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Doom Patrol: Bird Patrol

"I assure you that THIS is everybody's problem!"

Doom Patrol season three enters its final act. Bring on the eternal flagellation.

About what we were doing before the war.

Doom Patrol takes the various, apparently unrelated, storylines in which the team has found themselves this season and walks them up to the opening salvo in the Sisterhood of Dada's evil scheme. Except, is it evil? Are the Sisterhood the villains here? Whose side should we really be on?

It doesn't get mentioned as often as it probably should, but the first half of the 20th century was what historians refer to as 'a bad time.' After getting to experience 40 million people dying globally for literally no reason in World War One, the US had just a hair over ten years in which it was possible to hold on to any sense of innocence and optimism that might have survived the 'Great War.'

Between the signing of the treaty of Versailles in June of 1919 and the US stock market crash in October of 1929, I like to imagine that Laura De Mille still went to parties in Shelley Byron's conceptual coterie. That she still believed that it was possible to find joy and meaning through rejection of establishment norms in favor of deliberate nonsense. That she still made 'art happenings' and 'tone poems.' That she still cared.

Now, there's plenty of room for debate as to when exactly the Great Depression 'ended,' but it's generally considered to be the onset of WWII. That would be 1941 or 1939, depending on whether you're talking about the US or the global economy. Either way, Laura De Mille spent around a decade as the recruiter for the Bureau during a time in which millions of people were dying of malnutrition, starvation, and suicide. A time during which she ostensibly had jobs to offer as far as one could tell from the outside, so we can assume an unrelenting mass of desperate people, frantic to get in front of her desk. A time also in which the higher ups in the Bureau were apparently placing more and more pressure on her to 'recruit' any metahumans that happened to be among the applicants to be slave weapons, and to be treated as less than human.

Then World War Two came along, in which roughly 3% of the entire global population perished. That's between 70 and 85 Million people, depending on what estimates you go with. During which time you can be completely certain that the Bureau's demands for her to provide more and more of those hopeful applicants to be served up as metahuman cannon fodder increased exponentially. Also, thanks to advances in technology, World War Two was covered far more extensively than World War One, which means Laura would have known exactly what every metahuman she classified as a weapon would be facing.

Following on from this was the nascent stirrings of the arms race, which apparently was echoed in a metahumans arms race, which means that after the war ended, far from getting less pressure to find new 'weapons,' Laura was under even more pressure to do so.

We don't get to see any of this in this episode. Instead, we join back up with Laura in 1949. We find a Laura who's been broken down. Who seems almost beyond hope. Who's gotten accustomed to just letting the horrors just roll over her while she consoles herself that she's 'signed an oath to the Bureau' and is on some level just doing 'what's right.' And as a viewer we're left to wonder, what on Earth happened to the woman we saw joyfully clucking to Lady Gaga only last episode?

The answer of course is, see paragraphs 2-6.

Innocence dies in a couple of different ways, and this episode is showing us how that's at the heart of the rift between Laura De Mille and the Sisterhood of Dada. Laura became bitter. The Sisterhood became numb and apathetic. The exception is Lloyd, whose anger at growing systemic racism is providing the push toward creating the 'Eternal Flagellation' in the first place. The point is that while it is tempting and not entirely invalid to read what happens here as 'Laura sells out her oldest friends to get a promotion,' there more going on with her than simply that.

Both the present day portions of this episode and the 1949 portions are essentially doing the exact same thing. They're showing you where everybody currently is, both in terms of plot and emotional state, and then they walk them right up to the first shot fired in the war between Laura De Mille and the Sisterhood of Dada. It's a well crafted touch that the inciting event is exactly the same in both 1949 and the present day, with the Doom Patrol standing in for the original Sisterhood in the modern reenactment. This underscores even further the essential question that they're asking. Who should we be rooting for here?

My God, the look on Michelle Gomez' face as she says 'Weapon,' over and over again in both time periods. She really is amazing.

And so large chunks of the season's overall narrative fall into place. Laura De Mille was part of the Sisterhood of Dada. She sold them out in 1949, which resulted in one of them dying, four of them being enslaved by the Bureau to be used as weapons, and Rita escaping to hide God knows where until she sprang out to confront Laura at this episode's climax. Normally I would be down on an episode in which everything that was happening to the characters right up until the climax is so completely unrelated to the climax in which they find themselves, but here that's sort of the point. The innocence we felt as regards what we were doing before the war gets swept away with no warning. Suddenly the innocence is gone, like a bird escaped from its cage.

So Cliff's multiple online addictions and fragile relationship with his daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson are suddenly overshadowed. Vic's quest to finally establish his own sense of self through synthetic skin grafts is put on hold. Larry's child/pupae abandonment will have to happen another day. The brewing civil war inside the Underground and Kay's gradual maturing can't be at the top of the list right now. I really like how they handled all of it.


Bits and Pieces:

-- So many interesting implications in the timing of events here. We can only assume that this betrayal is what leads Niles to write his infamous 1949 letter about Laura. Did this result in Laura's stealing Rita's time ship to flee to 2021? Where Rita stole Laura's time ship to go to 1919? Is that why the Brain and Monsieur Mallah, having seen Rita arrive in the time ship in 1919, put out a hit on her with Garguax later on in the hope of getting time travel secrets from her? I can only assume the next three episodes will tackle at least a couple of those points.

-- I hadn't before now realized that that nice Holly from the mail room is the sleepwalking woman in the present day. I can't think how I didn't get that.

-- Still no reveal on what Sachiko's powers actually are. They explain a lot about how the Sisterhood is accomplishing all this. I wonder why they're holding off the reveal? Assuming of course that her powers are the same as they are in the comics.

-- The young man whom Laura recruits as a weapon based on his powers to bring drawings to life is Wally Sage. In the comics he has the power to bring his drawings to life, and created Flex Mentallo in the pages of his home drawn comic 'My Greenest Adventure,' so called because he drew them with a green pen, which was the only pen he had. His drawings here are in green pen, which was a nice little Easter Egg.

-- Wally was also the soldier that killed Malcolm at the end, just to really drive home the 'war destroys innocence' thing.

-- The Eternal Flagellation appears to involve being attacked by a bird thing with your own face on it, which makes you disappear. Lloyd says it's only bad if you are. We'll see what that's all about, I suppose.

-- I still don't think it should be possible for Vic to have all his Cyborg tech removed and still survive. I'll have to let that go.

-- Clara's wife is clearly not comfortable leaving baby Rory with Cliff alone. She should go with that instinct. I imagine Clara isn't going to be pleased when she sees her credit card statement.

-- The entire conversation between Roni and Vic about his having power giving him a seat at the table to force the reform of unjust systems is worth an entire essay all on its own. As I've said previously, I'm in no way the right person to unpack all of it beyond saying that neither of them is wrong.

-- Kay, the central personality, appears to be reaching puberty. It's fascinating how the different alters are trying to 'protect' her from their own point of view.

-- Rita and Malcolm lived together for around 30 years. That's really lovely. We're all assuming that was him helping her out in the afterlife, right? I haven't seen any future episodes, just guessing.


Quotes:

Laura: "My expectations with you people literally could not be any lower at this point."

Laura: "That came... out of you?"
Larry? "Yes."
Laura: "Out of your..."
Larry: "Out of my mouth!

Laura: "When one expels a living, 16-pound parasite out of one's body, there really is only one reasonable response."
Larry: "... Give it a name...?"
Laura: "Oh, Jesus Christ."

Willy: "Friend is merely a nice word for ‘opportunity’."

Cliff: "Is this Dada? Are we doing Dada?"

Laura: "No, I am NOT EVIL!"


A really wonderful piece that pretends to be a character study until suddenly all hell breaks loose. At which point you look back and realize that it was heading there the entire time. A skillful script and a wonderful production.

Nine out of ten sudden betrayals.

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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