In the span of two episodes, DC Universe’s Titans first set itself back and then took a monumental leap forward. It fast tracked the entire cast’s character development so that the series could start getting into more team-driven plot lines worthy of the “Titans” title. Now that the broad strokes of the gang’s group dynamics are all more or less established, the show is finally letting its heroes flex a bit more in the ways that you typically see characters doing midway through an arc in a comic book.
In “Ghosts” we see that everyone’s really developed a better sense of who they are and where they fit on the Titans team in relation to one another, but in more than a few cases, that deeper understanding of themselves has led to some dark conclusions.
The episode opens with the heroes in an understandable defensive position after everyone learns that Rose, the newest guest to make a visit to Titans tower, is Deathstroke’s daughter and on the run from her villainous father. Despite the fact that Deathstroke hasn’t actually done much on-screen up until this point, the character plays a fascinating role in the way that the Titans’ older members approach their hero work, because he’s the person responsible for tearing the first incarnation of the team apart. While Jason’s more than game to take the assassin on headfirst, and both Gar and Rachel are rather neutral because they don’t really know who Deathstroke is, Dick is adamant about everyone needing to be patient and take their time as he figures out how to deal with the villain’s reappearance.
Because Doctor Light’s on the loose and murdering people once again, Hawk, Dove, and Donna Troy have a reason to make their way to San Francisco to join up with Dick to put the criminal back where he belongs. Dick obviously wants and needs to tell his former teammates about Deathstroke being back on the scene, but rather than be upfront immediately and open about the very real danger they’re all in, Dick instead telegraphs just how much Bruce Wayne’s rubbed off on him over the years and chooses to instead keep the original Titans in the dark.
It’s interesting to see how, with two generations of Titans living under one roof (including a new Robin), Dick feels more than comfortable sliding into broad kind of mentorship role for the younger heroes and a trusted leader for his contemporaries. Dick’s more than capable of talking the leader talk as he strategically pulls Gar closer to him in order to help hunt down Doctor Light while also keeping Jason at arm’s length in order to ensure his safety. But when it comes to walking the leader walk, he stumbles, because despite the air of calm and strength he tries to project, it’s obvious that he’s somewhat out of his depth with the situation at hand.
“Ghosts” establishes the existence of DC Comics’ H.I.V.E. (Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination) and sheds the slightest bit of light on Deathstroke’s backstory through Rose, as she explains that things between her and her father began to deteriorate after the death of her brother Jericho. Because the older Titans assumed that Deathstroke was dead, they’d have no reason to be concerned about him stalking the Tower looking for his daughter, but when Dick explains to Donna, Hawk, and Dove how very alive Deathstroke is, they’re all justifiably alarmed at Dick’s deception.
Dick’s struggle to maintain everyone’s faith in him is mirrored in what looks to be the beginning of a new character arc for Rachel, who has taken to the idea of living with the Titans the most even though she’s potentially the most dangerous member the group’s ever had.
When her demonic powers flare up during a training session with Gar and Jason, the boys are both alarmed to realize that while Trigon may be gone, whatever demonic essence Rachel inherited from him has the potential to flare up and overtake her in moments of anger or panic. Gar’s background with the Doom Patrol is likely the reason he’s not inclined to immediately demonize Rachel for losing control, but Jason can’t help be see her as an otherworldly danger, which is...partially true, but “Ghosts” does an excellent job of exploring some of the complex emotions underlying his frequent outbursts at his teammates.
In truth, all of the new Titans are still figuring things out about themselves and how they feel about getting into the superhero game, but things are somewhat different for Jason, who has plenty of experience working alongside Batman. He has the technical skills, but what Jason lacks is the kind of empathy and trust necessary to really work well on a team, and he’s unable to understand that Dick sincerely wants him to work on those shortcomings in order to become a better hero. But because Dick, much like their mentor Bruce, isn’t the best as expressing those kinds of feelings to people, from Jason’s perspective, it feels as if Dick’s trying to freeze him out and keep him benched. It’s interesting to see how, even though he’s absent, Bruce Wayne is still very much a presence in both Dick and Jason’s lives; you can see his influence in the way they both respond to stress. More and more, it feels as if Dick is becoming more like Bruce in ways both good (mentoring) and bad (deceiving his teammates) as he’s gradually getting closer to embracing his new Nightwing persona.
But Dick’s inability to understand that Jason needs a certain degree of reassurance about his place on the team is what leads to the younger Robin taking off with Gar in a misguided attempt to prove that he can be valuable to the Titans if Dick would just give him a shot. Jason’s excursion into San Francisco’s sewers in search of Deathstroke leads to exactly the kind of trouble Donna made of point of warning Dick that he was courting by bringing Rose to the tower, and by the episode’s end, Jason’s blood has been spilled, and it’s open to interpretation whose hands it’s on.
Curiously, the episode makes clear that Kory’s Titans subplot has the potential to become a much larger part of the show that overshadows whatever madness Deathstroke has planned. Kory, it turns out, is very much wanted back on her home planet, Tamaran, where she’s meant to take her rightful place on the throne, but it’s a duty she doesn’t want because of how it robs of her of the freedom to choose how she wants to live. As initially alarming as being kidnapped by a member of her royal guard (who’s also a former lover of hers) was, Kory knows she’s still in a position of authority and can command the guard to let her go if she wants, and as the two talk, you get the sense that she does still feel some degree of obligation to her home planet. It’s not that she wants to fully let Tamaran go, she just doesn’t want her entire life to be defined by its draconian class system.
The moment Kory says she’ll hop back in her ship and willingly go back with her guard to Tamaran, you know she’s lying and preparing to hightail it to San Francisco to link up with her superpowered friends. Predictable as her deception was, her guard’s warning that more Tamaraneans—including her sister Blackfire—will come looking for her makes you appreciate the melodramatic, comic book-y tone Titans is leaning into. Sure, Starfire could do the responsible thing and prevent an invasion that might lead to the world’s destruction, but where’s the fun in that?
For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.