Never judge a show by its trailer. That’s the mantra to live by when it comes to Titans, which debuted to a surprisingly great first episode that gave ample context to scenes fans were up in arms about when the trailer debuted.
Showrunner Greg Walker keeps the momentum going with the second episode, “Hawk & Dove”, which, appropriately, introduces the titular crime-fighting duo in a highly entertaining hour of television. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s dive into our recap of “Hawk & Dove”.
As the episode starts, we’re introduced to Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchinson), who is in the quite the predicament. Surrounded by thugs as the head arms dealer threatens to cut off his manhood with a pair of gardening shears, Hawk is saved by his partner Dawn Granger/Dove (Minka Kelly), who dispatches the perpetrators with ease.
The costumes are, once again, phenomenal. Hawk & Dove’s costumes are film-quality, highly-textured metal with respective bright reds and blues, complimenting Hawk’s gruff demeanor and Dove’s grace. As the two go back to their apartment, Dawn nurses the injured Hank back to health, sharing a tender moment reminiscing on three and a half years of romance.
Fans might be disappointed by the fact that Hawk & Dove don’t have the powers of their comic book counterparts, but this is a non-issue because Kelly and Ritchinson’s performances fully sell them as two vigilantes past their glory days. We get to see those glory days as a flashback as Hawk, Dove, and Dick Grayson/Robin kick all kinds of ass set to a thumping cover of “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde.
Like the costumes, the action choreography continues to soar in a way that’s evocative of the bone-crunching mania of the best Zack Snyder sequences. Hawk comments on Batman letting Robin out to play as we cut back to Dick driving with Rachel to visit Hank & Dawn in the present day.
When they arrive on their doorstep, Hank doesn’t seem too happy to see Dick. Upon Rachel touching Dawn and seeing her past memories, we find out way: Dick and Dawn used to be romantically involved.
The bulk of the episode is consumed with this tension. Despite Dawn and Rachel’s getting along, Hank doesn’t trust Dick and Dick himself admits to Dawn that he can’t keep Rachel with him because of what he’s become. Dawn seems confused, yet informs Dick that her and Hank are planning on doing one last job to take down an arms dealer (the same one with the gardening shears), with the intention of stealing the money in order to get out of crime-fighting for good.
Dick goes back to his car, making a call to none other than Alfred Pennyworth. We don’t yet know why he’s making this call, but before we can ponder too much we cut to a seemingly normal family enjoying breakfast. A mysterious man comes to the door, saying only “You’re Activated” before leaving. The father tells the family they’re going on a special trip, pulling out a series of injection needles to administer to the rest of the family.
Some will recognize this family as the supervillainous Nuclear Family. They certainly live up to their roots at they attack Dick’s partner in her office, torturing information out of her. This scene feels gratuitous, leaning far too heavy into violence against women for shock value, an issue that rears its ugly head again later in the episode. Admittedly, it establishes the Nuclear Family as a fearsome bunch, but it didn’t need to go this far.
Thankfully, we cut away from that scene to show Hawk & Dove’s attack on the arms dealer. It’s successful at first, but unfortunately, their success is short lived as they’re ambushed by another set of thugs. It’s here that Robin shows up again, absolutely laying waste to all of them in grotesque, brutal ways that actually feel earned due to it being established so far that he’s changed drastically.
Dove’s disgusted reaction really helps sell it. Both her and Hank are in shock by the “psychopathic”, in Hank’s words, Dick when they return to their home to find Rachel on the roof, clutching an envelope. She explains that she intercepted a fax from Pennyworth indicating that Dick was planning on leaving her with Hank & Dawn, abandoning her.
Dick asserts that this is because he’s ashamed of who he is, but there’s no time to discuss as the Nuclear Family comes in and lays waste to all of them. In the process, Dawn is knocked clean off of the roof, plummeting to the street below. Dick holds her in his arms, Dawn bleeding out as a Raven lands on the roof and the episode ends.
There are two ways to look at this ending. The first is that Dawn is actually dead and that they’ve used the death of a female heroine with a lot of story potential simply to drive the development of its male heroes. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, because it would be an irritating, problematic direction to take the series.
The second is that Dawn is not fully dead and that Rachel will have a hand in bringing her back to health, as hinted by the raven landing on the roof. This would be a much more preferable conclusion that would actually advance the plot in a meaningful, fresh way. Since Minka Kelly is signed on for far more episodes, this seems more likely.
Otherwise, Titans has been quite impressive so far. The narrow focus in this episode, although leaving Starfire and Beast Boy out, gives the opportunity to deeply flesh out these characters and the world they’re in. The idea of vigilantes past their prime, struggling to move away from their past, gives off serious Watchmen vibes, and being compared to one of the most acclaimed graphic novels of all time is never a bad thing.
Wherever Titans goes from here on out, I’m fully invested in this story.