When we look at the past, we always remember it as better than it was. Things get worse and better and change, but when we filter all of our experiences through the lens of who we currently are, the past can start to look so much better it hurts. For the Doom Patrol, the pitfalls of nostalgia are much more consequential. Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 4, Episode 3, “Nostalgia Patrol.”
Having discovered their future fate, the Doom Patrol is scattered across Doom Manor, each wallowing in their own ways. Each member of the team is searching for a purpose–what should Jane and Larry do without Kay and Keeg? What do the lives of Cliff and Cyborg look like as they regain some of their (physical) humanity? And how can Madam Rouge and Rita Farr lead the group with their own histories of leadership failure?
This episode backs off of the weirdness just a little bit to let us get some quiet time with each of the heroes.
Rita finds a flyer announcing a film retrospective about her career when it blows onto the Manor’s doorstep. Despite the weird things she’s seen, she doesn’t think for a moment to question how an announcement specifically about her ended up in front of her, and heads to the theater.
Throughout the episode, the writers do a good job of connecting where the team is at with earlier seasons. Jane has a brief encounter with a member of last season’s Sisterhood of Dada that leads her to talk to Cliff about his favorite subject, orgasms, and that moment in Season 1 when Flex Mentallo, the psychic bodybuilder, flexed the wrong muscle. Later, when they’re trying to figure out what happened to Rita, the crew quickly realizes that their hometown of Cloverton is too backwards to have an arthouse theater–not to mention the fact that they hate the Doom Patrol for a variety of extremely valid reasons that we can trace all the way to the first episode of the show.
While everyone is looking at their pasts, this episode centers on Rita and Madame Rouge and their relationships to the team as potential leaders. The theater is, of course, a trap. Rita is quickly pulled into her own films, where she has to act out her own parts. There’s a reason behind it, of course, but it acts as a way of making Rita reexamine her heyday as an actress. She begins to see how different those films look to this version of Rita that has lived for close to 200 years at this point.
Madame Rouge sends the other members of the patrol to go support their friend before realizing that she may have sent them to their deaths, and she begins to drink herself into a stupor as she talks to herself. The show shifts into a quick cut edit here that I don’t think it has used before, which suggests that maybe Michelle Gomez was doing some improv–I was reminded of the scenes in Parks & Recreation in which Amy Poelher would start improvising and the show would just cut around the edges of all her best bits. For Rouge, it’s a look back at her long history as a leader, both at the Bureau of Normalcy and within the Sisterhood of Dada, thinking through each of her own failures.
Rouge has been a fun character from the get-go, but Season 4 is adding some serious pathos to the character and that’s helping the show move on from Niles Caulder’s death.
While this is all going on, Victor’s B-story continues as he makes good on his intent to meet up with his old friends from high school. It’s an awkward meeting when they realize he’s no longer the famous superhero known as Cyborg. Two of the guys seem to adjust, but the third continues to give Vic the stink eye throughout the meetup.
When they finally get some quiet time (in the middle of a laser tag match), his friend explains to him how different the accident and its aftermath looked to them. For Vic, he was ashamed of his new appearance, and chose to hide in the identity and missions that his father was giving him. For his friends, though, it looked like Vic was avoiding them–they were looking for him to reach out.
It’s a bit harder to tell where this story is going. Presumably Vic will end up back in his cybernetic form, but right now this particular story feels as simultaneously lost and mundane as he is. The show is aware of this, though, and reminds Vic of it when he tries to describe some of their past adventures to his friends–like that time he died and met his mother in the afterlife. This episode is also a bit of a cliffhanger–which is not a Robotman pun–so I’m not surprised that things don’t feel particularly resolved here, but we should get a bit more to chew on next week.