This Titans review contains spoilers.
Titans Episode 4
The nerve of Titans. No, seriously. Who just drops a backdoor pilot for another series in its fourth ever episode? There is no Titans team yet. We’ve barely seen them fight crime at all, let alone do anything as a unit, and here they are introducing a whole other set of legendary DC Comics characters. What kind of show does that?!?
Well, a good one, to be honest.
I’m starting to think that by nature of Titans existing on the most specific, targeted streaming platform of them all, one that exists solely for DC Comics superfans, if certain rules simply do not apply. No, I don’t mean about overall quality of production or performance (and I must stress, the core cast of Titans is great), but I mean in terms of the kind of storytelling shorthand it can get away with. Seriously, if a show on any other network essentially hit pause on its main story in order to sneak in a backdoor pilot four episodes into its run, they’d probably (rightfully) get called out for it. But Titans exists to serve people familiar with comic book storytelling tropes, and I think what it pulls off here is something comics fans are perfectly accustomed to. Just as Titans knows that its audience is comfortable with accepting that there’s a fully functional, long-running DC Universe existing in the background of its events, it also knows that crossovers and spinoffs are second nature. They don’t need to be explained or apologized for.
It helps that “Doom Patrol” is an oddball, genuinely funny, even occasionally sweet hour of TV. After opening on a flashback to Beast Boy’s origin, we’re quickly introduced (via Rachel and Gar) to Robotman (wonderfully voiced by Brendan Fraser) and the testy big brother/little brother relationship between him and Gar becomes our window into the rest of the Doom Patrol. The only thing more fun than Robotman’s introduction is Negative Man’s (voiced by Matthew Bomer), and all of this is highlighted by more of Titans’ wonderfully chosen musical cues (AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy,” and Def Leppard’s “Let’s Get Rocked” are used to hilarious effect). If nothing else, Titans boasts the best soundtrack of any DC TV show, and it’s not even close.
And while “Doom Patrol” sounds great, it looks even better. A chief complaint of mine through the first four episodes is how the show, brilliant costumes and the occasional bit of good VFX aside, has generally looked like crap. There was a weird haze hanging over the first three episodes, and the show has had a generally murky look to it that I couldn’t quite shake. Virtually all of that seems solved here, and Titans is much easier on the eyes this week. But that’s the boring part. The exciting part is how great the actual Doom Patrol looks. Robotman is a terrific practical creation, as is Negative Man, and both are perfect translations of their comic book counterparts, particularly the Grant Morrison/Richard Case/Douglas Braithwaite era. Seeing Rita Farr (April Bowlby) brought to life is a real treat, and there are moments of genuine, Cronenbergian body horror that accompany her intro. None of these characters should work as well as they do on screen, but they sure do.
This is certainly Teagan Croft’s finest hour as Rachel so far, and as I noted in episode two, when she has someone she considers more of a peer to share screen time with, we get a much better sense of Rachel the person, rather than Raven the Destroyer of Worlds. And seriously, what a difference having Ryan Potter’s Gar Logan in the mix makes. The more we get of his interactions with Rachel the more I like both of them. I can’t wait until this team is all together and really playing off of each other, because the contrasts between these two and Robin and Starfire should make for some wonderful dynamics. And the more we see of Rachel being decidedly NOT evil, the more i get the feeling that this show is planning to at least tease us with some serious heartbreak as the season progresses.
While Dick and Kory are kind of sidelined this episode, we do get a moment that once again indicates that Dick’s behavior since episode 1 isn’t a sign that this is a darker, grittier Robin by nature, but rather that he’s acting out of character and needs to work his shit out. As it was with the infamous “fuck Batman” line, context is everything with this show. In fact, yet again I’m reminded just how badly Titans shot itself in the foot with that initial trailer and its first episode. Neither are real indicators of what this show is about, and while that was ultimately all in service of setting up Dick Grayson’s season arc, and establishing Rachel as the tragic, reluctant young hero, I do have to wonder if there would have been a way to help point at what Titans would actually feel like.
“Doom Patrol” is a really fun hour of TV. And since “fun” is the word that many early critics (myself included) didn’t think we’d be associating with Titans, this episode is yet another indicator of what this show actually is and can be. For a fan like me, the almost endless novelty of discovering a live action Doom Patrol makes up for the fact that the episode itself is little more than a diversion (after all, the Doom Patrol have their own series launching on DC Universe in 2019) intended to tease what’s next for the streaming service, but I don’t think general audiences would necessarily let them get away with it. Is it a little crass and commercial in that regard? Yes. But the utter weirdness, so perfectly in tune with the spirit of the Doom Patrol, as well as the great visuals that accompany them, make it all worthwhile. “Doom Patrol” is not only the best episode of Titans so far (and each episode has been better than the one before), it’s the best sign yet of what we can expect from the DC Universe live action shows going forward.