Ending a previous episode with a massive cliffhanger and then using the following episode to completely ignore said cliffhanger is a bit of a gamble. Especially a cliffhanger with the importance of Starfire regaining her memories and realizing that her number one objective is to kill Raven. With eyes glowing and fingers around Raven’s neck, Dick Grayson and Donna Troy on their way, we were left wondering if Starfire was about to achieve her goal. It seemed likely that Titans would immediately pick up on that story thread with episode nine, but instead, the show chose another way. While the instance between Raven and Starfire hangs like a storm cloud over the episode, it’s not directly mentioned, and we spend the majority of our time with Dove and Hawk. Two characters we haven’t seen since the second episode of the season.
If a show is going to take a gamble like this then it needs to be confident that the episode they’re providing is strong enough to make viewers forget the cliffhanger for another week. Not only is this the case here with “Hank and Dawn”, but Titans may have provided its best episode of the season and our titular characters are barely seen. The strength of this episode stems from the strong writing of Geoff Johns, long time Titans comic writer, and the genuine emotion and heartache he weaves through the forty-plus minutes of screen time. Johns is the best of the best when it comes to DC and from the moment the episode starts, he carefully picks his moments and delivers a nuanced episode that constantly had me on the verge of tears. Exploring the tortured pasts of Hawk and Dove, two side characters, allows them to shine in such spectacular ways I was left wanting a spinoff for the two. Both Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly deliver performances that are so heavy with vulnerability that it seems they may shatter if you exhale. Akiva Goldsman’s direction is beautiful and gives Johns script and Kelly and Ritchson’s performances the legs it needs making “Hank and Dawn” hands down one of Titans best episodes.
When we last saw Hawk and Dove they were taken by surprise by the Nuclear Family leaving Dove seemingly in a coma and Hawk spiraling further out of control with alcohol and pain pills. The “Hawk and Dove” episode made it easy to not like Hawk. He was arrogant, aggressive, and a d-hole to Dick Grayson, our main character. “Hank and Dawn” takes the typical male chauvinistic bully character and completely deconstructs him through the telling of his past. With most bullies or aggressors there’s always a trigger event. Something that sets them down the path and it’s up to us, the audience, to either feel sympathy for the character or dismiss them. Sometimes an a-hole is just an a-hole, but what Johns and Ritchson do so masterfully is they take away your ability to decide without you even knowing it. Hank isn’t a bad person, he sure does have demons, but he’s clearly a product of his troubled past.
Protecting his younger brother from a pedophile coach leads to years and years of molestation for Hank, something Hank accepts without hesitation despite knowing the consequences. An act of love so strong it’s crippling in its sadness as it leads to years of torment and self-resentment. Hank hides his pain and anger through the aggression of football and the massive mistreatment of his body. Ignoring serious head injuries and drinking frequently seems to be Hank’s way of punishing himself, and his younger brother quickly recognizes Hank’s pain. After the two are expelled from school, for a library brawl, they decide to focus their anger towards convicted sex offenders and dress up as Hawk and Dove becoming the voice to those who are unable to speak up. Their acts as vigilantes are violent and thirsty for fame, but their intentions are genuine.
Dawn, on the other hand, has a different upbringing filled with years of wealth, dance lessons, and afternoon tea dates with her mother. Dawn’s life is the exact opposite of Hank’s and a chance encounter on the street leads to the intertwining of their lives. A car, spinning out of control from an accident, slams into a newsstand where Hank, his brother, Dawn, and her mother are standing and takes the lives of Hank’s brother and Dawn’s mother. Hank and Dawn spiral out of control and find themselves attending grief counseling, but they’re afraid to speak. Perhaps too angry or too scared to make it real. It’s not until the two meet at a bar where they open up to each other. What follows is a relationship built on grief, love, and alcohol. Two people who are trying their best to deal with their losses even if their coping methods aren’t the healthiest.
Eventually, Dawn learns of Hank’s past. The coach, the vigilantism, and the pain. And instead of turning away, something Hank clearly was petrified of, she wants revenge. For Hank. For herself. So she seeks out Hank’s coach looking for a confession and stumbles into a situation she’s not prepared for. Luckily Hank arrives as things are about to take a turn and gets a moment he’s chased his whole life. As Hank prepares to kill his past he asks Dawn to leave, in a scene that eerily mirrors Hank’s decision to protect his brother, but Dawn chooses to stay.
The purging of such buried pain brings the two closer and more intimate, an act Dawn instantly regrets and opens the door to their lives as Hawk and Dove. Lives that use violence as a method to escape their own pain. Lives filled with resentment and pain. A life where Dawn has some sort of affair with Dick Grayson which makes the events of this episode even more heartbreaking. Watching the two build a relationship out of the ashes of their pain only to know that something happens to push the two apart is brutal.
Hank, despite how further into the darkness he slips, stays by Dawn’s side. At the end of the day the two only have each other, and after seeing an image of Raven calling for help in her flashback dream, Dawn wakes up from her coma and tells Hank that they need to find… Jason Todd! Out of all the people in the world, Raven asks for the help of the newest Robin which raises a number of questions as to why and what it means for the Titans going forward. One has to believe that Raven is reaching out to Hawk and Dove because of her current situation with Starfire, but is she looking to add to the group or is a new faction growing?
There you have it Geeklings, what did you think of this week’s outstanding episode of Titans? Are you more sympathetic to Hawk now? Has your opinion on Dawn’s relationship with Dick changed? Why does Raven want Jason Todd? Sound off in the comments with any and all theories. If you’d like to talk more Titans with yours truly you can find me on Twitter @iamgeek32. There are only three episodes left in this first season, which is a total bummer, and I’ll be here with you every step of the way. See you all next week with another new episode review!