“We’re not born good or bad. The choices you make define your destiny.”

Conflict abounds in Titans Tower as the team has to put their issues aside in order to save the abducted Jason and takedown Deathstroke once and for all.

The action involving Deathstroke may have been disappointing but his visual appearance knocked it out of the park.

While this week’s Titans, which took place five years prior to the current series, filled in some of the gaps with the team, there are still quite a few missing pieces on how the team’s fracturing took place and how Deathstroke’s murder-y mindset towards them fit in. There’s no doubt that the fate of his son Jericho plays a major role in this but that particular reveal must wait for another day. Instead, “Deathstroke” gives viewers a ton of strife between characters that need to be on the same page if they have any chance of surviving Deathstroke.

The original four—Dick, Dawn, Donna, and Hank—are still on shaky ground with one another, their actions five years ago still a festering wound. It’s raw enough that the soft-spoken Dawn tells Dick, in no uncertain terms, that if he doesn’t disband the new Titans after their current ordeal, she’ll burn it all to the ground. It’s not quite what you’d expect from friends and former lovers but when the scars go as deeply as they do, confrontations like this shouldn’t be a surprise.

This building tension only spikes when Deathstroke, after killing Dr. Light (RIP to the most annoying character of the season thus far), offers a trade: Jason for his daughter Rose. It’s a bargain Hank is initially okay with taking while Kory, Dawn, and Donna refuse to entertain the prospect. Dick’s a bit more uncertain, knowing they need some sort of plan as all their lives, including Rose’s, are in jeopardy with Deathstroke on the warpath. It’s his hesitation that births a most exciting development in an otherwise straight-forward episode.

Ever since Trigon took her heart while gifting her with Vision-like stone now residing in her forehead, Rachel’s powers have become an unknown commodity. Unable to control them, she believes her fate was set the moment she was born. Kory rejects that notion, reminding Rachel (as well as herself) that, in life, our choices define us, not our heritage. Though Rachel takes those words to heart, when she faces Rose attempting to escape the Tower, that power takes control; instead of subduing Rose, it smashes her into the wall, almost gleeful in the pain and savage injuries it causes, injuries that would have killed a normal person. But Rose takes after her dad and is a much tougher nut to crack.

Which brings us to the most disappointing prospect of “Deathstroke”. There’s no denying Esai Morales has owned this role with his physical presence and verbal command, but it’s not just the acting chops that makes this character come to life. The stunt team is invaluable in their ability to display the badassery of a villain like Deathstroke and, while they don’t exactly fail, watching him battle Dick and Kory is wholly underwhelming. The strategic portion of the 2-on-1 all lines up; Deathstroke using exceptional gunplay and gadgets to keep Kory — his biggest threat in the confrontation — off balance. When it comes to the hand-to-hand aspect though, the fight bogs down with a lack of creativity and fluidity that makes it all seem a bit amateurish. Still, the end-result somewhat helps to gloss over the disappointing combat when Deathstroke sets off the explosives that end up sending Jason falling to his apparent death.

There were a lot of ways “Deathstroke” could have been worse and a few that would have made it better. Underwhelming action aside, the constant secrecy by the older Titans (will heroes EVER learn that secrets only cause problems?!) on top of them dragging out the mysterious fate of Jericho are the biggest offenders. And yet, the constant bickering between characters in what could have been another albatross around the neck, instead creates a more emotional core as these friends (they still are, right?) do their best to forget a past that isn’t done with them yet.

Teen Team Titans

  • Watching Hank peel back old wounds caused by the hands of his coach was hard to watch, but it offered insight into his 180 towards Jason. He understands what Jason is probably feeling—fear, pain, hopelessness—and that helps him see the brash young man in a way he really hadn’t expressed before. It’s a peek into Hank’s thoroughly human core, past a macho bluster he shares with Jason and one can’t help but wonder what kind of pain (or insecurity) the current Robin is also fostering.
  • Rachel’s continual evolution has been the most consistently fascinating aspect of the season thus far. Lackluster premiere notwithstanding, the snippets of darkness inside of her has added a much needed second side to her generally sweet demeanor. Her journey to fight her darker side will be something to watch as twice now it’s been unleashed against her comrades when her pain/fear response reached a certain level. If I didn’t know any better, I might consider Rachel more of a ticking timebomb than any one person or situation on the show thus far…

Titans – “Deathstroke”