From the moment that Titans‘ first trailer dropped, viewers complained that the dark and gritty reboot was – well, too dark and gritty. As the welcome wagon for the DC Universe streaming platform, it didn’t seem all that welcoming. Add to that fight scenes that sometimes appeared to be choreographed in total darkness, and the fledgling series was off to a rocky start.
That’s ignoring the racist fans that griped about Starfire being played by a gorgeous black actress, Anna Diop. With all these forces conspiring against Titans, it seemed DC Universe was destined to failure. Surprisingly, it scored a large enough viewership and fanbase to garner a second season. With that season, new potential members of the squad emerged, and the show added even more diversity than before.
On the surface, that’s a great thing. Esai Morales is a genius casting choice for Deathstroke, and his children being Asian means there’s a blended family onscreen that doesn’t need to be commented on. But digging a little deeper, a disappointing pattern emerges: the characters of color are consistently given the short end of the stick.
Titans: (Wrong) Characters Over Plot
This problem dates back to the first season and includes two of the main protagonists: Starfire and Beast Boy, played by Ryan Potter. While Rachel (Teagan Croft) and Dick (Brenton Thwaites) were introduced and elaborated on in the first episode, Kory and Gar didn’t get more than cameos until episodes 3 and 4 respectively. In the meantime, Hank (Alan Ritchson) and Dawn (Minka Kelly) got a whole episode of backstory to themselves.
Despite the fact that the Hawk and Dove duo were not officially part of the Titans, the full-episode trick was repeated for them twice in the first season. Both times, the narrative came to a full stop just to further explore their dynamic. Starfire, on the other hand, barely got a 5-minute info dump about her planet in “Koriand’r.” Beast Boy didn’t even get his own episode, instead serving as a footnote in an episode meant to introduce the (far superior) Doom Patrol series.
Rumors floated that several bits of Kory’s storyline landed on the cutting room floor due to poor editing. And, of course, Gar’s transformations had to be reduced for budgetary reasons. But why couldn’t Titans think of other ways to bring their past onscreen, considering that they were able to spend a whole episode in Dick’s dream world and call it a season finale?
New Season, Same (Lack of) Story
Fast forward to Season 2 and, as I mentioned, the Wilson family forms a major part of Titans‘ arc for the year. But, despite the clear and present threat from Slade and the wealth of backstory to mine for Rose and Jericho, the same pattern emerges. The episode titled “Rose” was as much about the dreary (and white) villain Doctor Light as it was about Rose herself. “Deathstroke,” too, only featured Slade long enough to threaten Jason (Curran Walters) and face off against Dick and Kory.
Once again, the Titans narrative comes to a screeching halt to share the lives and times of characters like Aqualad and now Superboy. There’s nothing wrong with adding those characters to the mix, or with them being white, but the episodes themselves are the epitome of: “this meeting could have been an email.” What concerns me is that the Titans writers would rather showcase a hour of Garth failing to ask Donna (Conor Leslie) out, which doesn’t even answer the central question of what Deathstroke has against the Titans, than move the plot forward in a way that incorporates the characters of color.
The choice of characters may all be a coincidence, making the real problem a narrative one overall. Titans needs to learn to increase tension by pushing stories towards their climax rather than rooting around the edges for more filler. But until they start wasting time with ruminations on Kory’s life on Tamaran or on literally anything about Gar aside for his love of tigers and Rachel, I’m still going to pull the race card.