After an encouraging episode, the season finale of Titans (“Dick Grayson”) leaves us right back where we started. Where the previous episode had engaged in some plot development and explored some interesting themes, at the end of Season 1 “action” is replaced with “moodiness” and “brutality.” [Spoiler alert from here on out.]
We know right off we’re obviously watching some kind of future. Dick is a cop in LA, living in the standard(?) Police Officer’s mansion with his wife (Dawn), their kid (…Scrappy Doo? I don’t remember what the kid’s name was), and a second kid on the way. Rachel and Gar are off at college and Hank is the Grayson’s handyman. Gar gives Dick’s kid a stuffed dog, who tells Dick that he needs to go back to Gotham to stop Batman from killing the Joker (which we learn from a wheelchair-bound Jason Todd). The stuffed dog then disappears from the episode, despite a big set-up.
Dick returns to a Gotham quickly collapsing into crime-filled anarchy just in time to be there when Batman throws the Joker off of a building, violating the “I don’t kill” rule we all know from the movie. When this fails to kill Joker, Dick tries to talk Bruce out of finishing the job. Batman kills the Joker anyway, and then kills everyone in Arkham just for fun. When Dick leads an attempt to arrest Bruce, Batman kills all of the cops, as well as Federal Agent Kory. Dick then blows up Wayne Manor and kills Batman. At the very end, we find that Trigon is making all this happen in Dick’s head to push Dick down the path of darkness and bring him over to their side.
If all of that sounds to you like the stuff of a decent episode, you’re right. It would be a very decent episode if it were at all original (and leaving aside my distaste for “alternative reality” episodes of things–that’s the ultimate cop-out as far as I’m concerned). For one thing, the “Batman’s one rule is that he doesn’t kill” device is certainly not unique to Titans. Which would be fine, if this show hadn’t gone so far out of its way to run counter to everything we expect from the DC Universe. Why, having embraced brutality and internal brooding, would the audience now believe that they’re interested in sticking to the canon? And maybe the argument is that they are exploring canon by violating it, but I suspect that it’s really just sloppy writing. If you don’t believe me, read this. The short version of the linked article is that Titans is intentionally being written the way it is because they think it’s what you want to watch. This is not a good reason to make a TV show. Or to write a story. Or to, well, undertake any artistic endeavor. Pandering to the audience is not good writing, it’s just naked marketing. And, well, all that is a rant for another day. If you want to think about why one should make a TV show or write a book etc, go read some Stephen King.What’s more, the episode makes a lot out of the importance of authenticity (my word, not theirs). Dick tells us at one point that he has a conscience, while Batman has a code. The result was the Dick laid awake worrying about the things he had done, while Bruce slept soundly. Kory points out that the difference might explain why Bruce is still fighting crime in Gotham and Dick is living in is cop mansion in LA. And yet by the end of the episode both Bruce and Dick are in the same place. Dick has (again) violated his conscience, and Batman has broken his code. This sounds meaningful, until you give it a moment’s reflection. All of us have both of these things–if you don’t have a code, then your conscience has nothing to hold you to. If you have a code but no conscience, then it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a code because you’ll never stick to it. Dick being true to himself rather than to a code is supposed to be the point–but “being true to yourself” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a way that you think you ought to behave.
And yes, Christians do have something to say about this. There is a code which all human beings are supposed to live by. It’s called the Law, and can be summarized as “love God” and “love your neighbor.” We also all have consciences which, barring exceptional circumstances when the conscience is fully suppressed (àla Romans 1), inform us as to what we should and should not be doing. The problem is that our consciences outside of faith in Christ are merely witnesses against us, rather than spurs to Godly living. But again, Titans isn’t that subtle or nuanced.
All these reviews together hopefully tell you that Titans is a show that’s not yet found its feet. It uses special effects and violence to mask its basic lack of direction and plot. Which I suppose in and of itself is a nice little morality play about modern America. We don’t know what we’re doing or where we’re going, and increasingly lack the capacity to do anything other than try to be “true to ourselves.” So we self-medicate with technology and titillation. Maybe it’s not always violence (sex will often do quite nicely). But it’s always something we try to use to fill our teleological void. And, like Titans, our stories are the poorer for it. The good news is, we’re all part of a bigger story. It’s not a story that we’re the hero of, but it’s a better story. And that is good news that no amount of mopey violence can obscure.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO