Doom Patrol: Donkey Patrol

"This is a story of four couch potatoes, and oh my god I should be drinking for this."

The Doom Patrol penetrates a donkey.

I'm sorry, there's just no classy way to say that.

Second episodes can be difficult. While pilot episodes have a clear mission and can be more or less contained, the second episode really bears the bulk of responsibility for setting the show in motion and giving the viewer a general impression that the rest of the series is going to be worth their time. Essentially, the pilot episode introduces you to the world, and the second episode starts tell you stories within that world. This can lead to some interesting tonal shifts between a show's pilot episode and the rest of the series. Doctor Who is an interesting example on this front, with the first episode being generally exalted as brilliant (it is) and the remaining three episodes of that first story being lambasted as terrible (they're not.)

Doom Patrol has one big advantage on that front in the form of this season's main antagonist, Mr. Nobody. As I mentioned in my review of the pilot episode, Mr. Nobody's gimmick as a character is that he weaponizes the conventions of whatever form of storytelling he's currently involved in, taking Scream style post-modern meta-awareness and using it to actively attack the other characters in the story.

Which is a pretentious way of saying that having Alan Tudyk take a time out from kidnapping Timothy Dalton to do the episode opening voiceover is a really smooth way of papering over the crack between 'let's meet our characters' and 'OK, here's the season arc plot.'

It also helps a lot that Alan Tudyk has never been more gleefully charming than he is here as Mr. Nobody. The other thing that we all learned from the Scream movies was that listening to characters talk endlessly about the meta-narrative gets old pretty quickly, and eventually makes you want to violently beat someone to death with a copy of Béla Balázs' Theory of the Film.

Ahem.

So, last episode ended with a bit of a cliffhanger, when a giant portal of some kind opened in the middle of town, and began sucking away the entire community. Fortunately, in the opening of this week's episode the DP are able to stop the emergency by... Well, actually they don't. They stand there in horror, drop a couple of well placed swearwords, and the hole closes on its own. It turns out, Mr. Nobody was really only interested in kidnapping the Chief, and once he's sucked the Chief away the entire situation is over. Of course, the town is also completely gone, which is somewhat severe as your collateral damage goes. Oh, and Crazy Jane also jumped into the portal, so she's gone too.

This should be a huge anticlimax, after the setup in the previous episode, but what it's actually doing is cleverly setting up the main theme of this episode, which is failure. Almost every single character spends this week stuck running in circles, failing over and over again. Larry's increasingly amusing attempts to get on a bus out of town. Cliff running literally in circles to catch a donkey. Cyborg getting the runaround from Baby Doll, one of Jane's less threatening personalities. The only one who isn't really failing is Rita, and that's because she immediately gave up and went home. They're all examples underscoring the idea of these characters as losers and failures. Opening with their complete failure to fix the cliffhanger gets us off on just the right note for that theme, while at the same time establishing the season arc plot of having to rescue the Chief from Mr. Nobody, and neatly avoiding getting bogged down in an elaborate special effects scene right off the bat.

The other main thing that this episode needed to accomplish was the introduction of Joivan Wade's Cyborg to both the show and the team. Now, I've never been particularly interested in Cyborg as a character, and his announcement as part of the team seemed a little bewildering to me since as far as I understand it his basic gig was a retread of the same thing Cliff was going through RE: man v. machine. Also, he's never been associated with the Doom Patrol outside of the fact that he and Beast Boy were both Teen Titans and Beast Boy got his start in the DP. Which is a pretty tenuous connection that doesn't even get mentioned here. I'm still not 100% sure that he needs to be here, but I will say that he works well as a catalyst to get the team moving, and his being a 'famous' superhero makes an interesting counterpoint to the others. If nothing else it gives us the sight gag of Mr. Nobody leaving Larry, Rita, and Victor headphones labeled 'Bandage Guy,' 'Mrs. Gloopy,' and 'CYBORG' in sparkly capital letters.

Lots of great character work this week. Larry's apology to Rita for never even thinking of trying to help her when she 'glooped out' last episode was touching and heartfelt, as was her attempt at kindness in the way she accepted it. 'I would have run from me too' is just a great bit of scripting.

Cliff and Jane's friendship continues to be the beating heart of the team, and the way an expressionless robot suit was able to convey Cliff's hurt when one of Jane's other personalities rejected him was beyond impressive. Huge credit to the show just two episodes in for how messy, complicated and real they're allowing this relationship to be.

I don't have a lot to say about Larry, Rita, and Vic's adventure in Donkeyland, aside from how much I enjoyed their solution of entering the donkey by essentially putting Rita in a makeshift frosting bag and piping her down the donkey's throat. That's a level of bizarre most visuals don't even attempt, and it would have been so easy to tell us about it without showing us the whole bizarro process.

Great characters. Great visuals. Great setup for the season. The only reasonable criticism here is that when you actually break things down, not a lot happens in this one. The A team gets kicked out of the donkey, while Cliff makes a sandwich. But oh, how much fun is had along the way.



Bits and Pieces:

- This week's comic fan Easter egg geekout moment – they've been referring to the personality of Jane's that paints as 'the Hangman's Daughter,' but in the map of the underground that Cliff finds she's properly labelled 'The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter' as in the books.

- That said, one actual flaw this week is that they show the big prophetic painting at the end of Cyborg killing everyone without properly setting up that the paintings are prophetic. Without that knowledge the moment is much less sinister.

- Cyborg's intro in which he plays games with the ATM mugger via sassy display screens was laugh-out-loud funny, but Cyborg never really feels like a 'joking around' character after that point. Retroactively it feels a little out of character.

- I get that it was 'character motivation,' and led to Cyborg tracking down the Doom Patrol through the catastrophe at the city, but Silas was really kind of a jackass about the people Cyborg saving not being 'important enough.'

- It's cleverly structured that we can assume Jane was given the same 'relive your worst memories' treatment while inside the Donkey and that that's what caused her to be so traumatized that she reverted to Baby Doll, but because she jumped in alone earlier they don't have to show us what those worst memories are. This is useful, as we're not supposed to know anything about them for a few episodes yet. That's clever. I didn't even notice it for the first three or four viewings.

- The cockroach singing joyous praises to the apocalypse in the beginning is named in the credits as Ezekiel, and is voiced by the legendary Curtis Armstrong. You know Curtis Armstrong from one of a few different things. Which thing you recognize Curtis Armstrong from is actually an interesting test of a person's character.

- It's notable that Jane jumps into the portal after The Chief. At least one of her must be very loyal to him.

- Silas works at S.T.A.R. labs Detroit. I want Caitlin Snow to stop by there so very badly.

- There's a lovely symmetry in Cliff chastising Victor for treating Jane like a machine. Credit to the director for not layering irony on the moment.

- What's the story on Larry's decontamination airlock bedroom?



Quotes:

Mr. Nobody: "All caught up? Good. Let the pretentious title sequence begin."

Chief: "Who are you talking to?"
Nobody: "Grant Morrison fans, Reddit trolls with DC subscriptions, and the three new fans who stuck around after the donkey farted."

Cliff: "Holy shit! (explosion) Holy Shit! (Explosion) Holy Shit!!"
Rita: "We get the point!"

Cliff: "Someone is responsible for this."
Larry: "We are."

ATM: "Is your lookout on the corner taking a cut? 1) Yes, he’s a good dude. 2) No, gonna dick him over TBH."

Larry: "Great, I’ve been wanting to work on my tan. That was a joke, meant to make you feel more comfortable with my appearance."

Cliff: "Oh, CYBORG. The guy that nobody asked to be here who pokes his nose into business that’s not his. Hi."

Cliff: "The donkey spit her out. The donkey spit her out!"
Cyborg: "You know, when he says it twice like that it really does sound crazy."




A couple of small flaws, but otherwise a worthy followup to a better than average pilot.

Eight out of ten couch potatoes.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Okay, I have to respond to the Curtis Armstrong question. I bet you think I'm going to say Supernatural, since I've been reviewing the show for its entire extremely lengthy run, but no. I'm going with Moonlighting. So what does that say about me?

Mikey Heinrich said...

That you are awesome! Moonlighting is my answer as well :)

Diogo said...

"Chief: "Who are you talking to?"
Nobody: "Grant Morrison fans, Reddit trolls with DC subscriptions, and the three new fans who stuck around after the donkey farted.""

I had to freeze the episode there and start over because for a while I couldn't stop laughing at that line.
Speaking of Grant Morrison, it's amazing how many things in this show weren't written by him but FEEL like they could have been, like the meta evil narrator, or Ezekiel the Cockroach (who was originally meant to have been a character in Supernatural, did you know that?)

Anyway ,long story short, and without spoiling anything ,I liked and respect how cyborg was handled in this season of the show ,but ultimately he doesn't belong or feel like he belongs with the Doom Patrol. He is a Titan, and I hope he is transplanted to that show next season.

Btw is anyone at Billie Doux reviewing Titans in the future ?

Billie Doux said...

Diogo, J.D. was planning to do a season review of Titans. Stay tuned. :)