This Titans review contains spoilers.
Titans Episode 6
Titans has been a somewhat schizophrenic show through its first half, and “Jason Todd” does nothing to really dispel that impression. Among other things, it’s the second diversionary episode of the last three. We had the Doom Patrol backdoor pilot in episode 4 (which was great), followed by a “back on track” episode to get the team properly together, but here we are in episode six, allowing the team to take a backseat yet again for more of Dick Grayson’s story and the introduction of Jason Todd. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and this is another solid (if unspectacular) episode, but I have to wonder just how much the rest of the team is getting shortchanged as we’re running out of episodes.
Two things are certain right now, though. Titans is a better Dick Grayson show than it is a Teen Titans show at the moment. Titans is also a more effective “Batman without Batman” show after six episodes than Gotham has been. The shorthand that this requires, though, is something that only a show on a DC Universe streaming service can get away with. I wonder if there are too many dots to connect that are obvious to superfans that simply wouldn’t work with general audiences.
But as I’ve said about Titans before, it knows its audience, and I’m one of them. “Jason Todd” with all of its references to broader Batman mythology, deep cuts from Dick Grayson’s days with Halley’s Circus, and a new Robin filling in the blanks, somehow manages to work. While it borrows from one of the less endearing crutches of the Marvel Netflix shows, where virtually the entire first fifteen minutes of the episode are devoted to two characters explaining their respective situations to each other (and the audience), there’s still enough to keep a viewer engaged, whether it’s new elements of Dick Grayson’s history or the sheer novelty of seeing Jason Todd (played by Curran Walters) himself brought to life on screen for the first time.
Walters plays Jason with a mix of youthful exuberance that comes naturally to a teenager who believes he has just landed the coolest job in the world, as well as the underlying anger and darkness that drives the character. Jason Todd was always a weird one for Batman and Robin fans. The character first came around when replacement or legacy heroes were far from commonplace, and for the first few years of his existence was virtually indistinguishable from Dick Grayson. It wasn’t until his circus origins were rebooted in a 1987 comic that Jason Todd became a fully-formed character, rather than an expedient merchandising tool to make sure one of DC’s most recognizable trademarks was still front and center in the books. That started with a revamped origin which saw him as a troubled orphan busted for trying to steal the hubcaps off the Batmobile, and continued by developing the character’s resentment of authority and nasty temper.
Curran Walters not only alludes to his first meeting with Batman, but demonstrates both of those less admirable qualities of Jason Todd. On the one hand, he feels incredibly lucky to be Batman’s partner, but on the other, he uses it as an excuse to do whatever he wants and act like he’s above the law entirely. In this respect, not even the comic book Jason at his worst ever took things quite so far with civilians as TV Jason does here, and it’s a little jarring to see how quickly the character shifts gears throughout the episode. But Jason has a job to do, and it’s to advance Dick’s journey towards becoming Nightwing. It definitely succeeds, but I wonder where else Jason can go before he meets his inevitable fate (which will have to be addressed at some point).
Ironically, “Jason Todd” addresses many of the elements of Dick Grayson’s past that I usually associate with the introduction of a different Robin entirely, Tim Drake. Whether it’s the focus on Dick’s ties to Halley’s Circus and how that makes him who he is, Dick needing to once again confront members of the Maroni crime family, or Jason’s “Batman needs a Robin” philosophy (even though it is drastically different than the one expressed by Tim Drake in his earliest stories).
What’s particularly interesting about this episode is that it’s one of the rare times in any form where the question of what Dick’s life would have been like had he chosen not to go with Bruce Wayne after the death of his parents. The idea of this season of Titans being more of a Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing show than an actual team show works especially well here, and while, like I said with “Doom Patrol,” under other circumstances I would probably torch a series for this kind of diversionary storytelling, it works surprisingly well here.
There are some other elements of the episode I’m somewhat lukewarm on. The idea of Batman implanting trackers in the arms of his Robin can be seen on the one hand as a way of making sure he can find the children he puts in harm’s way if they get separated. On the other hand, based on what we know about this universe’s version of the character, it also feels like next level “Batman is a penis” evolution. Dick certainly sees it that way. The idea of the Maroni family’s hit signature being hydroflouric acid (ala Harvey Dent/Two-Face) feels a little too Gotham for my taste, as does Nick Zucco’s Dent-esque scarring (and the apparent idea that they’re setting him up as Dick Grayson’s very own Joker). I’m not really sure what the point of all this is, especially when actually bringing in Two-Face himself would feel more in keeping with the Jason Todd theme, given that particular villain’s connection to the character.
On the other hand, watching two Robins at odds, ranging from fun banter such as “he let’s you drive the Batmobile?!?” to Jason’s ridiculous fake ID scheme, to the pair comparing notes on costumes and weapons, is good fun. I’m left both wanting to see more of Jason and I hope they find a way to see his story all the way through. But I’m also left kind of wishing that Titans would just pick a lane and determine whether it wants to be about the team or just be a Nightwing show. I’d be fine with either, and I believe it could pull both approaches off capably, but this is now the third episode in a row where the stakes haven’t really been raised. Dick Grayson is a step closer to being Nightwing, but are we any closer to learning the true scope of the villains’ plans for Raven? Any closer to the Titans functioning as a unit? I don’t think we are, and this is becoming a problem.