“Souls” takes a trip to the afterlife and check in on a few characters we’ve lost over the seasons exploring such existential questions about self, the past, and future. It also puts an end to the question of does Hank Hall have terrible taste in music, because nothing says taste like driving through the after life blasting “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
1. Raven’s Back
After several weeks of wondering what about Raven “Souls” shows us what the Teagan Croft portrayed character has been up to. The answer is both not much and a lot as she participates in a ritual meant to bring Donna Troy’s soul back to her body. A process that has been going on for quite some time. While the shift to Raven and the Amazon’s makes sense with the death of Tim Drake in the previous episode this en media res introduction took me a while to become effective. Raven’s arc forms the plot structure for the real emotional arc of the episode as Donna, Tim, and Hank, try to escape the afterlife and return to their bodies. Raven meanwhile gets to be a perpetual outcast and poor student who despite being around for what seems like months appears to have very little idea as to what is going on or the ways of the women of Themyscira.
The treatment of the Amazons in this episode is puzzling. The idea of an Amazon nation that is diplomatically open to the world is fascinating and fits the historical nature of Titans. The episode however, via Raven’s POV, holds them all at arm’s length shrouding them in mystery and the archetype of mentors. Maybe if Conor Leslie’s Donna Troy will stick around (which I doubt she will be a main character going forward) the show will delve into their side of the DCU a bit more. In this episode, however, it all just felt incredibly not just small but formless in a way Smallville would often reference larger concepts or spaces in the DCU but never really give them shape. Viewers were shown a beach, and some interiors, with a building in the background of the beach sequence. There isn’t much to really sink your imagination into.
In the abstract the treatment of Raven and the Amazons wasn’t all that effective. Raven’s arc makes narrative sense, but there wasn’t the length or the push that made it seem like she learned something in the end. In a strange way the sudden introduction of everything mimics the feeling Tim Drake had waking up on the phantom train, there is no past to Themyscira only the present and maybe a future. It’s an affective relationship that helps to cohere an episode that has to do a lot of exposition in the front portion of the episode.
2. Feeling Grey
The decision to have the afterlife be shown through monochrome makes a certain amount of sense but it also reveals how director of photography Jon Joffin didn’t change their lighting procedure to take advantage of the greyscale. It looks like whoever did the color correction on this episode just set it to black and white and that’s it, which isn’t effective. Note that the featured image for this post was shot by photographer Ben Mark Holzberg.
Alternative black and white cuts are something of a novelty item these days with Mad Maxx: Black and Chrome, Logan: Noir, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League – Justice is Gray. Those films, however, where composed with if not the idea of a black and white cut in mind doing aware of what makes good black and white film. Justice is Gray is more an interesting byproduct of Snyder living with the laptop edition of the film and reportedly in reaction to the original theatrical cuts garish color design. All those films color editions have harsher shadows and hard lighting that in general create higher contrast within the frame. By building in areas of pure black it allows other colors to pop more. When you remove that color, you still have the black and instead get a beautiful grey scale that creates a textured and effective image. The color correction for those cuts also lightened and darkened areas of the image to make everything still readable.Continued below
Titans is not shot this way, it primarily uses soft lighting and faux-natural lighting techniques. A style I rather like most of the time it manages to evoke poetic sense of film realism while Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy films operated more in the André Bazin idea of film realism. Using these techniques for the afterlife created a muddied and boring image to look at. Except for the final sequence on the bridge and afterwards as they went into the sun and Hank found peace, all sequences that notably featured heavy amounts of contrast.
3. Phantom Trains and Orpheus and Eurydice
With Donna Troy’s involvement at first it seemed like the quest to leave the netherworld might have been a riff on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the myth Hades gives Orpheus the chance to bring his wife, Eurydice, soul from the underworld by walking out but he is not allowed to look back and see if she is there. The presence of a phantom train is an interesting twist on the idea of Charon the ferryman.
If you want an interesting twist on the myth I would recommend the Vita Ayala- Lisa Sterle OGN “Submerged”
4. Sometimes You Get What You Need
After Donna and Tim make it to the other side of the bridge it seemed Hank was doomed to purgatory instead of another moment with Dawn. Instead, he ends up running into his brother Don who has also taken to fighting back and against the ghouls. Hawk and Dove are reunited! It’s a surprising, but emotionally effective send off to Alan Ritchson, who showed off some more sides of Hank in this episode. It also seems to foreclose the possibility of Titans adapting the most hallowed of Hank Hall storylines “Zero Hour” with Hall returning as the villainous Extant.
5. The Life and Death of Bruce Wayne
Iain Glenn’s Bruce Wayne returned in “Souls,” a fitting one given the subject matter of the episode and the thought that this Batman has truly lost his. In “Lazarus” Glenn was finally given a few small moments to show off more positive sides of Bruce Wayne, brief bursts of light cutting through the dark knight. The character of Batman has cast a long shadow over the series, perhaps too long. In his few moments that bookend the episode Glenn shows that he can also cut a good Bruce Wayne as well. He just carries the sense of fatigue in his face and shoulders as he spreads the gasoline around what was meant to be his fiery exit. The Batman of Titans has gotten too old to die young, but he is too young to die old just yet with Donna Troy coming to make the save – in a transcontinental save that I’m just not going to try and figure out and just go with. With Tim Drake back in the land of the living, maybe this incarnation of Batman can be saved once again by a new Robin.
There is some feeling of let down that Titans didn’t really go for it and kill of Bruce Wayne. Even if I wouldn’t fully have bought it and assumed it was a cover, “The Dark Knight Returns” and other instances of that occurring and all, it would have removed a major player from the board and more importantly forced a reaction in the series central character, Dick Grayson. Although with Bruce undoubtedly returning for the finale maybe the bigger challenge for Dick is to be a better Batman-Bruce Wayne when the father is still alive and not totally absent.