This Titans review contains spoilers.
Titans Episode 7
“Asylum” is the second episode of Titans that Bryan Edward Hill (who recently did terrific team-focused work reintroducing The Outsiders to the DC Universe in the pages of Detective Comics) has had a hand in writing. Maybe it’s a coincidence, and maybe it’s not, but it’s also only the second episode that actually feels like a Titans show, not just a show about Dick Grayson. Both “Asylum” and “Together” have focused more on Titans as an actual ensemble show and they’ve definitely been the ones that get those team dynamics right, and perhaps are the best indicator of the kind of show that this is going to eventually become. And if that’s the case, I’m here for it.
Like “Together” before it, the problems of “Asylum” are less the problems of an isolated hour of TV (which is good), but rather the problems that Titans as a series has had, along with that of its larger story. I still don’t think we’re quite as far along in this show’s arc as we should be after seven episodes, for one thing. But make no mistake, shit gets done in this episode. Every member of the team gets time in the spotlight, and while it works better for some than others, it’s still a step in the right direction.
For starters, I feel like we’re that much closer to a real evolution for Rachel, and we finally have a better picture of the stakes and what the villains are really after, something that has certainly been lacking in recent episodes. Maybe it was just the shock value of what the Doctor was willing to go through in order to convince her of his devotion, and certainly it was the general ickiness of the goings on in the asylum itself, but I do finally feel like the big bads, underdeveloped though they may still be, are a proper threat now. I’ve also long felt that leaning into the horror movie vibes for the Raven elements of the Titans story is a great idea, and “Asylum” certainly isn’t afraid to do that.
I do still think that (cool new outfit aside) Kori is shortchanged here. Do we learn a little? Sure. Are the “alien autopsy” elements of her torture disturbing? Absolutely. Is it enough given how compelling her story seemed in the earliest episodes? No.
To be clear, I don’t expect all of Starfire’s mysteries to be solved before the end of this season, as this show has its hands full with Dick and Rachel’s arcs, but I also worry that things have kind of stalled on this front. Again, this is more of a problem with how this season has been structured, rather than a failing of this specific episode. While “Doom Patrol” is still my favorite episode of the season, that was one of those diversions (like last week’s similarly cool “Jason Todd”) that might have been better spent making sure every member of this team is kind of developing at the same speed.
On the other hand, the stuff with Gar this episode was pretty brutal. I should have known that when they pointed out that Gar was a vegan who couldn’t even bring himself to bite anybody while in his tiger form that we would eventually get around to him breaking his own rule, but I didn’t expect it to happen in quite this fashion. His torment was harrowing stuff, and the mauling of the doctor was less cathartic than it was tragic. My only issue here is once again structural rather than episodic, but the issue of not enough time being spent on the core team over the course of the first six episodes continues to bite Titans in the ass now and again. Had we gotten to know Gar even better over the last few weeks, this scene could have been even more powerful. On a nitpicky note, I wonder if this will be the excuse Gar needs to stop changing into a tiger all the time.
At this point, watching Dick completely lose his shit on opponents is getting old. Granted, he was pushed to a breaking point here, so it makes sense why he might not be able to engage in the kind of self-reflection you would expect so soon after encountering Jason Todd, but if this isn’t the very last “Dick goes bonkers on a bad guy” moment in this season, we have a problem. It has long been clear that he has to shed the Robin identity in order to get past these current issues, and if this episode didn’t do it, I don’t know what will. That doesn’t mean I expect a Nightwing costume next week (or even the week after), but I do expect Dick to start working seriously on finding some modicum of inner peace. Otherwise, those complaints from the early episodes about the Robin violence being purely for shock value are going to start carrying a lot more weight.
All in all, though, the relatively low key nature of “Asylum” works a bit better than it did in “Together.” I don’t think I need a fully powered and costumed Titans team at all times in order for this show to fulfill its mission. I think this understated approach to superheroics can work even as we head into a second season, even if they’re still ironing out a few wrinkles right now. Overall it’s another positive step, but there’s more untapped potential in this show. Next week we meet Donna Troy, which is great, but is this going to become another diversionary episode? Hopefully not.