Spoiler warning for those who haven’t yet watched Titans Episode 9. Watching the episode first would be wise.
From the offset, Titans was clearly going to have more in common with post-Nolan comic adaptations than with Adam West’s Batman series. But with the episode “Hank and Dawn,” the under-discussed DC Universe drama took some extremely grim turns to deliver the backstory for superheroes Hawk and Dove; turns that involved child molestation and multiple deaths. Hawk portrayer Alan Ritchson spoke with CinemaBlend ahead of the episode’s debut, and I asked him about taking on what’s arguably Titans‘ darkest origin yet.
Yeah, you know, not that it’s a competition. I mean, I want everybody to succeed on this show and have amazing storylines and everything. [laughs] But yeah I was pleasantly surprised that I had such raw material to work with. It was really just such a privilege. I was so pleasantly surprised and honored to be able to bring that to life.
When Alan Ritchson’s Hank Hall was first introduced in Episode 2, he was already busting skulls while rocking the full Hawk costume alongside Minka Kelly’s dressed-out Dove, a.k.a. Dawn Granger. Episode 9, however, showed fans that the agile dance pro Dawn wasn’t Hawk’s first partner going by the avian moniker. As comic fans already knew, Hank had a brother named Don, as largely portrayed on Titans by Life Sentence‘s Elliot Knight.
When the brothers were younger and in school, Hank’s prowess in athletics made him the apple of his perverted coach’s eye. One day, when it became clear the coach was aiming to do foul things to Don, Hank sacrificed his own innocence to keep his brother safe. Understandably, that abusive incident weighs heavily on Hank’s character as he grows up.
Alan Ritchson talked about how that dark time changed Hank’s outlook on life, and how it caused the character to turn inward more than outward.
I think that lends itself to his unpredictable nature. I think it forced him to grow up and, you know, deal with the world in a different way and take the rose-colored glasses off. It’s not all fun and games. When that kind of thing happens, it causes you to grow up quickly. I think there’s something priceless about innocence and keeping that as long as we can, but it is what it is. Now he lives behind the masks and walls he created to protect himself; they’re thick and high. And I think it leaves a lot of room to explore his journey going forward, to see whether or not he continues to build upon those or chip away at them. I think there’s a lot of fun in that.
Not that Hank’s pain and Hawk’s tortured backstory ended there. While in college, it becomes clear that Hank’s sports concussions are doing his overall health a disservice. Vigilantism probably wasn’t the smartest detour to take next as far as Hank’s brain went, but it allowed Hawk to spread his fist-ended wings.
With the martial arts-trained Don by his side as Dove, Hawk put his athleticism to work by going around and targeting the growing number of sex offenders moving into their neighborhood. And videotaping their efforts as a calling card to Batman and Robin. Which clearly worked at some point down the line. Tragically, their partnership was short-lived.
In the moment where Hank and Dawn first crossed paths, a freak traffic accident sends cars flying into Don and Dawn’s mother, killing them both. Hank and Dawn reconnected later, and eventually chose each other’s company and conversations over the group therapy sessions they attended. Hank eventually showed Dawn the footage of his vigilante adventures with Don, planting the seed for the new Hawk and Dove.
Clearly, Titans took a stark storytelling leap between “Hawk and Dove” and “Hank and Dawn,” and for good reason. But Alan Ritchson didn’t know the ins and outs of his character’s tragic past whenever he was first asked to join the show by co-creator and episode writer Geoff Johns.
I didn’t know anything about Episode 9. No. I mean…no. [laughs] He basically talked about who Hank was in Episode 2. You know, he’s like this pill-poppin’ hothead vigilante, and he kicks ass. And the beautiful thing is that he’s a human being. This guy has scars all over him and bullet holes and he’s limping along in life, but still trying to do this. And I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s not what we’ve seen before, but go on.’ But he didn’t need to. I mean, I was hooked on the truth of the stories they were trying to tell, and how they were presenting these people.
So Ritchson was just as surprised as anyone whenever he caught wind of where Hank and Dawn’s story was going next. Or where it went before, as it were. The actor said he even questioned if it went too far for the higher-ups.
When I read that episode, I was like, ‘Whoa, this continues to surprise me in a really good way. Are we really going to do this?’ I sat down with Akiva Goldsman in his office and I was like, ‘Dude, the network doesn’t have notes about taming this and alluding to more?’ And he was like, ‘We fought really hard for this, and we won, and we’re going to go for it. Let’s honor the story and all the victims who have experienced the same thing.’ And that’s what we did try to do, and I hope that it resonates with people.
Titans‘ first season has displayed Dick Grayson’s violent bursts with abundance, and came close to one-upping them when introducing Jason Todd’s rogue-mode Robin. Like Dick, Hank’s moody headspace can be sourced to an older man’s negative influences, but Hank took on a completely different kind of pain for years before finding an outlet for it.
Dawn went through her own trauma, but has a more positive outlook. Without the physical effects of Hank’s life in sports, or the dependency on medications, she can be a genuinely positive influence within both the costumed and non-super sides of their partnership. By the end of the episode, she’d come out of her coma and was aware that Rachel was trying to contact them for help. Dove is always on her A-game.
What happens next? We’ll have to wait and see, but don’t expect sunshine and Partridge Family songs. Titans airs Fridays on DC Universe at 12:00 p.m. ET. The Season 1 finale is soon approaching, so catch up with past episodes at your leisure. While waiting for more, fall TV and 2019’s midseason schedule offer lots of shows to take a look at.