Doom Patrol: Doom Patrol Patrol

"Why are you looking at pictures of the Doom Patrol?"

Hey, want to take a trip through some fan service?

This one was a lot of fun, but I wonder how it would play differently without any background knowledge from the funny books.

When we last saw our heroes, Jane had just received a dormant memory message directing her to seek out the Doom Patrol. This was a little bit confusing as a viewer, since we thought that that's who we were already watching, but as things play out it makes sense. The team itself has never referred to or thought of themselves under that name. The only one who has is Mr. Nobody, and meta-awareness is pretty much his superpower. And so what we think of the Doom Patrol goes on a quest to find what they think of as the Doom Patrol, which is a pleasantly meta premise for the episode, and got me hooked in right away. If these people aren't the DP, then who is?

Well, it turns out that the answer is that back in the 50s Niles Caulder had put together an earlier version of the team, only in contrast to his current setup he gave them a proper team name and superhero costumes. (These were lifted directly from the original team costumes in the comics, which was a really lovely bit of keeping faith with the source material.)

So, after spending some quality time researching the original Doom Patrol on microfiche, they get their answers by the expedient of Rita walking into the room and already knowing all about them. It turns out that she knew the original DP, and in fact had a romantic relationship with one of their members, a psychic hero named Mento, which ended badly. Our team goes to visit theirs, and they appear to have a near-as-damn copyright-infringing school for mutants children with special powers, complete with superhero staff teaching them. But then we find out that it's all an illusion to keep them calm, and really they're all mentally damaged remnants of the heroes they used to be because Mr. Nobody destroyed them nearly 60 years earlier.

That's the episode's plot setup, as it would appear to anyone who wasn't up on the Doom Patrol deep lore. Here's what it looks like from another angle:

The OG Doom Patrol, in the comics, was Cliff, Larry, Rita, and Caulder as their Chief. Over the next 50-some years there have been many other members who've come and gone, the first of which was Mento; your standard issue super rich guy who builds himself something to become a super-hero. In his case it was a psychic helmet, and it was really just about giving Rita a love interest. A year later they adopted Beast Boy, who later left to join the Teen Titans. Then DC killed everybody off and let the whole thing rest.

No, seriously. They did.

Then the 80s happened and the title got revived, but instead of bringing back the whole team they just brought back Robotman and a bunch of new heroes, and it was basically just exactly like the X-Men. This team was led by Arani, aka Celsius, who was the never before mentioned secret wife of the now deceased chief.

After a fairly short time they realized that this wasn't working, and brought the Chief back to say, 'Arani who? Nope, totes not my wife.' Almost all of the new characters were dropped, Grant Morrison took over writing, and history was made. Members from that iteration that remained peripherally relevant in the Morrison years? Josh, who stopped using his powers and just acted as the team doctor, and Rhea who spent most of the Morrison run in a coma, but woke up to some seriously trippy stuff later on which had some absolutely wonderful visuals. Many of which they used in this episode, just as an added bonus.

So, if we're reviewing this episode, which one are we talking about? Because it really is two entirely different experiences depending on what information you have going in. From one perspective it's a fun and heartbreaking story about an earlier iteration of the Doom Patrol that's been left as broken dolls, unable to control their powers and left to wither and rot after a run in with Mr. Nobody decades before. From another it's an astonishing love letter to the history of the Team, and an extraordinary way to weave in older side characters into the current show mythology.

It's Easter eggs as transformative plot function, which I've never even seen attempted before.

Meanwhile, in the B-Plot, Cliff and Cyborg bond back at the mansion over Cyborg's controlling father and Cliff's estranged daughter. This thread was often touching and well handled throughout, but it really gets swamped by the enormity of what's happening in the other storyline.

A microfiche reader.  Ask your parents.
Bits and Pieces:

-- How many mansions does Niles own? Because the OGDP was living in a different one while Rita was already living in the one we know now.

-- This episode was very much about diving into Rita's background; casting couch manslaughter, a failed relationship with Mento after he read some deep dark secret in her mind. Apparently she was responsible for someone named Mary Beth committing suicide. That's some super dark territory.

-- I suspect that the 'side of her face melting' effect is something they have locked down and ready to insert at any moment to illustrate her losing control, because they use it a lot.

-- Elliot, the boy who was also a book, apparently didn't get re-created after the events of last episode. That just feels cruel. The first person Rita's tried to unselfishly help and he gets blinked out of existence immediately.

-- Cliff's trying to hack into his daughter's social media accounts on something called 'Facehole.' I feel like they should have kept workshopping that name. Does Facebook even care if they get mentioned on television?

-- Niles' one man rendition of the little piggy scene from A Christmas Story was delightful. There's something I never imagined we'd see Timothy Dalton do.

-- No sign of Mr. Nobody this week, but it feels like he's still there since his actions hang over everything that's going on.

-- The absolutely earnest and intense way that everyone related the final battle, in which Mr. Nobody deployed a balloon shaped like buttocks, from which dangled a jukebox which drove everyone crazy by playing 'Hot Diggity' by Perry Como over and over on a loop was a masterpiece of absurdity.

-- It was a nice touch that the cops who were turned into pinatas and devoured zombie fashion by kids were filled with all red candy.

-- I bet there are a million deep dive Easter eggs in that weapons storehouse. I was super happy with the cameo by The Brain's jar. The Brain and Monsieur Mallah are on my short list of villains I want to see in season two.

-- Everytime anyone said 'Mento,' we all responded in Pavlovian fashion with 'The Fresh Maker!', right? Right?

-- Jane's realization that Caulder had been considering giving up on her as too broken and sending her to this asylum was really, really sad.

-- The way the Negative Spirit fixed everything so quickly and easily was pretty anticlimactic.

-- That final montage contrasting the OGDP as they saw themselves, versus the broken shells that Josh was taking care of was devastating.


Quotes:

Cliff: "Jane? I made you some ‘we-kicked-the-apocalypse’s ass’ sandwiches."

Cliff: "You’re locked out of your own brain? That’s f*cked up."

Rita: "By all means, let’s trust the degenerate who kidnapped Niles and shoved an entire town up a Donkey’s ass."

Larry: "Please, God, don’t let me puke in my bandages."

Cliff: "Is one of your f*cking fingers inside me?"
Cybrog: "You really gotta phrase it that way, huh."

Larry: "OK. This is gonna be OK. We just happen to be in The Shining. Which is fine. Shelly Duvall and the kid got out. So will we.



I realized in hindsight, as I was writing this, how much I loved this episode. That's a pleasant feeling.

Nine out of ten trips down memory lane.

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.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

What an interesting read, Mikey. Even though I don't really know this show at all. And the mandatory episode description made me laugh for five minutes. "Mikey Heinrich reviews 'Doom Patrol Patrol,' an episode of 'Doom Patrol'." LOL.

Mikey Heinrich said...

That made me laugh really hard as well. I was really hoping you'd see it and be amused :)