Titans Is Really Leaning Into White Savior Complexes

Dick Grayson making friends in prison.
Image: DC Universe

Titans seemed like it was on the verge of backsliding into the narrative bad place after Dick Grayson revealed to his teammates that he, like Batman, has no issue lying to people who trust him. This week’s episode—“Fallen”—doesn’t just confirm that, it illustrates how Dick Grayson hitting rock bottom in order to become Nightwing is one of the series’ worst plot points.

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The difficult thing about “Fallen” is how it sends the message that the show truly has no overarching vision for the larger arc of this season or the ability to keep a consistent narrative pace. On paper, Dick telling the other Titans that he lied about how Jericho died reads like an emotionally devastating moment that would rock the team to its core, but on screen, it played out like a tired rehashing of events that we’d already seen.

To its credit, this episode makes clear that following the previous episode, the Titans truly have all gone their separate ways—Kory in particular, who straight up doesn’t make a single appearance here. Instead, “Fallen” follows Dick Grayson to prison where his only desire is to pay penance.

One would think that Dick—someone who’s spent years operating as one of the most high-profile vigilantes in the entire world (Robin)—would know better than to do something so stupid as to get himself locked up and under constant supervision, but apparently that’s not the case. Dick wants to be in jail because he feels guilty, something that the friendly, white corrections officer who brings him to his cell doesn’t understand.

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Because Dick was once a cop the C/O feels a sense of camaraderie with Dick and he warns the former Titan that the rest of the prisoners, virtually all of whom are black and Latino men, will immediately come after him if Dick doesn’t take him up on his offer for a special solitary cell. But Dick’s in jail because he wants to punish himself and insists he doesn’t want any special treatment from the guards, which is only but so commendable considering you know Dick could easily murder anyone who might come after him.

You can’t really joke about Dick living out his Lady Gaga fantasies because no matter how many times Donna or Gar try to call him, he refuses to answer the phone (mostly because he’s in prison, but also because he doesn’t even take the one chance to use the phone that he’s actually offered.) It’s a shame because even though the Titans are broken up, everybody’s in deep, deep shit and could use Dick’s assistance.

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Gar taking out a Cadmus soldier.
Image: DC Universe

Though Donna could easily just move on with her life and get back to fighting crime on her own, she’s concerned about Rachel—who wandered off on her own in San Francisco without letting anyone know where she was going. Because Rachel’s got experience living on the streets and she’s gained more control of her demonic powers, she’s not actually in all that much danger, and we see that she’s utilizing food kitchens in order to survive.

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Rachel’s angry at the Titans for deceiving her, but at the same time she still yearns to connect with other people, and she quickly makes friends with a young girl of color who’s clearly on the run from someone dangerous. You can see that Rachel sees herself in the girl, not just because of the dramatic hood she’s wearing, but because she learns that the danger the girl’s running from is tied to her family. So when a man suddenly comes to grab the girl and force her out of into the street, Rachel doesn’t hesitate to follow and take matters into her own hands.

In the moment when Rachel manifests her demonic energy, Titans actually manages to tap into a take on her powers that, visually speaking, reads a little bit like the animated Teen Titans franchise’s take on Raven. Here, she’s able to grab the abusive man’s body with her energy and skillfully lift him up before slamming him into the wall, scaring the hell out of him. What’s interesting is that, unlike earlier moments in the season, Rachel’s seemingly able to...not suppress her demonic rage, but control it. She could easily kill the man, but instead she drops him from a considerable height that hurts him, but not so badly that he can’t run away. Rachel’s certain that her new friend will be terrified of what she’s just done, but instead, the girl enthusiastically brings her to the place where she and a group of other homeless teens are squatting, and the girl makes it clear that Rachel’s going to become an important part of their group.

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Rachel using her powers on an abusive douchebag.
Image: DC Universe

“Fallen” actually takes an interesting turn though as we see that some of Rachel’s magic pulls away from her and possess a stone gargoyle, bringing it to life before it swoops off to murder the abusive man. It’s unclear whether Rachel willed the gargoyle to life consciously or whether her demonic side is able to act independently of her. But as interesting as those questions are, Titans really, really doesn’t need this kind of new arc so late in the season, especially when you consider season one overlapped poorly with the start of season two.

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But the episode isn’t content with just giving Rachel an entirely new direction this late in the game. Elsewhere in the City, Conner’s in the midst of an existential crisis because he’s terrified of the way he brutalized a number of cops, making him and Krypto targets of the San Francisco PD and the Cadmus goons. Conner forces Krypto to leave his side because he reasons that the dog would be better off without him, and it’s all very sad until you remember that all of this nonsense could have been avoided if all the Titans had kept their wits about them and just stayed in the Tower for the greater good.

Krypto—who is truly the only character Titans should focus on for the rest of the season—seems to be the only person (well, sentient being) with any sense about him as he beelines it back to the Tower to get in contact with Gar and lead him to Conner. Gar understands the inner turmoil Conner’s going through and he tells him that people aren’t solely defined by the bad things they’ve done, especially when they have the capacity for good in them. The boys head back to the Tower where Gar finally—finally—has the wherewithal to consider that it might just be time to call the goddamned Justice League who could handle all of this with the utmost ease. But just as he’s about to ring Batman, Mercy Graves and the Cadmus squad storm the Tower and while the boys put up a valiant fight, Mercy is able to subdue them and convince Conner that coming back to Cadmus is in his best interest.

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What’s wild about all of this is that while the events in San Francisco all seem to happen within the span of a day or two, Dick seems to be in prison for a significantly longer time, a time in which he quickly comes to understand some of the dynamics of the yard. He wants absolutely no business with the gang that’s ostensibly got control of the prison yard, but Dick’s disinterest in minding his own business (and the way the C/O is friendly with him) puts him on one of the gang’s radars and it isn’t long before there’s a hit out him.

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As payment, one of the gang’s leaders demands that Rafa (Orel De La Mota), one of Dick’s cellmates kill him, and Dick sees the attack before it’s coming. But ultimately, Rafa doesn’t want to kill Dick or be beholden to the gang’s demands, because he and Dick’s other two cell mates Luis (Julian Works) and Santos (Reynaldo Gallegos) have a plan to escape from the prison. From Dick’s perspective, their plan’s a surefire way to get their asses kicked at best and a death sentence at worst, but Luis explains that they’re confident they’ll succeed because of their faith in Alazul (“blue wing”), a deity worshipped by people from their village.

Luis’ drawing of Alazul, which is clearly going to become Dick’s Nightwing emblem.
Image: DC Universe
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As Luis explains that Alazul is a winged creature that lives between the moon and stars, you can see that this is where Dick’s inspiration for the Nightwing persona comes from. Though Dick doesn’t initially believe in Luis’ faith, he’s struck by Luis’ drawing of the creature, a drawing Dick will eventually end up emblazoning across his chest later on in the season. Sadly, Santos doesn’t live long enough to act on his plan, but eventually, Rafa and Luis decide to make a go of it, and as Dick predicted, they almost immediately get beaten down by the guards. But, unsurprisingly, Dick shows up in the nick of time to dispatch the guards, disable the prison’s gate as it’s closing, and ensure that Luis and Rafa are able to escape to freedom. Dick could easily have gone along with them, but again, he wants to be in prison.

And so, as “Fallen” comes to a close we’re left with a bloodied and bruised up Dick Grayson having done his good deed and learned a little something from his time slumming it in prison, but it all feels kind of...gross and in bad taste. We’re in Titans’ season two endgame territory at this point and the series just doesn’t really seem interested in getting down to business and making things compelling. Perhaps things will pick up over the course of the final three chapters, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Titans continued its slow descent into banality.

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About the author

Charles Pulliam-Moore

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.