The Titans premiere did a good job of introducing us to Robin, Raven, and Starfire, but what I love about this second episode is that it widens up the scope of the world. We’re introduced to Hawk and Dove, learn about their history with Robin, and in the process get a sense of the deep backstory that makes the DC superhero universe feel so rich and textured.
The opening scene introduces us to this red-and-blue dynamic duo. We meet Hawk with his arms chained to a ceiling, being tortured by arms dealers. The leader literally threatens to castrate him, once again demonstrating that this show is definitely not your kid’s Teen Titans. The best possible response to that castration threat, though, comes when Hawk’s girlfriend Dove bursts in to rip the criminals apart with her incredibly sharp, bulletproof wings. She lets Castration Man get away, though.
Hawk (Hank) and Dove (Dawn) have been fighting crime for quite a while now — in flashback, we see them taking down a gang with Robin four years ago. Hawk’s feeling the burn. After making it back home, he has to take a soothing bath, and has some sexual performance issues. There’s light on the horizon, though: If they can just pull off one last assault on these gun sellers, they’ll have enough money to retire to Wisconsin, get a knee replacement or two, and take it easy.
The best-laid plans of mice and men, though, can always crumble the moment a demon girl comes into the mix. Robin shows up at their door with Rachel in tow, and the young empath immediately gets an overwhelming vision of Dawn and Dick sleeping together in days gone by. Dick considers that to be a thing of the past, but clearly Dawn still thinks about it. They do manage to have a congenial conversation, though, in which Dick explains that he needed a safe place to stay with Rachel while they figure out their next move. The Bat Cave is a no-go since, as Dick accurately explains, Bruce is “no good with kids.” Even so, we do see him making a covert call to everyone’s favorite butler Alfred, asking for a quick, one-time cash transfer.
Hank certainly isn’t happy to come home and see his girlfriend palling around with her ex. Dawn makes clear, though, that she has no interest in hooking up with Dick again. Instead, she thinks he could be a big help to them pulling off this one last job. Unfortunately, we all know what usually happens to people trying to pull off just one last job…
NEXT: Meet the Nuclear Family
This episode doesn’t just build out the Titans universe by showing us new heroes. We also get our first taste of actual supervillains, in the form of the Nuclear Family. We meet this mom/dad/son/daughter foursome playing a board game on a Saturday morning, putting money in a swear jar, and generally acting cheerful…until a mysterious man shows up at the door, telling them they’re “activated.” They immediately bust out some big needles and inject themselves with…something. I think these characters make perfect sense as the villains in a dark-and-gritty superhero show. This is a world where normal, happy people are monsters, and sad lonely people are heroes. I love it.
Our first glimpse of the Nuclear Family in action comes when they attack Dick’s detective partner in her apartment, looking for his whereabouts. They torture her pretty horrendously, and I’ll admit that this is one of the few times in the early Titans episodes that the violence turned me off in a real way. It felt unnecessary and exploitative, especially since we don’t really need it as an introduction to the family’s capabilities; they accomplish that just fine in the climactic scene.
A really good example of violence that serves characters and story comes when Hawk and Dove finally attack the arms dealers they’ve been targeting. At first it seems easy…too easy. Suddenly Hawk and Dove find themselves cornered and outnumbered, with Castration Guy back to finish this job — that is, until Robin shows up behind him and shoves those scissors where the sun don’t shine. Robin proceeds to take out each mercenary in truly horrifying fashion, from turning his ‘R’ insignia into a projectile that lands right in one dude’s eye, to bashing another guy over the head so hard all we see is a blood spray across a nearby window (a beautifully gruesome shot by director Brad Anderson). All Dove can say afterward is “Jesus.”
Unfortunately, it’s not a happy ending. When they get home, Dick is confronted by Rachel, who found the stash of Alfred-money he was going to leave with Hawk and Dove to take care of Rachel for him. Before they can all get into an argument, though, the Nuclear Family shows up and wipes the floor with them. One thing I like about this scene is that it proves the utility of superhero costumes. They’re not just for show! After watching Robin, Hawk, and Dove beat up criminals all episode with their sharp wings and handy bo staff, they can barely put up a fight in street clothes. Dawn is thrown off the roof, through the birdcage Hank build for her, and onto the street below, while the family makes off with Rachel. Not great, Bob!