DC Universe’s Doom Patrol season 1 premiere recap: Pilot


The pilot episode of Doom Patrol introduces the origins of the main characters, as well as the central villain, Mr. Nobody.

The pilot episode of DC Universe’s second live-action property, Doom Patrol, begins with title credits that are as beautiful as they are disturbing. There is a sense of foreboding that accompanies this montage, which is at odds with Alan Tudyk’s whimsical narration in the first scene.

In Paraguay 1948, Mr. Eric Morden (Tudyk) is a real nobody (ahem, get it?) who pays the local Nazi for some enhancements. The ‘demented genius’ places Morden inside a chamber that changes him… for the better.

Fast-forward to Florida, 1988. We meet Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser) who lives in a huge house, has a beautiful wife and adorable daughter – but he’s still having an affair with the nanny. Since he’s a big racing star, the family keeps up appearances at the next race. While the nanny carries their daughter, Cliff’s wife sends him off with a serendipitous farewell. ‘Crash and die, honey.’

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Cliff is doing well in the race but then he spots his engineer and his wife together. As she chastises him over the microphone, Cliff loses control of the car. He crashes into one of his opponents whose car careens back into him. As he remembers his humble beginnings, Cliff opens his eyes to Niles Caulder/ The Chief (Timothy Dalton) welding him into his new body.

Cliff isn’t up and about yet. He blinks his visor on and off, catching glimpses of his surroundings. We see a bandaged Larry Trainor sitting idly, and the floating Negative Spirit studying him. Later, Niles shares dinner with Rita Farr/ Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby) as they re-watch one of her old films. She recites the dialogue verbatim and looks forlorn at her lost career.

Cliff makes slow progress in regaining movement. Chief explains that the accident led to much of Cliff’s body being damaged beyond repair. But Cliff is able to spot a calendar in the distance – it says 1995, 7 years since Cliff’s accident. The world thinks Cliff died in the accident and Rita explains that’s because the only part of Cliff that the Chief salvaged was his brain. She then lifts a mirror up to reveal Cliff’s new form. Seeing himself turned into robot, Cliff starts freaking out, so Rita switches him off. Chief chastises her for her actions – he didn’t feel that Cliff was ready. ‘Everyone deserves the truth’, she replies.

Cliff meets Larry Trainor/ Negative Man (Matt Bomer), who was, according to Mr. Nobody’s narration, ‘an American god’ in the 1960s. He was an air force test pilot who took a state-of-the-art plane for a test drive. He had prepared for every eventually, bar one – a stowaway. Once Larry broke through the stratosphere, his aircraft was hit with negative energy causing him to pass out and crash. The energy helped him survive, but Larry ‘was changed forever’.


Cliff’s Robotman body (performed on set by Riley Shanahan) struggles to recuperate and Larry’s smart-ass comments don’t help. Though his mobility is still limited, Cliff begins getting flashes of memory. Chief thinks this is a good sign but explains to Cliff that many of those who leave Chief’s Doom Manor often find that the people of the world find it harder to accept who they’ve become than they do. Which is why Larry and Rita stick around.

Aside from Larry, who seems to have been a nice person, the rest of the Doom Patrol were all awful in their past lives. In Africa 1955, Rita, known as the ‘poor-man’s Deborah Kerr’, was shooting ‘Forbidden Congo’ but kept becoming distracted by the focus-pullers missing arm. She orders her director to fire him despite the man being the best person for the job and well-liked among the crew.

Once shooting resumes, the crewman is gone but everyone makes their dislike for Rita painfully obvious. When Rita falls through some boards into the water nobody comes to her aid. While submerged, Rita swallows an unknown substance that causes her body to elasticise. Rita runs away from the look of fear and disgust on the faces of the crew.

In a wonderfully emotional scene, Cliff is able to make his robot body walk again. With his newfound mobility, he is adamant his family know the truth about him. He thanks the Chief for everything he’s done, but this ‘just isn’t me’.

Chief takes this opportunity to play a phone message that he used to recreate Cliff’s original voice for the robot body. He hopes that the message will explain how Cliff’s memories are changing to help him cope with his new situation.

Turns out, Cliff didn’t remember everything that happened. That careening car on the racecourse narrowly missed Cliff. In fact, he went on to win the race, but ruined the moment by beating up his engineer for his affair with his wife. This led his wife and daughter to leave him. When no amount of booze and depravity would fill the void left by his family, Cliff called his wife and promised her he’d be better. She believed him and the three of them were headed home when Cliff drove into a tanker. There’s no family for Cliff to go back to now.

Distraught, Cliff spends the next decades doing… absolutely nothing. He can’t eat, sleep, feel pain or anything, so he just watches the world go by. Till Larry buys him a toy racetrack that Doom Patrol sets up together. Years go by, we finally reach 2019, where we see the track has expanded across the room.

But, play time is interrupted by Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero). She has 64 personas, each with its own power, and currently she is the insufferable Hammerhead. Wow, that personality is a real douche!

Cliff and Jane have never met, but they seem to bond when they finally do. Later, while Doom Patrol sit around watching another of Rita’s films (seriously, is there anything else that passes for entertainment in this place?), Chief bids them farewell to go off on one of his sojourns.

Jane decides this is the best time for the mice to play, though Larry disagrees because Chief still doesn’t think ‘they’re ready’. But Jane is convincing and it is Doom Patrol’s day out.

Though Cliff can’t feel the fresh air, he joins Crazy Jane in a park. Crazy Jane has a new revelation for Cliff – his daughter survived the crash, it’s all over the internet. But Cliff doesn’t want to hear it. Why would Chief lie to him?

Larry reluctantly enters a bar. His bandaged appearance attracts attention and it bothers him, but not for reasons we think. Larry felt like a ‘monster’ long before he became one. Before his accident, Larry was in the closet and in a clandestine relationship with one of his colleagues. It was the 60s and my guess is Larry came from that part of California that still condemned homosexuality. This is an update to Larry’s characterisation, who was usually written as straight in the comics, probably because of Matt Bomer’s casting.

Larry’s reminiscences are interrupted by the Negative Spirit inside him bursting out of his chest. He tries to stop it but can’t. With the Spirit gone, Larry is weak and out of the picture temporarily.

Meanwhile, Rita heads to a café, and the barista just happens to know all about the actress’ life. A little too much apparently. Seems like after the incident in Africa, Rita became an unwitting adult magazine star. This is news to Rita! Affronted by her good name being besmirched in this fashion, Rita begins to melt. Maybe Chief was right – after all these decades, Doom Patrol can’t control their abilities.

Rita goes into a full-on meltdown, destroying the café and terrorising the townspeople. Crazy Jane’s multiple personalities can’t stop her, but Cliff comes to the rescue. He halts Rita in her tracks and Doom Patrol finally go home.

Doom Patrol — Ep. 101 — “Pilot” / Photo by Bob Mahoney / 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Chief is incensed with the team, but he has more than one reason for his anger. He has enemies and Doom Patrol’s field trip have brought them out in the open. Chief believes they need to leave their safe haven and get as far away as possible, but Cliff wants answers.

He wants to know why Chief kept his daughter a secret, and Chief spouts the same old lines about him being afraid that Cliff’s daughter wouldn’t accept him. Trouble is, Cliff never had the chance to find out.

But greater worries weigh on Chief’s mind. On his way back to Cloverton, he spotted a donkey (I’m not even kidding) that portends doom for the team if they stay. Cliff is adamant that he remains behind to keep the town safe, but the others vote to leave. Only to change their minds and turn back. As Doom Patrol get ready to face an unknown enemy, they are instead faced with… the donkey – the very same Chief had seen earlier. This is Mr. Nobody’s still companion all the way from Paraguay, 1948.

Doom Patrol — Ep. 101 — “Pilot” — Photo Credit: Jace Downs / 2018 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Chief is visited by Mr. Nobody himself, who opens up a vortex in the middle of the town. Doom Patrol are not prepared for this.

DC Universe is taking the freedom of its own platform quite seriously. This episode of Doom Patrol has a generous dose of swearing and nudity, none of which is necessary. While it was interesting and entertaining, the inconsistent tone made it a trying watch. There are moments of hilarity and farce juxtaposed with crippling pathos.

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As a pilot episode for a show about unfamiliar characters, this was a quintessential introduction to the main cast, though it certainly has arresting characterisations to keep the audience coming back. From the looks of it, however, this episode has erased the Titans episode from its timeline, since it looks like Robotman never interacted with Garfield Logan, and Dalton has been recast as Chief in place of Bruno Bichir. If the showrunners are able to conjoin the two shows, it would make for a compelling universe, but for now it looks like Titans and Doom Patrol are going their own separate ways.