This Titans review contains spoilers.
Titans Episode 8
If you’ve been reading my reviews throughout this season, you’ll know that I generally think Titans has been pretty good, with a flash of greatness here and there. But you also know that I’ve had my worries about the pacing of the series, and that it has had a tendency to give its side missions a little too mcuh prominence, at the expense of the main storyline. For example, “Doom Patrol” was excellent, and the “Jason Todd” episode was fascinating (if uneven), but both took a little too much focus off of the actual team building that needs to get done.
I fully expected “Donna Troy” to be a similar digression. After all, Donna is a crucial character in Teen Titans mythology, and you can’t just drop her into this story, one that has so much work to do with Starfire, Gar, and Raven left to do (Dick has been well taken care of this season, of course) and expect it not to take things at least a little bit off track, right?
Whoops! I was wrong!
“Donna Troy” is, in fact, a seamless episode of Titans, one that manages to continue to develop Dick Grayson’s story (and I still maintain that this show is about Dick, perhaps at the expense of the rest of the core cast), while also getting work done with Gar, Raven, and especially Kori. The fact that it manages to do this while splitting the team up is even more impressive. That it’s such a low key episode, the one that relies the absolute least on action or costumes so far and still doesn’t feel like things have wandered off track again, is even a bonus.
It helps that Conor Leslie (who plays Donna Troy) is so good in the role. I really hope that when Titans season 2 rolls around next year that she’s a regular. Unlike her more famous mentor, Donna isn’t someone who barely feels at home in our world outside of Themyscira. Instead, she’s worldly, with a sharp sense of humor, and a no bullshit attitude (like Kory’s!) that Dick Grayson very much needs in his life. Refreshingly, while Dick and Donna do have a past together, it doesn’t appear to be a romantic one.
“Donna Troy” gets more DC worldbuilding in, but again, in subtle ways. We once again flash back to Dick Grayson’s younger days at Wayne Manor. But this time, it’s from a period when he is already well into his career as Robin, facing down the Joker and other threats with Batman. While we have yet to see this show’s younger version of Dick in costume, just something as simple as seeing an already experienced, but still quite young, Robin talking about his crime fighting experiences helps drive home the overall theme of Dick’s arc this season: that it’s pretty irresponsible for Batman to be turning children into weapons, let alone putting them in harm’s way. We’ve never seen a Robin this young on screen before, and we’ve certainly never seen this element of the Batman/Robin relationship explored in this manner, either. Again, I would totally sign up for a series about Bruce and Dick in this era, and I’m dying to see what this version of the DCU’s Batman costume looks like (as long as it has some blue, some yellow, and an oval around the bat).
The scene, which sees these younger versions of Dick and Donna comparing notes on their mentors, casually dropping mentions of the Joker and the Justice League, are certainly a treat for fans, but it’s good that they actually get some character work done, too. Dick and Donna give us the best look at the dichotomy between Bruce and Diana, and it’s a great window into these characters who we may or may not ever see. These all dovetail nicely with the interactions between “present day” Dick and Donna, who have a warm, brother/sister vibe going on. The difference, of course, is that Donna has moved on from superheroics (although not from trying to make the world a better place) while Dick is struggling to do exactly that. The result is that Donna is well-adjusted and able to make her way in the world with a thriving career, while Dick struggles with making small talk at a party. “I wonder what the Penguin is doing right now” might be a little on-the-nose, but it’s a great delivery from Brenton Thwaites, and I think it lands with the appropriate comedic effect.
I really have no issues with the overall lack of overt superheroics in this episode. In fact, I’m going to make a favorable comparison to Iron Fist of all shows. At the start of that show’s (much improved) second season, it showed Danny Rand as a low rent, street level superhero, and dealt with the mundane, day-to-day aspects of superheroing. We see Danny’s half-assed makeshift “watchtower” where he monitors events (two computers and a police scanner), we see him washing the blood out of his hoodie in the bathroom sink, and we see the weird little training setup he built himself from a couple of stray doors and tires. In a way, Titans is giving us the DC equivalent of that in how purely unbothered and unhurried it is to get this team into a headquarters, slick costumes, and into massive adventures. In fact, I could get behind this for another season or more!
If Donna Troy were to return as a regular next year, rather than race towards something like The Judas Contract (which Geoff Johns has confirmed is in the plans for this show eventually), I’d love to see her become the central focus, much the way Dick is now. A version of Who Is Donna Troy? would feel particularly appropriate in this world. If Titans is looking to make lower key, character focused drama its path, I think this is the way to go.
While I enjoyed Kory, Gar, and Raven’s time on the train together (and I sure do love Kory’s hands-off approach to looking out for them, and her dry sense of humor is so on point), I do feel that this is where the show’s problems start to show again. Yet again, we see one of our heroes showing far too casual disregard for human life (this time it’s Starfire), although given the revelations about her and her “relationship” to Raven at the end of the episode, perhaps that does make a little more sense now. Are Tamaranians “ancient aliens” in this story, ala Chariots of the Gods?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, as I’m often an advocate for shorter seasons (for the love of Grodd, The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl all have far too many episodes each year), I do wish there were more episodes to this season. I can’t imagine we’re going to get a really satisfactory resolution to Rachel’s story by season’s end, although it does look like we’ll get Dick’s metamorphosis into Nightwing. It’s indicative of the weight this season has placed on Dick, but Raven’s arc is just as important, and she continues to be short changed. All in all, though, I feel like I understand what Titans is supposed to be a little more now. The core cast continues to impress, and the potential addition of Ms. Leslie’s Donna Troy down the line is an even more promising indicator of what this show could be capable of.