Keeping any series fresh over 3 seasons is tough. You need to find new ways to evolve the characters and grow them over time in a way that resonates with your viewers and works with the characters. Doom Patrol, then, has an even tougher job. The writers have to do all of that, but they have to find the most roundabout, upside-down, mirror universe way to get there. And somehow, they did it. Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 3.
Doom Patrol Season 3
Doom Patrol is a standout among superhero shows not just for its willingness to engage with the truly absurd but for the way it handles its villains. Most shows have mustache-twirling jerks for their villains. A few series give their villains a tragic back story. CW’s Stargirl makes them genuinely engaging characters. In Doom Patrol, the villains are often no worse or better than our protagonists, and usually just as lost.
Looking back on the season, it’s hard to tell who even qualifies as a true villain–the headliners often don’t. The Sisterhood of Dada’s plans were less dastardly and more deeply compassionate for the whole world. Garguax the Decimator and the Brotherhood of Evil’s Mallah were former villains who found themselves changed by time. Madame Rouge did some major damage to the Doom Patrol but ultimately learned that she was doing it not out of a genuine desire to hurt them but out of misplaced frustration and anger. Rita was arguably as much a villain this season as any of these characters.
A lot of characters this season were affected not by villains or heroes, victory or defeat, but by time itself. Garguax, Mallah, and Rita were all changed just by the passage of time. Time drained Garguax and Mallah of their passion, leaving them interested more in retiring and living than in completing the missions they’d once held sacred.
And then there’s Rita, arguably the star of this season.
She’s the star, just like she wanted
We’ve watched her struggle and aspire through the last two seasons. Her self-esteem pulled her down even as she tried to follow in Cyborg’s footsteps, Niles’ dreams, and her own desire to be a star–of any kind. What does it take for someone like Rita to conquer her demons and claim control? A literal century, apparently.
Whenever a character travels through time, we always wonder how they’re going to get back to their own time period. Of course, it would be Doom Patrol to throw that idea out the window. Doom Patrol’s strange and beautiful take on time travel gave Rita and Madame Rouge alike the opportunity to forget who they were completely and see what life could be like without all their baggage–before giving that baggage back and forcing them to reconcile the two.
From Actress to Artist
I loved watching this version of Rita grow and change across the series. Without the baggage of her past, she was allowed to express herself in her time with the Sisterhood. Like an innocent child, she was able to see the world without a bunch of preconceived notions, and instead of seeing all the ways the world could put her down, she was able to see the greater injustice of the world. The Sisterhood of Dada was framed as being villainous, but it became clearer throughout the show that they were oppressed people fighting for oppressed people, though in an unconventional way befitting their strange powers.
That let Rita become something of a revolutionary. By the time she knew once again who she was, she had developed a confidence that she never had in the original timeline. But that Rita still existed, and is still this Rita. This isn’t a multiverse doppelganger situation–this Rita is now nearly 200 years old, and the bout of amnesia was a bump in the road that let her see the world differently instead of acting as a way of replacing her.
Struggle becomes Growth
Time travel is used so often as a deus ex machina to handwave plot elements. Here, though, the dangerous and experimental nature of it–time travel gives you full-on amnesia–gave us a look into just how much growing she had to do.
The same goes for depowering Larry so early on in the show. This normally is really frustrating–The Flash has used this too many times and for too long–but it gave Larry a way to reunite with his powers in a positive way. Instead of a curse, it became a choice. In the same way that Larry has had to learn to embrace his homosexuality, he had to learn to embrace the spirit that lives inside him. He accepted that both were a part of him, but it’s only now that it feels like he’s owning all of that.
Throughout the growth of all of these characters, of course, Doom Patrol never gave up its weirdness. The season began with the end of Season 2 (shoutout to COVID-19), and Dorothy’s story gave way to the heroes dying, coming back to life, and turning into zombies. That gave them the opportunity to face off against former Bureau of Normalcy agent Darren Jones, who is now a were-butt, having been bitten by one during the first season, when the Patrol unleashed the were-butts on the Ant Farm. These episodes were funny and weird in all the ways I want from this show, but they also led directly to these characters’ next steps. No time wasted even in episodes that don’t feel immediately connected to the larger story.
The Extended Flatulence
The Eternal Flagellation, too, lived up to the hype. It was equal parts weird, scary, and touching. The Sisterhood forced our characters to look at themselves in ways they’d long avoided–there was no huge conflict to the season. It was all internal, and that made it nerve-wracking in its own way. It also gave actors Brendan Fraser and Matt Bomer, who voice Robotman and Negative Man, more screen time without having to resort to flashbacks.
The finale was similarly not about defeating a big villain but about the characters getting a handle on themselves and coming together. There’s a beautiful moment where the show comes full circle. Cliff is stuck in this giant, cartoonish robot, heading for the nearby town of Cloverton and totally unable to stop the body from marching on without him (a haunting metaphor for the Parkinson’s disease that Cliff is facing off against).
Rita has developed such control over her abilities at this point that she can grow to match Cliff’s size and remain in full control. She pushes back against the robot, stopping it in its tracks in the middle of a Little League field. Cliff, frustrated and defeated, mutters “I want to go home.” Rita replies, “we can do that.” This is how the first episode of Doom Patrol ended, but with the roles reversed. Bit by bit, the characters are learning to trust each other and depend on each other, but not all at once.
There are so many great character moments that it’s hard not to miss some while discussing each of them. Cyborg, more than the other members of Doom Patrol, connects to the greater DC universe, making his storyline seem almost risky. While the Doom Patrol has had its own comics over the years and has volumes of fascinating tales to pull from, Cyborg has been a part of the Justice League and Teen Titans. He almost had his own movie. He has a (problematic) catchphrase and devoted fans.
And yet his arc was about discarding that. Like Larry’s, it was about him making a choice–for better or worse–about who to become. Instead of his father deciding for him, Vic needed to make a choice, any choice, and live it. He gave up unimaginable power in favor of just becoming himself. In the process, he also gave up so much of the tragic backstory that defines him. That makes his part in the upcoming Doom Patrol Season 4 that much more interesting. How will the series deal with Vic just being a regular guy with a heroic heart? How will he function as part of the team when characters like Larry and Rita are embracing their powers?
Where will Season 4 go?
Jane’s tale leaves me equally curious. The show has never treated her multiple personalities as something that can be easily fixed. Just when it seemed like a fix was on the way, it turned out to be untrue and, if anything, added to the character’s trauma. When we leave her, she’s agreeing to let Dr. Harrison, the manipulative pseudo-psychiatrist, become the primary for the sake of the other personalities. That alone could have catastrophic effects on the team and on Jane.
Madame Rouge is an equally mysterious aspect of the story. The Doom Patrol is just now finally coming together, and there’s this wildcard character who knows she isn’t good but wants to be better.
This season just made me love each of these characters that much more. The show’s second season was a little unsatisfying; the season focused so much on Dorothy that it shuffled other characters to the side. This season re-focused on the core team and shined as a result. I can’t wait to see what Season 4 looks like. And not just because they ended by time-traveling 3 minutes into the future to fight a giant nutsack. No, that’s not metaphorical.