With one episode of Doom Patrol left, I’m realizing that Rita’s role in the story is essentially done. This episode is all about the heroes trying to get their longevity back, and it goes as well as you’d expect. Rita is comatose while the series is ending, and it feels pretty weird. Spoilers follow for Doom Patrol Season 4, Episode 11, “Portal Patrol.”
The Patrol became unstuck in time last week. Floating in the timestream, Vic gets to use the first of his new upgrades: a geometric armored dome. After discovering some portals linked to their longevity, the team splits up into four groups, with three heading to those destinations and one staying back to recall them. And by groups, I mean that Jane and Larry go together, but that Rouge and Cliff are on their own, while Vic stays with the dome.
All three groups end up in familiar places at unfamiliar times. Linking them together, though, is that Dr. Niles Caulder is at each of them, wearing his necklace that we now know amounts to a fossilized skin tag taken off of Immortus.
This acts as a framework for each member of the Patrol to confront Niles about what he did to them, and to work through some of the emotional issues still plaguing them after all this time.
The best of these are Jane and Larry. When they land, they split up. Larry goes to talk to the Negative Spirit that lived inside of him at the beginning of the show, while Jane goes to confront Niles. While Larry talks about his fears regarding fatherhood, Jane talks about the trauma she’s still processing even after all of these years. Jane’s especially is incredibly powerful and painful. Throughout Doom Patrol, Jane has always seen herself as something separate from the other personalities living in her head. Hammerhead is there when she needs to be a ballbuster. Babydoll was there when she was overwhelmed and needed to revert and be taken care of. Silver Tongue was there when the writers needed some visual exposition.
The truth dawning on Jane, though, is that she really isn’t any different from the other personalities living inside of her. She’s a little better suited to making human connections, but she, too, is a creation birthed by the trauma she endured at the hands of her own father.
Cliff’s experience, meanwhile, is a reminder of what a curse Caulder was on them. He comes across as warm and wise, but he exploited each of these people, and the way he responds to finding out that Cliff is his creation is a reminder of that. Cliff has accepted, but hates, what he is, but Niles doesn’t catch that at all.
As I mentioned in the intro, though, the biggest thing here is just how absent Rita is from the proceedings. They’re all working to save her in theory, but what that means is that the final arc of Doom Patrol essentially dropped one of its main characters for most of three episodes. It’s very possible that actress April Bowlby had some scheduling conflict that forced the issue.
Especially considering the role that Caulder plays in this episode, her absence feels especially big. It’s not hard to imagine another version of this script where it’s her going with Rouge or Larry, and Jane instead going with Cliff, though admittedly those pairings have been explored pretty fully by this point. But Rita has had a clearer vision than the other members of the Patrol for some time–she’s the only one aside from Vic who has had actual heroic aspirations at any point in the series. She wants to help others and herself. Without her, it feels like the Patrol is searching for a direction when we’re already in the eleventh hour.
Right now, it feels like there’s something missing from the show, and I’m hoping it’ll come together in the final episode.