget allowed him to. Nonetheless, the team has a chance to shine for once, and Koriand’r is allowed to showcase her powerful energy blasts and forcefield. After the fight clears, it’s revealed that the superhero team has grown in popularity, and the city of San Francisco is safer than ever. Notably absent are Hawk and Dove, but that’s okay. The show has enough on its plate at this point.
Back in Gotham City, the show shifts perspective and we meet Tim Drake for the first time, played by Jay Lycurgo. The audience has the chance to see how a diehard fan of Batman reacts to the death of his sidekick, but more importantly, we get to experience this show’s version of Gotham City in a more intimate way. Drake, working at his family’s restaurant as a delivery person, experiences the less-than-ideal circumstances of living in the city of Gotham. It isn’t clear how exactly he factors into the overall narrative, but as far as character introductions go, it’s good enough to keep us interested.
Afterwards, Dick Grayson returns to the city of Gotham to confront Bruce Wayne about the death of Jason Todd. Accompanied by a surprisingly positive soundtrack, he strolls back into his old home expecting to find a grieving father. Instead, he is met with a stone-cold pillar that is incredibly detached from the reality of the situation. Although Bruce Wayne has always been portrayed as a person who bottles his emotions, Iain Glen’s version of the character turns this up a notch. In a departure from the original comic, Bruce is not only visibly unshaken by the death in the family but moved quickly put him under the ground next to Alfred. Dick rightfully questions his decision to move so quickly and positions the Titans as Jason’s family. Meanwhile, Koriand’r isn’t exactly as forgiving towards Jason’s foolish final act against Joker, but Beast Boy and Superboy mourn the loss of a friend.
Finally, living up to the episode’s title, Savannah Welch makes her debut as Barbara Gordon, the latest Commissioner of Gotham City. Her interaction with Dick builds out even more of the classic Batfamily dynamic that has been the show’s singular strength throughout every season, and Welch doesn’t disappoint as the former Batgirl. It’s clear they have a history together and their chemistry is pretty great. However, she has a slightly different view of Bruce than Dick has, one that comes from being another victim of Joker’s chess moves against Batman. This leads into the strongest scene of the episode, where Dick, Barbara, and Bruce reminisce at Wayne Manor over a few glasses of alcoholic substances. The enjoyment is short-lived when Bruce changes the subject towards a recent series of murders, which makes Barbara directly confront his emotionally dismissive ways and question his shortcomings against keeping the Joker locked up. It’s a revealing moment that is hard to disagree with, even if Dick is still disillusioned with the image of a caring father as Gotham’s protector.
Soon after, Barbara is proven right when Dick finds out Jason was creating a drug in a secret warehouse, one that Bruce Wayne was unaware of. When he investigates the issue in the Batcave, Dick finds out Bruce is already looking at a replacement for Robin, name-dropping a few familiar comic book names like Carrie Kelley and Duke Thomas. It seems almost impossible for the world’s greatest detective to not know Jason’s drug abuse, which leads Dick to theorize it was because Bruce simply didn’t care that much about Jason and perceived him as a means to an end. Bruce is evidently not taking the kid’s death well, but it’s clear he is either hiding something or truly doesn’t care for him. In a moment of desperation, Iain Glen lets out some emotion as Bruce when he asks if Dick just wants to be Robin again. The series has always had a grim outlook towards Bruce, but he meets a purely psychopathic level of denial this time around.
This scene leads to the biggest shock of the episode, and quite possibly the series as a whole. Bruce Wayne returns to Dick in the middle of the night with a bloody crowbar, but it’s not soaked Jason’s blood this time around. Yes, he’s finally caved in and killed the Joker. Bruce reveals the deed is done in a surprisingly intense scene and admits his faults to Dick, telling him it’s Nightwing’s time to protect Gotham and “be a better Batman”. Since the first season, Titans has wanted to position Batman as someone who is far crueler than any of our lead superheroes, and past his prime. This twist allows them to remove the weight of his presence in the story, even if it means sacrificing his character and morals for the benefit of the Titans team. Although it’s going to be a controversial moment, it at least shows that the series understands it needs to trim the fat and focus up.
After a dismal second-season finale, Titans returns with the promise of a series that has learned its lessons. Setting the show in Gotham allows them to further introduce characters from Batman’s canon, and the first episode juggles several plot points in a tight manner. The show seems to have found a balance in tone and Brenton Thwaites is better than ever as Dick Grayson, but time will tell Red Hood’s introduction will be a worthwhile venture for the series. With a leaner Titans team, there are promising signs they will right the show’s wrongs and focus on the stuff that matters.
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