COVID happened at the worst possible time for Titans. The show ended on a low note before production had to shut down with a season finale that was disappointing to say the least (and I have a lot worse to say). So instead of talking about new information from the new season, focus remains on the last concrete thing we got - negative emotions from a weak finale that capped off a disappointing season. But Titans gets no sympathy from me. If Greg Walker and his writing team had done what they were supposed do - deliver a solid season - the feeling would be positive. There would be more anticipation towards season 3. They didn't and they received the reaction that they deserved.
Speaking personally, I was among the people who (mostly) enjoyed the first season. I was anticipating the new episodes of season 2 each week. At one point, I was readily defending the show - now, I'm making posts criticizing it. That feeling of anticipation has turned into a feeling of dread, with the expectation that season 3 will continue the downward spiral, especially with Walker still in charge.
I can't speak for anyone else on their criticisms of Titans, but for me, my feelings changed due to certain bad decisions made by Walker and his writers that turned what was looking to be a new high point for the series into an all-time low. A lot of people may point to the season 2 finale and the cast bloat as the key problems, but I want to go a little more in-depth. It was these mistakes from Walker and company that ruined season 2, ordered from ascending damage. And I still want to believe that these decisions haven't ruined the entire show, so to also add positivity in the face of what's shaping up to be an even bigger disaster, I'll also be discussing how Titans can correct its course and find redemption in season 3.
- Gar's (mis)treatment
I can live with Gar only turning into a tiger. That's a budgetary issue. What matters is how the story utilizes Gar and the season 2 story failed him.
Gar did have a pretty important role in the later half of the season, so it's not like he was sidelined - the problem is that his main role is to have bad things happen to him. In season 1, he gets captured and tortured by scientists, then almost dies after being poisoned. For season 2, it's the same thing. He almost dies again, this time from being nearly beaten to death, and is once again captured and tortured in the name of science. He gets saddled with the same story for two straight seasons and it's not even a good one. Gar might as well turn into a monkey because he's the butt-monkey of Titans, existing only to get hurt.
It doesn't help that Gar's relationship with Rachel can't be properly developed until around season 4 (provided we get one) due to the baffling decision to cast a minor as Rachel, but an adult actor as Gar. While the problem there lies with the casting department, that doesn't excuse how his character has been treated. Even though the writers can't fully depict him and Rachel together, they can still give him a different role instead of routinely sticking a kick me sign on his back.
This ranks the lowest because I don't care too much about Gar, but that's also part of the problem - I don't care about him because he's been misused. I don't have a vested interest in a character whose defining trait has been getting his ass whupped. I'm supposed to care about him, but when that's the main thing I get from him, I feel ambivalent.
How to fix: The most efficient way to do more with Gar would be to have a story center on him. The ideal story would be to kill off the Titans Doom Patrol and send Gar after their killers. This has background in the comics, where the Doom Patrol died and Gar pursued the killers, and opens up the opportunity for DP Doom Patrol crossovers without confusion over the DP Doom Patrol being a separate team.
This probably won't happen in season 3 because it's already supposed to center on Kory, but it's something that could be utilized for a future season. And Teagan Croft will be 18 by then, so Gar and Rachel's relationship can be fully realized. For season 3, it will be a matter of at least not kicking Gar to the sidelines and/or bringing him to the forefront just to have him captured and beat up again. This can be accomplished more effectively if certain other characters are removed from the show...
- Increased focus on Hank and Dawn
Titans will always be unfavorably compared to Doom Patrol because Doom Patrol understands one crucial thing that Titans does not - how to manage a series based on a team. Unlike with Gar, Doom Patrol gives all of its heroes the right amount of focus. And Doom Patrol makes all of its heroes likable and interesting characters - unlike Hank and Dawn.
It's bad enough that Titans can't properly balance its characters, but the real kicker is screentime that could be for Gar is instead used on Hank and Dawn, the worst characters of the entire series. These guys are not heroes. The main objective of a hero is to help others. Hank and Dawn suit up to hurt others because they hurt. In the first season, they were tolerable due to having supporting roles, but the increased focus on them in season 2 exposed how awful they really are. Not only are they unlikable - they're boring. Their entire arc is them breaking up and getting back together, which has happened twice now.
Their increased focus would have been more tolerable if one of them died in season 2 because instead of being background players whose deaths leave no impact, the audience would have at least gotten to know them before their exits. The death of one of these characters would have also forced the other to develop now that their partner is no longer around. That didn't happen and in a decision that could tank season 3 from the very beginning, they're both still around. But this also relates to a far bigger mistakes.
Also, their karaoke sequence was pure cringe. Doom Patrol also has Titans beat in that area.
How to fix: Hank and Dawn are an anchor dragging this show underwater. They're going to start sinking season 3 as soon as they appear with their unlikable presence and repetitive arc. They need to be dealt with as soon as possible, with their roles minimized. When they are around, the focus should be on their contributions to the team, not their on-and-off relationship that's been depicted enough.
The general assumption is that they'll leave Titans during season 3 to appear in their own spin-off series. Personally, I don't think that should happen. I've seen characters leave shows for spin-offs, only for the spin-off to fizzle out. The shining example for me is Lancer Hunter and Bobbi Morse, who were written off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to receive their own series, only for the series to not make it past the pilot stage. There are too many variables and these are characters I don't want to see more of, period, let alone watch an entire series based around them. And if they simply leave the show by bus, there's always the chance that they may return.
Titans bills itself as being a dark and mature take on the comic material. That would be accomplished by permanently killing off Hank and Dawn in season 3, raising the emotional stakes and tension - the Titans will have to truly deal with loss (provided that a certain other story isn't botched) and the audience will recognize that other Titans may also permanently die.
- Making Jason Todd a Titan
Curran Walters' performance as Jason Todd has been nothing short of phenomenal. He's been so good, I was just glad to be seeing more of him when I heard that Jason would be on the team in season 2 and didn't realize what a horrible decision this was.
Here's another example of Doom Patrol understanding a superhero team better than Titans. In a superhero team, each hero is supposed to bring something unique to the team - e.g. distinct abilities. Doom Patrol understood this. The Teen Titans cartoon understood this. Really, all the comic runs of Titans understood this. The only entry that doesn't understand this is the 2018 Titans television series. The comics never put two Robins as main members of the same Titans team - Dick, Tim, and Damien all had their own teams for this reason. This show put Dick and Jason on the same team while neither offers distinct abilities from each other. They're two bird-themed heroes with no superpowers (which also applies to Hank and Dawn, making this even more redundant), so they rely on their physical prowess and gadgets.
Jason was never a primary member of the Titans in the comics because it would have made no sense. He was created so Batman would still have a sidekick while Dick could develop on his own with the Titans. To also put him on the Titans would be counterproductive. On this show, where part of Dick's arc is transitioning from Robin to Nightwing, a similar guest role for Jason is exactly how he should be utilized. Dick learning that he's been replaced as Robin is another factor for him to take up a new identity. Jason has no major role beyond this in a series supposed to center on a Dick-led Titans team, except maybe acknowledgement of his death and appearances as Red Hood.
Apart from unnecessarily bloating the cast, what does Jason - still in his Robin persona - add to the series? Obviously, his expected story arc is to become Red Hood. But that's not a Titans story. That's a Batman story, deeply rooted in Batman. Of course the Titans are going to fail Jason - they can't even look after themselves, let alone a messed-up kid. Batman wasn't supposed to fail Jason. He's supposed to know what he's doing, which made Jason's death all the more impactful and led to a collision course between his ideals and Jason's new ones. The Titans are already established as not knowing what they're doing, which makes their failure to prevent his darker path a comedy of errors.
To top it off, are we really supposed to believe that Bruce gave up on Jason that easily? That Bruce thought the Titans would do a better job mentoring him than he could? The Titans are probably going to be blamed for what happens to Jason when the irony is, Bruce is more responsible for what happens in the show than in the comics by having Jason removed from his care and placed in a far more irresponsible environment. So Jason bloats the cast in an unneeded role to provide an adaptation of a comic story that will be half-baked at best and utterly absurd at worst.
How to fix: With the current direction that Walker and his writer seem to be taking, going for developments because they're unexpected, despite being devoid of logic, Jason's story is only going to get worse. I'm confident that under the current plan, Jason will not be dying on the show - he'll don the mantle of Red Hood and start killing without experiencing death, eliminating the tragic aspects of his character in the process.
Jason needs be removed from this show because he doesn't belong. My proposition is for him to be killed by Grant Wilson, trying to avenge his father's death, who operates under the first Red Hood in the series. That way, an adversary with a prominent connection to the story still kills him (the Joker is a non-entity in this show, so him being the killer would be anticlimactic) and there is still symbolism behind Jason using the Red Hood name instead of coming up with it out of the blue. Even though it's anticlimactic, I could still live with him dying at the Joker's hands because any scenario (unless there are some absurd ones I'm not accounting for) where he dies is better than those where he lives. Then if there's enough demand for it, Jason can be brought back in the likely-upcoming Red Hood spin-off, an environment better suited to Curran Walters' talents.
- Resolving Deathstroke early into the finale
I can figure out the motivation behind some bad decisions, even though I find that motivation to come from misguided (and sometimes, simply bad) places. The decision to conclude Deathstroke's story within the first act of the season 2 finale is something else. I'm not quite sure why the story that was the focal point of most of the season was quickly wrapped up and discarded in favor of a story that didn't begin until about halfway through the season. Literally every re-telling of the season 2 finale that I've seen makes sure to have Deathstroke show up after Cadmus is defeated, not have him be defeated first. As the main antagonist, it's only logical for Deathstroke to be the final obstacle of the season. The problem with eliminating the season's main antagonist early into the finale so they can be replaced with a less prominent adversary speaks for itself.
I even understand why Cadmus was brought into the season. The purpose of Cadmus was to ensure that Deathstroke had an adversarial role in the story's conclusion. When Dick sees Deathstroke before the finale, Deathstroke says he's done - but promises to kill the Titans if they return. Cadmus causes the Titans to return, ensuring that Deathstroke also comes back to follow-up on his promise - with no Cadmus or another separate antagonist's story for that matter, Deathstroke spends the rest of the season on a couch. The problem is that the Cadmus story was supposed to add to Deathstroke's story, not replace it. Of course, the Cadmus story replaced Deathstroke as the final threat of the season, wasting so much build-up in the process. Worst of all, this marks the second consecutive time that the season's big bad was defeated anticlimactically - and when both big bads were given lame defeats, it's easy to see why expectations are low for season 3.
How to fix: There's obviously no way Deathstroke is dead for good, although when this reveal is made will be a mystery until the end of season 3 and maybe beyond that if more seasons are on their way. When he returns needs to be two things - impactful and done at the right time. The ideal time to bring him back right now would be at the end of season 3 so a similar mistake isn't made and he overshadows season 3's big bad. Letting his character rest for the season, then bringing him at the end for the season 4 teaser is the perfect way to build anticipation for the next season, if we get it. He'll be anticipated to return as the big bad and this time, his story will be done right - instead of being wrapped up quickly, it will be the last main story of the season resolved.
- Not using the original season 1 ending
Titans is a bit of an innovator - the show had what's now called the "COVID finale" before COVID was a thing - ending the season abruptly before all of the intended episodes aired. Of course, this isn't a good thing. Walker doesn't have a legitimate excuse for pulling the originally intended finale and having season 1 end on an unsatisfying cliffhanger that left the main story unresolved. This may be the only time where the announcement of a new season turned out to be a bad thing because there's no way Walker would have removed the intended finale and left the first season on a cliffhanger without knowing he would have a second season to resolve it.
While I could go into detail about why ending a season without any resolution and dumping that resolution into the next season's premiere is a bad idea, the damage there was short-term. The season 2 premiere, as many should have expected, felt more like the season 1 finale than the proper start of a new season, but the season could quickly recover from that so long as its main story turned out to be worthwhile.
It wasn't - and a big reason for that was because the season 2 premiere didn't use what happened at the end of the original season 1 finale - specifically Dick becoming Nightwing and the Titans becoming a team. These were events being built up throughout the entire first season, but they never came in season 1. Even though they were ready to be used by the start of season 2, season 2 instead needlessly stretched these storylines out for another 13 episodes, finally resolving them at the end. The end result was a season of repetition - another season of Dick trying to find himself, another season where the Titans split and aren't a team throughout most of it. It took two whole seasons to accomplish what should have been finished in one. Season 2 ran out of ideas halfway through because by that point, Dick had to be Nightwing and the Titans had to be together for the story to progress - yet the creative team found themselves in a quagmire because those were big events meant to occur at the season's culmination. Well, the defeat of the season's big bad is also supposed to happen in the finale, yet Trigon was beaten in the season premiere. Removing the original season 1 finale was the beginning of the end, but not retaining all the major plot developments ensured that the second season was likely doomed.
How to fix: The damage here is already done, but at least these storylines have finally been taken care of after two full seasons. This shouldn't happen again so long as another intended season finale isn't abruptly (and intentionally) removed. Instead of stretching out storylines ready to be finished, season 3 can now start a fully new story. The problem is if this is a story worth telling because as bad as season 1's cliffhanger was, sometimes, a season finale with a proper resolution can be worse.
- The death of Donna Troy
Was anything else going to receive the top spot? Of course not. Walker and his writers had made many bad decisions before this point, but nothing egregiously in your face bad. Nothing that felt like the show couldn't recover from it. Nothing so against the very principles of good writing. That all changed with the death of Donna Troy. When this happened, the problems with the show couldn't be ignored anymore, not with this absolute lack of competence from the showrunner and his writers. The fact that Walker was a co-writer on the season 2, meaning he had direct involvement with what happened, only further highlights the ineptitude on display here.
Plenty has been said about the obvious problems with the scene - that it makes no sense for Donna to be killed by man-harnessed electricity after surviving Conner's punches without a mark and that it makes no sense for Conner, whose entire character is based around this, does nothing in the one moment where the story demands that he do nothing. But the true problems with this development go beyond the silliness. A lot of people seem to think that the problem was just how Donna died - every re-telling of the season 2 finale that I've read depicts her being killed by Deathstroke or Conner. A lot of people seem to think that Donna had to die - some even incorrectly believing that Donna has to die to become Troia when Donna actually died in the comics as Troia. Deathstroke killing her would have been gratuitous after everything else he already did to her and Conner killing her would logically ruin his character due to his emotional instability (logic isn't a strong point with these writers, but still). The real problem was Walker's decision to even kill Donna.
Not only was it completely unnecessary to kill Donna from a source material perspective - her comic death was to set up a Crisis event, which doesn't apply to the show, and the same comic that killed her at least had the courtesy to bring her back in its epilogue - doing so takes away from the narrative instead of adding to it. This is the polar opposite of Hank and Jason, where their deaths would have benefited the story because there's nothing new to do with them. Donna adds more to the story being in it than away from it - we haven't seen her with Diana, we haven't explored her relationship with Roy, we don't know what caused the fire that killed her father, we don't know who her mother is, and we don't know why her Amazon handlers were targeted for assassination. All of this is potentially lost - in favor of yet another story where Hank and Dawn go through their toxic on-and-off relationship and watered down, completely out of place Red Hood adaptation. And Donna adds something to the team that literally no other character can add - being an actual friend to Dick. The fact that Dick has no true friends on the team right now, all while the Titans are based in friendship, is true absurdity.
Hank was the ideal character to die in the finale. Much of the penultimate episode, right down to its title, was building up to his redemption. Sacrificing himself to save Dawn would be the perfect way to go out and conclude their relationship, demonstrating that she truly mattered to him. His character has nowhere else to go but repeat what the show has already depicted, with his sacrifice completing his arc. And his death would allow for the Holly Granger reference to become more than an Easter egg and instead a teaser for her appearance on the show. Jason's death would have worked too. His story does not work without him dying and being killed by Deathstroke would have been the perfect way to conclude his relationship with Rose - the punishment for her deception was the life of who she loved because he wouldn't have been an easy target on his own if she didn't lie to him. There were two solid prizes right in front of Walker and he opted for the mystery box. He passed the ball on the 1-yard-line. He made the worst possible decision he could have made at the worst possible time. This, of course, turned out to be the last major moment of season 2's story and now season 3 has this awfulness dumped right on it, forcing it to either right the ship or send it right into Atlantis.
How to fix: After how poorly season 2 handled her death, season 3 has to be very delicate with how it handles Donna. But with Walker still in charge, it's only natural to expect that he'll botch this too. The implications are not good. From what I'm feeling, I expect a Black Siren retread because of Rachel's demonic source for her powers (they turned the gargoyle evil, after all) and the current comic continuity has Troia as an evil Donna. To turn the character evil after killing her in such an insulting way is the ultimate insult. I'm also hearing rumors that Donna will only appear in flashbacks for season 3, meaning either Rachel is gone for the whole season or she failed in her objective, making the season 2 finale's teaser a bait-and-switch that went nowhere. This also opens up the can of worms of delving into Donna's convoluted comic origins, which the show had no valid reason to delve into. The continuity errors that forced her original origin - depicted on the show - to be changed in the comics do not apply to the show and moving away from this origin would be a grave mistake.
The best solution may be a cop-out, but when dealing with writing this bad, options are limited. Simply revealing that Donna survived and her death was faked will fix the various logical issues with the season 2 finale and help alleviate the negative feelings towards this moment. It will undo the show's biggest mistake (hopefully not to be undone by season 3) - ensuring that worthwhile and engaging content is saved - and maybe improve feelings towards the season 2 finale with this new knowledge - maybe even improve feelings towards season 2 as a whole.