Doom Patrol, Episode One: “Pilot”

I’m continuing my examination of the Doom Patrol TV series, from a perspective of nearly 50 years reading the comics the show draws on. I’m discussing the episodes as I watch them so **Spoilers** for the series to the current point. I am freely bringing up things from the comics. My previous post was taken up by introducing this show’s characters and some of the relationships between them and their previous comic book incarnations. Now I’ll actually get into the plot of the first episode of the series.

It was quickly apparent that the creators of the show are going for the equivalent of an “R” rating, with foul language, sex and nudity, and body horror. “What the f***?” has become Cliff’s catch phrase. To my (perhaps prudish) taste, the language in particular feels like they are trying too hard to make a superhero story seem more “adult.” The Morrison/Case comics were published during last waning days of the Comics Code Authority, and could be transgressive for their time. They actually crossed a nudity threshold in mainstream comics, featuring a character whose metamorphosis into semi-divinity left her with little concern for human garments. But what we “saw” in this comic was essentially a floating statue — contrasting with live action sex scenes and nudity in the first episode of the show.

The core action of this episode is the characters deciding to disobey The Chief, and take a trip into the local town of Cloverton, just to get out of the house some. This quickly goes very badly, with Jane confronting police, Rita turning into a rampaging blob, and the Negative-Spirit running berserk. Back at the mansion, the humiliated characters face an angry and frightened Chief, who is mainly upset because the fiasco would have alerted their presence to threats and enemies that will now come looking for them. The appearance of an enigmatic donkey, a sort of jackass of the apocalypse, reveals that these warnings are coming true. The Chief desperately suggests their wisest action is to flee. Cliff states that they should defend the town they’ve endangered, but the others are reluctant. Despite their strange abilities, they are not superheroes after all. These never swore an oath to defend the world that hates and fears them, as their comic book predecessors did. Still Cliff’s example inspires them, and they march towards whatever awaits them, accompanied by Mr. Nobody’s mocking narration. A heroic choice, but a not a smart one. Mr. Nobody himself finally appears, opening a swirling vortex that begins to swallows the town.

Mr. Nobody

The art design of the show draws heavily on Richard Case’s comics, so as soon as I heard Mr. Nobody’s narration I wondered how they would depict him. Mr. Nobody was meant as someone you could never see clearly, who seemed like you were always seeing him out of the corner of your eye, even if he was right in front of you. Case drew him as an abstract symbol of a human, fitting with his and Morrison’s conception of Mr. Nobody as an embodiment of Dadaism’s deconstruction of rational meaning. TV’s Mr. Nobody appears more as someone who has ascended to some higher spacial existence, as if four dimensional space-time does not contain him — or even the difference between reality and narrative. He’s still a very “Grant Morrison” character, since Morrison is known for doing things such as making himself a character in comics he writes. Mr. Nobody and The Chief are shown to know each other well, as if they have clashed in the past, though there’s no indication about why Mr. Nobody is so interested in these characters that he otherwise despises and dismisses.

The episode ends as Cloverton is slowly devoured before the team’s eyes…

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