Doom Patrol: Hair Patrol

"And in that moment, I realized I understood absolutely nothing at all."

Me too, episode. Me too.

And I probably could have lived without watching Timothy Dalton poop in the woods.

Well, the streak of amazing episodes had to end sometime, I suppose.

This episode was a bit of a new experience for me, as it was the first time they'd featured a character that I was familiar with, but didn't hold any particular affection for. The Beard Hunter that we got in the comics was essentially a Punisher riff – hence the little skull with a beard that they faithfully included in his costume here, but kept covered out of embarrassment for most of the episode. I remember it as being not particularly funny or interesting, although that was about thirty years ago, so maybe I'm being unfair to it. Who knows?

But we're here to talk about the episode, not the source material, so – pitter patter, let's get at 'er.

What we have here is kind of a structural mess. In one storyline we find out what Rita and Vic were up to while Cliff was in Jane's mind last episode, while in the other we get a flashback story of the Chief's adventures in Canada back in 1913 which poses a lot more questions than it answers. Both of these are reasonably solid storylines, and the Chief's story could very well have been padded out to a full episode on its own. I'm not entirely certain an entire episode of the Beard Hunter attacking Rita and Vic would have worked, but it probably could have.

There's also nothing intrinsically wrong with having a present day storyline and a flashback storyline running concurrently. There are plenty of examples of that working well. The trouble this episode runs into is that there doesn't seem to be any coherent connection between the two, either through plot, character, or theme. There's a sort of half-hearted attempt to link them thematically through the concept of 'Hunter,' but beyond using the word in both plotlines there isn't any clear idea of what they're trying to say about it. Niles repeatedly talks about the virtue of being an explorer rather than a hunter, which seems to be why the creature lets him live. The Explorer/Hunter debate is nicely mirrored in the transformation of the Bureau of Oddities to the Bureau of Normalcy in the same way that Niles himself evolves from explorer to hunter during his time with the cave-woman (she's listed as 'Slava' in the credits, for what that's worth).

But the episode never really has anything to say about the change in Niles. There's never any clear consequences either for the character or the plot, it just sort of... is.



Meanwhile, the Beard Hunter has been activated by the present day Bureau of Normalcy to track down Niles Caulder for... reasons. Apparently Darren the mean agent never returned to them after getting his ass kicked by the fabulous Maura Lee Karupt a few episodes back, so they think the Chief can help them find Danny...? Or something...? If the episode explained it any more clearly than that, I didn't catch it. But then, his ultimate goal doesn't really matter, since he fails to achieve anything and the plotline ends up being a complete waste of time. He goes to Niles house, where Niles isn't, eats a bunch of facial hair from a sink drain, which is absolutely disgusting btw, then escapes after some outside force makes Vic's arm cannon go off inside the mansion, exactly like it did a few episodes back. Then he's lured to a dark mysterious space where he finds out he's been tricked by a big doll of the Chief and apparently is killed by the big psychically summoned Canadian Sabretooth Wolf/Stag/Bear from the other plotline. This plotline accomplishes nothing except posing some questions about what the creature is and who lured Beard Hunter into that trap.

The frustrating thing is that the answers to both those question and what we're not being told about Niles' plot are really interesting, but we don't get to know them for another four or five episodes. Which would actually be fine if the series was dropped in one big chunk on the streaming service and you could just keep bingeing them, but they were dropping these episodes weekly, which just left you feeling frustrated. It's a fact that escapes a great many executives, but knowing the release format can be vital to how a story is told. You structure things differently for a weekly episode drop than you do for a complete season drop. This episode is structured for the latter, and suffers for it.

Let's talk about the positives, because there were a lot of them, and I don't like feeling like a poopy-pants.

Their take on the Beard Hunter is great, and really works. The archetype of the shlubby guy who still lives in his Mom's basement is kind of a clich̩, but it pairs really well with his super-villain aspirations, and their phone messages for one another at the end of the episode are unexpectedly endearing. They clearly have a lot of affection for one another, which was sweet, and helped counterpoint the usual shouting at one another from different levels of the house. Beard Hunter's power set is kind of a neat Рif completely disgusting Рidea. Once he's eaten your facial hair, he is inside your mind. I'm not one hundred percent sure that being in Vic's mind to know when he's going to punch translates into having the speed and agility to dodge him, but who cares, it's a neat concept.

Caulder's storyline was consistently surprising and kept not going the ways that I thought it was going to. He fell in love with Slava, and she with him through the time honored method of getting really, really sick together. Then the Bureau finally tracked him down, and he had to leave her to protect her from them because they were now Hunters instead of Explorers. The twist that the whole storyline was revealed to be Mr. Nobody reading Niles' memories while he has Niles captive in the big white void is probably one structural twist too far in an episode that already had a lot of structural problems, but again who cares when it means we get to see Alan Tudyk for the first time in simply ages. And again, the point of that twist's inclusion appears to be entirely to dangle the question of who the mysterious 'girl' is that Niles is protecting and why Niles is willing to let the whole Doom Patrol die to protect her.

So many dangled, unanswered questions. How was Niles the same age he is now back in 1913? Who lured the Beard Hunter? Who's this 'girl'? What happened to Slava? Are we supposed to infer that she's 'the girl'? (We're not, but it would have been good if the script had been clear on that point. As it stands we're left wondering if we're supposed to know that it's her of not. What does the Bureau of Normalcy want with Niles, exactly? Did Matt Bomer get paid for this episode? Do you suppose they made Riley Shanahan stand inside the Robotman suit totally motionless just to be in the background, or did they just prop up the costume?

OK, I'm getting frivolous. There's a lot of good stuff in this one. It probably could have used another draft on the script.


Bits and Pieces:

-- It wasn't clear if Oyewah was the name of the creature that Slava summoned, or the name for her powers, or what exactly. Niles used it a few times in ways that didn't reference the creature. I was confused.

-- No Larry this week at all, what with his better half currently assisting pumping Cliff's consciousness into Jane's brain. Ah well, he got that great musical number earlier.

-- It took me a second to get that we were replaying the same time period that happened in 'Jane Patrol,' but getting to see what Rita and Vic did while all that was going on. I feel like doing that time repeat trick and the flashback storyline trick in the same episode blunted the effectiveness of both of them.

-- In amongst everything else, they paused to remind us of the comic book that Danny gave to Vic and did some serious foreshadowing of Flex Mentallo, one of Grant Morrison's more esoteric creations. Which is saying something. That would have been the right decision in a complete season release, but for weekly episodes it was time that could have been better used clarifying other parts of the plot. You'll just have to re-remind viewers about it a few weeks later, and as it stands we're trying to figure out how it's relevant to any of the other questions that this episode isn't answering.

-- Alistair's scarring makeup was really, really well done.

-- So did Slava set Niles' leg? Because that kind of break isn't going to be healed enough to put weight on in a few weeks. When the bone is sticking out like that it's called an open fracture or compound fracture. Can verify that they did a good job making it realistic.

-- Fun re-appearance of Jane's 'Have you seen this Chief?' flyer.

-- I did not see Niles and Slava falling in love coming. It was sweet that he decided to stay with her and be happy. That whole storyline felt very Enemy Mine to me.  That's a good thing.

-- So Niles was part of the Bureau of Oddities, seeking out the strange to learn about it, and World War 1 transformed them into the Bureau of Normalcy, seeking out the strange to kill it. That makes sense. Nice detail work on the Oddities logo being two crossed keys and the Normalcy logo being a crossed Key and Sword.


Quotes:

Mrs. Franklin: "We’re out of Lean Cuisine!"
Ernest: "I no longer require Lean Cuisine for sustenance, Mother. I maintain my physique through a high-calorie ketogenic diet and mental focus."
Mrs. Franklin: "I need you to go to the market."
Ernest: "What? Wha-yuh!? Why can’t you go??"
Mrs. Franklin: "I’m watching This is Us."
Ernest: "F*ck This is Us!"

Agent: "We know all about your hemorrhoid cream preferences, Ernest Franklin."

Ernest: "Mom! Where are my shuriken?"
Mrs. Franklin: "Check the dishwasher."
Ernest: "I told you, THEY’RE HAND WASH ONLY!"

Rita: "So… Danny is a talking street?"
Vic: "Yeah."
Rita: "Where everyone is gay?"
Vic: "No. I don’t know."

Mr. Nobody: "You’ve always been a man comfortable with compromise, Niles. I mean, after all, you fell in love with a Canadian."



I've probably been harsher on this one than it deserves. Anything was going to be a come down after the last two episodes.

Still, to be fair, five maple leaves out of ten.

Apologies for all the Letterkenny references. Canada gets me overexcited.

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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