Titans is the first new live-action show exclusively on the new DC Universe, DC Comics’ streaming service. The show has more or less been advertised as their signature series. The show is a dark re-telling of the comic superhero team, the Teen Titans, origin. The tone of the show borrows heavily from the DCEU going so far as to have a Batman and Robin who are unafraid to kill. Within the series premiere, we meet Rachel Roth, a teen haunted by dark visions and powers who following a tragedy falls under the wing of Detective Dick Grayson, Robin, who has recently relocated and taken a job with the Detroit Police Department. While the primary focus of the episode is Dick and Rachel we do briefly meet Kory and Gar.
The pilot episode, aptly named “Titans,” starts by introducing us to a deeply disturbed Rachel Roth, as played by Teagan Croft, who is having persistent nightmares about a boy in the circus. Rachel watches the tragic scene as the Flying Grayson’s fall to their death. This nightmare helps establishes Raven’s murky power-set and her connection to Dick Grayson, Robin. Rachel is awakened by her mother, played by Sherilyn Fenn who tries to calm her down.
It is also at this point the audience is given a glimpse into Rachel’s true nature when Rachel asks her mother to lock the door which is covered by crucifixes, crosses, and other Christian symbols. After locking the door, one of the crosses immediately falls off. In the comics, Raven, Rachel Roth, is half demon and haunted by her origins. It is clear Titans will follow a similar storyline for Rachel but the show itself uses a color palette reminiscent of a horror movie. Even the opening sequences featuring the title card features the various characters yelling in horror before finally ending on their silhouette.
Rachel’s mother is clearly trying but struggling to help her daughter as best as she can. Rachel confronts her mother telling her she doesn’t sleep anymore because she is scared of her. Despite her mother’s denial of the issue Rachel presses saying “I can feel it.” In the comics, Raven is an empath, able to sense and alter the emotions of others.
After her mother asks her to pray with her Rachel refuses and begs to know “what is inside of her?” We also see a demon-like version of Rachel and a spirit flow through her to push her mother back. The show once again leans into supernatural horror tropes. Rachel then apologizes to her mother and runs out clearly upset.
Rachel boards a bus where two boys begin to fight after one tries to hit on her and the other tells him to leave her alone. After the fight is broken up the boy who initially tried to bother her calls her a “slut.” The scene is odd and I think it is there to further the narrative. It’s there to prove Rachel is a loner and is considered a freak by herself and everyone around her.
Once Rachel gets home from school she finds her mother is being held hostage by a strange man who tells her that “this woman is not her mother.” He then shoots her in the head and Rachel screams, causing various glass objects in the house to break, and pounces on the man in a similar way she did earlier with her mother. The CGI isn’t bad here but it also is not great. The demonic version of Raven paired with her cheesy, over the top goth ensemble that feels more like a Hot Topic Halloween makeup kit and less like a superhero in crisis with her identity.
We see Rachel buying a bus ticket to Detroit immediately after witnessing her mother’s murder all while Son Of A Bitch by Nathaniel Rateliff plays. The song, if you are unfamiliar with it, is about alcoholism. While it has a catchy beat, it is a very weird choice for this scene considering this underage girl just watched her mother die. Following the bus ride, Rachel is found by a homeless shelter worker who offers her a safer place to stay at the youth shelter.
She is able to feel the impending danger radiating off the women. Rachel throws a rock at a police car and is promptly arrested temporarily avoiding danger. Once in the interrogation room at the police station, Rachel is interviewed by Dick Grayson, played by Brenton Thwaites and reveals she knows him as “the boy from the circus.” The acting in this scene is well done and believable, particularly on Thwaites part.
Following the title card, we immediately open to Dick Grayson, as played by Brenton Thwaites, in Detroit, Michigan. Dick has left Gotham City PD and instead opted to take a job as a detective in Detroit. Dick meets his partner but is, well, a dick to her. The fellow cops talk about how Dick likes to work alone because he had issues with “his last partner.”
After the show catches us up with Rachel, we meet up once again with Dick in his car in Detroit. He is clearly tracking a drug runner who was able to escape punishment due to charges being dropped. We see a drug deal where the dealer comments on the color of the narcotic saying “Pink. I hear the kids love it.” As if the long file Dick was reading wasn’t enough, this shows the audience he is a bad guy. This dialogue choice baffles me.
Robin then makes a grand entrance by dropping down on a car and proceeds to beat up the thugs who obviously underestimate him but he still has plenty of time to tell said thugs, “Fuck Batman.” This is another baffling dialogue choice that I will never understand. I do not blame Thwaites acting, he makes a fantastic Dick Grayson, but the writing of this episode does not do him justice. Overall though, this fight scene is well choreographed and Robin’s costume is still the best of the bunch.
We then see Dick in his very dilapidated apartment building and testing out version of a batarang, in the comics, they were known as birdarangs but are not given an official name here. The scene features the most ominous alternative coffee house ballad I assume WB could afford with their budget. Key moments during the song mention being “alone”, i.e. no more Batman, and “pray for the others to die.”
This scene does, however, feature one of my favorite moments of cinematography from the episode. Dick stops in front of a Flying Grayson poster and we see his reflection. Within the comics, the murder of Dick Grayson’s parents in addition to being adopted by Bruce Wayne is a catalyst for him taking up the mantle as Robin. We transition back to Dick at the police station where he and other detectives are pondering Robin’s appearance and hoping “he is just passing through.”
Maybe the most baffling choice in the entire series so far involved Kory, played by Anna Diop. She wakes up in a wrecked car, sitting next to the dead driver while listening to the disco tune “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” by the Tavares in Austria. Once leaving the vehicle, Kory realizes she is being chased and shot at by some sort of mafia and runs into the woods and hides. After finding a bathroom in she checks her purse finding an American passport, key to a rented locker, and a hotel key. At some point Kory lost her memory whether it was from the car wreck, is unclear at this point.
Kory returns to the hotel where she has the entire top floor. There she finds a strange man tied up in the closet who mumbles about a girl being found. He then escapes from his ropes and a fight ensues. During the fight, Kory does not use her comic book powers and instead engages him in hand-to-hand combat. She also does not appear, or she doesn’t know, that she has super strength. After besting the man Kory discovers a picture of herself and Konstantin Kovar on a phone. She then heads to a nightclub to catch up with Kovar. Kovar is a name that Teen Titans, associated with Leonid Kovar, Red Star, also known as Starfire.
When Kory finds Kovar she asks him who he is and he responds by yelling “Who the hell are you?” The exchange is odd because clearly Kory has an established relationship with the man but isn’t aware of it. Kovar at one point even admits that he loved her. When she says she is pretty sure she didn’t love him he fires a bullet.
Kory then superheats herself, melts the bullet, and hits Kovar and his men with a blast of fire burning them all to ashes all while dance music pumps in the background. Kory then stares at her hands appears confused at her ability. Picking up a file from Kovar’s desk showing a picture of Rachel Roth. This is the only moment in the episode with Kory that I enjoyed. Diop’s fluid acting from the clueless Kory to fierce warrior Starfire is well done. She can clearly play the character well if given the proper material. However, the fire CGI is not spectacular or even on par with most other DC TV CGI.
RACHEL AND DICK:
The rest of the interrogation scene between Rachel and Dick is revelatory in the episode. She tells him the details of her dream and admits someone killed her mother. Dick leaves her to investigate the claim all while Rachel begs him not too, fearing for her safety. It is also in this scene through Rachel’s empathetic abilities clearly. We are shown flashes of Dick’s past including his time at Wayne Manor.
As Dick leaves the room and Rachel is told by a cop that she is being “transferred with the other kids.” Dick goes back to check on her in the interrogation room and sees she is gone. Rachel is being drugged while the cop drags her into the back seat of his car. Dick sees the car leaving with an unconscious Rachel and pursues it in his car.
Rachel awakes, tied up in an abandoned church where the man who killed her mother takes her blood in hopes of performing some kind of ritual. He claims to be a savior and tells Rachel he knows her true nature. Dick is able to find her as Det. Dick Grayson, not Robin. As he begins to walk upstairs toward the room she is kept in, her kidnapper prepares for his entry behind the door but is thwarted by Rachel in her demonic form where she kills him by possessing him. Dick is then able to reach her and untie her. He then takes Rachel with him in his car and promises to protect her.
The episode closes in Covington, Ohio with a scene where Garfield Logan steals a game from an electronics store while a Tiger. After leaving the store and it’s security guard baffled, he changes back into a human. The CGI for Beast Boy looks amazing compared to that of Starfire. I was honestly impressed by how well his animal form looked.
Overall, the tone of Titans does not fit the quality of the show. It is by no means bad but it is also not better than anything I have seen on the CW or Fox. Considering the major criticism of the DCEU being dark it baffles me WB has yet to learn it’s lesson: dark does not mean good. The swear words and violence seem to be there for shock value and do not further the story in any way or even seem natural to the characters. Most of the blood splatter, which is clearly CGI, just seems unnecessary. During Robin’s fight scene blood splatter was used when Robin scrapped a perp’s head along a wall and off of bodies taking damage. It was obvious that it was added later in special effects.
My least favorite part of the show is Starfire. I loved Diop’s casting and I do believe she can play the part, but Starfire’s new design and origin are just bizarre. It doesn’t fit the character as I knew her from the comics. Starfire instead feels like a femme fatale and less of the naive warrior princess many of us know her as. Diop has gone on record to say Starfire will be getting a comic accurate costume which I do look forward too.
I wish the writers had excluded Starfire and Beast Boy completely from this episode and instead given us a more complete introduction into Rachel and Dick.On the good side of things, Thwaites is fantastic as Dick Grayson and one of the more grounded characters. His acting is believable even with the dialogues occasional kooky moments. I do look forward to more episodes and do want to like all the characters.
Episode 1 is available on DC Universe and the next episode drops Friday, October, 19.