“We don’t ever let our guard down.”
Taking the ‘pure flashback’ route, “Aqualad” gives Titans fans their first glimpse of the aquatic member of the group as more of the team’s backstory is fleshed out as the series moves towards the halfway point of its sophomore season.
In a misdirection that comes full circle by the end, ”Aqualad” starts off innocuous enough. Deathstroke’s penchant for assassinations (to jazzy tunes, no less) is on full display before the setting changes and the old Titans team—Robin, Hawk, Dove, Donna, and Garth/Aqualad (Drew Van Acker, Pretty Little Liars, Training Day: The Series)—do the vigilante thing to save a family in distress.
While watching the quintet utilize their various skillsets make for an entertaining affair, it suffers from the same choreographic issues that have plagued nearly every fight seen in the series thus far. The flow in the action is stiff and inorganic, only kept afloat by the genuine personalities of the team itself. Though their interactions aren’t exactly seamless, the Titans really do seem to like one another. Most particularly Garth, who despite his Atlantean m.o. about being a carefree wanderer, has his eyes set on Donna.
Focused on her destiny to become a warrior of Themyscira, she purposefully ignores his advances, though her tepid rejections emphasize her mutual attraction towards him. There is a soapy drama’s ‘will they/won’t they?’ tinge to their arc but one can’t help but be captivated by Garth’s earnestness. In truth, getting a bit more of these two (as well as the team as a whole) would have been a boon for the season in general but, alas, fate has shown itself to be a cruel, cruel mistress.
Despite leading off the episode, Deathstroke doesn’t return to “Aqualad” until putting a bullet in the Atlantean’s chest. Just as we’re getting to know the rascally aqua-meta and seconds after his “I love you” confession to Donna, he’s taken from us. While his death is surprising based on his historical involvement with the Titans from a source material perspective, it’s not all that shocking in this episode.
In fact, one of the bigger issues with “Aqualad” is it’s overly stiff and stodgy narrative. It works as an almost paint-by-numbers affair, with Garth’s death as the centerpiece for all the previous talk about what happened “five years ago”. The genesis of the story itself is strong enough but it’s never given room to breathe, an appetizer there because it’s a part of the 5-course meal and shuttled out so that the entree can be served. For much of the episode, we only get the surface-level emotions of our protagonists, glimpses of what could be some appealing moments. It’s not until the end that we get a depth of emotion not just glossed over where Donna blames herself for Garth’s death and the potential spark of Dick’s darker transformation when Dawn tells him to “Be Batman”.
“Aqualad” does nothing to stand out from Season Two’s previous episodes and instead acts as another block in a foundation that will hopefully lead to something special. In that regard, it’s a solid edition, useful on its own but whose true purpose is offering more background seeds in which we must await to blossom and grow.
Teen Team Titans
- Again, Titans whets the appetite; an aroma of anticipation and promise that, when sampled, falls ever so short of its potential. I’m not sure if it’s trying to give everyone their own arcs that is the culprit or just an inconsistency in the writers’ vision, but thus far the season is teetering on disappointing. And yet…with the groundwork they have established, there is so much room for the series to come into its own. Garth’s death was a disappointing fate for a character who, despite some hammy lines, I truly enjoyed, but if the first third of the season can propel the remaining share forward and make the most of what’s come before it, his sacrifice won’t be in vain.
- As cool as Dr. Light’s inclusion in this season has been, his character has been underwhelming. Whether this lies with the actor, the script, the directing, or a combination of all three, I’m not sure but, with an antagonist harnessing such a commanding powerset (which has been executed brilliantly by the VFX team) Light himself has failed to deliver on what should be a legitimate threat to the team.
- One thing that hasn’t disappointed is Deathstroke. Esai Morales has been able to command my attention in a pithy amount of screen time. Now that the Titans are onto him after his murder of Garth—by way of his son, Jericho (Chella Man)—it sure as hell seems as if business is about to pick up. My lingering concern is that when things get physical, Titans will undersell Deathstroke’s incredible fighting abilities. If they can tackle this with the same care and (thus far) depth they have with his children, Rose and Jericho –the latter of whom begs more exploration—then Deathstroke could be the same type of catalyst for Titans hitting its stride as Manu Bennett’s version was for Arrow.