Nightwing tries to make the Titans whole again.
Titans: Season 2 has been a giant mess of a superhero series. An entertaining and sometimes engrossing mess, but still a mess. The series has repeatedly made the mistake on trying to take on too much at once and balance more characters than it can realistically manage. In “Nightwing,” the series finally tries to tie together all its loose ends and give fans the sort of closure that was utterly lacking in Season 1’s finale episode. True to form, it’s only partly successful in that end.
Dick Grayson is one of the few characters to consistently fare well in Season 2. These 13 episodes have followed a clear, purposeful arc, as Dick has tried to get the band back together, wrestled with the repressed demons of his past, atoned for his mistakes with Jericho and come out the other side a better, more confident leader. It’s fitting that the series caps off this journey by finally delivering that long-awaited moment where Dick becomes Nightwing. You can’t say Titans hasn’t earned that moment by now.
The costume itself is fine, if not necessarily the show’s best attempt at reproducing an iconic comic book look. For all that this suit is hyped up as the sleeker, more agile alternative to Dick’s Robin costume, it looks every bit as bulky as the Robin costume. 1997’s Batman & Robin didn’t get much right, but toss out the cape and that movie has a pretty terrific Nightwing costume.
Clothes aside, this episode does succeed in capping off Dick’s story and giving him his triumphant superhero rebirth. Brenton Thwaites even conveys that in his performance. The suit itself may be bulky, but the way Dick carries himself shows a man who’s finally freed himself of the psychological burdens he’s carried for years. The lengthy scenes with Iain Glen’s Bruce Wayne help further sell that transformation. Their interactions show an estranged father and son finally making peace with one another and serve as a much-needed contrast to the darkness and brutality of Season 1’s Dick vs. Bruce feud. I wouldn’t necessarily count on seeing Glen return for the recently confirmed Season 3, but at least the series made strong use of the character despite his fairly limited screen time.
Unfortunately, this episode struggles to bring the same satisfaction and emotional weight to its various other plot threads. The Wilson family conflict is handled pretty well, albeit resolved far too quickly given how much Deathstroke’s war against the Titans has dominated Season 1. Slade’s death and Jericho’s “resurrection” are both fitting ways of capping off their respective journeys. Again, it just feels as though this episode is rushing to get the good stuff over with so it can move into less rich material.
If anything, it would have been nice to see the Cadmus conflict resolved first so that the final battle with Slade could have formed the climax of this episode. The team’s confrontation with Superboy never builds the necessary level of tension and danger it needs. That’s part of the problem with having a character like Raven, whose powers allow her to basically do anything the plot demands of her. Never does it feel as though our heroes were in imminent danger while fighting Conner. This Cadmus story needed to build to something bigger and more grand, not an easily fixed mind control conflict.
The aftermath of that battles suggests the writers realized the stakes weren’t high enough, resulting in a sudden plot twist where Donna sacrifices her life to save Dawn. Needless to say, that moment doesn’t play well at all. It comes across as a forced attempt to insert drama and tragedy into a story that couldn’t find a more organic solution. It further highlights why Deathstroke, not Cadmus/Superboy, should have been the finale’s endgame. Let Donna go out fighting the same assassin who killed her boyfriend, not hoisting a bunch of electrically charged scrap metal.
The one silver lining here is that the series does finally seem to be making some attempt at pruning its overly large cast. Donna is dead, Rachel is taking some personal time and Jason seems intent on returning to Gotham. I really wish Jason hadn’t been sidelined in the latter half of Season 2. The series presented such an interesting opportunity by having Dick, not Bruce, be the architect of Jason’s fate, but now it appears Titans is dancing around that opportunity. Still, a leaner, more focused cast can only help in Season 3.
For all that Titans bills itself as an ensemble superhero series, it’s also consistently great when focused on Dick Grayson. Dick’s debut as Nightwing and reconciliation with Bruce Wayne caps off a well-realized journey in Season 2. Sadly, the finale can’t do justice to most of the rest of its cast. This episode is too quick to move through the dramatically rich Wilson family conflict, fixating instead on the far more underwhelming battle with Cadmus. The finale pays the price for the show’s insistence on trying to juggle too many characters and story threads.