Titans: Souls

We’re all wearing white? On a beach? Really?

I’ve had some issues with the Titans series at various points. I admit to bias, as Dick Grayson is my favorite character, and the Teen Titans my favorite team, and there have been a lot of odd, sometimes seemingly random, departures from the source material. “Souls” is a change from the entire rest of the season and series, and may be the best individual episode I’ve seen so far. There are some interesting ideas and the show focuses on some characters who don’t get a great deal of screen time. Due to this being such a strikingly different episode, there will be some spoilers below as I discuss some of the things that happen. Since this episode came out a few months ago, I don’t feel bad about that, but this is your warning.

The first scene is Bruce Wayne, who we haven’t seen since very early in the season. He’s making some preparations that come across as a bit ominous, and he has definitely not recovered from the emotional shock of losing Jason (does Bruce even know he’s back?) and then killing the Joker. Next up, we finally see Rachel for the first time this season aside from flashbacks. She accompanied Donna’s body back to Paradise Island after the hero’s death, and there’s some kind of ritual going on around the body. Rachel is clearly aching to do more, but the other women there are discouraging her from doing so, especially one we eventually learn is named Myrrha. Whatever the reason behind the ritual robes everyone is wearing, it’s the closest Rachel has come to any of her comic book looks since the show started. This is followed by Rachel getting some training that even Dick might be impressed by, and Rachel chafing at the slow pace of everything on the island.

Things shift not only location but color palette, as Tim Drake suddenly wakes up on a train amid the woods in a black and white world. It’s interesting timing for me as I catch up, since I just watched Stargirl’s Summer School Chapter Eleven, which also used black and white to show a different world. At any rate, Tim is very confused, and the conductor isn’t very helpful, and a lot less nice than the one on the Polar Express. Tim decides he doesn’t like where this is going and runs for it. As he dashes through the train, he passes Donna Troy, who we also haven’t seen yet this season. Donna tries to ease him in to what’s going on, but Tim isn’t going to accept this and does something rash. Donna sighs and then goes after him.

Rachel goes back to Donna’s body when no one else is around and tries to use her powers to bring her back. This not only doesn’t work but earns her the ire of Lydia, the older woman who seems to be in charge and generally disapproving of everything. Tim keeps running in the woods, and is not going to listen to Donna urging him to slow down. Fortunately, Donna’s powers seem to have come to the afterlife with her, and there’s no way Tim is going to outrun her. Her joke about Lyft service being bad out here gets lost when these strange creatures start coming out of the trees, standing at impossible angles, and apparently gunning for Tim. The two run and find a road in the woods, a black muscle car revving, and Donna’s teammate Hank Hall, formerly Hawk (and formerly alive). Hank greets Donna’s shocked look with a laugh, and he tells her they have some catching up to do.

Back on this version of Paradise Island, Cranky Lydia leads a gathering to pass judgement on Rachel. Myrrha tries to advocate for her, and Lydia isn’t having it. The odd way they speak in this hearing makes them sound a lot more like Vulcans than Amazons. Rachel tries to speak on her own behalf, and makes nothing better. Given Rachel’s general attitude, this isn’t shocking, and Lydia announces she’s going to administer whatever the punishment will be. As they drive through the woods, Hank asks about Tim, passed out in the back seat, although Donna doesn’t know much more than he does. He tells her about the creatures they ran from, and fills her in on his death. Donna is shocked, and expresses sympathy for Dawn. Hank shows that death hasn’t really changed him much.

They arrive at some place that looks like an upscale restaurant, and meet someone named Malcolm. Malcolm apparently knows Hank, but not the others. There is a Malcolm in Titans history, but this man looks nothing like him and doesn’t seem to have any of his abilities. Malcolm takes Tim to one side to get him some food while Donna and Hank talk. They talk about human history, life after death, activities in the afterlife, coincidence, and rumors of a way back. Hank enthuses about getting back and the Titans needing help, but Donna gives him a shocking response. Rachel gets led someplace new by Lydia and presented with her punishment. It’s a very odd one, but Lydia makes some cryptic and worrying comments.

Hank is reeling from Donna’s words, and goes on about his own plans. Donna isn’t buying in to his plan, and some of her complaints about how she died seem to echo the less than pleased fan reactions at her utterly ridiculous death in season two. Their discussion gets interrupted by the appearance of the monsters from earlier. Malcolm, despite his classy look, apparently should have been wearing a red shirt as he shows us how the monsters work. The fight gets strange when Hank suddenly shows up with weapons that are a bit out of character for him, but very effective. Tim gets a flashback as he begins to remember how he got here. Rachel tries to deal with her punishment as best she can, asking Lydia some questions and answering some about the Titans. Lydia’s words begin to paint a picture and Rachel starts coming to some realizations.

Donna and Hank argue about their lives and things they’ve done until they get interrupted by Tim. In the same way he shocked Dick a little while back, he surprises the two Titans by knowing a lot about them. Tim remembers more, and shares a bit about the situation in Gotham with the heroes. He also recalls more about what happened to him and that fuels his resolve to not accept his fate. Donna tries to caution him about expecting too much, but Tim isn’t going to listen. Hank makes a few snarky comments and Donna, after glaring at him, asks Tim to at least change what he’s calling her. Rachel tries a new approach to her task which almost works, but fails at the end. Frustrated, Rachel finally says some of what she’s been thinking, and Cranky Lydia is actually surprisingly sympathetic. One irksome thing in the episode: during Rachel’s “hearing” she was accused of violating their customs in a way bad enough to be considering blasphemy… and this is never explained or alluded to again. Some detail would have been nice.

Hank and company drive down the road and he tries to explain what just happened. It’s a rare serious moment for Hank, and Donna mocks him a bit for it. Amid his attempts to make them understand what he did, they follow the vague clues they have to find the rumored way out. To everyone’s surprise, they do. Then, of course, the bad guys attack again and there’s a massive battle. Hank and Donna both try his trick, with varying results that are nice callbacks to things from various scenes in the series. Finally, two of them make it out and one doesn’t. The one who can’t escape meets up with someone and gets what you could call a good reward for that character’s idea of the afterlife. The ones that make it back end up in very different places. One has the natural continuation of what we saw last to deal with. The other arrives just in time to prevent someone else from doing something truly shocking. Aside from that bit of heroism, another immediate aftereffect is someone finding out a big circumstance has changed. The follow up to all this is going to be interesting, to say the least. I hope they do it with the same quality they did this episode.

What I liked: This was a very different episode, and I like that they took the risk of doing it. Hank and Donna were perfectly in character and they played off each other really well. This was a new world with new rules and we got enough to understand what’s happening, but left enough to be explored that I’d be fine with coming back to this idea at some point. I like how when Hank and Donna were getting stuff wrong in the final fight, everything they pulled out was of some significance to them. I’m curious about Malcolm. On the one hand, it clearly wasn’t Mal Duncan from various incarnations of the Titans, but on the other, there are a lot of names out there and they chose that one. I wasn’t wild about the Rachel scenes, but they worked. I’m really surprised with what they did with Bruce.

What I didn’t: Not much. It would have been nice to see Garth, the other dead Titan, but I get not wanting to push too much stuff in at once. I’d have loved for everyone to make it back, but I understand the various reasons that wouldn’t work.

This was a really good episode. I’ll give it a high 3.5 out of 5. There should be a lot of repercussions from what we saw here.