If the return of DC Universe's Titans, with "Trigon," feels more like the Season 1 finale than a Season 2 premiere, it's because that's what it was, at least originally. The producers shaved off an episode so the debut season would end on Dick Grayson in thrall to Trigon, Rachel's world-destroying, demonic father, and the second season could kick off with the introduction of Deathstroke. Although that was indeed an effective cliffhanger, it has the unfortunate consequence of creating a tonally disjointed premiere, in which the resolution feels rushed in order to pivot to a new villain and a new status quo.
The threat of Trigon, which brought together the team in DC's New Teen Titans, drove the plot in Season 1: The pursuit of his daughter Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft), a girl haunted by visions and strange occurrences, by his Earthy followers led her to seek the help of Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), Batman's former sidekick, who's determined to leave his life as Robin behind them. They then meet the shape-shifting Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter), eager to live beyond the confines of the Doom Patrol's (admittedly cool) basement, and Kory Anders (Anna Diop), an amnesiac alien who sought out Rachel, not to protect the girl, but rather -- as she later discovers -- to prevent her from being the means by which Trigon enters this reality.
However, the overarching plot was never as compelling as the episodes that introduced the misfit Doom Patrol (thus, setting up a spinoff), Dick's friends Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly), and Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), and his successor as Robin, Jason Todd (Curran Walters). Separately, those might have been viewed as mere detours to pad out the episode order, but taken together, they helped to flesh out the world of Titans, beyond the scattered references to better-known DC heroes, and provided many of the building blocks for Season 2. (But, come on, the existence of an earlier version of the Titans is a sly retcon; there was no indication in the first season that Hawk, Dove and Donna were anything more than Dick's friends, allies and, in one case, a former lover.)
Perhaps, then, we should be grateful that the world-consuming threat posed by Trigon -- the stuff of prophecies, which inspired a complex network of apocalyptic followers and an intergalactic plot to stop him -- is extinguished, in unremarkable fashion, about 35 minutes into the premiere, rather than limp along for another episode or two. Once the smoke clears, we see the real promise of Titans, which extends beyond the liberal F-bombs and bone-crunching, blood-spurting action, both of which caused so much hand-wringing among critics and audiences.
The appeal of DC's The New Teen Titans, the 1980s comic by Marv Wolfman and George Perez from which the DC Universe series draws so much inspiration, was the character interactions, or "soap opera" elements, as they were often referred. We see some of that reflected on Titans, primarily in Dick's relationships with Donna, Dove and even Jason Todd (repeatedly, and accurately, referred to as an asshole), but also in the parental role he plays for Rachel, in the budding, wholesome romance between Rachel and Gar, and in Kory's conflicted feelings about all three of them.
That's not to say anyone expects Titans to transform into a CW-style teen drama in Season 2, if for no other reason than the assassin Deathstroke (Esai Morales) is gunning for the team. However, the comic found a way to balance character development with the next new menace, whether that was the Fearsome Five (also teased for the series), Brother Blood, the Brotherhood of Evil or Trigon, again. But the premiere ends on hopeful notes, in Dick's once-frayed relationship with Bruce Wayne (Iain Glen), and in the course he charts for himself and his new teammates.
It's almost as if the "cleansing" promised by the coming of Trigon actually occurred, at least in terms of the tone of Titans. The dark-and-gritty approach heralded by Dick's much-lampooned declaration of "Fuck Batman" in the show's first trailer culminated in the Season 1 finale, with his nightmarish, Trigon-induced vision of a murderous Bruce Wayne who himself must be murdered by his protege. Aspects of that leech into the Season 2 premiere, embodied in more cast members donning Goth makeup, as seen in the trailer and in publicity photos. It's a bit cartoonish, and low-tech, sure. But once the veil is lifted, and the eyeliner is wiped off, it feels as if Titans can at last breathe. Unburdened by the anger that accompanied him for most of Season 1, Dick Grayson suddenly feels like the beloved hero from the comics. Characters smile and joke -- even the goddamned Batman, who reveals a self-effacing side.
Those viewers who found the first season too dark will undoubtedly find the final act of the Season 2 premiere more to their tastes. However, they shouldn't get too comfortable with this new, more hopeful, status quo, because Deathstroke is certain to rain on the Titans' parade.
Titans 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. Season 2 arrives Friday on DC Universe.