Wasn’t that a great Studio Gainax month, guys? I finally found a show of theirs that was legitimately awesome… Only to follow it up immediately with one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen. Yeah, it was a lovely month, and now that it’s over I’d like to follow up on a promise I made you guys back in march, when I wrote the Top Ten Worst Episodes of Teen Titans. I said that I’d eventually bring you a list of what I thought were the best episodes, right? Well, that time has come, so sit back on your ratty old couch, pet your favorite giant moth larvae, and get ready to enjoy a list of the very best episodes of one of the most popular American cartoons of all time… Even if it was, by it’s own merits, the TV definition of a weeaboo.
Also, before we begin, there’s something I need to address. I watched further into Teen Titans Go, and I take back my defense of it. What I’d seen prior to those remarks wasn’t too bad, but HO LEE SHIT does it go downhill. I’m almost regretting spending twenty bucks on that Go! Raven Pop figure. Oh wait, no I’m not, she’s still awesome. Also, as bad as the show legitimately is, her version of Rapunzel is still better than the original.
In any case, this is my opinion, remember, so if you have a different take on this list, then write it out, post it in the comments, and let the comparisons commence!
10: Titans East, part 2
After fighting alongside the newly formed Titans East team, Cyborg has made a tough decision… to quit his current team, and become their leader. Things don’t go well when he announces this idea to Robin, with both parties taking exception to the other’s stance in this situation, but it doesn’t matter, because Cyborg has a huge opportunity in front of him… To grow, become a leader, and find his own path in the process. But things aren’t what they seem, as he finds out that his arch-nemesis Brother Blood has brainwashed his newly found followers, turning them against him. A huge battle ensues, and just when Blood shows up to corner his prey, the Titans shows up to take their robotic friends’ side! Once they’re safe, Robin gives Cyborg temporary command of the Titans, culminating in an awesome fight scene between the two Titans teams, but at the end of the day, with Brother Blood tearing him apart to find out what part of his metal body allows him to resist mind control, it’s Cyborgs humanity that winds up proving to be his greatest strength. He steals Bloods sorcery, and ultimately defeats his most personal foe ever.
Yeah, I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for part 1 of this episode. It wasn’t bad, but I don’t really find the team of Titans East to be all that interesting, and all the over-reaction slapstick was just painful for me. Luckily, part 2 took the story as it was left off and drove it a much more epic direction. To start, the argument between Robin and Cyborg in the beginning sounds so much more like a real argument between friends, with actual tension in it, than the argument that split them up in the shitty-ass pilot. Following this, we already know the Eastians are possessed, so the episode doesn’t waste any time turning them heel and pitting them against Cyborg, which while awesome, is only the foreplay. Brother Blood shows up, and explains that his intentions are to turn himself into a cyborg to have the potential evil benefits of Cyborg’s condition, which has an incredible emotional nuance to it.
Like, remember what Greed wanted with Alphonse Elric? He was jealous of Al’s metal body, and wanted it for similar benefits, even though that body symbolized all the pain and sacrifice the Elric had to go through and come to terms with just to get make temporary peace with their new bodies and lots in life, and now Al has to hear some ignorant villain talking up his curse like it was a gift from God. This is exactly what’s happening with Cyborg, and I love it. But then his friends show up, and we get some of the best action in the entire series as a team of Titans goes up against another team of Titans, with Cyborg calling the shots, and doing a refreshingly great job at it.
And that’s what I think I love about this episode… It’s the perfect character development episode for Cyborg, who has every bit as much leadership potential as Robin has… Maybe even more that he just hasn’t realized yet. Considering this guy is supposed to make a believable addition to the Justice League, I’d say it’s important to show that his potential reaches a little higher than that of his adolescent cohorts. His final confrontation with Brother Blood is fucking nail biting, as he gets systematically torn to pieces by this obsessed man who used to be so dignified and reserved, but is being driven mad by his desire to find out what it is that makes Cyborg immune to mind control(an element the writers of Mother Mae Eye must have forgotten), and there are so many feels when Cy realizes that his strength comes from his humanity, and not from his enhancements. I’ll admit that having him copy Blood’s sorcery to absorb robots into himself was bullshit, but thematically, it was the perfect ending to their feud, which I’m not gonna lie, was a bit lackluster up until this point.
It’s an awesome episode that redeems a weak seasonal sub-plot, and it made me feel emotional over a kick-ass robot, earning it a spot at number 10.
The Titans get a distress signal from a Russian village that’s been experiencing disturbances from a powerful nuclear monster. They investigate, and soon discover a being of pure plasma who’s so supercharged with radiation that he can cut right through Raven’s forcefield to attack them inside of it. It flees after some fighting, and it’s Starfire that gives chase, as she’s resilient to the cold… But not as resilient as she thinks, as she does eventually succumb to it, and is rescued by a lonely Russian teen named Red Star. The two of them bond as we learn more about his situation, and just as she’s about to go look for her friends, they show up on his front door, and he tells them his life story… Which will look familiar if you know Captain America or Deathstroke’s backstories. The plasma monster attacks, forcing him into action, as the Titans reveal to him that he’s been unknowingly creating this monster, and he’s now the only person who can stop it… By any means necessary.
It’s kinda difficult for me to explain why I love this episode so much, especially when I’ve heard so many people call it boring. As I’ve said before, slow pacing doesn’t always bother me, and I think in this episode that it was the right choice. Not to mention, there are MORE than enough fast-paced episodes. Well, to start things off, I feel like this is one of the most mature episodes in the series. The tone is serious, despite Beastboy’s best efforts. The music is very beautiful, particularly at the end, and I just love the visual effects on this episode, especially with the blizzard scenes. Yes, I realize they probably pulled them off by placing one layer of animation over another, so they probably took less effort than it looks, but it’s still enough to make you feel like the blizzard going on is really as suffocating ad unforgiving as you’ve been told.
It’s also, in my opinion, the only episode that really pulled off the element of tragedy. Yeah, even the first time I saw Terra freezing, I didn’t tear up for her. But when Red Star has to heroically take a trip up into space to keep his destructive powers contained, and Starfire has to be the one to bring him there, all while that sweet, somber piano tune plays, that was what did me in. Of course, Titans Together brought him back for no reason at all, so that kinda diffuses the original sad ending a bit. Even so, this episode did a great job with ambitious themes that other episodes either touched upon or just flat-out failed at… Themes like embracing your flaws and owning who you are, not running away from your problems, and learning that by closing yourself off from people in order to avoid hurting them, you’re only making your life and theirs all the more difficult.
I guess it’s lack of popularity comes from the fact that it’s a very adult episode, and offers little in the way of direct entertainment. It’s a slow, atmospheric episode that spends it’s time telling a solid story, rather than relying on exaggerated sight gags. Honestly, I think the subtle gag about a Russian child being embarrassed by the amount of skin Starfire shows in her costume is probably one of the most sophisticated jokes of the series. If he hadn’t been lost in space at the end, I still believe that Red Star could have gone on to work at a power plant, providing free energy to people, and generally just finding a place where he can belong. It’s an episode for older audiences, and I’m more than old enough to appreciate it.
There’s a new threat to the Teen Titans, and it appears to be a blast from Robin’s past… The Red X suit, which he thought he’d locked safely away, has been absconded and equipped by a master thief with a cocky attitude and a perfect willingness to use every single toy and gadget the costume comes with to his sneaky advantage. The new X gets away from them, but Robin manages to track him down after shaking down the small time villain who sold him the dangerous chemical that powers the suit in the first place. The Titans catch up to Red X at a factory, and after his friends are mysteriously taken out one by one, he has his first real fight with Red X, which is interrupted by… None other than the very supplier he’d shaken down! Professor Chang(Insert Community reference here) has absconded with all the chemical X, captured all four of Robin’s friends, and he’s looking to unleash all of his pent up rage and aggression on the town! Joining forces, Robin and Red X defeat Chang, save the Titans, and split up, with the slighted X promising to meet them another day.
There are a lot of areas where Teen Titans could be considered a bit weak, and one of those ways is it’s lack of morally ambiguous villains. It’s not quite as bad as Captain Planet was, but one of their best attempts was Terra, and she had next to no understandable motivation. So it should come as no surprise that the moment the series actually got a proper anti-villain character, they would want to state that ambiguity as bluntly and openly as possible, with that villains existence messing with Robin’s ideology… A move that would have annoyed me if it hadn’t been handled as well. No, the new Red X is the Catwoman of this series… A career thief with an ethical code who shares a mutual respect for the heroes pursuing them. But if that’s not good enough, there’s ANOTHER villain in this episode who takes moral ambiguity and throws it completely out the window by destroying shit for the hell of it.
These two villains deserved to be introduced in the same episode, as they each prove why the other is so important. Not all villains are evil, just like not all villains desire something material like money, power or revenge. Chang is a villain that’s so sick of playing a support role to other villains that he straight up wants to be evil and destroy shit like a kid who’s never been allowed to play with his own toys. I love the interplay in this episode, as through the involvement of Robin, they both actively reveal each other’s nuances. Oh, but the hell with all that, the action in this episode was awesome, the reveal of Chang being behind the abductions was really cleverly handled, and the fact that Robin was inadvertently responsible for getting his team kidnapped is a very subtle callback to the trouble he caused them when he wore the suit back in season 1… And there’s a much funnier callback to that episode when Starfire starts poking him to make sure he’s not a hologram.
There are a lot of episodes on this list that most fans won’t agree with, but I’d like to think this is one of the episodes where I’m in the majority… I have a lot of fun watching it, and my only real regret is that Red X’s identity is never revealed in the series. My money, for the record, is on Jason Todd.
Having grown tired of playing sidekick to the world’s greatest detective, a young upstart hero moves to a new city to pursue his solo career. As he’s taking out a petty thief, the sky explodes in a green plasma trail as an alien escape pod shoots through the sky. Robin follows it, to find a strange orange girl yelling what must be alien obscenities at a crowd of people. They fight as a mysterious girl watches them from the shadows, but their fight is interrupted by a green shapeshifter looking to make a good first impression and a black teenager in a hoodie who is just DARING the modern audience to make a George Zimmerman joke. Together, they pacify the wanderer, who reveals herself to be a prize, won by a race of alien lizards to be their servant. The five of them work together to extract the extraterrestrial enslavers, from Earth for eternity!
Remember in the last list, where I said that the pilot episode of this series was so shitty that both networks started off with episode three instead? Well, as much as I liked Final Exam, this is the episode that REALLY should have kicked off the series. I won’t deny the emotional impact of going through five seasons with these characters before seeing how they all met, but on the flip side, this episode has the potential for being the best possible introduction to the action, individual characters, team dynamic, and over-all concept of the series. As it is, it would have been the best possible pilot episode, but I guess if it had been the first thing they made, it wouldn’t be as great an episode as it is.
First of all, the obvious… Going from an ongoing story to an origin story out of nowhere may be weird for the viewer, but it’s a huge change of pace for a writer, which can manifest itself into the form of some truly inspired results. Had the episode been written at the beginning of the series, it probably wouldn’t have been done as well as it was, so I’ll count my blessings on the fact that they did an origins episode at all, especially since they didn’t intersperse it with some pointless current timeline story. There are lots of comics that do that, as well as their adaptations into tv, movies, and even video games. Dark Knight and Man of Steel both did it, after all. You just grab a current story that’s vaguely reminiscent of past events, and shuffle them together. I don’t hate this practice… I enjoyed the Last of US DLC as a particularly good example… But Teen Titans approach was better.
We learned throughout the series where most of the five came from, and even if we didn’t, we knew enough to draw a conclusive picture of how being a Titan changed each one’s life. When they meet in this episode, Robin has a stick up his butt, Starfire is dangerously mistrustful, Cyborg is self-conscious, Raven is shy, and Beastboy is looking to attach himself to somebody not as a partner or equal, but as a sidekick. At no point in this episode do the writers shy away from an opportunity to show the characters interacting in such small ways that effect and improve them on such a grand scale. It’s almost as if they were born to be a team, and considering how vastly different the origin story for this team had to be from the comics, it’s amazing that they were able to create that feeling. Part of me wishes the series could have started off on this foot, but all the same, I love it just fine where it is.
6: Titan Rising
Like a blast straight out of the past, Terra finally returns to the Titans Tower, intercepting a volleyball game to try and rejoin the team. After she gives them a demonstration of her improved abilities, a wave of earthquakes hits the city, prompting their involvement. Terra gets recruited to help them as a sort of ‘trial mission,’ although she’s still dealing with some mistrust from Raven. They wind up battling a giant robot Earthworm, which tunnels underground and hooks up with two others like it. The team splits up, and they each discover one half of a plot to submerge Titans tower. Both teams struggle to find a way to shut off their wheel of worms, but after they ultimately fail to stop the plan, Terra and Raven set aside their differences to pool their powers, raising the tower back to surface level. Raven and Terra, having bonded a bit through the episode, have a chat while Terra is led to her own room in her new home, among her new family, as she reacts with disbelief to the fact that they trust her now. But does she deserve the praise, or is she simply setting her new friends up for disappointment?
If you’ve seen the newest DC Animated Movie “Justice League vs. Teen Titans” (And if you haven’t, then spoiler alert), the movie ends with the titans forming as a team… Membership just like this cartoon, other than containing a different Robin and a latino Blue Beetle… and in the final shot during the credits, we see Terra flying towards the tower, as a possible tease for an upcoming Judas Contract adaptation, and if you’re one of the people who’s familiar with both the comic and cartoon, you’re probably taking that news like a silver pole up the ass, you’re thinking something along the lines of “WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?” I know the DC animated movies are different from the original cartoon, and if anybody could pull it off it would be them, but… It just feels too early, and frankly, the Judas contract was gravely mishandled in the cartoon.
In the comics, Terra was not a morally ambiguous or redeemable character. She was Slade’s jailbait lover, and every single moment of her friendship with the Titans was a lie. If the cartoon was going to try and remake her as a sympathetic character, then they should have scrapped the betrayal completely, and just made her a part of the team… And that’s exactly what they gave us for one glorious episode. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are HINTS that she’s playing the role of a mole… Her very first line when seeing the volleyball game was “Which side am I on,” which is probably one of the best lines in the entire series, and a clever nod to the obvious twist of her arc, where she does of course turn heel. Under bullshit circumstances.
But even if this episode doesn’t trick you into thinking Terra’s good now, it’s still an awesome episode by it’s own merits. I’ll admit that I had my doubts with all the animation gags in the beginning… Which, frankly, was one of the reasons her introductory episode didn’t resonate with me… But as soon as I saw the animation of her power demonstration, I was hooked. The villains, while a little bland looking at first glance, floored me by the numerous imaginative ways they were able to evolve throughout the story, when it would have been a lot easier and quicker for the writers to have them fly above the Tower out of nowhere, but no, we got to watch the Titans fight them in three different forms before they finally revealed their true purpose. Slade’s appearance was perfectly timed, even if it was a little heavy-handed, and it led to Terra and Raven coming to learn to respect and trust each other, while the team above actually found a clever way to take down the surface threat.
All in all, this episode is the one reason I don’t regret Terra being involved with this series. I knew damn well that the idea of her turning face for good… Or at least for her betrayal to be against her will, or something… Was asking too much, but at least with this episode in the line-up, I get to know what a straight up alliance between her and the Titans would have looked like.
And now I pray that the upcoming DC movie doesn’t make any of the mistakes the series made.
Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to enjoy a good, enthralling story, and you keep getting interrupted by the real world? When all you want is to sit back and enjoy your vastly rare dose of escapism, but the knocks on your door just keep coming? Well, try being on a superhero team. Raven has become absorbed in the story of a suave magician waging a life-or-death battle against an evil dragon. Every time she’s about to get to the good part, she’s intruded upon by her friends, wanting to do random stuff, or… A summons to fight a heart named Cardiac. Yeah, I’m not even going to bother defending that one. Anyway, Raven’s feelings are hurt by Beastboy’s reactions to her rejection, and who should comfort her… But the magician from the book! Has Raven finally found a like-hearted spirit, who will understand and appreciate her in ways her friends never could? Or will releasing him from his confinement prove to be a grave mistake?
Okay, I’m going to admit this right off the bat… This episode has it’s fair share of problems. Not only is the cardiac villain one of the stupidest excuses for a pun I’ve ever heard, but… The T-rex Takedown? Seriously? To make #5 on this list despite having such dumb material, you’d have to have some seriously redeeming factors… Which this episode has in spades. The animation and design of the world inside the book is just breath-taking, almost Disney-quality stuff. Malchior himself also has a highly inspired design, from his original magician appearance to his more mummy-like half-awakened state where you can’t decide whether it’s okay to feel unsettled by him, or if you’re just judging him based on his appearance, which he claims to be an inevitability of the darkness. All of the new magic looks wonderful, and the dragon looks even more impressive when it escapes the book than it did when it was still trapped inside.
But what really earns this episode such a high amount of praise from me is the way it developed Raven’s character. As cool and confident as we’re used to seeing her, it can be hard to conjure up an image of her caring what other people think about her. But then again, we all fall into depression once in a while, and it can sometimes hit us out of the blue, even in new forms. Sometimes a simple thoughtless comment can trigger a chain reaction on your mood, so it’s no surprise that when Beastboy called her Creepy, Raven would start reassuring herself with the old mantra “I’m just different.’ Hey, guess what? I’m different too, and I still get upset about it from time to time. And like the smoothest operator ever, Malchior was there to tell her exactly what she needed to hear, and patiently listen to all of her stories until the time came.
Of course, Malchior wound up being the Dragon and not the magician, and was only manipulating her for his own personal gain, but that just makes the gradual positive changes in her normal everyday attitude even more complex. Other Teen Titans episodes have attempted to tell suspenseful stories that would make the audience uneasy, but in my opinion, this is the only one to pull it off… Remember Mother Mae Eye, which gave away it’s plot twist in the first act? Fear Itself came a lot closer, but it still didn’t have the real world implications that this one has. We’ve all had friends that were taken advantage of by people they thought loved them, and seeing Raven set aside the fact that she KNOWS Malchior has been teaching her evil magic she can’t control just to finally meet him in person is just as heart-breaking, which makes her disposal of him all the more awesome.
And after the episode has finished doing all that, playing suspense and a great villain with such a deft hand, it still had time for a message. Just because your friends aren’t into the same things you are doesn’t mean they don’t care about you and value your time. No matter how good a book may be, there’s no reason you can’t put it down once in a while for a quick game of stankball.
You did not see this coming. You totally should have, though.
Ahem. While the Teen Titans are enjoying a celebration of Independence Day, and Beastboy is failing miserably in his attempts to explain the holiday to Starfire, the mischievous Mad Mod makes a mockery of their ‘Murican merriment by taking Jump city hostage and hypnotizing all of it’s residents into Brit-worshipping slaves, in an attempt to erase the nation’s independence from history. The Titans are spared, save for Robin, who winds up having his youth sucked out of him to turn the geriatric villain into the young spruce he once was. Without their leader, the rest of the team argue over what move to make next, with each member’s individual idea triggering another of their British Baddie’s traps. finally, as Starfire realizes the importance of the holiday, they come up with an idea that works, saving the dignity of the country and putting an end to tyrannical British imperialism once again!
So… In this episode, Starfire doesn’t understand the celebration of July 4th, but she has an epiphany later on that rouses her team towards victory against a foreign invader. If you know me, you know I can’t stand stories that exploit patriotism for cheap feels. At one point in the months following 9/11, my entire grade was pulled into an assembly because one of our fellow classmates wanted to do a ballet performance in remembrance of the victims… I blasted her for it in the school paper. In an early episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the titular character(having traveled to the early 2000s from the past) hears about 9/11, so she gives an impassioned soliloquized speech about it to the audience… I stopped watching immediately afterwards, and called the series itself a shameless sentimentality slut.
So for Teen Titans to tread on this kind of territory, they were skating across what may just be the thinnest ice possible with me. I don’t know how they did it, but they managed to tout the flag in a way that was not only integral to the plot, but in a way that I’ve never heard, and without being remotely preachy. That’s just how good Teen Titans writing can get. All the remaining titans are lost and misdirected without their leader, and they just can’t agree on a plan, so Starfire relates their struggle to that of our forefathers, stating that Democracy was about not a superior number of voters, but compromise, many flawed ideas coming together to find one to unite over. Not only is this interpretation set up and paid off perfectly by the story, but it’s disturbingly relevant today, with the divide between parties looking more and more like a childish game.
Oh, and by the way? All that aside, this episode is funny as fuck. As a tribute to British pop culture(at least the parts of it we’re familiar with), it roots itself firmly in the visual styles of Monty Python while running rough-shod over Fawlty Towers, the royal family, Beatlemania, and even Benny Hill chase sequences. British slang is also used liberally, which is brilliant, because they were able to get words like Limey and Wanker past the censors. Mad Mod’s efforts to transform America into England leads to inspired visuals like messing with the writing of the Declaration of Independence and remaking Mount Rushmore into the faces of the Beatles… A change I fully support. Except for Lennon, he was a douche.
Unlike the other episodes that made it onto this list, where I gave points for great action, surprisingly sincere and serious writing and well-delivered messages, this one gets in on just being pure fun. Even as a thirty year old, rewatching these episodes after god knows how many times, I still have fun with this episode, the roller coaster of creativity and inspiration that it is, and it even manages to touch me with it’s cheesy American pride speech… And that’s saying something.
It’s been months, but Robin is still obsessed with the idea of his old nemesis Slade reappearing to wreak havoc on Jump City. He even keeps the villain’s dusty old mask in a box in the basement of the tower. One night, during a fight against Cinderblock, Robin catches sight of Slade in the woods, and runs off to catch him, only to find himself on the receiving end of a cryptic warning and a signature beatdown from the masked man of mystery. Now, with the knowledge that Slade’s planted bombs in secret locations around the city, the young hero calls his team to arms, but they can’t find a thing… Not only that, but they can’t see Slade when he’s right in front of their faces. What’s going on, here? Is Slade invisible? Has he mastered cloaking techniques? Is Robin just going crazy from stress? Or is this just a tribute to Fight Club? Either way, if Robin doesn’t figure out what’s going on quick, he may not survive to drive his friends away.
This episode is almost perfect, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I looked at a lot of peoples’ Teen Titans top ten lists in preparation for this project, and nearly every single one had Haunted somewhere on it. It’s such a great episode that even people who only like the gross-out comedy episodes still picked it, and no, I’m no different. I love it too.
The episode is primarily about Robin… It’s been previously established that he has obsessive tendencies, especially towards the one and only Slade. We saw this all throughout the first season, so it’s not hard to believe he’d immediately jump on his nemesis like a pit bull if he ever returned to the living world. In the first season, it was arguable whether or not Robin would actually mislead his friends in his pursuit of justice, which made his isolation kind of hard to take at face value. It’s like he was learning a lesson for the sake of learning it, rather than because he needed to develop. In this episode, the disconnect keeping him from them is much more visceral, as they try to take his plight at face value, but the evidence against his sanity just keeps piling up.
And that trick of the writing is exactly how they did such a wonderful job of directing the audience in this episode. Hitchcock believed that in order to create suspense, the audience has to know something the characters don’t… That there’s a bomb under the table, that there’s a mole in the group, or in this case, that Robin really is seeing this villain nobody else can see, even if they can’t, and we’re even present for all the tense, believable conversations they’re having. We know something’s there, even though logically, we also know that short of Slade being a vengeful ghost, it can’t all be going down the way Robin thinks it is, which is what makes Raven’s reveal through his eyes to be all the more chilling. I also consider this episode to be the saving grace of the Robin X Starfire pairing, as their affection is shown through actions and plot relevance, instead of just awkward moments and blushy faces, which pale in comparison to seeing Starfire tear up the floor to get out of quarantine. I love when characters think of easy solutions outside the box.
I especially like the use of lighting in this episode… And I’m not referring to it’s use in the plot towards the end, although that was clever too. Most of this episode takes place in the shadows, which could be annoying due to a loss of visibility, but which winds up instead being very beautifully drawn and highly detailed, even when they’re supposed to be creepy. Unfortunately, I can’t call this episode perfect, like so many others, because there are several touches that I found taxing on my suspension of disbelief. From how well planned the gas attack was, to the physical damage Robin received… I mean, you can try to explain his bruises away with Matrix logic, but an imaginary foe ripped his clothes? The fuck outta here. Aside from that, this episode is damn near Hitchcockian in quality.
2: The Entire Trigon Saga
It’s Raven’s birthday, and all she wants is to be left alone. No parties, no friends, no well-wishers, just her and a clock, ticking away the hours. Every year on the anniversary of her birth, she must meditate and keep watch over her mind in case the most evil being in the galaxy decides to pass through it… And this is her unlucky year. Raven is plagued with bad dreams and visions, and as if that’s not enough, Slade has risen from the dead with a new set of powers, and he’s set out to awaken her by tearing her clothes and igniting every single rune on her flesh. With this job done, he flees, but returns later to use her as a key to unlock several ancient contraptions to be used as beacons for his return. Before he can leave, Raven catches him, earning a rare look of fear in his eye. She lays the smackdown, and then tells her friends the whole story.
But the trouble wasn’t over, and eventually, the end would have to come. After what feels like weeks later, her runes begin to glow once again, tipping her off that it’s truly time for the world to end. She attempts to give her friends a happy last day alive, but a sudden solar eclipse tips them off to what’s going on, and they try to protect her… But it’s all for naught, as Slade’s army ends up holding them hostage to get her cooperation. She becomes the portal, thusly ending the known world, spreading fire and destruction across a planet full of stone, frozen people. With Trigon the Terrible reigning supreme over this post-apocalyptic hell on earth, it’s up to the remaining Titans and a tenuous helping hand from Slade to fight against the very definition of futility in order to restore not only the world, but their dear friend, to life. Fighting Trigon is one thing, but can they defeat hordes of demons? Spirits? Themselves?
Every season of Teen titans had it’s own multi-episode story arc, filling out a line-up that was more or less half episodic filler stories. You could make the argument that season five was in some way superior because it spent the majority of it’s episodes setting up the finale to the series, but that finale sucked, nobody cares about the Brotherhood saga, and I personally felt disappointed with the Tara arc. I can’t blame people for liking the first season’s Slade and Red X arc the best, but in my opinion, the Trigun episodes from season 4 were one of the show’s best crowning achievements. I thought about only including the three part “The end”finale here, but the other two episodes… Birthmark and Prophecy… Just do such a great job setting them up.
Birthmark goes for a slow burn, reminding us of her briefly touched upon troubles from season 1 with a hilarious Dr. Light gag, after which we’re left with Raven in her room, hoping upon hope that her day will be uneventful. Slade then comes back with the impact of a wrecking ball, decimating the Titans with his new powers, tearing off Raven’s clothes until she’s barely wearing more than Starfire… Which, I gotta be brutally honest, was pretty hot. The story keeps developing from there, as the stakes keep getting higher, and the actions of the character keep making sense despite the new situations they’re going through.
Seeing Robin work together with the spurned Slade is one of the most surreal occurrences in the series, and their coherence when fighting as a unit creates a really poetic balance compared to just how little they like each other… It’s pair-up that keeps you guessing, and it once again brings suspense into the equation because you expect one or both of them to betray the other… And while this is happening, you’re also watching the other three Titans battling with dark shadows of themselves, who are hitting harder, taking more risks, and making cruel comments that only self-doubt could ever conjure up. These two halves of the story complement each other well, which is good, because they drag on for what would have otherwise been too long. Thankfully, the shadow fight is so gripping that even the arrogant Trigon enjoyed watching it.
When Raven finally does come back, it’s as a small, frightened child whose lost all of her memory and height along with her power. It’s of course Robin who brings her back, seeing how they’ve always been kindred spirits, but even with her back, it took Slade coming out of nowhere to turn on Trigon before anybody believed he could be defeated. Since Raven’s last act before becoming a portal was to give them all a portion of her magic, she doesn’t get it back until all four of her friends have been knocked out in a single Hyper Beam-like attack. There are very few moments in this series that feel as empowering as seeing White Raven come back to life to destroy her father and bring the world back to the way it was once and for all.
I won’t deny that there were some slow moments in the first two episodes of this arc, but once Trigon arrived on the scene, every single moment was awesome. It was the dark and serious plot that the writers were clearly waiting for, and it got so gallows black that I was surprised nobody slipped up and mentioned the name Deathstroke. From Raven’s supposed death upon Trigon’s entrance to Robin weilding a fucking sword, there was nothing held back in this arc other than possibly the words kill and death. It’s glorious, and if I was judging this list based on objective quality, it would probably be number 1… But before we actually get to 1, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions.
Don’t Touch That Dial: I’m generally not a fan of episodes that make fun of random pop culture titles, because it’s often a lame and unimaginative idea, but this one was a surprisingly fun ride.
Fear Itself: While it didn’t impress me as much as Haunted or Spellbound, it’s another episode full of suspense and creepy imagery, and if you don’t know what’s going on ahead of time, it’ll keep you firmly on your toes.
Car Trouble: This episode was laugh a minute for me, and to top it all off, it was kind of touching to see Cyborg make the ultimate sacrifice when he could no longer control his creation. Seeing him connect with Raven over the very idea of having a passion was also really nice.
Switched: A favorite of many, this episode found a new and interesting way to explore the old ‘switched bodies’ cliche on a deeper emotional level while still being entertaining and teaching us a lot about Starfire and Raven.
Nevermore: Did I mention Raven was my favorite character? Well, she is, and in this episode, we get to see Cyborg and Beastboy take a trip through her mind, meeting all of her individual emotions in the S1 prelude to Trigon.
The Teen Titans have always considered themselves heroes, but they’re about to receive a visit from a real hero… Val Yor, an intergalactic soldier who’s experience and accomplishments are only rivaled by his charisma. He takes down a drone ship, and after the Teen Titans witness this, he enlists them to aid him in the fight against an evil alien regime! Once they’re in orbit, he immediately begins to use all of his new shipmates to what he believes are their strengths, but what does that say about Starfire, who he keeps neglecting to give any responsibilities to? Showing some initiative, she inserts herself into a battle in the cargo bay, but even after tearing apart Val yor’s enemies for him, a simple mistake earns her his wrath, as well as a nasty xenophobic slur: Troq.
Feeling offended and now walking on eggshells, Starfire winds up getting roped into clearing free-floating mines out of the ship’s way, which she does, despite nearly messing up twice. She gets back on the ship, where Cyborg and Robin learn what Troq really means, but Stafire orders them to keep it to themselves until later. They reach the planet’s surface, and fight their way through alien robot beasts as Val Yor makes a mad dash towards their target, and Starfire insists upon accompanying him, despite his protests… And it’s a good thing she did, because she winds up saving his life as he continues to tell her she can’t. Finally, they arrive back on Earth, and Val yor tries to make up for his prejudice by admitting he was wrong about her, but… Well, let’s just say the spiritual combination of Chris Brown and Justin Bieber couldn’t have apologized worse, and her friends tell him to get the hell off their planet.
As I mentioned in my review of Petite Princess Yucie, one of the most important things a kids’ show can do is teach positive messages to the audience. One of the most popular messages, and by the law of averages also the most screwed up messages, is the importance of not being prejudiced. I recently saw the new Disney movie Zootopia, and I was floored by how well it tackled not just racism or sexism but the very idea of being prejudiced and judging your peers based on the wrong information. And yet, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which is a cartoon that’s critically praised for being a smart show for kids, can’t attempt this message without stumbling and sounding preachy. So how does Teen Titans fare with similar material?
The same way they deal with a pro-America speech: Better than you’d think possible, and they did it by treating the issue realistically.
Yeah, that’s right, Teen Titans tackled a real world issue using space aliens. One orange, and one gray. Now, one might think that by doing this, you’d be taking the humanity out of the equation… Nope! The humanity of racism lies deeply within both characters. When Val Yor first meets Starfire, he doesn’t outright say anything… He tolerates her, and simply tries to ignore her. It isn’t until she makes a mistake that he jumps on the validation of his beliefs, and smugly begins to pull his demeaning and belittling slur out of his bag. Yeah, guess what? Racists aren’t snarling pitbulls waiting to snap the second they see a target. Those offended by racism aren’t all going to snap and immediately get offended, either… Their feelings are just as easily hurt as anyone else’s, and even if they know they’re better than the racist is insinuating, words can still cut really deep.
Rather than escalating the situation or rallying her friends for support, Starfire withdraws, not wanting to make a big deal out of the words from yet another ignorant bigot… After the many she’s likely met in her life. But when that doesn’t work, she does seek a little support, and decides to prove herself, to show him what she already knows… That she’s strong, that she’s capable, and that he has no idea what he’s talking about. She never gives up on him, and even manages to save his life, even after he’s so convinced in her worthlessness that he refuses to let her risk her own life to save his. If you haven’t seen the episode, don’t misread that… It’s not an act of heroism, but an act of pity. In his mind, asking a rat to try and save him would just be a waste of a rat. But it’s pity she neither wants nor needs, and she saves his ignorant life.
Back on Earth, Val Yor’s reaction to her accomplishment is also disturbingly realistic… He admits he was wrong about her, and has found value in her that he didn’t see before, and he’s willing to take a big bite of humble pie over it… But he still considers her an exception. She’s proven herself, but there’s no way to change his opinion on her people, and yet he still smiles upon leaving, as if he thinks he’s done the right thing. As she says in her speech at the end of the episode, there are people who will never be able to fully abandon the prejudices they grew up with, no matter how much of an impact you think you can make on them… I’ve seen plenty of racist human characters that were portrayed with far less humanity than this alien. Racists are often portrayed as irredeemable douchebags who will never learn, but Val Yor DOES learn, which makes his character seem borderline tragic in retrospect.
But what makes this episode my favorite is the final thing she says; There are far more people who WON’T judge you. I don’t just love that line because of how hopeful it is, but because of just how much it relates to the final piece of humanity in the episode… Her friends. They’re in love with Val Yor when they meet him, and who wouldn’t be? The dude’s awesome! This guy probably bench-presses Chuck Norris! But starting with Cyborg and Robin, and ending with Raven and Beastboy, they hold no more fondness of him once they learn how he’s hurt her. Their attitudes change in a split second from adoration to disgust the second they learn that he hurt Starfire’s feelings.
No, it’s not the fact that he’s a racist that drives them away… Let’s be honest, he could say equally venomous things about aliens they’ve never met before, and they’d probably just laugh it off. It’s the fact that his particular brand of racism hit too close to home for them, and made their friend… Somebody that’s special to them… Feel uncomfortable. It speaks not only to how much racism an actual person will likely tolerate, but even more strongly to the friendship between the Titans themselves. I don’t think there’s a single episode where their bond between them feels stronger than it does here.
Also, this episode has one of my favorite jokes in the series. Starfire asks Cyborg if he’s experienced prejudice based on his looks, and just when you think the episode is going to steer into preachiness and hit the issue too hard on the nose, Cyborg answers with “Yeah… I am part robot after all.” The action was great, even if they were just fighting drones, and Hynden Walsh’s vocal performance as she deals with this issue was probably her strongest in the show. Guys, I’m not going to say this episode is the best written, or even that it’s the most important, but it’s the one that makes me feel proudest to be a Teen Titans fan. It doesn’t matter which episode fills your number one slot, as long as you can proudly say that.