WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Titans Season 2 episode "Aqualad," streaming now on DC Universe.
When Dawn Granger implored Dick Grayson in the Titans Season 2 trailer to "be Batman," may fans presumed it foreshadowed his inevitable transformation into Nightwing -- and that was certainly an understandable interpretation. However, with the latest episode of the DC Universe series, we begin to realize the line's meaning has far darker, and perhaps deadly, implications.
Set five years ago, during the heyday of the original Titans, "Aqualad" not only introduces Aquaman's former sidekick Garth (Drew Van Acker) and Slade Wilson's estranged son Jericho (Chella Man), but also chronicles the team's first encounters with Doctor Light (Michael Moseley) and Deathstroke (Esai Morales). It's the encounter with the latter that results in the murder of Aqualad, and signals the beginning of the end for the young heroes. But it's obviously not as simple as all of that; the trauma of Garth's loss is only part of the story.
The Titans we meet in this 45-minute flashback are significantly different from the heroes we already know. They're effectively a vigilante Fleetwood Mac, with a tangle of relationships: Dawn (Minka Kelly) has broken up with Hank Hall (Alan Ritchson), and is now with Dick (Brenton Thwaites); and Garth has carried a torch since childhood for Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), who's not so centered, but instead struggling with returning to Themyscira, island home of the Amazons.
Dawn's pivotal line, "Now's the time. Be Batman," is set up early in the episode, after a blackout is triggered by Doctor Light. Joining Dick in the blue glow of the monitor room, Dawn observes how nice the darkness is. "So, the whole Batman thing turns you on?" Dick asks as she sits on his lap. "No," Dawn replies, "Don't be Batman." Her change of heart comes only after Dick identifies Garth's assassin as Deathstroke, and Hank pledges, "We're going to hunt this fucker down, and make him pay."
The previous episode seemed to confirm that Aqualad wasn't the only fatality of the Titans' initial conflict with Slade Wilson, as I.N.T.E.R.P.O.L. -- to say nothing of his daughter, Rose -- insists he murdered his son, Jericho. But, again, actual events may not be so clear-cut. Rose (Chelsea Zhang) said it was because "big brother fell in with the wrong crowd," which implies Jericho allied himself with the Titans. While that certainly may be the case, the final moments of "Aqualad" suggest he began not as a friend, but an unknowing target.
The final scene picks up two weeks later, as Dick encounters Jericho in a record store, and quickly befriends the young man. But, of course, their meeting is no accident, but rather a strategic move by Dick. If there are any doubts, we need only look to his expression, which shifts from warm smile to something sinister as soon as Jericho turns his back. The question is whether Dick intends to use him to exact revenge -- that is, an eye for an eye -- or to draw out Deathstroke. In the latest promo for Titans make clear that Slade Wilson holds Dick responsible for whatever happened, and what may yet occur: "You've been tricked by that charlatan Dick Grayson. He gives costumes to foolish kids, making them believe they are heroes, leading them like lambs to the slaughter."
That echoes the opening arc of the 2003 Teen Titans relaunch by Geoff Johns and Mike McKone, but it also seems to imply that Dick Grayson ended up recruiting Jericho in the fight against Deathstroke, and, therefore, carries at least some of the blame for his fate.
In that way, Dick does become Batman, enlisting child soldiers --- whether that be Jericho, or Rachel and Gar -- to his cause. The events set up by "Aqualad," five years ago, may go far to explain Dick's anger at Bruce Wayne in Season 1. It's not necessarily because of the way Bruce raised him, but because he became Bruce in his apparent desire to use Jericho, whether as a sacrificial lamb or as a weapon. And perhaps that's one of the "sins" Donna wants Dick to confess to the new Titans.
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.