Doom Patrol: Puppet Patrol

'Welcome to Fuchtopia. Sadly, we no longer accept Groupons.'

All expository scenes from this point on must be done via marionette puppet show.

We're all agreed on that. Right?

The Doom Patrol goes on a road trip to Paraguay and visits Fuchtopia, the supernatural health spa/business venture of escaped Nazi scientist Heinrich Von Fuchs.  He'll happily give you supervillain powers for a reasonable fee. There's a lot of lederhosen.

The end of 'Donkey Patrol' left us with a serious case of 'Where do we go from here?', although in defiance of Whedon-precedent, they did not sing about the fact. And that question is really at the heart of this episode. What do we do now? How do we possibly move forward when most of the team has little to no control over their powers/disabilities?

In a lot of ways this episode belongs to Larry, as it's the examination of his relationship with the negative being inside him that provides the most interesting discussion about control. If Doom Patrol had a full 22 episode season to run, there's no question in my mind that this episode would have been entirely devoted to 'The Story of Larry,' with minimal advancement on the main season plot, if any.

Obviously there would have been some advantage to that format. Those that follow Legends of Tomorrow are well aware that I complain in almost every review about how much better it would be if they had a full season run and didn't have to concatenate two or three episodes of plot into one episode. Also, an entire episode of Larry's backstory would undoubtedly give us more scenes of Matt Bomer as an intrepid Airforce pilot making out with his hunky AF mechanic boyfriend in the back of a pickup truck, and... I'm sorry, I don't remember what I was talking about anymore...

Ahem.

As I was saying, often it's an advantage to have more space. But in this instance, the episode is vastly improved by combining Larry's backstory into everything else that's going on, as the whole concept of control is so much at the heart of everything else that's going on in the episode. To illustrate, it's probably helpful to take a second to discuss how each individual team member relates to the idea of 'control,' and how that plays into what's going on here.

Rita defends Larry as being unable to control the negative spirit, because Rita has given up on herself. She feels that she has no ability to control what happens to her body, and has no chance of achieving control over it. By defending Larry as being incapable of controlling his situation, she's reassures herself that it's all right to give in to failure herself. She and Larry are victims, and therefore can't be blamed for being powerless.

Cyborg, on the other hand, has an overmastering need to be in control, which makes perfect sense given that losing his temper over the pettiest of arguments caused the accident that killed his mother. This ties directly into the question the episode is asking; namely, is abandoning your need to be in control a case of giving up and becoming weaker, or a case of accepting your circumstances and becoming stronger. This, incidentally, explains why Cyborg belongs in the show in a satisfying way. He's there because he's the only one driven to take action and do something. The rest of them are all too willing to give up, but Cyborg keeps pushing them to take action, which is precisely what both the team and the series desperately need at this point in the run.

On a character level, this is why Cyborg and Rita are the two that get left behind at the Cheap Sleep motel. They're directly opposing forces, and isolating them together was a great way to counterpoint their characters.

Cliff is the odd man out, thematically, this week in that he doesn't particularly care or even think about control as a factor in his life. He instead spends the entire episode trying to decide whether or not to call his daughter, whose phone number he's found in one of the Chief's files. This is actually the one tiny note that felt forced in this episode. Cliff has spent the whole episode reflecting on the fact that he can't feel anything. This sets him up to graphically dismember a significant number of male Nazi youth supermodels, since it's easier to do that sort of thing when you can't actually feel the bones crunching under your robot fingers.

This leads to Jane finding him covered in blood and seeing him for a monster for the first time, which causes him to see himself as a monster, which causes him to not call his daughter. And, okay, that all tracks just fine and flows as the episode is running, but if you stop to think about it, Cliff has never been particularly concerned with 'loss of control' as a factor in his life. The 'I can't be trusted around my loved ones because I lose control and hurt people and I'm afraid I'll hurt them' trope has no shortage of examples in the comic book world, but Cliff Steele is not one of them.

Jane is ultimately the one with the answer here. She writes on the window of the S.T.A.R. labs corporate jet in no uncertain terms, 'Control is a weapon for fascists.' She's never for a moment tempted to take up Von Fuchs on his offer to have control over her other personalities, because to her point of view control is not an admirable thing to have. And it's this that lets her give Larry the advice he really needs. Maybe the negative man is treating you like an asshole, because you are acting like an asshole. Just let him live. Stop trying to control him and start learning to live with him.

They're obviously leaning heavily into the contrast between Larry's relationship with John and his relationship with the negative spirit, and that's a solid way to go. It was never really a thing in the comics, because back in the day they just wouldn't have gone there, but the negative spirit inside Larry is a perfect metaphor for struggling with homosexuality in the sixties. There's a dark 'thing' inside you that you try your hardest to bury deep and control, but sometimes it gets out and you can't control it and no matter how hard you try to get rid of it, it keeps resurfacing. It's possibly the best choice that the show has made to lean into that.

Find someone who makes Matt Bomer look at me like Matt Bomer looks at Kyle Clements.

Bits and Pieces:

-- This is the first example I've come across of knowing the material from the comics being a detriment to watching the series. The road trip to Paraguay in that bus is hysterical and very well done, and I spent the whole thing thinking, 'Why doesn't that personality of Jane's that can teleport just take them there?' This totally ruined the twist of Jane's teleporting personality (her name is Flit, btw) suddenly appearing and ending the road trip.

-- Silas being a dick about the use of the private jet was a nice way to keep Cyborg from becoming too powerful a force within the team. He's still the one who's driving the team to take action, but he's not so powerful that he can just summon jets and take care of all their problems, which keeps him as 'one of them.'

-- This episode was directed by Rachel Talalay, who is amazing and doesn't get nearly enough shout outs. She's directed at least one episode of every single show you like, including 'Heaven Sent', AKA that one Doctor Who episode that only has Peter Capaldi in it, as well as Tank Girl. She's a legend, and everyone should know her name.

-- The makeup department on this show is actually surprisingly extensive, so I don't know who to credit specifically, but the burn makeup on Larry's face and the old age makeup on Julian Richings' were both the finest examples of either that I have ever scene. Just amazing work.

-- So now we know that the Chief was involved in creating Mr. Nobody, however inadvertently. The donkey was apparently around at that time in Paraguay. It's not 100% clear how all those pieces fit together.

-- Mr. Nobody's energy comes from tapping 'other dimensions.' I wonder how that would factor into Crisis on Infinite Earths. I really hope the Doom Patrol show up in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

-- Wonderful cameo at the end from Steve who has now become 'Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man,' an actual classic Doom Patrol adversary. Seriously, those old stories were just ridiculous.

-- One of Jane's personalities is putting up flyers looking for the Chief. They say 'Have you seen this Chief' and have paper slips with the number 1-800-SAW-HIM. There are just so many factors about this that aren't going to work. Great opening sequence though. She covers up a flyer in which someone named Shelby is looking for a hamster named 'Hannibal Lector.' I have questions.

-- The personality that's putting up flyers doesn't have a tattoo across her collarbone, but the personality that staples a flyer to the head of the mob's forehead gains one as soon as she shifts to that personality. I didn't notice that for ages, so I don't know if it's been doing that the entire time. In my defense, I'm not overly inclined to stare at Jane's chest. See earlier note regarding Matt Bomer.

-- Speaking of Matt Bomer, it occurred to me while re-watching this to take notes that I've completely stopped wondering if actors who are engaged in same sex romance scenes on TV are gay in real life. Like, it never even occurred to me to wonder if Kyle Clements, who plays John, is gay in real life. That was a pleasant realization. I've been hoping we'd get there as a society for simply ages.

Road Trip!
Quotes:

Cliff: "I think Chief might be a hoarder. And a diabetic."

Cyborg: "We need to gather everyone for a briefing."
Cliff: "A what?"
Cyborg: "A briefing. It’s a meeting where intel is disseminated."
Cliff: "Right. Sure… 'Disseminated'."
Cyborg: "Just go get everyone."

Rita: "What exactly are we doing here?"
Cliff: "It’s... uh... a briefing."
Rita: "A what?"
Cyborg: "I am not doing this again."

Cliff: "Do you have a photo printer in there?"
Cyborg: "No."
Cliiff: "Then where do the photos come out from?"
Cyborg: "I said no."
Cliff: "Is it your butt? I bet it’s his butt."

Title Card: "Somewhere, not even close to Paraguay"

Jane: "They’re not ‘my people.’ I don’t control them. I respect them and their right to exist."

Jane: "Rita honey? It’s Jane. I got you a vanilla Latte. Also, get the f**k out of there before I rip your f**king face off."

Sheryl: "We shouldn’t be afraid to admit that we deserve better than this."



A really solidly structured episode that intertwined plot, character and theme with a level of skill we rarely get in television. Add to that Rachel Talalay's consistently phenomenal direction and a couple examples of standout makeup effects, and then to top it off we get a puppet show. We probably don't deserve things this good.

Nine and a half out of ten vending machine dinners.

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.

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