Written by Musgo Del Jefe
I approached Season Five of Teen Titans as an informed novice. I have watched Season One of the show. I'm familiar with the core group of Titans from the show – Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven. That first season was an extended story line about essentially Robin's greatest foe, Slade. Most of the episodes revolved around Robin and his need to face this powerful enemy. The other characters were established with their powers and teenage quirks. There was not the usual exploration of origins, nor was there mention of their "secret identities." Each character is essentially always in super-hero mode.
Four seasons later, I was able to drop right in with the characters. Little had changed from the established traits put forth in the first season. What had changed was the level of storytelling. Season One's story arc concentrated on a very generic "evil" villain for the "mythology" episodes and even more generic villains for the single story episodes. Robin's conflict with Slade was more teen angst at wanting to beat a powerful foe than it was battling more personal demons.
Season Five starts with a two-part episode, "Homecoming." In a flashback, we are introduced to two classic DC Comics teams. Our hero team for the flashback is The Doom Patrol. This team was a huge favorite of mine in the DC Universe. The Doom Patrol here is Beast Boy's original team before joining the Teen Titans. There's a classic collection of members here – Steve, Rita, Robot Man, and even the mummy-encased Negative Man. This version of Doom Patrol is battling another classic group of DC bad guys, The Brotherhood Of Evil. The Brotherhood are led by The Brain, a clever villain who looks like a Dalek from Dr. Who and actually sounds like one too! The Brain's other co-leader in the Brotherhood is the super-strong ape, Monsieur Mallah, with a high IQ and the ability to speak.
There is little actual plot development through the first two episodes (in fact, that will become a pattern throughout the season). What we're seeing is essentially an older version of the Titans. Steve is a much older version of Robin as leader. He's very serious. Robot Man is an older version of Cyborg. We are able to draw some conclusions by comparing the older team to the younger team. We can see what the Titans "could" become.
Back in current time, the Brotherhood Of Evil have made themselves known again, trying to acquire something generically called "The Quantum Generator." Faced with saving the world and more importantly, his old team, Beast Boy chooses to head off to fight the Brotherhood. It is obvious by the end of episode two that this is distinctly Beast Boy's story. He sees this as a time to grow up, to leave his troubled past with the Doom Patrol behind, and to help create a better, smarter team.
Once this initial plot is set-up, many of the following episodes fall into a similar category. In "Trust" we meet other teenage heroes – Wildebeast and Hotspot. They win over the Titans' trust and are given Titan Communicators as a way to keep in touch. In "Snowblind", it's Red Star who becomes an honorary Titan. In "Kole", it's the great character Gnaark that receives a communicator. These episodes feel like single-issue comics. The stories are rather simple and the eventual endings are telegraphed. Importantly, the writers made a choice to move the series out past the usual home of the Titans. The team travels the globe meeting these characters. It allows for creativity of set design (I love the Journey To The Center Of The Earth feel to "Kole") but too much time is spent setting up these new characters.
One unique quality to the show is its two theme songs. The US version typically denotes a serious story in continuity. If the Japanese lyric version is played, it means a less serious, usually stand-alone episode. This season has three and they're the stand-out episodes of the season. "For Real" introduces us to Titans East who take over for the Titans when they're out of town meeting other heroes. The group is fun and lends a new take to the "subbing in for the heroes" story. They upset the villain, Control Freak, by not knowing him (But "I'm a recurring villain!") and they're upset when they're mistaken for the original Titans and nobody knows them. "Revved Up" is essentially a set-up for one episode-long car chase.
The best episode of the season is "Hide and Seek." This Japanese-lyric show puts together a fun plot, great design, and makes a point to come back to the ongoing story. The serious character, Raven, is assigned the protection of some very young super-heroes (some Tiny Titans, if you will). The evil Mallah puts the kids at serious risk, turning this funny episode into a bit of a drama. They are saved by a huge "invisible" friend of one of the girls. The "invisible" friend turns out to be Bobby, a really big, strong teddy bear that looks like he was designed for a Miyazaki film. Plus, we have more honorary Titans added at the end of the episode to tie it back into the arc for the season.
The season ends with the two-part story – "Calling All Titans" and "Titans Together." In the first episode, the team is finally done on their journey and headed back home. But Robin needs to split up the team to each make one more delivery of Titan Communicators. Once the Titans are split up, the Brotherhood Of Evil starts their all-out attack. By the end of the episode, all the world is in chaos and the Brain feels that by capturing Robin he has captured the King in this game of chess.
"Titans Together" is the end of the storyline started in the initial episode. Here, Beast Boy grows up and becomes a leader. He becomes the hero that he thought he could be. The episode doesn't dwell on his transformation. Instead it gets bogged down by solving all the fights that were being lost in the previous episode. And in finding a way to defeat the Brotherhood Of Evil. This would have been a wonderful point to revisit Beast Boy's conflict with the Doom Patrol and bring closure to his "first family."
Oddly, for a canceled series, the actual last episode is called "Things Change." As an epilogue to the previous episodes, this one just doesn't fit. The team has arrived back home to find their city changed. The video store and pizza place and shops are closed down. A character from earlier in the series, Terra, is brought back but she doesn't remember Beast Boy who had a crush on her. Little is solved and the episode ends with the return of Slade. After such a solid ending with the previous two episodes, it seems odd to hint at further stories (whether they're coming direct to DVD or not in the future). I would've liked to see a true "change." That this season's episodes have caused our Titans to grow. To see their future. To become less a collection of teenagers and more of a family from their experiences.
The show is aimed at a younger audience than say The Batman which ran concurrently with this show. The biggest difference between the two is the level of plot development. Almost always, this series sets up the plot and then fills the time with long, extended fights. That leaves little time for introspection. That doesn't detract from the entertainment of the series, it just leaves you feeling that there could be so much more. I look forward to possible movies in the future for this group. Things do change and I'd like to follow this team into their next adventures.
The DVD includes limited special features – including a short feature "The Teen Titans: Friends and Foes" and some trailers.