At the urging of Mr. Nobody, Jane seeks out Nile’s original band of misfits…the Doom Patrol? Somebody better start explaining.
Man, what a trip. Six episodes into its inaugural season, Doom Patrol is proving that, even with all of the inter-dimensional donkeys and butt balloons (you’ll see), it is the most psychologically compelling superhero series ever.
Everything about this episode is a winner, but let’s start with the tone. The rose-colored flashbacks to Rita’s days in Hollywood and hijinks at Niles’ secret facility would seem to set the stage for yet another darkly humorous episode. However, this eventually gives way to the show’s first full-on horror story. The series has flirted with the genre in the past, particularly in regards to Mr. Nobody’s methods of torture in episode two and the cultist shenanigans of last week. Things get really dire in this episode, though. This is get-under-your-skin, deep-seated, Haunting of Hill House-style horror.
Even the less overtly-spooky scenes of the episode indulge in a dose of fear. Cyborg’s whole arc has been one of body horror, sometimes in a psychological sense. He doesn’t trust his father’s work, and by extension, he doesn’t trust his own body. He’s afraid to go to sleep or to allow himself to be patched up, because he may not be him anymore when he wakes up.
This puts Cyborg in a situation wholly different from Cliff. Whereas Cliff has lost his body, Vic constantly loses agency over his own skin. And let us not forget: when we saw the Hangman’s Daughter’s painting of Vic and the Chief, more of his body seemed to be covered in metal. Vic wants to continue the fight, but he is terrified of losing his humanity, one piece at a time. If that’s not scary, then I don’t know what is.
And then there’s Mento.
Building off of a concept that brings to mind the tragic Justice League animated series two-parter “Legends,” the poor, damaged Mento represents just how wrong super-heroism can go. This would be sad enough, were we not allowed to see just how good he once was.
In one of the episode’s more heartwarming moments, we find out that Steve Dayton, a.k.a. Mento, is the original source of Rita’s calming mantra, “The person who is breathing is me.” One of my favorite visuals since the show has begun took place during this episode’s therapy session. As Rita centers herself, the blanket beneath which she hides her deformed leg lowers. It’s a brilliant use of a practical effect, but it’s also a less ostentatious way of showing Rita exerting control over herself and her surroundings.
Speaking of Rita, April Bowlby’s reluctant heroine is once more thrust center stage in this episode. Her evolution into a true hero is being handled so well that it’s upsetting to think how close we must be coming to learning about Rita’s darkest secret, as well as how those revelations could affect how we see Rita going forward.
What began as a presentational, almost comical take on Rita Farr has continued to morph into the most layered character on the show. Much of this is due to Bowlby’s stellar performance. She perfectly sells the attitude of someone who is one slip-up away from losing everything all over again. Her line delivery is so purposeful, every syllable and consonant perfectly measured. It’s a peculiar choice by Bowlby that pays off in the most unsuspecting ways, each and every week. It allows her to simultaneously sell the comedic lines and the heart-wrenching moments without once betraying Rita’s normal tenor.
On the production side of things, the effects this week were the strongest since the series premiere. A second appearance from Animal-Vegetable-Mineral-Man was both impressive and hilarious — putting pantyhose over the dinosaur’s head serves no purpose other than to make the audience laugh. The writers should also be commended for straight-up calling AVMM by his character name in the series. I’m so tired of seeing superhero shows and films’ reluctance to use codenames onscreen. The willingness to get weird is this show’s hallmark, and I’m so grateful for it.
Rita’s morphing effects were also well-done, with the best use of the “blob” effect that the series has seen so far. A lot of this may be due to the episode’s exquisite use of light and shadow. I’ve already mentioned the use of a rosy kind of look for the flashbacks, but the dark blues lend a coldness to the scenes in the school that the show hasn’t really had before. It’s a really great visual choice that also lends itself better to some of the odder visual effects.
This episode did a great job of expanding the world of the show and setting up some new mysteries to be explored further down the line. The “trophy room” in the school has some tantalizing easter eggs for fans of DC Comics lore. It also gives Cliff and Cyborg something to do together besides bicker. In every sense, the character development in this episode is top-notch. As much fun as the last few weeks have been, this one managed to mix pathos and action in ways that only stories involving these characters can manage.
That’s all for this week! Join me again next time, as the team gets all touchy-feely in “Therapy Patrol.”