“The Call is Coming from Inside the House” sets up next weeks penultimate episode of Titans season three in an interesting place, with the Titans scattered and Crane triumphant. I just wish it got there in a cleaner and more effective fashion. Old bad habits come out in this episode as the cast is split up and forced to survive on their own resulting in a bunch of siloed storytelling that contributes to a feeling of randomness in the episode.
1. Just What?
Episode 11 title “The Call is Coming from Inside the House” is in hindsight is a rather effective encapsulation of the core motif for this episode as the inner struggles and realizations of the cast begin to be recognized. That is also a framing of this episode that fails to recognize the sheer rush of plot movement and events that occur to be paid off at a later date. The latter makes these moments of recognition fall short as they seem sudden, out of place, or functionally deus ex machina. All of which undercut what would be engaging character work. Perhaps it was the mood I was in when I watched this episode, but it did not work for me on many levels. The writing team seem focused more on burning through plot so that the final pair of episodes will not be the mad sprint of prior seasons. However in the resulting rush the bad habits of previous seasons come forward and do a disservice to what has been a solid season overall.
2. I guess that’s why Batman wears a cowl with a high collar
By the end of this episode, we have had 3 out of the 6 Titans, counting Blackfire, shot by low caliber handguns. Gar was shot with a tranquilizer. Two of those three are Tamaraneanian royalty who wore body armor at the time. We’ll discuss what Starfire goes through below, but it should be recognized how absurd that reads.
At least in the case of Nightwing catching one to the neck, it feels like it mostly works since that is the one exposed area of his person. Subsequent viewing on HBOMax hasn’t revealed if the bullet just grazed him or if it went through his neck, either case it appears to be fatal. Lucky for him his friends found the Lazarus pit Batman never knew about.
The irksome part about this final sequence between Nightwing and Red Hood was that it was actually pretty good before it all went sideways. The action has never been Arrow levels of good, but this was a pretty good fight sequence whose choreography pays off and builds on their previous showdowns in episodes such as “Blackfire.” When it inevitably hits YouTube, it is worth a look.
It’s when the crowd gathers that the sequence begins to go astray. The idea that crowd doesn’t like Nightwing is \ passable given the selective editing of how Kori inadvertently poisoned the water supply, the Titans under the bridge, and the ruckus at the police station. However, the idea that the crowd is so pro-Red Hood does not pass muster. We haven’t seen Red Hood out there doing “good” vigilante work and helping to win the people over. All he has done is Crane’s bidding with the crime families of Gotham. So, to have some random kid pull out a handgun, shoot Nightwing, proclaim he did it for the Hood and lead a chant falls flat. This isn’t an effective moment of Jason realizing how his ill-gotten fame is corrosive. It becomes another example of the failure of the series to build out an identity for their version of Gotham and its residents.
3. Magic Will Fix Everything
Last week I made a glib remark about how one shouldn’t ask questions about the mechanics that allowed Raven to just find Gar. Her magic just acting as a means for finding the rune that is the key to the location of the Lazarus Pit reads wasn’t effective. I haven’t done a deep dive but that appears to be the most magic she has performed on the show thus far. The end result is handwaving as plot movement to justify the ressurecton of Nightwing in the next episode, I assume. Garfield’s investigation and discover of the Lazarus Pit concept might have been somewhat random, but it is contextualized by his larger investigation and continues to show how he is the one person on the team who cares. On one hand Garfield finally has someone to listen to him about the stuff he’s been finding out. On the otherhand he isn’t the one who discovers it. This moment just landed like a stone sinking to the bottom of a Lazarus Pitt.
4. Discovering That Which Was Inside All Along
Anna Diop really is one of the most consistent and underrated performers on this show. Her finally getting more to do by herself is one of the best aspects of this season. And yet the latest reveal around her visions feels all the more out of left field and unsatisfactory. After finding the mother and child from her vision, Starfire intercedes as someone tries to stick them up. This action results in her getting shot in the chest … through her body armor. Let’s just let that slide to the side.
The resulting trauma from this seemingly fatal incident unlocks Sarfire’s inner fire (not the fire that was transferred to Blackfire in the previous episode) and zaps her attacker. It also appears to heal her wounds, which has been shown previously. The latter sudden healing, however, totally undercuts the drama her moment of injury was played with – even if the idea that they would kill Anna Diop off is nonsensical on many levels.
In the interim Starfire has a vision of her early childhood in the royal palace and the discovery that it was her not Blackfire born without the gift but due to the machinations of her Father, received Blackfire’s power. That certainly gives the sisters something to talk about and might go a long way in cementing trust between them. However, there hasn’t been a hint of this prior to that scene it comes out of left field. Without that subtextual setup Starfire’s arc becomes one of pure fate and not her agency to realize that which was within her all this time.
5. The Time for Masks is Over
I’ve got to admit part of me hoped Titans would go the full New 52 and have Crane cut off his face in a twisted homage to the Joker. Instead, this deleterious self-harm results in some slashes and near Glasgow like smile, which is also now associated with the Joker. The psychological break Crane has experienced and the attempt to become his mask externalizes and reverses the inner journey that everyone else is going on. So, on that level and as his status as the main antagonist for the season it makes sense. There is honestly a lot of Freud and theorization of the fetish you could throw at this act and his maxim justifying it. Despite recognizing these larger structural or analytic possibilities, the finale to “The Call Is Coming from Inside the House” is emblematic of the episodes overall shortcoming in making me as a viewer care or feel emotionally invested in any of this.
In retrospect episodes 10 and 11 are setting up the final two episodes of the season. Episode 10 just did all that heavy lifting with better form. As stated throughout this review, events just seemed to happen. Now there is some seriality going on with the connection to the events of the previous episodes, but outside of the Tim and Donna stuff was any of it really all that engaging? Without that attachment you are left with major episode events occurring that do not land nearly as well as the producers intended. From Nightwing AND Starfire being shot – the latter of which feels even more ineffective – to Crane’s breakdown and the discovery of the Lazarus pit for reasons. Those reasons were not effectively setup in this or previous episodes.
“The Call is Coming from Inside the House” feels closer to earlier seasons, and season finales specifically, where plot overtook emotional storytelling. I should be excited for the final two episode of what has been their most consistent season and after this week that isn’t the case.