Titans: Aqualad

aqualad-titans-s2e4

No, I am NOT Jason Mamoa junior! 

 

Last episode of the Titans ended with a serious cliffhanger, Jason Todd getting captured through a combination of overconfidence and poor planning. To prolong the suspense, this episode ignores that situation entirely, being set roughly five years ago. It gives us some background on Slade Wilson, the Titans, and clears up who got killed before (I was wrong on my first guess, I admit). Our prolonged flashback shows us a character we’ve only seen briefly before this: “Aqualad.” There is at least one major spoiler below.

With the caption “Five Years Ago,” we get a hint right off the bat we might not see Jason’s situation resolved right away. Instead, we see Esai Morales as Slade Wilson, suiting up in his Deathstroke persona to do a contract in Chicago. I have no idea why this version of the team is so linked to Chicago, which both has never played in Titans’ history before and historically is short on superheroes. Off the top of my head, the only DC Comics connection to Chicago I can think of is it was the home base of Hawkman and Hawkwoman for a brief time. At any rate, after Deathstroke shows how good he is, and how improbable some of the security arrangements in this version of Chicago are, he gets a new file from his aide, Wintergreen, about an “unusual” assignment. Later, in San Francisco, we see Slade driving past a phone booth and spying on an apartment through a window. Inside, someone we haven’t seen before is cooking, greets a woman when she comes home, and gets lectured about leaving the curtains open and never letting their guard down. This is apparently Wilson’s son, Joseph, who only goes by Jericho in this world, and Wilson’s ex, Adeline. Adeline appears to be a mix of two different comic book characters, Adeline Kane-Wilson and Sweet Lili, both women who have been involved in with Deathstroke in his history. Jericho has a prominent scar on his neck that is probably a nod to his comic book history.

Later, a couple gets led astray by their GPS and ends up in the bad part of town. They’re about to get carjacked by a gang when the Titans show up and take them out. Robin, Hawk, Dove, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad make short work of the thugs. Aqualad seems to have powers more in common with Mera than Aquaman here. Also, carjacking usually isn’t a gang activity. You don’t get a lot for a stolen car most of the time, and with multiple people involved, it’s not worth it for a group. Just a note in how criminal economics work. This is followed by a party at Titans’ Tower. Apparently it’s Aqualad’s birthday. Among the odd things of note are that Dick is with Dawn, and Donna spends most of the night hiding in her room until Dawn literally drags her off her bed. There is some emotional drama going on around some of our young heroes.

Elsewhere, Dr. Light is torturing a scientist named Jacob Finlay, accusing him of stealing his work. It’s a great nod to obscure comic trivia: in the books, Finlay designed the original Dr. Light costume and power gear, and Arthur Light stole it from him. The party at the Tower gets interrupted right before Dick is talked into singing by a power failure. Dick goes to check the computer, Dawn fetches some candles, and Donna comes up with lame excuses to duck the obviously interested Garth (Aqualad). Dawn and Dick have some fun down in the computer room, and there’s a joke about Dick not being Batman. There’s more awkward interplay between Donna and Garth, and she eventually ducks away and sends a text to someone that she needs to see them. Donna might be a brave warrior, but she’s not so good with “He likes me.”

Dr. Light and a band of thugs hit a bank (where do villains automatically get henchmen from? Is there a temp agency? An audition process?) and the Titans show up afterwards to work the case. They’re in civilian clothes and never interact with any emergency services, so I’m not sure how official the team is here. Donna gets there late because she’s been off meeting with Jillian, who is apparently her Amazon advisor, undercover as a museum curator, much like Diana in the DC movies lately, and the Hawks before her. Donna is supposed to return to Themyscira for more training, and is now moving up the date. At the bank, Dick gives out assignments, and Donna and Garth end up on the same one, poring over video footage of the attack.

In the computer room, Garth brings Donna some special soda she really likes, which leads to reminiscing about a New Year’s Eve long ago and another name drop of Diana (Wonder Woman). This leads to more memories, and Donna suddenly realizes Garth did something special for her way back when. The rising sexual tension gets shattered when Dawn comes in to ask if there’s any progress and apologizes for interrupting. Dick does a very informal briefing about Dr. Light, with a football being tossed around the room. Batman would not approve. Donna once again retreats to her room. The girl has issues. Garth later seeks out Dick for some advice about Donna, even quoting Cyrano de Bergerac in the process. Dick gives some odd, car-based advice that I’m not sure is good here. Just as Garth leaves, Donna comes in, lying her ass off and telling her friend and leader she has to go back to the Island tonight, and it’s Jillian’s decision. Dick is as understanding as he can be, but does tell her she needs to tell Garth, which I agree with. They get an alert about Dr. Light going after a very high-power gadget and the Titans get a team suit-up sequence.

At a military base, some soldiers are moving something important looking, and you just know they’re not going to have a good night. Sure enough, the thugs show up and attack, which Dr. Light ignores to get to the gadget and start pulling power off it. The Titans show up and take out the thugs easily enough, but have to actually work a bit against Dr. Light. Garth stands up to a close range, sustained blast from Light, which makes me wonder how powerful this version of the character is. Eventually, the team wins and gets in more banter. At the Tower, Donna texts someone she’ll be there for a midnight flight. Garth invites her for celebratory burgers and beer, barely getting out the “just as friends” part before Donna jumps him and drags him to bed. Later, she sneaks out and nods goodbye to Dick, who of course notices she’s leaving. Shortly after that, Garth strolls in, and Dick can’t figure out why he’s in such a good mood until the penny drops: Donna never told Garth she was leaving. Really not cool, Donna.

She goes to the airport and meets Jillian. Just before they actually get on board, Garth shows up and does one of those big airport emotional scenes, many references leaving Jillian a bit lost. Remember that spoiler I mentioned? Here it is. Just as it seems Donna is going to reconsider, Garth gets shot in the chest and falls, dead. Deathstroke, because of course it’s him, lines up another shot on Donna and then Jillian pulls an amazing trick to save her. ‘Stroke runs, Donna grieves, and says she’s staying. She regards a piece at the museum before confirming her choice with Jillian, who cautions her about vengeance. Dick manages to figure out who the shooter was via Bat-Computer. Hank and Dawn get the really morose job of cleaning up after the birthday party, which they gladly stop doing when Donna comes back. Donna blames herself for Garth’s death, and Hank says it’s solely the fault of the shooter. Dick tells them who it is, shares the file, and Dawn reverses her earlier stance, saying it’s now time for him to be Batman. A week later, the team’s revenge starts up, oddly in a record store. I suspect they’re about to do something they will regret a lot.

What I liked: It’s about time we saw the team in costume and working together. It was great seeing Joey in live action for the first time, even if he’s only using the Jericho codename for whatever reason. They used Deathstroke just right- a man who takes no chances, strikes from range, and is gone before the targets know what happened. Jillian was fun, and formidable from what we saw at the airport. It was nice seeing someone from the Aqua-family not used as a joke. He was arguably the most powerful Titan there, especially since all they let Donna do was use her lasso, aside from kicking open a fire hydrant.

What I didn’t: The timing of this felt a bit clunky, like they either meant to do this episode last season or they’re just trying to stretch out the tension about Jason’s capture. It was a bit odd having all the younger team not in the episode. Either Deathstroke screwed up or another theory I have is right about his target. I really don’t care for this portrayal of Donna at all.

It was a surprising episode on a few fronts. I’ll give it a 3.5 out of 5. I wonder which timeframe the next episode will be in?

 

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