This Titans review contains spoilers.
Titans Episode 9
You know how Titans keeps taking these detours into other corners of the DC Universe that, while very cool, are still keeping us away from the main story? Well, get ready folks, because you’ve heard me sing at least some of this song before. Titans episode 9, “Hank and Dawn” is a good episode, even a compelling one at times, if it was a chapter of a Hawk and Dove TV series. But as an episode of Titans? One that comes this late in a short season? It’s a weird call to make.
While I definitely called out episodes like “Doom Patrol” and “Jason Todd” for taking us off track from the main story of the season, they both at least had a small role to play towards directly advancing the bigger issues. “Doom Patrol” helped us get to know Gar (who is a lot of fun, but still underdeveloped), and “Jason Todd” was a crucial step towards Dick Grayson putting his trauma as Robin into perspective. But “Hank and Dawn” is here to flesh out two (admittedly great) characters who we haven’t seen or heard from since episode three.
But despite my complaints about how this kind of structure affects Titans as a series, it’s still a fun episode. The opening, which sees Hawk and the original Dove on their first (and apparently only) case as superheroes is fun and clever, as they try entirely too hard to make a name for themselves. The episode then flashes back to Hank and Don’s childhoods, where we learn that Hank was the victim of sexual abuse, moreso as he tried to prevent the same fate from befalling his younger brother. Dawn, meanwhile, comes from a home shattered by domestic abuse, and this inevitably draws the pair together after a shared tragedy.
This episode goes a long way towards establishing that Hank Hall isn’t just a bro with anger issues, and both this backstory and Ritchson’s sympathetic, genuinely likeable performance really help flesh the character out. I appreciate that they didn’t linger on the specifics of the abuse that Hank or Dawn had suffered, and instead on the dread and the guilt that surrounds it.
We also know that Hawk and Dove have been in the superhero game for nine years now, which explains a lot of the physical and mental issues we saw in the earlier episodes. To its credit, Titans is really digging deep on the idea that nobody gets out of superheroing with everything intact, and everyone ends up as an unhealthy role model. “Donna Troy” helped drive that home, and was another piece of Dick Grayson trying to become a more well-adjusted person. Dick’s mission should ultimately end up being one to make sure that kids like Gar and Rachel don’t end up like him, Hank, and certainly not Bruce Wayne. Of course, since Dick isn’t in this episode, I should get back on target…
In fact, I can’t stress enough how great Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly are as Hank and Dawn, both individually and together. Their chemistry was immediately apparent from the first moments of the second episode, and while this show has nailed the casting of all of its heroes, Ritchson and Kelly are standouts. I’d like to see more of them, whether on this show’s second season or on a DC Universe series of their own.
The problem with “Hank and Dawn” is mostly one of pacing (something this show has struggled with both on a season level and within episodes). Original Dove, Don Hall (Elliot Knight) seems like a character we could have spent more time with. He has an easy rapport with Hank, and Knight and Ritchson complement each other well on screen, particularly when things start to go south for Hank’s football career because of post-concussion syndrome. Their makeshift “early days of social media” superhero routine is a great angle, and I wish we had seen a little bit more of their “career” before Don’s death.
Instead, it feels like it’s the morning after their first mission when Don is killed in a freak accident (it’s not, but that was my first impression…I was wrong). The timing of this (which also kills Dawn’s mother, and that’s how Hank and Dawn initially meet) is so abrupt that it’s effect is almost comedic. Hank and Dawn soon connect at grief counseling, and there’s a “relationship montage” as they get to know each other. Were it not for Ritchson and Kelly, I feel like that particular sequence would really have fallen flat, but I find both of their performances so thoroughly compelling that I can forgive a lot.
Dawn’s decision to confront the source of Hank’s trauma, his junior high football coach, followed by (of course) Hank showing up to beat this guy nearly to death felt a little rushed. Dawn’s empathy for another victim of abuse is certainly understandable. But as things are laid out here, it feels off, as does Hank and Dawn’s decision to finally consummate their relationship in the immediate aftermath, in something that plays almost like an awkward nod to the “costumes and violence as an aphrodisiac” moments from Watchmen. While it was clear from their intro in episode two that there was an element of that kind of eroticism-from-danger in Hank and Dawn’s relationship, I just think it’s a weird place to introduce it here.
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if this same story had been spread across two episodes, allowed Hank and Don’s (and Dawn’s) backstories to breathe a little, given us a little more time with the original Hawk and Dove team in the first, and then followed up with the growing Hank and Dawn relationship, Hank’s revenge, and their decision to partner up romantically and “professionally” this could have been exceptional instead of merely good. All the elements are there, and Hawk and Dove are unlike any superheroes we’ve seen in TV or movies so far. And it’s pretty gutsy that this show is willing to forego anything resembling traditional superheroics for an entire episode like this.
The vast majority of “Hank and Dawn” plays like a pilot for a Hawk and Dove TV series. A TV series, I should add, that I would totally watch. And in that regard, it’s quite good. Hell, it’s a better first episode of Hawk and Dove than Titans episode 1 was a first episode of Titans! But the few small moments that remind you this is part of a larger series, notably Rachel trying to communicate with Hank and Dawn in their various states, feel like afterthoughts, as does Dawn suddenly waking up to tell Hank “we need to find Jason Todd.” You do? Is it because he’s about to croak and you know Dick will blame himself? It’s like this was written as a Hawk and Dove pilot, and then retrofitted for an episode of Titans.
For years, certain comic books have been accused of “decompression,” where a few pages worth of actual story are padded out over several issues by dialogue and other methods, all in the interest of “writing for the trade.” It’s somewhat ironic that Titans, a show that has embraced comic book storytelling techniques more than any other modern superhero show, could have done with some decompression of its own to let Hank and Dawn’s story breathe. So yeah, on the one hand, this episode could have been paced better, and I don’t know if it was wise to take us so far off track from the rest of the season. But on the other hand, give me that Hawk and Dove spinoff!