Digging in Deeper: Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

“Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. ‘Who am I struggling for,’ he asks, ‘and depriving myself of good things?’ This too is futile and a miserable task.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

We are suffering a crisis of loneliness. At least, that’s the opinion of our government. In a recent announcement from no less an authority than the U.S. Surgeon General, our government announced that its official position is that we are suffering from a “loneliness epidemic.” And this isn’t just a holdover from Covid either. We are lonely and that is and will continue causing more and more problems in our society. If left unchecked, this could get even worse. We could accidentally unleash a super villain who tries to destroy the world. Okay, admittedly, that seems unlikely, but it happened in the final season of the now-cancelled DC Comics HBO series, Titans. Let’s talk about the final season, what worked, what didn’t, and why it made a point worth considering.

As a sucker for comic book-related content, I was excited when they first announced plans to make a live-action series based on the Teen Titans storyline from DC Comics. I grew up watching the first Teen Titans cartoon on Cartoon Network. It was generally really well done. The animation style was mostly good (except when they leaned too hard into an anime style) and the storylines were all terrific. The second version of the series, Teen Titans: Go, on the other hand, was an abomination that should be scrubbed from the earth. You probably don’t want to hear what I really think. The live action version looked from the previews to actually be really good. Being produced by HBO while it was likely to include a bit too much garbage for my tastes, it was also likely to have good acting, good production values, and a pretty fun story to follow.

The first three seasons of the show were generally really good. The second season suffered from some of the same issues that the second season of every show faces, but the third season picked back up the pace and offered up a really compelling story with fun new versions of some old characters. (I reviewed the series and the third season here and here.) The fourth season looked to pick up right where it left off on a new adventure. Unfortunately, about halfway through the season – which started out really pretty strong – and in conjunction with DC’s hiring of James Gunn to be their new Kevin Feige, they announced the series would be cancelled. This came along with the news that they were going to go on a break at the halfway point of the season without also announcing when the break would conclude. It wound up being a five-month break to allow for their adaptation of The Last of Us (reviewed here) to have some time in the sun. By the time they finally started airing the series again this past April, it honestly felt like kind of an afterthought. It wound up limping off the stage with more of a whimper than the bang it deserved.

This season’s villain was a character named Brother Blood. Rather than introducing him in his final form right at the beginning of the season, though, they spent nearly the whole thing taking the audience on a journey of discovering how he became Brother Blood. He didn’t reach his final form until the second-to-last episode of the season and was actually dispatched rather easily at the end. The real antagonist for most of the season was his mom, Mother Mayhem. She turned out to be a great deal more menacing and powerful an opponent for the Titans than he ever did. She was good enough that when they killed her off once (something Brother Blood did in a fit of childish and petulant rage), they brought her back from the dead before having him kill her a second time.

On the whole and mostly because of the impact of the second half, this final season was a dud for me. The main heroes all played their roles with the charisma and heart that they did for the rest of the series, but the plot just didn’t work. The relationships among the Titans felt forced and underdeveloped. Up until the moment he finally fully embraced his villainous role in the penultimate episode, Brother Blood (who spent most of the series as the entirely less scary-sounding Sebastian) was far more pathetic and whiney than he was menacing. Even in the end, he simply wasn’t believable as a real threat to the heroes. His final costume which he apparently granted himself with his newfound powers, didn’t help. And the plot had so many convenient twists and holes that it felt a bit like the writers were just phoning it in to get the series finished so they could all move on to their next project. It’s really too bad because the series on the whole was great.

What caught my attention from a spiritual perspective about the series is actually an idea that they started developing early on. Their development of this from the beginning was what made Sebastian, the character who became Brother Blood in the end, someone you really cared about and were hoping to see him redeemed in the end. I thought for several episodes that they were going to wind up redeeming him and making Mother Mayhem the big bad of the season. I think that would have been a much more satisfying and high stakes of an ending than they actually gave us.

Sebastian really was the son of Mother Mayhem, whose real name was May. Bringing the plotline from the first season full circle, she was part of the Church of Blood, a Satanic cult that fashioned itself publicly like the Christian church, but whose object of worship is the interdimensional demon, Trigon. Trigon is actually one of the most powerful villains in the entire DC Comics universe. In a move that only highlighted the blasphemous nature of the cult, Trigon took on human form to impregnate May in his quest to father a daughter who could serve as his vessel to enter our world in his full form and destroy it. The member of the Titans, Raven, was that daughter, but her rejection and defeat of him forced his followers, led by May, to seek an alternative route. The route turned out to be something that made the entire plot of the first season a completely unnecessary distraction from what his followers needed to be doing, but we’ll leave that alone for now.

May had spent her life as a shy and ignored woman with innate magical abilities that she learned to develop when she was discovered by one of Trigon’s followers. After going through a painful and intensely competitive training process, she found a hunger for power and embraced the evil and ruthlessness of the cult to climb her way to the top. Her failure to produce a female heir looked like it was going to spell the end of the road for her, but she never lost her ambition, and when the Titans destroyed the facility where she was being kept imprisoned by the rest of the cult in the first season, she escaped to plot for the next two seasons until she could unleash her plan at a moment more convenient for our heroes.

Her disappointing son was taken from her and placed in foster care in England (a convenient twist to explain the actor’s accent) where he grew up in an environment where he was constantly neglected and treated as less important than all the other children around him. Even when he had good things given to him, they were taken away to be given to other children his various foster parents favored. He grew up thinking he was worthless. He had grand ambitions, but no advocates, and he met nothing but rejection everywhere he went. He had no family. No friends. And not even his girlfriend was really interested in him. After ignoring him for a while, she rather unceremoniously dumps him early in the season. He was just the kind of person the Church of Blood and Mother Mayhem could sweep up into their arms, woo with all kinds of false promises and sweet nothings they didn’t really mean in order to use him to accomplish their greater purposes, at which point they would discard him like the trash they believed him to be.

Our culture creates Sebastians all the time. The reasons they get created are manifold, but the more we are separated from each other by screens and the more the nuclear family breaks down, the more Sebastians we will see created. We need community. We were made for it. When we don’t have it, we will seek it with all the desperation of a man in the desert seeking after water. We can’t function healthily without community. We’ll make up a community if we need to in order to have one. Unfortunately, the communities we create out of desperation often aren’t good ones. And if we feel denied of community for too long, we’ll start to turn our desperation into hatred and seek to deny those around us from community so that we are not alone in our misery.

In all of this mess, the church has a chance to shine like a light on a hill; like the beacon of a lighthouse, giving direction and purpose to the lives of the people around it. The church is the only community in the world where we have the chance to become truly who we were created to be. The church is the one community where people can be received exactly as they are, but where they won’t be left there. They won’t be forced into a mold they don’t want and weren’t designed to fit in the first place. They can be empowered to become the very best version of themselves. Now, does this mean this always happens? No, of course it doesn’t. The church is filled with people and people are broken. Sometimes their brokenness gets worked out through the church to devastating effect. We should repent in sackcloth and ashes when that happens. But when we get it right – and, thanks be to God, we do get it right from time to time – the results are simply extraordinary.

Over the course of this final season of Titans, Sebastain almost didn’t complete the path to becoming Brother Blood. In the first half of the season, he fell in with the Titans and was embraced by their little community. They gave him an identity and a purpose for the first time in his life and it was very obviously really good for him. That was the part of the season where the show really hit its stride. It’s too bad they stumbled into the second half.

My guess is that there is at least one person around you who is in need of a community. Maybe that person is you. Life without community just isn’t as good as life with community is. If you have one, invite someone else into it with you. If you don’t have one, make finding one a priority. As the wisest man who ever lived once noted, being alone just isn’t worth it. You can have all the power in the world – and by the end of the season, Brother Blood had just that – but unless you have a community, it won’t matter. It will all come to naught. Find a church. Experience real community. You’ll absolutely be glad that you did.

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