Titans season finale recap: Death and rebirth
I’ll be honest, dear readers: I’m not happy. On the one hand, I’m over the moon that after more than a season of build-up, we finally got to see Dick Grayson embrace his destiny as Nightwing and suit up in the black-and-blue. But on the other hand, Donna Troy’s last-minute death felt so stupidly unnecessary that I can’t help but throw up my hands at this whole season finale.
This season of Titans clearly bit off more than it could chew with the number of subplots it was juggling, and that became even more clear with all the rushed resolutions in this finale episode. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think Mercy Graves was the most effective villain of this season. Natalie Gumede’s excellently creepy opening monologue is proof of that. Mercy is talking directly into the camera about the dream of one day vanquishing evil. But like most people who speak in the rhetoric of crusades, Mercy herself is clearly the evil one here. In fact, this whole speech is kicking off what is essentially a slave auction. She’s trying to sell off Superboy, who Cadmus has brainwashed into a “fully programmable super soldier,” to the highest bidder. Mercy’s full plan is to unleash Beast Boy on a rampage in public and then live stream footage of Superboy stopping him as the audition footage.
It doesn’t take long for Donna, Dawn, Kory, and Rachel to hear of Gar’s attack at the fairgrounds. But on their way to intercept, they run into Deathstroke; it’s a very literal manifestation of the way this season’s varying plotlines have basically been tripping over each other. Deathstroke traps the girls in their car with gunfire, but that means it’s finally time for Nightwing to make his debut. I love the costume, and I especially love the way Nightwing’s classic baton weapons have been infused with electrical energy in this adaptation. Even with those cool toys, though, Dick isn’t quite able to defeat Deathstroke on its own. Luckily, that’s when Rose arrives. Though Deathstroke expects her to still be on his side, apparently sex with Jason Todd can change you. Rose now sees the Titans as her true family, and manages to stab her dad through the chest. At that point, Jericho again does a death-jump, moving from Slade’s body to Rose’s body as the former dies. The season didn’t even have time to get into how weird it must be for Jericho to live as a disembodied spirit inside other family members’ brains; all we get here is the sense that apparently being inside his sister’s body is slightly nicer than being inside that of his father.
Jericho speaks through Rose in a way he never did with Slade, telling Dick that he forgives him and loves the Titans, etc.
So that’s it for that plotline! Deathstroke, one of the biggest presences in season 2 of Titans, is taken care of about 10 minutes into the finale episode. So then, with Nightwing in tow, they make their way to Beast Boy and Superboy’s fight to resolve the second-biggest plotline of the season. Although Beast Boy has been tearing apart normal humans in the last few episodes, he’s no match for Superboy, who knocks him far away with just a few punches. That’s where Rachel finds him, and uses her powers to overcome most of his brainwashing. I get the book-end effect of beginning this season with Gar and Dick helping Rachel break free of Trigon’s control, and ending this season with Rachel and Dick helping Gar and Conner break free of Mercy’s control, but it does seem a little too convenient a resolution to the Beast Boy plotline. They literally opened up his brain, changed the way the electrical wiring works, made him associate Rachel’s image and voice with prey, forced him to literally eat multiple human beings including people he knew at his favorite coffee shop, but in a few minutes he’s mostly just back to normal?
The oscillation between tones in this episode is really haphazard and off-putting. Like, despite all the horrific and deadly serious stuff in play (body horror, slave auctions, etc.), Dawn, Donna, and Kory engage in some truly banal banter as they face down Superboy. Hawk shows up after his weird cage-fight bender last week, and proves to be completely ineffective against Superboy, once again making me question why he even continues to be a part of this show when he contributes so little. Eventually, with the help of Rachel’s powers and Dick’s leadership, Conner breaks free from his brainwashing. He then turns on Cadmus, but not in a very fun way. Mercy, for example, gets punched out by Kory. I feel like making our heroes eat people deserved a more violent send-off than a single punch, and it doesn’t feel cathartic at all because Kory is one of the few characters with no emotional connection to Mercy whatsoever.
This is when the stupid thing happens. As they’re evacuating the fairgrounds, a big light beam falls over and looks ready to crush Dawn. But Donna gets in the way and holds the light upward — at least until the electricity literally kills her. This is such a stupid death I honestly thought it was a joke at first. The show immediately launches into a funeral sequence with black clothes and sad music that is not capable of overpowering the absurdity of the circumstance. I just…don’t get it. If you needed a big death to add some gravitas to the Titans’ reunion, why not kill off Hawk? That way, you get rid of someone who doesn’t contribute much while also giving him a nice redemption to close off his story line. But why did you even need someone to die at all? Doesn’t the fact that two Titans are recovering from traumatic brainwashing (one of whom has a stomach full of human meat) add enough darkness to this finale? Why not give the Deathstroke resolution more time to breathe, instead of speed-running through the Wilson family’s denouement in order to kill off one of your coolest characters for no reason? Especially since it’s strongly implied that Donna may not be permanently dead; Rachel decides to accompany her body back to Themyscira in the hopes that her rapidly-evolving powers might be capable of bringing Donna back. That mostly just underlines how unnecessary this whole spectacle feels. But speaking of Rachel’s powers, apparently Bruce Wayne’s appearance at a diner a few weeks back was a total projection of her abilities rather than Batman himself in the flesh. Considering most of Bruce’s appearances this season have either been Dick’s imagination or Rachel’s, it’s kind of fun to guess how much of Iain Glen’s Bruce Wayne this season was actually him (he shows up in this episode and hacks Mercy’s auction, which is much more fun if you imagine Batman later going around and rounding up everyone involved).
Anyway, yay for Nightwing I guess. Hopefully season 3 can fix some of these problems with pacing and tone.