When you’re struggling with something, it can be hard to tell if it’s the problem you’re struggling with or yourself. Learning that you’re ultimately responsible for your own struggle can be devastating or freeing depending on what you decide to do with it. Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 2, Episode 6, “Space Patrol.”
I live in an apartment, and someone downstairs from me has a few kids. Once, I remarked to a friend that it seems like the only thing these kids do is make each other scream and cry. I wasn’t surprised at all when last week’s episode ended the way it did. Niles Caulder introduced his daughter, the (100 and)-eleven year-old Dorothy, to Jane’s Babydoll personality, who seems to be a few years younger even than that–maybe seven years old. He left them unsupervised and eventually the two super-powered non-children children came to blows and unleashed their powers on each other.
It was devastating still, though, when Dorothy’s Candlemaker construct entered Jane’s Underground and killed two of Jane’s personalities. This whole episode spawns from that. Cliff finds Jane out in the real world covered in wax, as we’ve seen in past manifestations of the Candlemaker. The melted wax that would be innocuous on a candle becomes grotesque as it covers Jane’s face.
The Pioneers of the Uncharted
Just as Cliff is bringing Jane upstairs, though, a complication arises when a literal spaceship lands outside. The threesome that stands on the doorstep of Doom Manor is known as the Pioneers of the Uncharted, a group of space explorers sent out in the 1960s to explore the vast reaches of space. They look and sound every bit the part, with Zip and Specs speaking in catchphrases while the third member, “Moscow,” plays things straight.
While Larry is meeting the explorers, Dorothy sneaks out and steals their spaceship. When a child has done something they know is bad and they feel guilty, they want to run away. Dorothy is just doing the most extreme version of that possible.
Larry entertains the Pioneers while Cliff and Niles, in Niles’ backup spaceship (go with it), go after Dorothy.
Oh, this is my problem.
Larry’s storyline is the one that interested me the most in this episode. When Larry and Moscow shake hands, she lights up–she has a Negative Spirit inside her, too. But she’s standing in open-air, skin intact, without bandages over her body. As the two talk, we learn that both have had their spirits for decades, but that she reached harmony with it in just five years, while Larry is only just beginning to make progress with his.
In that moment, the cooperative acting that Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk do as Larry’s voice and body really shines. Larry has to grapple with the knowledge, now, that his struggles with the Negative Spirit are entirely on his shoulders. You can see the realization wash over him. He’s not alone in his strange situation, but he’s largely responsible for his years of misery (with some blame on Niles for initiating it, of course).
Humor + Horror = Doom Patrol
The other two Pioneers are a perfect example of the way Doom Patrol combines humor and horror without hamstringing either. Zip and Specs are stereotypical 1960s comic-book space explorers. Zip is a hot-shot pilot who isn’t afraid of anything–except marriage! And Specs is the brains of a group, and a heartbreaker to boot. You’ll know this because they repeat it over and over until Moscow explains that they died years ago, and that their bodies are controlled by a benevolent fungus. In Earth’s atmosphere, they quickly deteriorate, playing out their silly interactions with less and less fidelity. It’s not the kind of straight, scary horror that better matches the Candlemaker, but more like the subtle kind that leaves you thinking long after about your body living on without you in it, behaving like you in the most surface ways, until it breaks down.
A Tale of Two Dads
Up in space, Cliff and Niles find Dorothy and bring her back. With the exception of Rita, every member of the Doom Patrol has major father-related issues. This episode seems to be putting up a mirror between Cliff and Niles, though, as lapsed fathers whose daughters are still very much alive and who they want to reach out to. But they’re in very different places. Cliff literally has to do all of his feeling with his brain, and that seems like it’s helping him learn, albeit slowly, to express his emotions and thoughts more clearly. When the spaceship lands on whatever planet or moon they’ve followed Dorothy to, Cliff has to get out and talk to her because his brain is sealed off–he’s basically a brain in a spacesuit.
Cliff has a touching conversation with Dorothy about how her feelings of frustration, fear, shame, and guilt are valid and real, but that they’ll pass, and that she’s not the only one that has ever felt them. It’s really sweet.
But then, Cliff takes her back to the ship where Niles doesn’t yell at Dorothy per se, but makes her promise never to make a wish, never to run away–things you can’t ask of an 11-year-old. He doesn’t welcome her, but rather admonishes her. It’s frustrating and disappointing to watch. Niles Caulder is an incredible scientist in the context of his world, a sort of gentleman scientist of old, combining science and alchemy and magic to make truly amazing things, but more and more, his name is all over terrible things.
He made one terrible choice after another and continues to make poor choices even as he tries to make up for his mistakes.
Sins of the Fathers
Another one of those mistakes comes up in Cyborg’s story. Cyborg continues to work on his relationship with Roni and offers to scan her body. Roni is suspicious, but as they dig they find out that the enhancements she’d received were provided by the joint work of Star Labs and Caulder Robotics. If you think back to last week, Vic’s dad, Silas, had refused to work on Cliff because of Niles’ involvement, but the two were somehow responsible for the relatively recent enhancements taken from Roni, leaving her in permanent chronic pain. It paints Silas himself in a new light, and will almost certainly affect his relationship with Vic.
The other big story this week happens in Jane’s head. While Cliff and Niles are in space, Larry is entertaining, and Rita is participating in a play, Jane is in mourning and her Underground is in chaos. I’ll be honest–I don’t fully understand what happened here. Jane’s other personalities are taking the dead personalities to the Well, where the Primary that preceded Jane, died some years ago (discussed in the Jane episode of season 1).
Jane, as the primary, thinks the personalities aren’t actually dead, being that the Underground is a mental construct that Kay, the body that houses Jane and the others, created to manage the personalities. Jane runs around frantically trying to stop the funerary procession, only for the whole collective to approach the well and none other than Miranda, reborn, to rise out. This signals a very different Jane moving forward into the last arc of the nine-episode season.
Oh, and Niles kicked Cliff out of the spaceship airlock, leaving him floating in space. What the hell, Niles?
I’m loving this season but I’m struggling more to understand the direction it’s going. I’m disappointed that it’s so much shorter than the first season. Further, I’m also missing Mr. Nobody, whose power to adjust real-world narratives gave the show some great direction and momentum. At the same time, this season seems more experimental in many ways, too, so I’m all in it.
Doom Patrol season 2 is airing now on DC Universe and HBO Max.