As DC Universe handles the confusing fallout from the Swamp Thing cancellation, the executives in charge really want everyone to know that as far as they’re concerned everything is business as usual. Until WarnerMedia tells them otherwise, they are moving forward with their development slate and making decisions about their already existing shows. Item #1 on that schedule should be deciding to renew Doom Patrol, which recently wrapped its first season and is still awaiting word on whether there’ll be a second go around with comic book TV’s weirdest outcasts.
When last I wrote about this show, I was five episodes into a binge of the first season, which I found to be entertaining but perhaps a tad guilty of trying a too hard to stand out amid the glut of superhero TV. Any show which ends a pilot with a small town being sucked into a donkey’s ass – that’s right, you heard me – is certainly guaranteed to get your attention, but when it keeps doing those kinds of crazy stunts – which Doom Patrol does through its first 5 episodes – at the expense of the characters the novelty wears a bit thin.
To use a baseball analogy, it felt like watching a pitching prospect throwing too hard after a promotion to the majors. He’s so amped up and flowing with adrenaline he wants to blow everyone away with fastballs. Eventually, though, a coach will tell him to settle down and just be himself.
That’s what Doom Patrol does in its second five episodes – it simply settles down, and in so doing it quickly becomes a truly fantastic superhero show with compelling characters. Beyond that, rather than simply retread X-Men comic book tropes it actually becomes about something, weaving #MeToo, mental health, and homophobic opression commentaries into its larger narrative about its titular group of outsiders.
Crucially, Mr. Nobody, Alan Tudyk’s scene-stealing and somewhat overpowered villain – seriously, what can’t he do? – recedes into the background, freeing the show to dwell on the characters and further explore their origin stories. Beyond that, the clearly clever writers stretch their muscles not just to surprise but to find creative ways to visualize the characters’ internal struggles.
Thus, in one episode (“Jane Patrol”) we go inside Jane’s mind and meet her different personalities milling around in a warehouse-like building where they have set rules and procedures to determine who gets to go up top – via a subway – and when. Since they’re all played by different actresses and Diane Guerrera’s Jane is present in the warehouse and refusing to go back up top, we get to see the personalities actually interact, which is a fascinating way of depicting dissociative identity disorder. It’s at least a better crack at it than some full-length movies I’ve seen.
In another episode (“Therapy Patrol”), the characters actually sit down to a therapy session initiated by Cliff and finally open about all of their secrets. In an even more unexpected episode (“Hair Patrol”), we travel back to 1913 to see the moment Chief’s’s worldview changed for good and why he has become so protective of/secretive about the odd and supernatural. Prior to that (“Danny Patrol”), Larry’s still somewhat closeted homosexuality is explored to empowering effect when he’s transported to a secretive place meant as a safe haven for society’s down and discriminated.
Of course, this is still Doom Patrol. So, of course Mr. Nobody’s meta-commentaries and WTF jokes continue to factor in, which is how one of the deepest and most thoughtful episodes of the season ends on a twist featuring a hilarious – spoiler – vengeance-seeking rat named Admiral Whiskers. Plus, “we should seriously fear” Mr. Nobody is very well established in “Doom Patrol Patrol,” which shows us just what happens to superheroes who try to go up against him.
That kind of highly memeable material is part of the Doom Patrol equation, but it doesn’t mean anything if the characters aren’t worth caring about. I wasn’t totally feeling that in the first part of my binge, but I’ve fallen for it hook line and sinker as the season has progressed. Now, there are five episodes left and the overarching storyline of saving Chief from Mr. Nobody must be solved. To be honest, though, I’m just down for spending more time with these people as they lead their strange, sad, damaged lives which are made the slightest bit better by being around one another. I almost don’t care if Chief comes back.