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Titans 1.3 Review – Origins’

October 26, 2018 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Titans - Origins Anna Diop Starfire Kory
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Titans 1.3 Review – Origins’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Friday’s episode of Titans.]

Looking back, it’s clear why Warner Bros. TV and DC Universe decided that the initial review screeners for Titans would consist of the first three episodes. Episodes one and two are fine, setting things up well and establishing the characters. But they were also a real slow burn in terms of plot. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously. It’s important to build connections with the characters and make them appealing to fans before you dive into the main thrust of the narrative at breakneck speed. But still, other than character introductions and Raven meeting Dick, there’s not much movement on the main arc.

Episode three is where it all ties together. “Origins” performs some fancy footwork, both diving back into Dick and Raven’s pasts while funneling everyone the same general plot direction. The four-person writing team accomplish this impressive feat with a script that feels brighter, and yet also weightier, than either of the two preceding hours. And best of all, they do it without alienating any of the characters, or sacrificing their core traits to the altar of plot momentum.

Titans Kory Rachel

But “Origins’” first task is to pay off the cliffhanger we saw at the end of last week. As we learn quickly enough, Dove didn’t die after being thrown off the roof. I won’t lie here; even in a world where soul-selves and Tamaranians exist, that stretches credibility a touch. She got thrown through a sturdy-looking aviary and back-first off a four- story building onto hard concrete. But this is a minor gripe for me; this is a superhero series, after all. People have come back from a lot worse. It’s all about how you play it out, and whether the logic is consistent. Anyway, I’m glad to see Dawn’s still alive, because she was a bright spot in an already-solid episode last week.

Raven’s capture is, of course, the more significant result of the confrontation. The Nuclear Family’s hold on her doesn’t last long though. Kory’s return to the show after last week’s absence is welcome, because she’s a plot-moving character. Without her memories, she must keep moving forward so she can discover who she is. This leads to her confrontation with the Nuclear Family father, and her rescue of Rachel. It’s nice to see Kory cut loose again, this time by choice.

It’s also an act that pays instant dividends when Anna Diop and Teagan Croft began playing off each other. I said last week that Croft had a nice rapport with Brendan Thwaites, but her timing and dynamic with Diop is instantly there. This is essential, because it helps us buy her refusal to go without Kory later in the episode. There’s a delicate balancing act that must be done between establishing Kory and Raven’s dynamic and moving the story along. The actors do their part here, and make it work.

Titans Dick Rachel

Ironically, moving the plot forward in “Origins” means looking backward. Specifically, of course, we’re talking about both Dick and Rachel’s past. The story frames the two as parallel to each other, and not in a particularly subtle way. They’ve both lost parent figures, and their traumas are unfolding in similar ways. Dick wanted to find his parents’ killers so he could kill them. And Rachel — well, she has a literal dark side using her pain and isolation to try and get out. Like I said, it’s not done a light touch. But it is effective in giving us insight on Dick while helping him realize how to reach her.

Dick’s past isn’t relevant to the plot, except in how he relates to Rachel. Rachel’s, on the other hand, is the main plot thrust. This takes the trio (after a brief but fun appearance by Gar) to the convent where Rachel apparently grew up in. And apparently, none of these three are aware not to trust creepy nuns in convents. I’m joking, mostly; while we can see it coming a mile away, it makes absolute sense that they wouldn’t. Sister Catherine has a mean poker face and comes off credible, a situation exacerbated by Rachel’s belief that she’s harboring a demonic force. It’s a deception that I buy working, particularly when Dick’s attention is being pulled in multiple directions. And Kory, for her part, is indeed a badass. But there’s no reason in the world they wouldn’t believe the nun at this point.

Titans Nuclear Family

Meanwhile, the villains get a little bit of depth, though perhaps not as much as I’d have liked. The loss of Dad was interesting and helped build up Kory without hurting the Nuclear Family as a whole. That said, what we learn about the Family’s boss is…a bit uninspiring.

To be clear, The Messenger (that is the official character name) is clearly not the top of the bad guy food chain for the season. And I’m not including Trigon in the food chain just yet. But as much as Reed Birney tries to sell it, I’m just not into the whole “corporate suit guy wants to bring the demon to Earth” things just yet.

That’s not to say they can’t convince me, and it works fine for what it is. It doles out just enough to peel back a bit more of the curtain without showing their hand too early. It’s just that “corporate demon cult” is a story trope that we’ve seen many times before. We’ll see where it goes from here, and I did like the menace of what we’ll call “the omelet scene.” It’s simply one of the least memorable parts of the episode.

Titans Kory Dick

“Origins” feels very much like the capper of this season’s first act. Rachel’s imprisonment in the convent, her confrontation with her soul self and ultimate escape raises the stakes. We now have some idea of the influence of the two groups chasing Raven down, and it is incumbent upon Dick and Kory to get to her first. Those last shots of Rachel fleeing the burning building open up a host of possibilities.

Kevin Rodney Sullivan is the man behind the camera here, and he deserves a lot of credit for making “Origins” soar. There are several scenes that would have fallen apart — and taken the episode with them — with less skillful directorial choices. The most obvious one is Rachel’s imprisonment scene. Teagan Croft is exceptional in portraying both Rachel’s panic and the soul-self’s malevolence, but even then, the whole thing could have easily come off cheesy. It works thanks to framing, tone, timing and all those other voices Sullivan makes. Under his guidance, Titans smoothly closes out its first act and transitions toward a promising rest of the season.

Titans Rachel Gar

Some Final Thoughts:

• Listen, I get that they don’t want to cast someone to play Bruce, at least right now. But it was incredibly contrived that Bruce writes Dick a quick note, leaves it for him to find and is waiting until Dick reads it to step into view down the hall.

• I haven’t said this before because there was too much in episode one to cover, and she didn’t appear in episode two. But I do kind of like how Kory’s amnesia plays off Scott Lobdell’s horrible New 52 bit where Kori pretended not to remember the Titans.

• I laughed out loud at Kory trying to convince the cop that she was a fur coat and club dress-wearing FBI agent, and I’m pretty sure that was the intended response. Titans’ ability to balance its humor and darkness is one of the reasons it’s working as a series.

• Anna Diop’s ability to pack as much pure salt as she could into that single syllable “Dick” in the parking lot was impressive. And I am here for it.

• Our food lesson of the week: don’t eat randomly-handed out butterscotches. Particularly timely, considering the holiday coming up.

• We get to see Gar for more than three minutes! Also, the Doom Patrol makes their debut, so that will hopefully be fun.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
"Origins" is the best episode of Titans yet, getting the plot on track and pushing it forward without forgetting about character development. The show is pulling off an impressive accomplishment so far in balancing on a lot of knife edges, and seems more sure-footed with every step.

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Titans, Titans Review, Jeremy Thomas