DC Universe’s Doom Patrol has the potential to break the rules, but will it?


The latest DC Universe show, Doom Patrol, has aired its second episode, and while it builds a hilarious and weird world, how far can it push the boundaries?

Fans have been psyched for Doom Patrol ever since the characters were introduced on the DC Universe sister show, Titans. After debuting two episodes, Doom Patrol has proved that it’s not sticking to the status quo. The characters on Doom Patrol do not see themselves as heroes – in fact – when the town of Cloverton is attacked, the only one willing to stay and fight is Brendan Fraser’s Cliff Steele/ Robotman. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the superhero fare geeks have become used to.

Yet, what is surprising about the newest DC Universe show is that its jovial tone is often undone by prolonged pathos, a balance that the Titans episode was able to capture well. The second episode of the show, “Donkey Patrol” is especially guilty of throwing the viewer off-kilter. There’s a depressing melancholia that follows the end credits, which is particularly surprising considering the episode begins with Mr. Nobody’s (Alan Tudyk) recap.

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Nobody’s recap is snarkier than ours at Show Snob, and it embodies his eccentric personality – Nobody is irreverent and chaotic, plus the latest pop culture character to break the fourth wall (name-dropping Grant Morrison and DC fans). In the comics, Nobody had the ability to sap the sanity from people – on the show that power extends to anything he puts his mind to.

Hilarity aside, it becomes painfully obvious what a deplorable character Nobody is – he could very well be the worst if the series writers choose to push the limits of their imagination. One can presume that Nobody will continue to recap each episode henceforth, but it’s hard to titter after how he treats Doom Patrol.

While inside Nobody’s portal, Rita Farr (April Bowlby) and Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) are given the opportunity to repeat and correct the moment that changed their lives, even though the characters, and the viewers, know that they will return to their miserable existence once they are back to reality.

Doom Patrol — Ep. 102B — “Donkey Patrol” — Photo Credit: Bob Mahoney / 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If that’s not bad enough, Victor Stone’s (Joivan Wade) treatment in the portal is far worse. Despite the in-show reasoning that Mr. Nobody gives for torturing Victor in a different way, one can’t help but wonder why the only African-American character on the show has to be seen suffering so much. There’s a needlessly long sequence which graphically depicts how Victor’s body is mutilated by the blast that made him Cyborg, followed by an even worse one of Victor’s damaged limbs being amputated. It is certainly one that viewers could have done without, especially in an era where violence against people of color is far too prevalent on our screens and our streets.

Despite the inclusion of this troubling trope, the very obvious way the episode writers set up Cyborg as the leader of the pack is to be applauded. Wade’s Victor Stone is quick-witted and smart, with a big heart that is set on doing right by his mentor. Hopefully, this will lead to greater things in the character’s future.

Doom Patrol — Ep. 102 — “Donkey Patrol” — Photo Credit: Bob Mahoney / 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There have been far too many instances of people of color being obscured by CGI or make-up in film, and Doom Patrol subverts that by putting Fraser and Bomer, both white men, in roles where they are not seen. On the other hand, the visual effects for Cyborg, though not as sleek as Justice League’s, are true to the comics and put Jovian Wade in the forefront as a hero of color.

Of all the characters, I particularly love the character design of Nobody on Doom Patrol, it’s a refreshing change from the norm. On the other hand, the character design for one of Crazy Jane’s (Diane Guerrero) personalities in this episode concerns me. From the looks of it, the silver-tongued identity had make-up on that darkens Guerrero’s skin tone. I’m hoping that ‘blackface’ was not the intent by the showrunners, but it sure looked like it. Guerrero is brilliant in her role, nonetheless, eerily embodying the many different personalities. It will be exciting to see her grow into this character over the course of this first season.

Doom Patrol — Ep. 102 — “Donkey Patrol” — Photo Credit: Jace Downs / 2018 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Comic book properties have often been afraid to include queer elements that didn’t already exist in the source material, but Doom Patrol unexpectedly does just that. A major change from the comics is Larry’s backstory, which, as we saw on the Doom Patrol premiere has updated him to being in the closet in the 1960s, while carrying out a clandestine affair with one of his air force colleagues. In addition to being played by out gay actor Matt Bomer, Larry’s story goes further than his sexuality. And, even though he isn’t defined by his homosexuality, it has played a part in his characterization in the first two episodes. I would love to see the showrunners take this aspect of Larry forward instead of brushing it under the carpet (as has been the case for the male gay characters on other superhero shows, like Arrow’s Curtis Holt, and John Constantine, who was given a long overdue bisexual storyline on Legends of Tomorrow in the first half of their latest season).

How Larry’s grave injuries will affect his love life is an angle where Doom Patrol can really shine. Far too often, any character outside the norm of conventional attractiveness is painted as evil and villainous, but Larry appears to be goodness personified. When it comes to romance, popular media shies away from allowing its misfits any love. In a world governed by superficiality, could Larry and the Doom Patrol creators break convention?

The second episode built on the pilot, especially with regards to the characterization of the rest of the team. With Larry and Rita in particular, their constant struggle to master their powers makes them choose to hide away from the world forever, rather than actually face it. They’ve been hiding away for more than 60 years! By the end of the episode, though, it seems like Larry and the Negative Spirit that caused him to become Negative Man might be on the way to set things right (ala post-its like Caitlyn Snow and Killer Frost on The CW’s The Flash), but Rita is another story.

When she’s pulled into Nobody’s portal, one image haunts her – that of a crying baby in a crib. This suggests a dark past, but, if the showrunners are planning to explore Rita’s maternal side, I hope the character isn’t demonized for whatever choice she may have made. Reproductive choices aren’t storylines that superhero properties often deal with, which gives Doom Patrol the chance to handle a complex topic with sensitivity. This would be another departure from the comics where, in some iterations, Rita is Garfield Logan/ Beast Boy’s adoptive mother and happily married to fellow reluctant superhero, Mento.

dark. Next. Doom Patrol updates from DC Universe’s TCA Panel

The pilot was traumatizing at times but had an optimistic vibe that this episode was missing. Despite its amusing name, ‘Donkey Patrol’, felt like more of a downer than its predecessor. But it is early days yet for the show, and there is potential for the showrunners to really go against the grain and create an impactful piece of television that will hopefully also find the requisite balance between the macabre situation the characters are saddled with and the farcical satire that the series wants to be.