“Just remember people are not what they say they’re going to do, they are what they do.”
Halfway through its sophomore season, Titans has been a mixed bag of exciting narrative scoured by inconsistent pacing and, for all the positives, there has yet to be an episode that has knocked it out of the park. This week’s Titan answers the call in almost every way.
It starts with a quick rewind back to last season’s finale, “Dick Grayson” where the post-credit gave us a glimpse of someone breaking out of Cadmus Labs. Though we all knew the character’s identity, especially after seeing the tattoo and his canine Krypto, the meta’s face was never shown. “Conner”, like some of the other character-named episodes, provides the origin story of the man that becomes Superboy.
From his first moments onscreen, Joshua Orpin (Preacher, The Neon Spectrum) exudes the curiosity, wonder, and vulnerability of someone who, as Dr. Eve Watson (Genevieve Angelson, The Upside, Good Girls Revolt) says “is experiencing [everything] for the very first time”. His initial foray into the city streets to tune of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” perfectly encapsulates the childlike wonder of this powerful demi-god.
But, as with any coin, there are two sides to Conner. Whereas one-half is firmly ensconced in the powerful emotions of joy and the desire to do good, there is a darker, more sinister aspect of his character that is the amorality and rage of a sociopath.
These two opposites perfectly capture his lineage. Mixing Superman’s DNA with his own, Lex Luthor was the driving force behind Conner’s creation, with Dr. Eve being the brains behind the theoretical. It’s painful to watch Conner’s confusion with the warring emotions within himself and, on more than one occasion the anger that bubbles up from his progenitor nearly overwhelming his control. Eve warms Conner that, if he’s not careful, not only could the Mercy Graves (Natalie Gumede, Free Rein, Jekyll & Hyde)-led Cadmus hit squad catch up to him, but Conner himself could do something he would regret. The connection the pair make in such a short amount of time is one of the most important aspects of “Conner” and though the two are prematurely separated, Eve’s lessons stick with the young hero-to-be as he and Krypto make their way across the country, eventually finding themselves in San Francisco where, thanks to some seriously fortunate timing, Conner arrives as Jason begins the fall towards his death, saved by the guy sporting the Superman shirt.
As good as the character-driven moments are, things wouldn’t be complete without a relevant display of Conner’s powers. Maybe it’s because there’s no overthinking the choreography or Conner’s brawler-style, but the action scenes are topnotch. Watching Conner wreck Mercy’s hit-squad (with a few well-timed assists from Krypto) is a joy to behold. From super strength, bullet-proof skin, super breath, and hyper-speed (The Flash effects team could take some notes), everything he does emphasizes his shared DNA with the Man of Steel. Unfortunately for Conner, he shares his progenitor’s weakness against kryptonite when, after saving Jason, Mercy puts two bullets into him before she skulks off with Krypto, no doubt taking notes on how to retrieve Luthor’s “property” from the trio of unknowns.
For me, “Conner” is unquestionably the best entry of the Titans series thus far. It’s the show’s best combination of action, narrative, and providing an emotional connection to a new character. As mentioned, Orpin is fantastic as Conner while his chemistry between Angelson’s Eve Watson makes me lament the pair being broken up so early. How he’ll fit into the Titans remains to be seen, though, with the dueling nature of his personality, the future interactions between Conner and the others makes waiting for the next installment a bit more of an annoyance than in weeks past. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
Teen Team Titans
- I can’t sing praises for this episode enough. Whereas the previous “origin” tales like “Aqualad”, “Rose,” and “Deathstroke” all had their positive moments, none put it together with the consistency of “Conner”. I’m not sure if it was just the writing, Orpin’s wonderful performance, or a character that’s just more interesting than the others, but if this episode can jump-start Titans from what has been, until now a middling season with sprinkles of the fantastic into a more consistent and captivating force, “Conner” will have done its job ten times over.
- Though we didn’t get to see her in action, everything about Mercy Graves screams ‘bad and dangerous’. Her decision not to engage an unknown enemy was the right thing to do from a tactical standpoint and, unless I miss my guess, odds are good that she’ll eventually make an alliance with the one person who knows these unknown quantities: Deathstroke.