This Doom Patrol review contains spoilers.
Doom Patrol Episode 6
In a creepy as hell episode that evokes The Shining (and then calls it out), this week Doom Patrol visits a superhero haunted house of sorts to examine the disturbing fallout of fighting of evil. But while “Doom Patrol Patrol” reveals Niles Caulder is not so great at managing his past, we also see Rita (and Larry, to some extent), coming to terms with their past, and choose to move beyond it.
Each week Doom Patrol seems to get better, and this week is no different in setting itself apart as another highlight in a consistently strong series. The overall mission to save The Chief is uneven because it never feels like our heroes make any progress, and they just seem to be flitting into situations without really driving the action. Still, I am OK with this when the individual stories are so good. And that’s part of the point of the Doom Patrol; they don’t know how to be heroes yet, so it will hopefully be interesting when they decide to stop talking about being proactive, and actually become proactive.
As far as flitting about, Flit-Jane takes Larry and Rita to the Niles Caulder school for exceptionally messed up to meet the Doom Patrol — a minor league super-team from the 1950s, who have since retired, and opened an academy to teach youngsters. The setting is spicy, considering co-creator Arnold Drake accused Stan Lee of stealing Doom Patrol and turning it into the X-Men, a misfit group of heroes led by a man in a wheelchair.
I am a sucker anytime a comic book-based property calls back to its pre-history, and the original DP doesn’t disappoint. They are a retro bunch of heroes, down to Mento’s silly (and perfect) psionic amplifier helmet. Speaking of Mento/Steve Dayton (Will Kemp), he is an arrogant Mister Fantastic type, who loves showing off his trophy room from his heroics (Ultimax’s helm! There are so many Easter eggs from the comics here). Although Rita is fond of Dayton, and appreciative of his assistance in controlling his powers, she realizes he’s just a sad, broken old man.
Along with the retro vibe, I cannot get enough of the truly absurd call outs on this series that evoke the best of The Tick, such as with the “World of Wut” Stupid Criminal of the Week segment that brings back Steve Larson, Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man.
Still, before the veil is lifted on Mento’s ruse, the trio encounters visions out of a horror movie as he uses their fears against them. Larry’s Needle Man In Black is like a creepypasta monster, and speaks to a larger mystery of the pilot, and his alien inhabitant. Meanwhile, Jane is haunted by a trickle, then deluge of puzzle pieces rushing towards her like the blood gushing from the elevator in The Shining. As unsettling as the river of pieces is, the hand and voice of Kay’s abusive father was even more terrifying. And Rita has to confront the real memory of a crying baby (we are led to believe is her own), and Mary Beth committing suicide via straight razor.
Doom Patrol is serving up its horror far more effectively than any other super hero show out there. And lest we forget that Mr. Nobody is really, really bad, the humorous butt balloon — and jukebox playing the insanity-inducing “Hot Diggity” by Perry Como – is juxtaposed with the truly disturbing scene of the mob tearing through, and eating the piñata policemen. This is some very scary stuff, and replacing blood and viscera with candy somehow makes it more affecting than some scenes from The Walking Dead.
As an aside, the fact that the Justice League doesn’t view Nobody as a credible threat shows the self-importance of A-Listers in comic books. Of course they aren’t going to bother with a guy who has a pocket universe inside a donkey, or uses a balloon shaped like a buttocks. But Nobody is as much as threat (if not more so) than a Vandal Savage because he simply wants to create chaos. He is sort of a godlike Joker, but because he lacks a grand vision, he is dismissed by the JL.
The final scenes of Steve Dayton in his wheelchair sans helmet, as the reality of a tortured Arani/Celsius and Rhea/Lodestone is a tragic revelation of these beaten heroes, who can only find solace in a group delusion. They likewise succeed in making me pissed off at “Niles and his secrets.” Niles abandons his broken toys. When things get ugly, he puts a bandage on it – such as having Joshua Clay (aka Tempest, one of the few DC characters labeled a mutant) run this rest home – and moves along. It is clear that as fond as he may be of Jane, and the videotapes of him bonding with Baby Doll are touching, he was preparing for an eventuality that would have her locked away with the rest of the original Doom Patrol.
Overall this episode doesn’t make Niles look good. Even Cliff comes to discover he could have had a design far superior than even Vic’s Cyborg armor, but Niles ignored Silas and stubbornly did his own thing. Sure, Silas Stone is an “arrogant fuck knuckle,” according to Cliff, but he may not be entirely wrong about The Chief.
Mr. Nobody embedding the urge in Jane to find the Doom Patrol was a warning to our current “team”: Things end badly when heroes try to interfere with him. But even though the team does “precisely what the bad guy wants us to do,” I suspect Nobody’s larger aim was to show Jane, and co. that their beloved Chief isn’t always to be trusted. Further, I am suspecting Nobody might have been Caulder’s first special case.
The Silas/Vic/Cliff scenes this week by making Silas more relatable, if not quite likable, and by bringing Robotman and Cyborg closer together (and not just because Cy’s finger was inside Steele). But the best character work this week was April Bowlby as a Rita Farr who comes to realize she no longer wants to be empty, and small. This vulnerable Rita is on her hero’s journey, and it is painful but believable, and I find myself rooting for her big time (even as I am pleased she blobbed out on a skeevy Hollywood director).
Also, I am pretty stoked for Larry and his spirit to come to terms with one another, and loved seeing the entity decide enough was enough, and taking off Mento’s helmet.
There are a lot of sad Niles Caulder heroes by week’s end, some utterly beaten and broken, some that previously appeared broken but have more pain to endure.