“Souls” takes a break from the main plot to focus on some characters who have been underserved this season, and it’s an effective outing with some big implications.
This recap of Titans season 3, episode 9, “Souls”, contains spoilers.
Now, so late in the season, doesn’t seem like the ideal time for a diversionary episode that takes a break from the main plot and focuses instead on some characters we thought we’d seen the last of. But that’s the sneaky genius of it, I suppose. The aftermath of Scarecrow tricking Starfire into being a supervillain for him, releasing his anti-fear toxin into Gotham’s water supply, is something we’re all keen to see. That “Souls” doesn’t let us see it yet only heightens the anticipation, while also delivering a relatively self-contained outing that gives heroes underserved by this season their time in the spotlight – not to mention the implications of its events going forwards.
Titans season 3, episode 9 recap
Death is very much the word of the day. Bruce Wayne, having abandoned his principles and responsibilities, draws up his last will and testament and plans to go out in a blaze – but not of glory – at some gothic castle in the middle of nowhere, since Wayne Manor is off-limits, destruction-wise. Tim Drake, meanwhile, is dying on a stretcher after being shot by Scarecrow in the climax of last week’s episode, “Home”.
Even those still living are hung up on the idea of death. Rachel, we learn, has been on Themyscira this whole time, taking part in a complex and frustratingly lengthy resurrection ritual with the island’s elders. Since the process takes so long and isn’t even guaranteed to work, Rachel can’t help but utilize her powers to try and expedite the process, which angers everyone, even those who’re ostensibly on her side. Rachel, as ever, is frustrated by tradition, by standing on ceremony, by following the rulebook. Her arc in “Souls” is about learning not necessarily patience but process; that there isn’t a shortcut for every situation, no matter how powerful she is.
This lesson is learned after she calls out the elders as being cowards, their stifling conformity the reason Donna left in the first place. As punishment, she’s tasked with rebuilding an artefact made of many oddly shaped stones, and the process, which she initially assumes is going to be simple, continually frustrates her. It’s a learning experience, obviously. Each time she tries a new arrangement, the structure collapses. All the while, she and her teacher discuss the nature of things, of life and death. Eventually, Rachel tries to assemble the artefact using her powers and gets all the way to the final stone before the whole thing topples over. This, she sees as a sign. She’ll never rebuild it, no matter what she does. And, by extension, Donna is dead. Forever.
Or is she? Weirdly enough, she’s the first person Tim Drake meets when he mysteriously wakes up on a train in a monochrome world full of friendly porters and hostile, creepy ghouls. The train has a destination for everyone, presumably, but Tim isn’t interested in reaching his. He panics and flees, and Donna follows. The snowy landscape the locomotive is slicing through is similarly haunted by spirits. When both get cornered, they’re saved by Hank, who arrives in a car blasting “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, because of course he does.
Hank has a bit more knowledge of what’s going on than the other two. Presently, they’re in purgatory. Those who don’t allow the train to take them to their destination end up here, pursued by ghouls whose soul-sucking powers drag them down to Hades, from which there is no escape. This place, though, apparently has some exits, including a lamplit bridge that supposedly leads back to the land of the living. There’s a debate between Hank and Donna about whether they could or even should return, Hank for, Donna against. But it’s Tim who sways them both. In his mind, he died a coward. He was shot in the back, running away. He needs a second chance to be the hero he has always dreamed of being.
So, Donna and Hank accompany him to the bridge, the location of which is marked by an upside-down tree. There, they’re pincered by gangs of ghouls and forced to fight them off with weapons that they can manifest from their imaginations. This gimmick results in some fun comedy beats – Hank spawns Dick’s throwing stars and then a pair of nunchucks; Donna two bottles of Tabasco – and then a fist-pumper when the swords and the lasso come out just in time. As they’re fighting, though, the bridge collapses, leaving Donna on one side, and Hank and Tim on the other. This is Tim’s hero moment. He has to jump.
And, with some prompting, he does, though it’s a pathetic attempt and Donna has to yank him to the other side with her lasso. But it’s the thought that counts. This, though, leaves Hank stranded on the other side, and just when it looked like Titans was going to walk back one of its boldest storytelling choices, it becomes clear that Hank is doomed to his fate. Once he ensures Donna and Tim escape, though, he encounters Don Hall in his full football regalia, who suggests that maybe this particular corner of the afterlife requires some Dove and Hawk action – yes, in that order.
Tim and Donna, meanwhile, make it to the other side quite literally; color bleeds back into the world, and Tim collapses, shot once again. “You are a hero, Tim,” Donna assures him as he bleeds in her arms, “you made the jump.” And just like that, his eyes snap open in an ambulance. He’s back.
So, too, is Donna. As Rachel is packing her things, ready to leave Themyscira, she notices that Donna’s body is missing. As it turns out, it’s in Bruce Wayne’s castle, which is now ablaze with him inside. She plucks him out of the fire and he makes the logical assumption – that he’s dead. She tells him he isn’t, and he counters that he must be, since that she is. “Not anymore,” she replies.
You can stream Titans season 3, episode 9 exclusively on HBO Max.