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Titans 1.9 Review – ‘Hank and Dawn’

December 7, 2018 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Titans -- Ep. 109 -- "Hank and Dawn"
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Titans 1.9 Review – ‘Hank and Dawn’  

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

The ninth episode of Titans would, at first glance, be a strange choice for focusing entirely on characters who aren’t part of the core team. “Donna Troy” ended on one hell of a cliffhanger after all, with Dick and Donna racing to find the team while Kory got her memories back and instantly tried to kill Rachel. That’s the kind of ending which usually requires immediate follow-up. Jumping across to a seemingly-unrelated story risks losing the momentum from your big nail-biting moment.

And yet, it works for the most part. Don’t get me wrong; “Hank and Dawn” is a sidetrack by any measure. There isn’t any real follow-up on the Kory big green-eyed chokehold on Rachel. But there’s just enough to place this in an appropriate timeline — and more to the point, to sell why we needed to see this. We’ll get to that, but first let’s take a dive into the good and bad of Hank and Dawn’s past.

Titans Dawn

We first saw Hawk and Dove way back in episode two, and it feels like an entirely different time. That was when people still weren’t sure about this series and whether it was going to work. For me at least, Minka Kelly and Alan Ritchson’s portrayals of the duo helped seal the deal that this was clearly a show worth watching. That said, it’s fair to say that they seemed to be there more to service Rachel and Dick’s arc than be their own thing. “Hank and Dawn” changes that by giving us a peek into who they are.

What we see is…well, a little cringey at first. There’s a lot in their first appearance that suggests Hank and Dawn are very damaged individuals. They’re presented as sort of the devil that was on Dick’s shoulder when he was Robin, and Hawk in particular is unrepentantly violent. In writing this episode, Geoff Johns attempts to frame that damage in one fairly touchy plot device in particular.

Sexual abuse as a trope rarely plays out well, particularly when used as justification for a violent or anti-social adult. While there is some truth to this stereotype, it’s typically played out to cartoonish levels. Anyone who remembers Cinder from DC’s own Teen Titans: Villains For Hire knows of what I speak. (For those who don’t recall or know, she was a sexually abused woman who became a criminal. But she also found time to use her ability to turn into lava to burn sex offenders to death during sex. Because apparently, that’s character development?) That’s just one example of literally hundreds of characters where it’s been done poorly. And the times it has worked out well are much fewer and far between.

Titans Hank Don

Here though, against the odds…I have to say, it mostly works. That’s because of the little touches, which always make the difference. Johns frames Hank’s arc in a relatively standard way: he’s become an angry young man who takes out his rage and pain on those around him. Don tries to find him a new outlet when they get expelled, which leads to them beating up a criminal. In truth, it’s pretty garden-variety Rape as Backstory. But when you add in the scene where Hank and Don talk about it, that starts to shade this in more interesting colors.

Meanwhile, Dawn has child abuse as a key motif in her own past. Dawn’s abuse at the hands of her father was apparently purely of the physical variety, though that is no less potentially traumatizing. How they’ve dealt with it makes up the key difference. Hank is still torn up about his, but Dawn has mostly moved on. She’s still affected, of course. But where Hank is still overtly struggling, Dawn is a survivor. And she urges her mom (in a wonderful cameo by Marina Sirtis) to do the same.

The sequence makes for a nice contrast between the two lovers-to-be, but also positions Dawn pre-emptively in a place where she could help Hank deal with his issues. When Don and Marie are mowed down in a freak car accident, our future crime-fighting duo are thrown together by tragedy. And while I cocked an eyebrow high in the sky over how jarring that sequence was, it’s at least effective in paying homage to the comic book source while also providing a way for Dawn and Hank to connect.

Titans Hank Therapy

Really, it’s what’s after the meet-cute-turned-tragedy that really matters here. It’s sad to not see more of Don, to be sure. I have rarely seen a more blatant fridging of two characters in superhero television than this one. But it also does its job by putting these two together. The scenes where they draw closer to each other, while perhaps overly aggressive in the timeline, work thanks to the genuine chemistry between Ritchson and Kelly, as well as the nuance in their dialogue. Both actors sell the underlying sadness there and make it authentic.

There is one thing that can potentially away sweep all of the narrative flaws. Specifically, this is actually taking place in Hank and Dawn’s heads. Dawn is still in the hospital after the Nuclear Family’s attack, and Hank is drinking while he stands vigil. Memory is a funny thing; the important moments squeeze out the rest. “Faulty memory” often seems like a way to retroactively excuse story flaws. But with Rachel’s explicit appearances, I’m confident saying that we’re seeing this through the lens of Hank and Dawn’s drunken and comatose memories.

Rachel’s appearance causing Dawn to wake up immediately recontextualizes this episode. No longer is this just a flashback. Now, it’s about catching up with a couple of characters we’ve been away from before they jump back into the storyline. Rachel needs them to find Jason Todd, of all people, making for another likely reappearance I didn’t expect. I harp regularly on how television shows have to be careful not to waste any of their allotted episode time. And while this could have easily been handled in a five minute sequence, I think it’s fair to say that Titans made the right call in revisiting these two.

Titans Hank Dawn

Some Final Thoughts:

• I kind of loved how goofy the opening scene with Hank and Don playing superhero for the first time was. That’s exactly what two college brothers trying to be vigilantes would look like.

• However, I wasn’t on board with the half-assed use of concussions as a possible contributor to Hank’s anger issues. It seemed like they wanted to hint at it as a factor without delving too heavily. Either do it or don’t, guys.

• Don Hall’s death here is very different than in the comics. Of course, in the comics he died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. So I think we can forgive them not trying to shoehorn THAT backstory into a single episode.

• Shout out to Holly Granger, Dawn’s sister who is apparently a shoplifter — and in post-Crisis continuity, the third Hawk.

• DC Universe has really pushed the R-rating aspect of this show. As such, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the barely-covered-by-darkness nudity in the sex scene. I still was, though.

• Next week: Donna Troy brings the lasso out to play! Kory learns that memories aren’t always a good thing! And it looks like Rachel does a bad, bad thing. Can’t have a season finale without Dad, I suspect.

The final score: review Good
The 411
While "Hank and Dawn" does pull focus away from the main story arc, it does so for what appears to be a plot-relevant reason. Thankfully, Minka Kelly and Alan Ritchson succeed again in bringing these characters to life, and Geoff Johns' script navigates the potentially problematic pitfalls of their origin well. I'm curious to see how they factor into the final two episodes of the season. Either way, they make their return episode well worth watching.