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Doom Patrol: 1917 Patrol

"This is their protest. A life well lived."

If only Doom Patrol did complicated and sympathetic villains, am I right?

I'm kind of on the side of the Sisterhood at this point, to be honest.

Doom Patrol takes a trip in the Wayback Machine, or at least Rita does, to spend some quality time in 1917.

As I may have hinted in the cold open, if their goal was to humanize the Sisterhood of Dada to the extent that we understood their motivations and even sympathized with where they were coming from, mission accomplished.

Turns out, back in the day, the Bureau of Normalcy made it their business to round up meta-humans, much like they did in season one. But, in contrast to their later 'Lock them all away to rot unless you need them to run a mission' policy, back in 1917 they had a plucky young recruiter named Laura De Mille who was secretly a meta herself, and used her position to bring in and shield as many of the metas as she could.

Sure, most (one assumes) were categorized as 'weapons' and used as such, but a handful she was able to categorize as non-weapons, and those were allowed to live at the headquarters fulfilling useful, if lowly, tasks as a barely tolerated underclass. Which, to be fair to Laura's good intentions, is better than being locked in a cell, brainwashed, and used as a weapon, so fair play to her.

The segregation metaphor is fairly explicit, with Rita committing the unthinkable faux pas of sitting down to eat her lunch with her 'betters' only for them to be horrified and angry. That's pretty on the nose for a social injustice visual, but it does certainly get the point across. And it definitely points the viewer's sympathies in the Sisterhood's direction, which is of course exactly why they did it.

There's an argument to be made that art is the only form of rebellion available to the powerless, if that's not too pretentious a way to look at it. And that's exactly the dynamic at work here. The Metas in 1917 are embracing the then emerging movement of Dada, which was itself a reaction to World War I and a deliberate rejection of reason and the prevailing cultural values. It makes perfect sense that a repressed underclass like the 1917 Metas would embrace it. Rita observes that for her being happy is never as easy as the Sisterhood makes it seem, and, again, that's the point. Protecting yourself from systemic abuse is the entire appeal of embracing meaninglessness and rejecting reason. It's an internal escape, where an external one isn't possible.

Which is itself an interesting thematic connection between the portions of the episode set in 1917 and the portions set in the Underground, where Jane helps Kay to realize her desire to be in control of the body and interact with the real world for a little while. Jane spells it out pretty clearly to Doctor Harrison and the others; escaping from your bondage and finding even a little moment of joy is a rebellion worth doing in and of itself. That aligns her philosophically with the Sisterhood, and I really wonder if they're building up to Jane taking their side when it all starts to hit the fan. She was the one Shelley was interested in talking to, after all.

Of course, Jane will have to survive what appears to be a brewing civil war shaping up in the Underground. I can't imagine that Doctor Harrison is going to take that direct challenge to her authority lying down.

It's worth noting also how likable all of the members of the Sisterhood are in 1917. Shelley in particular. They embrace Rita with open arms, make her feel happier and more loved then she seems to have ever felt in her life, and throw the most amazing parties. Honestly, I've never wanted to attend a fictional party more in my life. Whoever came up with the idea of segueing from the fun, if admittedly a little pretentious 'sound poem' game into the opening of Lady Gaga's 'Poker Face' is a freaking genius. I desperately wish they would release a recording of them explaining to Lady Gaga what they wanted to use her song for and asking her permission, because I'm guessing they didn't even get to the end of the pitch before she interrupted them to agree. A Dadaist art party in 1917, in which stoned superwomen make phonetic tone poetry for their own amusement is maybe the most Lady Gaga thing ever, even before the baseline drops. I bet she was beyond thrilled.

We're also definitely getting the seeds of what went down between Laura De Mille and the other members of the Sisterhood. She recognizes that the nonsense, enjoyable as it is, can't last forever, and so it's important to enjoy it while it lasts. Whereas the others seem determined to make the Dada last forever. It's pretty easy to see where that's going to come to a head, when the others try to take things too far in the name of keeping the party going. In a curious way, that actually seems to confirm that Madame Rouge and her body elephant were right all along. That she is fundamentally a good person. And if doing the right thing ends up meaning betraying her friends to the Bureau in order to save the world, well, that might just factor into that letter Niles wrote. Time will tell.

It's probably of some concern that the membership of the Sisterhood is a little different in 1917 than it is in the group that's broken out of the Ant Farm in the present day. Obviously the group back then just hasn't met the sleepwalking woman who punched Cliff last episode, but the total absence of Holly and Malcolm in the present day iteration of the group does not bode well for either of them. Poor Rita, I don't see that romance with Malcolm working out well, which is too bad because that final scene where they give their hearts to one another through visual metaphor is absolutely lovely.

Meanwhile in the rest of the plotlines, Larry has a heart to heart with his newly rescued son, Paul. I was genuinely surprised by the revelation that Paul was there because he'd joined the Bureau of Normalcy as an agent, not least because that begs the question of how one even becomes an agent for the Bureau. He knows full well that they captured and tortured his father, so this was a deliberate middle finger to Larry. Look, I get that Paul's abandonment issues are legitimate and that his feelings about Larry and his childhood are valid, but thank God Larry finally pushed back. No, Paul, he didn't just pop out to the corner store to buy cigarettes and never come back, and you are freaking well aware of that. I was really glad that Larry set some emotional boundaries there.

And speaking of Larry having children, it looks a little like that moveable bump is about ready to come out. I look forward to the gender reveal party.

Vic, in other news, has really taken Lloyd's criticism about not being his authentic self on board and is starting to realize that he's never bothered to think about what he, Vic, might actually want for his own life. His making that Doctor's appointment under the name Vic Stone instead of Cyborg was meant to show us that he finally is. OK, I'm interested. I don't know a lot about Cyborg from the comics, but my understanding is that the Motherbox wasn't just covering wounds. I thought it was actively replacing a lot of his organs and limbs with its tech. Synthetic skin grafts wouldn't really help with that, would it? Ah well. We'll see.

Which leaves us with Cliff. And holy crap, what's even going on with him at the moment? Last episode I wondered if the pop-up ad was for porn or gambling, and it appears that the answer is 'yes.'  And now Cliff appears to be so addicted to both that he just sold most of his friends possessions to strangers on the internet to pay for it, along with selling what amounts to his own soul to someone going by the name FuzzyRimJob42. In case it needs saying, that's a bad idea.

And now the Sisterhood has found Madame Rouge, aka Laura De Mille. If indeed they ever lost her. I sense vengeance in the air. Also, flaming curtains. Seriously, as a retired firefighter it was genuinely difficult to watch Laura just casually watch the whole wall go up like that.


Bits and Pieces:

-- Rita has complete control of her powers as long as her self image is in good shape at that moment. That's more or less been implied all along, but they really confirmed it here.

-- April Bowlby is doing a fascinating job of playing Rita slightly differently without her memories, and therefore without her trauma.

-- I really loved that the Metas all sat at different tables during their rebellion, leaving the normies with fewer and fewer places to sit.

-- What exactly IS that drawing that Cliff couldn't replicate and that the Sisterhood appeared to be handing out drawn on napkins, and that was emblazoned in fire on the wall? It looked a little like Malcolm's canary.

-- They're playing coy about what Sachiko's actual powers are, which I won't spoil here, but I'm loving the way she's using them.

-- I liked the little nod to Wizard of Oz during Rita's time journey. The poetic way they described her memories falling away was lovely as well. Who on Earth was doing the voiceover explaining it, though? Did I miss something?

-- Michelle Gomez just looks fantastic in everything. The evil scientist glasses were great, and her hair at the Dada party was beyond description.

-- I adored yet another cameo from The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. Are they just for fun, or are they going to pivot to the two of them attacking the Sisterhood at some point? Will The Brain succeed in reverse engineering a time machine?

-- Rita could understand Japanese, but in defiance of last episode's precedent did not speak it herself. Makes sense, Brendan Fraser only had to do it in voiceover. Doing it all live would have been a much bigger ask. Not that I'm saying I don't think April Bowlby is up to it.

-- I'm not sure that stealing some little girl's bike counts as an entirely positive experience, but I get where Jane is coming from. And how lovely and unexpected was it that Kay's encounter with that stranger was entirely positive.

-- Doctor Harrison's viewpoint, that keeping Kay from growing is keeping her safe, is not unreasonable. It is, after all, her entire reason for existing.

-- The Bureau of Normalcy in 1917 had the same weird half robot guys we saw working at the Ant Farm, which was a nice touch.

-- It is so odd to see groups of people eating large piles of uncovered food together.

-- What credit card had Cliff previously been using, one wonders.

-- The plan Holly and Sachiko are concocting has to be the Eternal Flagellation, doesn't it?


Quotes:

Cliff: "That’s Ginger. She keeps me company while I play. And if I just can get Private Nuttles to the Hazelnut Highway, I’ll be frickin’ awesome!"

Cliff: "Why in the name of God’s name and nutcheese would you want to change that?"
Vic: "Maybe because it’s not all about who you can bang?"
Cliff: "Said no superhero ever."

Mme. Rouge: "Sisterhood of Dada. Speak."
Cliff: "Ugh. Fine. Bunch of super self-absorbed kookledoodle meta-humans who definitely do not like you. When I said the name Laura De Mille, I got a foot up my ass, and not in a good way."

Jane: "Pretty, pretty Polly. Wake the fuck up. We’re a construct. Kindness may be one of our only commodities."

Mme. Rouge: "The only rule is, there are no rules. Piffle Paffle. J’m’en fous."
Rita: "Really. What happened to that crackerjack woman with the clipboard?"
Mme. Rouge: "Oh, that bitch is off the clock."

Lloyd: "Bendy, you are out of your mind."
Shelley: "In the best way possible."


I really enjoyed this one. It built incredibly well off of the previous episode's reveals and succeeded in creating a layered, fascinating, sympathetic group of antagonists who it's hard to really side against. Even though we know they're sort of trying to end the world. Moral complexity is hard to pull off this well.

Nine out of ten perfect Lady Gaga needle drops.

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.

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