Doom Patrol shouldn’t exist. It’s absurd to a degree that shouldn’t work as a show, but is continually grounded by the struggles and connections between its characters who are as sympathetic and relatable as they are truly out there. Season 2 lost track of that at times as it focused on Dorothy’s story, and the cliffhanger the season ended on as a result of the pandemic didn’t help. Now we’re back for Season 3, to see if DC’s most motley of crews can get their mojo back. Light Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 3, Episodes 1 – 5.
Doom Patrol Season 3
Things pick up right where they left off in Season 2; Larry, Cliff, Vic, Rita, and Jane are all encased in wax after being taunted by twisted versions of memories and loved ones. The climax of the season was predicated on the idea that Dorothy, after a century in stasis, was beginning to mature, and that her imaginary friends would wreak havoc on the world. That seemed to be the case as the second season ended, but the show quickly resolves that story.
There are some cool shots here–Dorothy picks up her mother’s bow and fires it from the cage she’s trapped in, and the camera follows the arrow to where Dorothy catches it–and she and the Candlemaker are back on the moon-like planet she ran away to last season. It’s an awesome transition that gives us a hint of just how powerful the young woman is.
With that said, the whole plot resolves rather cleanly–it’s clear the showrunners wanted to finish that storyline up and move on. It’s a good thing overall but feels just a little too clean.
Doom Patrol Season 3, Actually
Episode 2 is where we get into the actual season and start examining the characters, and it’s very much the Doom Patrol you know and love in all the best ways.
While Cliff and Jane initially seemed to be kind of the main characters, Rita has become more and more central to the story, and a lot of time is spent on Rita trying to figure out who she is. She toyed last season with the idea of being a superhero, calling herself the Beekeeper. That would be the worst superhero name if not for Matter-Eater Lad and Arms-Fall-Off-Boy.
But Rita’s self-confidence continues to get in the way of her attempts at heroism, and this triggers several story elements throughout the first few episodes. She continues to mutter aphorisms like “fake it ’til you make it,” but any facade she creates begins to crack quickly, and it seems that only putting her friends in danger is enough to get her to follow her instincts instead of overthinking every move she makes so hard that she ends up as an amorphous blob trapped in a flower planter.
The show pushes each character’s major pathos further right away, even when it feels like we’re doing episodic stuff. Rita’s lack of confidence, Larry’s tumultuous relationship with his Negative Spirit. Even three seasons in, I find myself caring deeply about almost all of them.
While it feels like Rita is driving the plot, Jane and Cliff’s issues continue to be the most interesting, and the show begins to dig deeper into Victor/Cyborg. These characters are supposed to be immortal, but the truth is that they’re barely hanging on. Cliff develops a tremor that’s most likely Parkinsons; after decades of supposed immortality, it’s not his body that fails him, but the one part left of his humanity that becomes troublesome.
Victor fancies himself a superhero, but how much of that is an image he’s crafted and how much is one that his father–still played by the always-excellent Phil Morris? Jane maintains a difficult balance with her other personalities, but the outside world continues to rock all those different minds around inside her. Things that remained static are changing; Kay Challis is becoming more active and asking for more agency after years in stasis.
Bodily autonomy and function, confidence, self-image, parental control–these are all things that everyone deals with. It ensures that even when the characters are fighting off a horde of were-butts or having a drink with a guy who calls himself the Decimator of Worlds, we can still care easily about each of them.
Even in these first episodes, we meet a bunch of new characters. A favorite from episode 2 is Garguax, an alien being tasked with assassinating Rita… in the 1950s. Previous casting has told us that we’d be meeting the Dead Boy Detectives and the Sisterhood of Dada. The latter seems to be the major source of conflict for the season. Actress Michelle Gomez appears as the first person we meet, Madame Rouge. Gomez also appeared in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where she gave off this sort of “sexy evil step-mother” vibe that seems to carry over here. She’s simultaneously perfectly put together and disheveled, confident and confused.
The Sisterhood of Dada finally makes its appearance in the last of the five episodes we were able to preview, and thus we don’t get to dive too deep on them. We meet each of the primary members–The Fog, The Quiz, Frenzy, and Sleepwalk–but don’t get to actually see most of their powers in action.
With that said, the last episode is dreamlike, ethereal, and oblique in ways that I think even David Lynch would be pleasantly surprised by. Cliff encounters the Quiz, a woman encased in glass who, according to the comics, has every power you’ve never thought of. The scene takes place in an empty, black space and has a memorable look to it. Victor meets Frenzy, who appears as a Black man wearing a white undershirt and who has bicycle wheels attached to his back and lots of penetrating, difficult questions for the young hero.
The Other Kind of Absurd
Meanwhile, the show never forgets its dark absurdist humor. A sequence in the fourth episode uses slurred speech and subtitles to hilarious effect, and the Sex Ghosts from last season make a couple of great appearances. The writing for Jane and Cliff is especially crisp throughout, as both of those characters tend to use humor and sarcasm to protect their feelings.
Meanwhile, Larry struggles with expressing anything beyond sullen defeat, and both Rita and Victor have all kinds of personal revelations to work through. Over and over, the show manages to balance earnest feelings and the absurd in ways that feel like they shouldn’t work. Even as the most bizarre things happen around the characters, the show never feels like it’s making fun of them or asking us to look at them as someone foreign or other. Instead, their reliability makes some of the truly strange moments easier to accept. I’m not kidding about the were-butts.
Season 1 of Doom Patrol set a tough precedent to follow. It was almost perfect, and the villain of Mr. Nobody acted as a perfect framing device. Season 2 struggled to keep up with its simpler story of a father who isn’t ready for his daughter to grow up. It feels like Season 3 is getting back to the weirdness that made the first one feel like such a revelation, and I hope the rest of the season is able to make good on that.