Doom Patrol: Pain Patrol

"This isn’t an invitation. It’s a very polite ransom note."

Oh. Ok. Huh. Turns out the problem was me.

Well, if nothing else I've proven that I haven't been watching ahead, I suppose.

To recap issues I had so far this season, the first three episodes were released simultaneously, but after that the rest of the season was released one episode per week. This caused me what now seems like an undeserved level of perplexity, since I was having trouble squaring the circle of how you pace a series both for binge watching and for weekly release.

The answer is pretty obvious now, as is how stupid I was being. They released the first three episodes in one go because they wanted us to watch the first three episodes in one go. They're intended to be binge watched, because the show is using the pacing of a binge show to make a point. That doesn't mean that they have to continue to pace the rest of the season that way.

I think this is the first time I've ever encountered a series that had parts which are meant to be binged and then parts that are meant to be separated a week at a time on purpose. The only other examples I can think of are shows like Lucifer which went from a network model to a streaming model just because of who was making the show at the time. How delightfully non-binary of them. I'm not being flippant, I really mean that. It's fairly hard to be transgressive just through your distribution model. This feels like an appropriate show to be doing it.

How much pain, exactly, does one need to cause before you become 'The Bad Guy'?

That's the essential question of this episode, and by exploring it they cap off the character piece that is the first chunk of the season. It's probably useful to look at the smaller picture first and then move to the bigger, so let's talk about the pain. Every character (with one notable exception) in this episode causes someone an unbearable and unforgivable amount of pain. Their contrasting reactions to it form the heart of both the story and the discussion of what guilt and redemption really mean.

The most straightforward case is Dorothy. During an innocent game of hide and seek, she accidentally murders her oldest friend. Well, okay, she gets startled and drops Danny the Brick, breaking him in half. Now, you and I and everyone else watching know full well that they'll bring Danny back somehow, but it's entirely framed in Dorothy's eyes as 'I'm responsible for Danny's death.' She didn't mean to do it. She feels terrible that it happened. She has absolutely no malice in her heart. But as a significant number of people out there in the real world who had a friend in childhood die while they were out playing somewhere they shouldn't have been, that doesn't help. Dorothy is the both the least guilty and the purest outpouring of guilt. That's our yardstick.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Red Jack. Jack is very deliberately causing pain to everyone he can and enjoying it enthusiastically. He is simultaneously the most guilty and the one who feels the least guilt.

Then there's Larry. His pain at discovering that his son had committed suicide after a failed lifetime of trying to find him was probably what summoned Red Jack in the first place. Red Jack is torturing him by forcing him to hurt others. This is significant – to Larry, the greatest pain he can feel is the idea that he's hurting other people. So, even though he's being held in the air by meathooks pierced through his flesh, it's the fact that his bandages are being pulled off and his radiation is poisoning the people lying below him that is hurting him the most.

Cliff, meanwhile, has set off in a fit of anger at the Chief to 'prove' that he's a better father than Niles is by reconnecting with his own daughter Clara. He blithely assumes this will go totally smoothly and throws the world's biggest robot based toddler level temper tantrum on her front lawn when she's understandably completely freaked out and terrified by the development. Cliff clearly couldn't care less about how Clara's feeling about their reunion. He's laser focused on proving that he's a better dad than Niles and in trying to do so causes her a level of trauma that I don't even like to think about. It takes Jane to talk him down, and when he finally sees Clara crying under the 'congratulations' baby shower banner, he does the only thing he can possibly do after hurting her that badly and leaves.

Which is an interesting point, by the way. More often than not, offering an apology is much more about making you, the one who caused the pain, feel better, rather than 'fixing' things for the person you hurt. Oz made this point rather eloquently to Willow at one point, although I forget the exact episode. I suspect Billie could tell me.

And what about Jane? She's been taken down to the underground for an 'intervention,' not for the super-heroin, but for staying with Niles and the Doom Patrol. By doing so, she's repeatedly causing pain and damage both to the other alters, but more importantly to the girl, Kay. This is an interesting dynamic, since as has been pointed out the alternate personalities exist solely to fill some need in order to protect the core personality. By growing and finding her place in her 'found family,' Jane is in direct opposition to the entire point of her existence. It's a strong metaphor for situations when what's best for you is causing pain to other people in your life. How much guilt do you bear for that? How do you move forward from that situation?

Rita continues to beat herself up about accidentally murdering Doctor Tyme in the previous episode, and the get out of jail free card that she could bring him back to life doesn't seen to be much solace. And here's one of the ways that 'Pain Patrol' really uses its structure well. Larry is definitely the only person on the planet for whom Rita could get over her self doubt enough to go help. We kind of understand why, but using the framework to show us the beginnings of their friendship and the way that they learned to find some sort of hope in each other was a wonderful payoff.

Vic is the odd man out here, since he seems to be dealing with his personal issues, and so they use him as what could loosely be called the outside viewpoint. Roni reveals to him that she's been guilty of voluntary manslaughter in her military career in what appears to be some sort of Abu Ghraib situation, although details are few. Vic walks out of their date before we really see what his response is, but it's worth noting two things. When Roni and Vic undressed for each other and she showed him her scarring, his immediate and honest response was 'you're beautiful' and I thought to myself, 'I've never liked Vic more.' Then a few scenes later he asked if it was all right to ask her about her scarring, and she said no. And he immediately respected that and dropped it. And I thought the exact same thing all over again. Damn, those were nice moments.

Which brings it all back to the Chief, which was the entire point of the loose trilogy, which is why these first three episodes need to all be available at the same time for the discussion to resonate. In 'Fun Size Patrol,' the Chief accepted that the rest of the team was angry with him, but didn't really seem to care. In 'Tyme Patrol,' the Chief was pushed to flat out admitting that he didn't give a tinker's damn about the pain he put the rest of the team through and that it was all justified to protect his daughter. More, that he would continue to do anything to protect her.

That sets him up nicely for what goes down here. First he is set in a place where he's offered, quite directly, the one thing he wants in the form of eternal life, in exchange for continuing to cause everyone he meets unimaginable pain, which Red Jack points out fairly reasonably, is what he was already doing anyway. It's vital that Niles is offered that choice in no uncertain terms, so that he can reject it in no uncertain terms. Jack follows this by literally subjecting Niles to the exact same torture he put Cliff through, which from a structural perspective is the final step in what this three episode journey for Niles was fundamentally about. It put him, not in a place where he was forgiven for what he did, but in a place where it was even remotely possible for him to be forgiven for what he did. The final shot of him crying over the individual files with photos of who the team used to be before he destroyed them was the perfect note to convey that he'd genuinely been brought to a place of repentance.

I get it now, season two opening three part trilogy. I'm sorry I didn't see what you were earlier.



Bits and Pieces:

-- I confess to having been in a bit of 'a place' for the last month or two, which is probably a contributing factor, but the moment when Larry lost his long honed inhibitions, let his walls collapse, and ran to hug Rita like she was the only lifeline keeping him from going under reduced me to an incoherent crying mess. It's amazing how much the friendship between those two means to the show's dynamic.

-- Nice structural detail of the pickpocket trick with the watch in the beginning setting up the pickpocketing trick of the knife at the end.

-- The sprouting butterfly wing effect was grotesque and beautiful.

-- The scarring makeup on Roni was extraordinarily well done.

-- Nitpick time – The pocket watch for dutiful service that the cop had was something he wouldn't have received until retirement.

-- So the last second reveal of Jane locked up in the underground begs the question of who came up in her place to talk Cliff down. I suspect we'll find out soon enough.

-- So many questions about Roni's scarring. The specificity of the line makes me wonder about how the accident went down exactly. Did she get injured before the manslaughter, leading her to get mean, or did it happen after? So many questions.

-- Great metaphorical use of 'seeing other people's scars' incidentally.

-- I asked ages and ages ago what was up with Larry's airlock bedroom, and now we know. Apparently the radiation is coming off of him is poisonous. Is the radiation part of the Negative Spirit? Is that like the NS version of sloughing skin cells?

-- I personally enjoyed that the closeted gay man in the 60s immediately geeked out about film Divas when he got to meet one. A little cliche? Sure. But so very enjoyable. I do wonder if the Deborah Kerr bit was some sort of inside movie buff joke that I didn't get, though.

-- How long has Vic been Cyborg? Has he really not had sex since?



Quotes:

Niles: "How about when my eleven year old daughter is in the room we take the swearing down a notch."
Cliff: "No problem. Does she know sign language?" (Raises middle finger)

Rita: "Please tell me this is a seasonal migration, and not something freaky? (long silence) Oh, God damn it."

Rita: "Have a little faith in Niles. Because he rarely explains himself."

Cliff: "See, some batshit crazy scientist caused our car crash so he could stick my brain in this piece of shit body. He told me you were dead all this time, then I found out you weren’t. Now here I am. Okay? We good? How we do this? You want to call me ‘Dad’? or ‘Daddy?’ Oh – happy belated birthday."

Vic: "They’ve got a cheesesteak that’ll make you feel way better things than I can."
Roni: "That’s a low bar."

Driller Bill: "Dear Jane, Because you decided to remain in a house with toxic people, I haven’t felt safe enough to do my drilling, or my billing. And May is our busiest month."

Rita and Larry: "Let’s be lost causes together."

Cliff: "It’s not fair, Jane. I know I wasn’t a perfect Dad, but I did the best I could. And this? All this? It wasn’t my fault."
Jane: "You’re right. It wasn’t. But this. This is."

Dorothy: "Look what I did? Am I a bad person? I said I was sorry, but I don’t think that made it any better."



So good. I deeply regret now not watching all three episodes in one sitting and discussing them as a whole.

Nine and a half out of ten butterfly swarms.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, I can picture the scene, but not the episode it was in. Was that when they were in the van while Xander and Cordelia were stealing a rocket launcher? That would make it "Innocence."

I can't immediately answer a Buffy question. I think I'm getting old.

Mikey Heinrich said...

It was not long after Lover's Walk regarding her kissing Xander, and it was in the high school hallway. Dunno... Amends, maybe? No... that was in the Christmas holidays, wasn't it.

Anyway, Oz has that great speech about 'it feels like talking this through is what you need, and that's not my priority right now.' and I was like, 'Preach it!'

Indeed, getting old is not for the faint of heart :)