Titans Turned 'Family' Into a Four-Letter Word

Chella Man as Jericho.
Image: DC Universe

Titans’ second season has spent a significant amount of time in the past in order to illustrate the various reasons why the show’s heroes are such haunted people clearly living in the shadow of something devastating. First, there was the original incarnation of the Titans, a team that seemingly broke apart following Deathstroke murdering Aqualad.

That sort of loss would be reason enough for the Titans to dissolve were it not for the fact that Titans has kept Deathstroke well within the heroes’ orbit. Unlike its approach to Doctor Light or Trigon, Titans is (thankfully) putting in the effort to make its take on Slade Wilson the sort of lasting, pervasive villain whose very presence has the ability to strike fear into the young heroes’ hearts. He’s the thing they all fear most in the world, and the show understands that in order to hammer that idea home, his backstory needed a more significant connection to the Titans—and “Jericho” gives it to him.

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The episode doesn’t exactly move Titans forward, but it makes you appreciate the emotional ghosts that have been haunting the Tower, and transforms Deathstroke into the kind of tragically complex figure that makes for a narratively compelling villain.

The episode tells a story that’s as much about its titular character as it is his father because of the ways that Jericho and Deathstroke both inadvertently end up pulling one another deeper into the Titans’ ongoing interpersonal drama. In the past, before the original Titans formally disbanded, there was a time when Jericho became friends with Hank, Dawn, Donna, and Dick in a way that made him feel truly included. Though we don’t see all that much of Jericho’s social life outside of his job at the record store (and the fact that he seems like a generally happy kid), “Jericho” emphasizes that he bonded with the Titans and revealed the fact that he’s a metahuman to them at an important time in his life when he needed to be around more friends his own age.

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After Slade came home from his service in the military, there was a period of time when Jericho and his mother Adeline believed that the man would stay put and commit to his family. But Jericho explains to the Titans how, gradually, Slade began to withdraw into a different, but similar kind of work as time went on. Not long after Slade’s retirement from the military, he started working in “risk assessment” with a man known as Wintergreen, and coming home increasingly infrequently—until one fateful night when Slade unknowingly brought his work home with him.

As Jericho tells the story, his father came home from a trip to find him and his mother being held at knife and gunpoint by two masked men inquiring about Slade’s business dealings. The mercenary’s confident that he can take out the two killers and ensure his family’s safety, but while he’s able to free Adeline, one of the men manages to slit Jericho’s throat, severing his vocal cords, and forever rendering him mute.

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Jericho being held at knifepoint.
Image: DC Universe

Jericho’s relaying his past to the Titans gives them invaluable information about just how valuable he must be to Deathstroke, but it also illustrates how the boy’s truly innocent in all of this mess despite his connection to an evil man. Both Dick and Dawn can tell that Jericho’s earnestness is legit and that he trusts them, all of which makes the Titans’ secret plan to use him as a means of getting back at Deathstroke that much more messed up.

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Learning that Wintergreen is still working with Slade gives the Titans all the information they need to track the killers to at least one of their bases of operation, and both Dawn and Hank reason that the right thing to do at that point would be to remove Jericho from the equation entirely. But because Donna’s feelings about Garth’s death are so raw, she counters that the Titans can’t be sure whether Jericho’s supposed hatred for his father’s evil is genuine, or if the boy can be trusted at all. Even if he is actually on their side, she insists they keep him close, if only to sure that Deathstroke can’t take him back, and it’s difficult to tell how honest Donna herself is being in that moment.

Deathstroke being Deathstroke, he knows the Titans are coming for him more or less as soon as they decide to, and his learning that Jericho is in their midst sets the man on an emotional edge. He understands that Jericho’s a good soul who already has more than a few rightful reasons to be angry at him, and learning more about what he does for a living would likely only serve to drive his son farther away. But what Deathstroke doesn’t know is that just by being himself around the Titans, Jericho’s naturally becoming part of their superheroic family.

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While Jericho’s working in the record store one afternoon, he encounters a pushy customer bullying one of his colleagues and—against his father’s explicit instructions—Jericho uses his metahuman ability to possess people to get back at the customer. Though Jericho thinks no one else witnesses what he’s done, Dick informs him that’s not the case, and the Titan makes quick work of bringing Jericho back to the Tower to show the others what he can do. All of the Titans know what a valuable asset Jericho would be to the team after he possesses Hank, but Dawn has understandable reservations about Dick’s sudden decision to offer Jericho a spot on the team, given how and why they came into his life in the first place. The more they pull Jericho into the world of the Titans, the more risk they’re all putting him in, even if he does feel compelled to embrace the heroic lifestyle.

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Dick does the right thing by telling Jericho the whole of it: How he planned to bump into Jericho at the record store, how Deathstroke killed Aqualad, and how the Titans plan on getting their revenge on the mercenary. But as “Jericho” moves into its final third, you see that if the Titans were truly acting in Jericho’s best interest, they really, really would have simply made sure that he stayed away from them. After Jericho informs his mother Adeline that he plans to move into the Tower because he’s learned the truth about Deathstroke, she furiously sits Slade down and orders him to fix what’s left of their family. As much as Adeline would love for things to go back to “normal,” there is no true normal with Deathstroke in the picture, and she wants him out of their lives after he returns their son home. But Deathstroke isn’t really the type to take that kind of simple request and follow through on it without hurting people in the process.

Jericho demonstrating his powers.
Image: DC Universe
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There’s a more than likely chance that Jericho might have ended up reuniting with his mother in time on his own terms if Deathstroke simply bowed out at that moment and disappeared from his family’s life entirely. But Deathstroke truly believes that being in league with the Titans puts his son at risk, and he also wants a chance at telling Jericho his side of the whole truth about everything. Wintergreen relays Deathstroke’s offer to Jericho, who confides in Dawn that he’s conflicted about the meeting because Jericho knows exactly what Dick would think of the two of them seeing each other.

Dick can’t wrap his mind around the idea that Jericho might still want to at least attempt to understand his father, and uses that wrong thinking to justify continuing to use Jericho as bait to flush the villain out. The inner turmoil Jericho’s grappling with is mirrored in the militant way that both Donna and Dick want to hunt down and kill Deathstroke, who spends most of this episode working to complete his larger mission of killing Jillian the Amazon, who’s been given authorization from Themyscira to eliminate the villain.

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After Deathstroke eliminates his target, he uses Jillian’s death as an opportunity send the Titans a message by way of luring Donna into a trap where he nearly kills the half-Amazon—before sparing her life so that she can warn her teammates to leave Jericho alone. Were it not for Deathstroke’s attack on Donna, there’s a chance that his meeting with Jericho might have ended differently and that there might have been hope for eventual healing between the two of them. But as Jericho’s confronting his father about the monstrous things he’s done, Dick steps out of the shadows to reveal that he didn’t keep his word to Jericho that he’d stay back.

It’s difficult to say just how much (if at all) Jericho felt betrayed by Dick’s latest deception, because in that moment, you can feel how furious he is at Deathstroke for having hurt his mother and for being the reason he can no longer speak. But before Jericho has any chance to express himself, Dick and Deathstroke are at each other’s throats—and just as it seems as if Deathstroke’s going to kill Dick, Jericho jumps in the way to be fatally stabbed by his father’s sword instead.

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“Jericho” doesn’t explain what happens immediately following Dick’s fight with Deathstroke, but the episode cuts to Donna, Dawn, and Hank leaving the Tower, heartbroken over what their actions have led to, and you finally get the full weight of why the team fell apart. In their own ways, each of the Titans ultimately wanted to make Jericho part of their found family, but because they couldn’t agree on a way to incorporate him, he ended up dead at his biological father’s hands. The episode leaves you feeling just how much of a blow to the gut that had to have been for Titans heroes, but even more than that, it leaves no question as to why Deathstroke’s back and hellbent on killing these people.


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About the author

Charles Pulliam-Moore

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.