It’s pretty much impossible to talk about the premiere of Titans season 2 without discussing the frustrating wonkery that was the end of season 1. By now, you probably know that 12 episodes of the dark DC Universe team-up series were filmed for season 1, but due to some still-sketchy behind-the-scenes decisions, only 11 aired. The finale, “Dick Grayson”, was more of a confusing thwack noise than a proper ending, taking place almost entirely inside Dick Grayson’s (Brenton Thwaites) Trigon-induced visions of a Batman gone Batshit and largely ignoring the central storyline of Rachel’s (Teagan Croft) impending showdown with her demonic dad. Titan‘s return for season 2—the episode titled “Trigon” directed by Carol Banker and written by Akiva Goldsman, Geoff Johns, and Greg Walker—is a fun, breezy bit of haunted house madness that is also…very, very clearly supposed to be the season 1 finale.
It’s frustrating on a few levels, not the least of which is the fact “Trigon” is the only episode provided to critics, so I can’t even tell you if it’s indicative of season 2’s quality. But it also hamstrings season 2 from the jump. Titans got off to what could charitably be called a rocky start—I believe I compared the subtly of the first three episodes to the final trapeze performance of the Flying Graysons—but developed into quite the flawed charmer, thanks to an earnest superhero team-up spirit, killer performances from Ryan Potter as Gar Logan and Croft as Rachel Roth, and the introduction of characters like Curran Walters‘ dickhead Boy Wonder, Jason Todd. “Trigon” is just as endearing, but it also feels like we’re wasting time; more than three-quarters of the episode works to wrap up a storyline we watched almost a year ago, then there’s a classic season finale-feeling parting of ways, then roughly 12-ish minutes that actually feels like a season 2.
The bad news is that the Trigon plot ends on a down note. Seamus Deaver strikes a suitably imposing presence as DC’s resident Horn Daddy, but the episode once again devotes a large chunk to characters navigating visions of their worst impulses. (Visions that both we and they know are visions, which is narratively infuriating.) Again—and I feel like Dick Grayson in an alleyway brutally beating the same point over and over again—this might’ve worked splendidly as a season 1 finale. But here, it’s unmistakeably odd to kick off your season by wrapping up a massive, world-ending-stakes story. And when that story does end, it ends with one of the worst writing cliches there is: A character breaking out of a trance because another character asks them to really, really hard.
But besides all that, I still came away from “Trigon” really hopeful about Titans season 2. The last quarter or so of the episode moves with a different lightness than anything else that came before it, even though—and a *spoiler* warning that doubles as a “don’t get your hopes up”—neither Superboy or Krypto, teased in the season 1 post-credits scene, appear in the first episode. But we do get a brief taste of Iain Glen‘s Bruce Wayne, and the Scottish actor is great as a tired version of the bat-billionaire. Titans is a loud show, but a quiet conversation between Dick and Bruce about the former Robin’s “weaponized childhood” is some of the most moving this show has ever been.
We also meet Esai Morales‘ Slade Wilson, better known as the one-eyed killer-for-hire Deathstroke, a grey-haired, living-in-the-woods take on the iconic DC assassin. We don’t get much with him—again, all these new developments are smushed into the back of the episode—but there are serious John-Wick-coming-out-of-retirement vibes here that fans should dig.
But really, “Trigon” ends on a hopeful note because it ends with the Titans of Titans finally feeling like they are…the Titans. DC’s darkest series can be as dour and ultra-violent as it wants but at its heart it’s a coming-of-age family drama dressed up in tights. The closing moments of the premiere crackle with that feeling in spades. It’s something very close to optimism, a new look for a show that started off with Robin stabbing a guy in the junk. I really do keep returning to that fascinating Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson convo scene because it’s all about looking at the lowest moments of your past, taking responsibility, and moving the heck on with the best of yourself. It almost feels like a mission statement for Titans as a whole, which, for now, feels like it’s done just that.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Titans returns for season 2 on DC Universe on Friday, September 6.