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Doom Patrol: Vacay Patrol

"In the meantime, our presence here will go completely unnoticed."

The gang takes a vacation. Hi-jinks ensue.

This episode is exactly the sort of thing this show was built to do, and I loved it to pieces.

This is the most Doom Patrol-y episode the show has yet achieved. A perfect blend of pulp cliché premise, plugged into an unlikely backdrop, handled with absurdist humor and surprising emotional honesty.

It's hard to know what to even say about this one beyond 'It's really good. You should go watch it if you haven't done so, and if you have, maybe consider watching it again because the dance sequence at the end to Alphaville's "Forever Young" might be simultaneously the stupidest and most moving thing I've ever seen and it really only works in context.'  I use 'stupidest' in a good way, obviously.

There's clearly a bit of a 'Complicated feelings about Niles' death' going on here still. I suspect this opening trilogy of episodes is going to end up having been just that – a loosely connected trilogy about complicated feelings about Niles' death. The interesting thing is the way that grief is playing off of the other issues each character is currently going through. So let's take a second to spell those out.

Cliff:
What began as a slowness in one hand last season has now progressed to near constant hand tremors and frequent episodes during which he can't move any part of his body at all. We've been conclusively told that his robot body isn't to blame, and there's now the suggestion that this might be a manifestation of Parkinson's disease. Cliff is being very 'man' about this and refusing to seek medical help to find out for sure what's going on. Instead he's channeling all of the fear through his feelings about Niles' death and laser focusing them into 'I hate Niles for giving me this shitty robot body that doesn't work right, and therefore since I'm so angry with him about that I clearly do not have to mourn him or feel bad about him dying.'

Rita:
Rita can at least acknowledge that her feelings about Niles contain both hate and love. But having her attempt at being a 'superhero' last season being cut short when she discovered she wasn't brave enough to stand up to Roni, followed immediately by what was basically a full on emotional assault masquerading as community theater, followed immediately by being too afraid of her own inadequacy to even pick up the phone that Niles had explicitly left her responsible for has left her so crippled with self doubt and imposter syndrome that she no longer has even enough confidence in herself to maintain human form. She's essentially viscosity level as metaphor for self confidence.

Jane:
Jane has been feeling, in her own words, 'off' since the Miranda incident. What's interesting here is the degree to which 'The Girl' is taking care of Jane, when the whole point of having alter personalities is that they serve specific functions to protect The Girl. I'm just going to start referring to The Girl as Kay, since they clearly seem to be intending to develop her as a character in her own right. Jane, having this newfound support from both Kay and the other alters, is feeling less of the weight of the world on her shoulders and it's making her uncomfortable. Of all of them she's leaning heaviest into stating repeatedly how much she hates Niles as a coping mechanism for her feelings of grief. What I find most interesting is that it's strongly implied that Kay herself takes control in the final act and starts the dancing as a way of giving Jane an outlet for what she's feeling. Put a pin in that, we'll come back to it in just a moment.

And last but not least,

Vic:
Vic's issues have the least to do with Niles' death, although that's still a factor. Vic is struggling to come to terms with his feelings for Roni, and his indecision is starting to cost him. Last episode he gave Roni a heads up before her attempted terrorism and allowed her to escape. Silas isn't wrong, even if Vic wasn't tangentially sort of a government asset, that's aiding and abetting. It's bad both in legal terms and PR terms. I'm a little surprised that S.T.A.R. Labs has the capability to throw a switch and turn off Cyborgs' powers (don't they come from all-powerful motherbox tech? Do those come with off switches?) He's been dis-empowered quite literally, and so is trying to throw his focus into whipping the Doom Patrol into shape and jumps at the chance to take on the first possible supervillain that comes along.

So, taking those in order, we have: Get angry, Give in to despair, Get overwhelmed, and pretend nothing is wrong by throwing yourself into your work. Also known as, the classic reactions to the death of a loved one. And quite cleverly, the script uses those exact undercurrents as the reasons that our heroes are unable to defend themselves when Samuelson comes in guns a'blazing. Cliff's body freezes up because he won't address his health issues, Rita immediately gives up and tries to run, Jane is currently being, if not controlled by, then strongly influenced by Kay, and Kay has no idea how to cope with this situation, and Vic's managed to forget that he doesn't have powers at the moment. Their defense mechanisms have crippled them, and they're mowed down with ease. That's a lovely little confluence of plot and theme, and I really liked how they handled it.

I can't say a ton about Garguax the Decimator, because anything I can say about him would probably spoil some of the jokes, and the jokes are all really funny and well told. I will say that the essential concept of a B-Movie Alien supervillain hanging out at a 50s style WASP resort is fantastic, and his emotional journey from Decimator to Cliff's resort buddy who finally learns to let the mission go and move on with his life is really well observed.  Also, Stephen Murphy, who played him, has amazing comic timing. And shoulders. And pecs. And is it wrong to objectify The Decimator? Because if it is, I don't want to be right.

The highest praise I can really give this one is that I was enjoying it so much I didn't notice until the second time through that Samuelson was played by Billy Boyd.

It might be noted that Larry hasn't been mentioned at all so far. I'm not really sure what to make of Larry's side quest. He and the Negative Spirit are headed out to space to what appears to be the NS's home, but it's never really clear what's going on there. Does Larry have his face back? Did he really ditch the bandages in space? Because sometimes they're here and sometimes they aren't in this one. Did he magically pop back home after the other negative beings... ahem... penetrated him? Or is the Doom Manor we see him in at the end just a simulacrum or dreamscape? What is actually happening in any of this?

Fortunately, it's pretty clear that the showrunners don't want us to understand what's happening at this stage, since Larry voices most of these same points of confusion. Perhaps that's another reason for the opening triptych of episodes; it gives them latitude to be coy for a little while.


Bits and Pieces:

-- The opening sequence from the very first shot right up through the cut back to Rita eating ice cream is pure, 100% gold. From the perfect realization of The Brain and Monsieur Mallah(!) to the hysterical montage of time passing while Garguax waits for decades at the resort, it's all note-perfect.

-- They did a nice job sensitively handling a difficult issue – how do you deal with a parent's declining health as regards them taking care of – and possibly endangering – your child. That's a tough one.

-- There's a lovely kind of 'farce-logic' at work in the tone of this one that allows us to ignore questions like, 'How exactly is Garguax, or the DP for that matter, paying for this stay?', 'How has this resort stayed open for decades with apparently only Garguax and Samuelson as paying guests?' and 'Why did the Brotherhood of Evil want Rita dead in the first place, and assuming that they did, why did they believe she would at some point inevitably end up at the Codsville Mountain Resort?' None of that matters even remotely.

-- So was the implication that the Rita detector finally went off because The Brain is still out there and sent the signal? It certainly didn't detect Rita either before or after de-blobbing. I'd love if Brain and MM turned up again.

-- I get the metaphor of climbing the backbone, but it would probably have been worth Cliff pointing out, 'I literally fell to Earth from space a couple weeks ago without a problem. I'm not in any danger.'

-- Upon hearing that Caulder killed Eric Morden, Monsieur Mallah says 'Je m'en fous.' Idiomatically this means 'I don't care', but the literal translation is more along the lines of 'I am fucking everything.' Which kind of says something interesting about French linguistic history.

-- I'm fascinated by the idea of what Parkinson's in Cliff's brain would look like manifesting through a robot body. I have an inherited tremor myself, so it's an area of interest to me.

-- Great detail #79779: Clara's southern accent become more pronounced when she's under stress, just as happens in real life.

-- Whoever crafted the gag of Cliff going into the sauna with a towel wrapped around his robot body isn't paid enough.

-- It was cool how Rita adapted her goo-sack into a decent dress as she re-corporealized.

-- Can't wait to see why Madame Rouge locked Rita in to be shot. I assume this is later in Mme R's timeline than the previous episode, but it's not a certainty.

-- There's a lovely sub-theme in all this about escaping self-defined prisons. I offer this out to you for your media studies thesis topic.


Quotes:

Secretary: "Codsville Mountain Resort. It satisfies all the requirements I assume you’re looking for. All-inclusive, inexpensive, remote, quiet, cable TV, and bottomless mimosa brunches every day in a place called the ‘Bing-Bang Room’."
Rita: "Sold!"

Jane: "Not a suitcase. A useless sack of shit."
Rita: "I heard that. It’s me, Cliff. Rita."
Jane: "Like I said."

Jane: "Wait... who the fuck is the Beekeeper?"

Jane: "He really was a rat bastard, wasn’t he."
Rita: "What a cruel thing to say about rats."

Garguax: "First time at the resort?"
Cliff: "Yeah, you?"
Garguax: "Technically, sure."

Garguax: "Hey Cliff."
Cliff: "Hey Garg."
Vic: "Um… Who the hell is that?"
Cliff: "Who? Garguax? Oh, he’s my new resort buddy. Nice guy. You know, you always realize what a small world it is when you go on vacation."

Cliff: "I got my own shit to deal with."
Vic: "You mean avoid."
Cliff: "Oh, fuck all the way off, dude."


This is just a really great episode. And honestly, go re-watch that dance number again. It's transcendent. Nine out of ten minutes on the lobby phone at $2.99 a minute.

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:

Anonymous said...

Great review! I enjoyed reading it!

I didn't think Larry was getting rid of the bandages for good; I thought it was more either a way to showcase Matt Bomer's beautiful face or to show Larry felt free in space, leaving his worldly cares behind.

I'm impressed you recognized Billy Boyd because I had no idea until I was looking up the actors for the episode on IMDB.

I'm very intrigued with where the season will go, and I'm happy it's back!

Thank you very much for writing such a great review!

Mikey Heinrich said...

I'm certainly never going to complain about seeing Matt Bomer :)

Thank you so much for the kind words, that means a lot to me.