Doom Patrol: Space Patrol

"I’m not in a rush to get stranded in space in your homebrew devil ship."

Hey, what's that on the other side of my pain and trauma...?

It's interesting how separate all of our heroes' plotlines feel this season. And what's even more interesting is that I'm forced to the conclusion that that is a deliberate choice. Because what they're really interested in this season is digging into theme, which is easier to do when you have separate plot strands that seem unrelated but can all be contrasting explorations of the theme you want to talk about.

And the reason I think that is because the theme that they're exploring in this episode is so all pervasive, so clearly deliberate, and so articulately discussed in all of the different plot threads.

Today's theme is 'Finding the Beauty in Pain.'

Now, it's easy to take that in a creepy Hostel direction, but that's not what they're talking about. They're taking about embracing pain and growing through it by finding the meaning in your suffering and learning from it.

The basic discussion is framed between Larry and Valentina:

Valentina: “We have seen much, and Earth is still the most beautiful place in the galaxy.”
Larry: “Because it’s a spinning orb of constant suffering?”
Valentina: “Yes. Exactly.”

Which is a pretty interesting take, coming from one of the ‘good guys.’ But she goes on to articulate something pretty profound about pain. That there is always beauty in meaning. And that there is meaning in trauma, if you can find it in yourself to confront and process it.

The effect that this viewpoint has on Larry is pretty striking. Before hearing it he thinks his family would all be better off if he was dead and has re-committed to hiding from the world. After, he’s ready to take what he learned from the traumatic first attempt at reconnecting with them and try again.

It helps that Valentina herself is a walking proof of concept for the point she’s making. She spent five years coming to terms with the negative spirit inside her, made it (and metaphorically the pain of the experience) part of her, and now there is no ‘her’ and ‘it,’ there’s just ‘them.’ The contrast to Larry, who’s spent 60 years feeling sorry for himself, is striking.

But that’s just one of the ways the theme gets explored. What of Vic and Roni? They come together and grow closer by agreeing to show one another their scars and letting one another see where they are damaged and where they are weak. And that’s about as good a definition of love as you’re likely to get. Also, a pretty direct metaphor for exactly what Valentina was saying – make peace with the trauma of your past and let it strengthen you to move forward.

Rita gets the most ‘Character Piece-y’ of the riffs on past trauma, when it turns out that the community theater play she was so excited to get cast in is a dramatic reconstruction of literally her, literally destroying the town, back in the pilot episode. And she gets not only the humiliation of watching another actor portray her in a way that ascribes all of the worst possible motivations for what happened, she also gets to give character notes to them afterward during which she has all of her deepest personal insecurities brutally listed off to her face.

To her credit, she doesn’t deny any of it, and even instinctively corrected the one incorrect detail. It’s getting harder and harder not to love Rita.

Which brings us to the big two plot threads of the episode. The ones that, considering how ‘Finger Patrol’ ended, would have been expected to be a much larger part of the focus this week. It was a clever way to deal with the cliffhanger. They deliberately delayed dealing with it for as long as possible by beginning with a happy Chief and a team who still had no idea what happened. This shifted the focus away from the team coming to terms with what happened to Dorothy and Jane, and onto Dorothy and Jane coming to terms with what happened to Dorothy and Jane, which was a great move.

So Jane has retreated to the Underground where she spends the entire episode asking the questions out loud that the audience wants answered before her alters decide to make the metaphor as visual as possible and funeral process the bodies of Baby Doll and Whatever the One That Looked Like The Human Torch’s Name Was directly to the well, itself a literal visual metaphor for irreversible destruction while Jane argues with them about the relative merits of giving them a chance to heal and recover versus letting the trauma destroy them forever. And if that theme sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same thing all of the other disparate plot threads are grappling with. And that's before we get the shock reveal of Miranda's reappearance, suggesting that just giving in to destruction was never even an option in the first place.

Dorothy, in a neat dramatic mirror, goes up into space in the conveniently returned and readily accessible spaceship that just landed on the front lawn, bringing Valentina aka Negative Woman, and a curiously homoerotic Boys Own Adventures duo who do kind of resonate with the theme of the week, but mostly just spank each other and call each other ‘you smooth little pip.’ You know, like straight guys do.

Dorothy’s trip to the moon mostly is in aide of an amazingly moving talk between her and Cliff, in which Cliff delivers some insightful and helpful advice about how his own daughter lived through some pretty traumatic stuff, but worked through it and is now a really good person, which is exactly the same point the other plot threads were making, but in typical Cliff fashion he strips away all the poetry and just says it like a regular guy would.

It’s all different facets of the same basic discussion, and the joy of it is in the way the different styles of how the argument is made resonate with one another.



Bits and Pieces:

-- Valentina aka Negative Woman was from the comics, but just before I started reading DP, so I don’t have a lot of background knowledge about her. Nice nod to the history though.

-- Similarly, Pioneers of the Uncharted was so 60s that the 60s called and wanted their 60s back. Nice homage to a lost style of storytelling.

-- Manny was given to Dorothy by her mother. OK, that fills in some gaps. Do we know if Mom is still out there somewhere?

-- Not even going to get into the WTF-ness of the Chief pushing Cliff out of the airlock at the very end. I’m sure he’ll be revealed to have some perfectly heartless and pragmatic reason which makes sense from his perspective. I did think it was a nice touch that upon reflection you realize that he had to take Cliff along because he didn’t have a spacesuit and Cliff wouldn’t need one to go out and get Dorothy.

-- Not sure why the surface of the moon looked like the Fortress of Solitude though. I mean, it is the DC universe. Superman could absolutely have done a little landscaping, I suppose.

-- Not sure why Cliff thinks an actual human finger will help the Chief build him sensers, but here’s what I do know-- If you have an amputated finger, toe, or limb, DO NOT put in on ice or in the freezer, as the cold will damage the tissue. What you want to do is wrap it in cool wet towels and keep it moist until you can get it to a medical professional.

-- Perhaps I’m just damaged inside, but my knee-jerk reaction to the way they had Jane’s face covered with dripping white viscous wax was that as a visual it was... unfortunate...

-- S.T.A.R. labs and The Chief were both involved in whatever high-tech super stuff was put into, and then ripped out of, Roni. That’s probably going to go somewhere.

-- How did Dorothy manage to fly that spaceship by herself? Did she also know to stroke the goat head?

-- Today I actually typed the sentence ‘Did she know to stroke the goat head.’ This is my life now.




Quotes:

Niles: “Table the finger and help me find her.”

Larry: “Apparently they’d all be better off if I were dead.”
Rita: “Well, that may be true, but I would be bereft.”

Larry: “First, I’m not in a time of need. I’m in a time of regret and self loathing.”

Vic: “Hey, can I look inside you?”
Roni: “Ew.”
Vic: “To see what’s broken, I mean.”
Roni: “A hundred times ‘ew’.”

Larry: “There’s something else you should see.”
Cliff: “Is it Dorothy playing dress up with Rita’s skin?”

Valentina: “We’ve been in space for 65 years. It’s gotten… weird.”

Isobel: “I see where you’re confused. We’re not doing Our Town. We’re doing Our Town.”

Director: “And then we’ll tackle Act 3: ‘What we talk about when we talk about The Donkey.’”



It’s easy to discount episodes built entirely around theme, like this one, as unfocussed and meandering, because it’s easy to not notice what they’re actually doing. I like this. It was brave.

Also, ‘learning to move on from traumatic experiences’ is probably not a terrible thing to keep in mind in the US after the last four years. No reason.

Eight out of ten space funerals.

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.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review as always!

I liked this ep.

Your description of the ep's theme, finding the beauty in the pain, really reminded me of the song Believer by Imagine Dragons. Have you ever listened to it? It's really good, and in my opinion, encapsulates the theme of this ep perfectly.

I was really pissed at the Chief for pushing Cliff out of the spaceship, esp. after he helped get Dorothy back.

For me, the visual of Jane's face covered in wax was really creepy! I think for me it was so unexpected that it really surprised me.

Lastly, your line of "Today I actually typed the sentence ‘Did she know to stroke the goat head.’ This is my life now." had me laughing.

Again, great review!

Mikey Heinrich said...

Thanks so much! I know of that song, but I've never really listened to the lyrics. I'll definitely check it out now. I do really like Demons and Radioactive - particularly the video for the latter with the weird underground puppet fighting ring. So delightfully odd.

You know, weirdly enough I kind of rolled with the Chief pushing Cliff out, since we pretty much know Cliff can survive the fall and reentry. It mostly just made me wonder where the Chief was going that he didn't want Cliff tagging along. Is he going further out to space?

You're absolutely right, that wax face image was both original and super creepy. I'm just too much of a twelve year old boy inside that I couldn't get past it :)

Anonymous said...

That's cool that you like Demons because it and Believer are my favorite Imagine Dragons songs. Radioactive is good, too. I haven't seen that video, so I'll have to check it out; it sounds interesting.

Fair enough. And good question.

Lol.

Again, great review!