This Doom Patrol review contains spoilers.
Doom Patrol Episode 2
Enter Cyborg. After premiering last week with a weird, off-the-ball introductory pilot full of comic book nods, the second episode of Doom Patrol connects itself to the larger DC Universe. But it does so without sacrificing the heart, and absurdity of the show about super-zeroes. I mean, this is an episode featuring a talking cockroach who is a doomsday disciple, and a pocket universe inside a donkey–which is to say “Donkey Patrol” is weirdly great.
If you’ll recall (and how could you forget?), the pilot ended with the villainous Mr. Nobody’s flatulent donkey ripping open a portal that began sucking in the citizens of Cloverton, Ohio. We pick up pretty much there, as Nobody offers “welcome back to the shit show.” That eventually includes the talking roach, the entire town, and both the Chief and Crazy Jane.
Needless to say, things are bad. This is how things look when the reject not-quite-heroes get involved. As Larry states, “This is what the world looks like when we live in it.” Thus kicks off a cycle of regret, denial, and an attempt to escape, which is easier said than done.
While Cliff is dedicated to getting Jane back, and once he does, understand the mystery of her powered personalities, Rita chooses to return to her daily routine, assured that everything will work out. And Larry decides to book a ticket away from clown town, though the energy entity inside him had other ideas (the bus stop sequence as he repeatedly attempts to escape, only to end up an unconscious heap is edited so perfectly, and is both frustrating and funny).
Doom Patrolis balancing all its oddballs nicely so far while doing interesting things with the evolution of its characters. There is always humor, often paired with an emotional gut-punchline. For instance, Larry’s arc this week is heartbreaking, even though his attempted escape montage is played for laughs. He was a man living a double life: An All-American hero and hotshot pilot/husband, but with a male lover. Now he literally lives with another being inside him and must grapple with something that cannot be controlled. The end scene is incredible as he unwraps his bandages, revealing his true visage, and telling the energy inside him, “We need some ground rules” (to the tune of David Bowie’s “Lazarus,” a self-epitaph from the icon’s final album Blackstar).
Cliff is trying to be a better man in robot form than he ever was as a human, and it hurts for him to realize the daughter Chief hid from him is likely better off thinking her father is dead. But Cliff wants to make amends, and that includes working on the bond with the fractured Jane(s) when she returns. The scenes of him clumsily trying to make a PB&J sandwich (“robot hands”) for Jane, as he remembers doing so for his own child, are incredibly tender—even though Brendan Fraser sells the heck out of his Holy Shits when something shocking happens.
Cliff wants to be a hero, and it kind of sucks when Vic Stone/Cyborg arrives because he is a better robotman than Cliff’s brokedown self that scares Baby Doll (one of Janes comic book alters). He’s just a clunky tinman, but he keeps on trucking, even though Jane lashes out and reminds him she’s not his daughter. Meanwhile, Diane Gurrero tackles the acting challenge with aplomb this week as she burns through Jane’s alters.
Dysfunctional families were everywhere this week (and I suppose that’s a theme with these misfit toys). Rita seemed game to indulge in Nobody’s illusion (inside the donkey) until he began taunting her about a past with a child. I am stressing out wondering what Rita did that was so terrible, and I am certain we’ll find out.
Admittedly, I was nervous about Cyborg’s inclusion in Doom Patrol, but Joivan Wade is a likeable addition. This is a younger Vic Stone, and I appreciate the level of confidence he brings as a Detroit superhero on the outside, but a depressed kid on the inside. Clearly he isn’t getting much love from his severe father Silas (Phil Morris), and instead finds more support from the Chief.
This loyalty to Caulder works as a way to bring him into the Doom Patrol fold, and it’s fun watching a B-list hero (who name drops the Flash as “not that fast”) interact with the D-list Doom Patrol. Vic is a “Big City Hero” according to Rita, so he dives right into the action, even if he is foolhardy.
Because Vic thinks he knows what he’s doing, he’s an easier mark for the villain, who toys with him: “What an origin story!” But it not a good idea to doubt the narrator, and through a gory dismemberment scene, we begin to suspect Vic’s memory is more implant than history. (I also happen to think Cyborg’s original comic origins as suffering a lab accident, and being outfitted with advanced cybernetic tech works better here than his New 52 Mother Box/Apokolips connection).
In fact, there is a lot of nastiness this week, which is a highlight of Doom Patrol. From Rita squeezing her eye down the throat of the donkey keyhole (after she emotes in order to blob), to the then-exploding donkey, I am digging how gross the show is willing to get.
Alan Tudyk continues to hold this weird plot together as the villain/narrator who taunts both the heroes, and the audience (a collection of “Grant Morrison fans, Reddit trolls with DC Universe subscriptions, and the three new fans who stuck around after the donkey fart”). I love that he has such as twisted and convoluted sense of humor to lure the heroes into a donkey, and contacts them via audio tour. His motives are still unclear, but I appreciated that Cyborg called out the fact that Nobody is scared and maybe not as omnipotent as he suggests.
Finally, even though Doom Patrol began in Titans, it was exciting to get multiple references to the outside DC world this week. Hearing from ARGUS, seeing S.T.A.R. Labs, namedropping the Flash and Justice League all serves to root the show in its own little weird corner of the universe. And how about that Crisis on Infinite Earths-style painting at the end? That cannot be good for DP.
Two episodes in, and I am there for Doom Patrol. As ridiculous as it gets, and low brow as the humor is, there is a core to the show that is entirely absurd but full of heart.
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