WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Titans Season 2 episode "Aqualad," streaming now on DC Universe.
DC Universe's Titans is known more than its liberal use of profanity and occasionally brutal violence than for its symbolism and fine art, but this week's episode delivers all of that. A flashback to the era of the original team, and to the murder of Aqualad by Deathstroke, the episode prominently features a grieving Donna Troy finding solace, or perhaps dark inspiration, in a 19th-century painting. But which one is it, and what does it mean?
While the team's search for Doctor Light is, arguably the primary plot line of "Aqualad," it's overshadowed by the seemingly futile attempts by Garth (Drew Van Acker) to woo Donna (Conor Leslie), for whom he's carried a torch since he was 12 years old. That's intertwined with Donna's own struggle to avoid romantic entanglement before impending return to Themyscira, island home of the Amazons, to embrace her destiny as a warrior.
For advice, Donna turns not to her best friend Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), but instead to Jillian (Ann Magnuson), an Amazon warrior turned museum curator who apparently serves as her chaperone in Man's World. She oversees a traveling exhibit of Greek, or at least Greek-themed, works at the Art Gallery of San Francisco, whose sculptures serves as a reminder of the pull of Themyscira, even while the modern architecture represents the allure of the West.
Jillian offers Donna the choice to leave for home in two weeks, when the exhibit closes, or in six months, in keeping with their original agreement. However, rattled by her growing feelings for growth, Donna later pushes to depart for Themyscira immediately, leading Jillian to hurriedly arrange a nighttime flight. It's at the airport that Deathstroke (Esai Morales) makes his move, which led us to question whether his true target was Donna or Garth. He's gunned down in front of Donna, who's only saved by the quick action of Jillian.
The next day (presumably), Donna returns to the gallery, where she stares intently at Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus, the 18th-century painting by Scottish neoclassical artist Gavin Hamilton. The work captures a pivotal scene from Homer's Iliad, in which the Greek hero Achilles is stricken with grief by the death of his friend and wartime companion Patroclus (they're lovers in later tellings). Inconsolable, Achilles refuses the comfort of his comrades, grips Patroclus' body, and smears himself with ash. His grief later turns to rage, Achilles returns to the battlefield, solely to avenge his friend by killing Hector, who slew Patroclus.
The parallels are obvious, as Donna has only come to tell Jillian that she won't be returning to Themyscira, because the team needs her. "Be careful," Jillian advises, turning to the painting. "Vengeance is a dangerous path." Indeed, Jillian's warning echoes that of Achilles' mother Thetis, who told him if he avenged Patroclus, he would be killed himself.
Although we know that Donna and her remaining teammates survive their coming confrontation with Deathstroke, there are hints their quest leads them to commit dark acts, leading to the dismantling of the team, and possibly the death of Slade Wilson's son, Jericho.
Streaming now on DC Universe, Titans Season 2 stars Brenton Thwaites as Dick Grayson, Anna Diop as Kory Anders, Teagan Croft as Rachel Roth, Ryan Potter as Garfield Logan, Curran Walters as Jason Todd and Conor Leslie as Donna Troy, with Minka Kelly as Dawn Granger, Alan Ritchson as Hank Hall, Joshua Orpin as Superboy, Chelsea Zhang as Rose Wilson, Chella Man as Jericho, Drew Van Acker as Aqualad, Esai Morales as Deathstroke and Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne.