When I watched the first episode of Doom Patrol, I was immediately excited by what I saw: a great-looking, well-written story about surprisingly human superhumans with powers that were more than power fantasies. With the finale in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look back and see if the show stuck to its ideas and made good on its promises.
In short, Doom Patrol is an incredibly special show – as a superhero/comic-book show, as a DC Universe show, and as just, you know, a dang TV show.
At its roots, Doom Patrol is a show about people with disabilities. People with differences that separate them from “normal” people. They hide their disfigurements, struggle, and shame themselves. They stand out not as a matter of choice, but just by existing.
And the show, the story, never loses sight of that.
Through their adventures, the Patrol meets a sentient, teleporting, genderqueer street, a guy who gets special powers from eating beard hair (it’s gross), and a cockroach with a god complex. They get sucked into a donkey that farts words, end up inside a snowglobe with characters that would freak out the people who made Return to Oz, and break into a government facility that houses, among other things, carnivorous butts.
Doom Patrol is a show that fully embraces its weirdness in a way very few shows manage.
But throughout this, our characters continue to struggle and fight against the forces that work against them: a reality that wants to write their narratives for them, a government agency that wants to track, monitor, and use them because they don’t fit neatly into the idea of normalcy, and a few overprotective father figures with questionable ideas of what it means to protect their children or their charges.
Together, the team validates each others’ struggles. Cliff immediately accepts Crazy Jane, and the eventual dive into her mind helps him understand that only she can put herself back together – and that it’s with the strength of her relationships that she can start to try to do it. Larry Trainor was a gay man living in mid-century America. When he was forcibly united with the Negative Spirit, the idea of hiding his real self from his loved ones became very literal, and the disfigurement he held for himself in his mind became real – and toxic. It wasn’t until he started to communicate with the spirit that he was able to find peace with his own truth. Cyborg, who I’ve previously described as a Justice-League-grade hero had to push his way out from under his helicopter-parent father to truly become himself and to find an even ground on which he could communicate with that father. The group went through therapy together, even if there was a rat inside Cliff’s head for it.
And while these characters were working through their collective and individual traumas, we got an incredibly good-looking show with stellar character designs and great visual effects. The arc that took the characters to Nurnheim stands out as an especially good-looking part of the show with some wild monsters for the characters to fight off, making them look like a superhero team for the first time.
And few shows are so compassionate toward their characters. No show is perfect, especially when handling as many sensitive issues – disability, mental and physical trauma, sexual assault, hate, internalized ableism, just to start the list – but I don’t know if I’ve seen any show do it with such aplomb. This is a show about people with very real barriers to living normal lives, not super-geniuses who can take off their power armor, and it lets us into all of their struggles and loves them through it.
With reports that suggest the show will see a second season, I can only cross my fingers and hope we’ll see more of these incredible characters.