As usual, **Spoilers** for the Doom Patrol TV show up to this point in the series. I wanted to restate that as there are plenty of twists and surprises in this episode. As my main goal in these posts is to examine the series’ relationship with the comics it is based on, this will be a shorter piece than usual. This episode is mostly “self-contained,” keeping to the show’s own versions of the characters and the situations they’ve ended up in, without bringing in new elements based on or inspired by Doom Patrol’s comic book history.
It is still a fascinating episode, taking what could be a trite premise, Cliff thinking the group should have some talk therapy to get things off their chests, and then really following through with the consequences of that attempt: good, bad, and completely absurd. It also makes the most of a highly structured form that begins with a flash forward, shows how events led to that situation, and then the fallout of the inevitable disaster. Each character gets their own spotlight time, following through the same sequence of events from that character’s point-of-view. Each time we see a few more pieces of the puzzle of what is actually going on. Not until the very end, with the point of view of the revengeful rat Admiral Whiskers, is the tale complete. It’s only we as audience who get this understanding — aside from the true puppet master, Mr. Nobody of course.
The core premise of the episode is that Cliff thinks they should unburden themselves from the secrets weighing them down. You kind of have to agree with him in principle. Everybody is coming to realize that it is those secrets that Mr. Nobody is using against them. Unfortunately they try to do this without the genius professional therapist the task requires. That everybody was already having a bad day doesn’t help. Each character gets a sequence to themselves, all starting with a flashback to their childhoods, where their troubles were already beginning.
Rita continues to be the clearest representation of the struggles and dangers all the characters are facing. She is actively trying to move beyond her past (and the decades of stifling safety The Chief has provided them), but if she is not the glamorous “Rita Farr, movie star,” who is she? And for Rita, what is she? Her physical form is as unformed as her true personality. Admitting that openly, in their therapy session seems a positive step for her, though she hasn’t yet revealed all the disaster destabilize of her past.
Even more than the others, Larry has always considered himself a monster, from the shame imposed on him growing up gay in midcentury America. He is making progress though, following The Chief’s advice to build emotional connections with the Negative Spirit. They can’t talk to each other, but memories and feeling are growing into a link. It’s the cycle of guilt and self-torture that he tries to express to the others. The Morrison/Case comics only occasionally dealt with issues of sexuality — the Shadowy Mr. Evans story in Vol 2, issues #47-48 for instance — though it was a central theme staring in issue #64 when Rachel Pollock took over writing the book.
Vic’s efforts to explore social media relationships are painfully awkward. This seems the first time he has had to face the public reaction to his being “Cyborg” the superhero. The reference to “Booyah” as a catch phrase comes from the Teen Titan cartoon series. A lot of parents with kids who are fans of Teen Titans Go must have had awkward conversations about why they have to wait tens years or so before they are old enough to see life-action Cyborg on Doom Patrol. It was also unsettling to hear Vic’s AI assistant “Grid” act with increasing autonomy. They might be setting up a future plot line, or just putting it in as a reference to comic book Cyborg’s complicated backstory.
Jane is giving a canonical birth year of 1950. Her past is disturbing enough that just a few hints convey all that is needed. We see that Hammerhead has a tattoo on her chest, which Jane does not. It is more important than usual to tell them apart in these sequences. The rapidly switching between Jane and Hammerhead shows up some nuances in their personalities, which has been problem for me so far. Hammerhead’s violence is in operation here as a defense system, driving off anything that can be a threat. The Chief’s taped interviews reveal his belief in the importance of connections between people, and protecting Jane from the dangers of trust seems her primary purpose. The Chief’s suggestion that he could be a father to her suggests he never discovered the darkest secret Jane has. In Jane’s section of the story she also sees Cliff’s attempt to stuff toast into his robot mouth. His explanation that he just wants to taste something again is pathetic, if reasonable on the surface, though it takes on larger significance looking back from the story’s conclusion. That’s one of the fun things about this kind of story structure.
It is Cliff’s psychotic episode that brings the storylines together. When he recovers from his hallucinations he makes the suggestion that they need to carry on with the talk therapy that The Chief used to engage them in. Larry and Rita have been making progress on their own, but as Rita says “Cliff may be deranged, but he’s right.” It’s just having Cliff lead the session that’s a problem. In addition to Rita and Larry’s confessions, Vic talks about the accident that killed him mother and his growing doubts about whether he can trust his own memories. It is when Flit reveals The Hangman’s Daughter’s painting of Vic standing over the bodies of the others that everything falls apart. At least it is one more secret out in the open.
The hurtful exchange between Cliff and Jane (or whichever persona is in charge. It might still be Flit. It’s not Hammerhead) has a significant line: her accusation of Cliff “not being a man.” I don’t know any details, but I know there’s an upcoming episode where Cliff goes into the “Underground”, where Jane’s personas life. In the equivalent comic book storyline, that line is very important. We’ll see how it plays out in the show.
The final piece of the puzzle is Admiral Whisker’s story. Seeing him crawl out of Cliff’s mouth is probably the most unnerving thing in the show so far, an example of how putting mundane elements into a weird context is always more disturbing than the fantastic. Whiskers too had emotional trauma in his childhood, so his backstory fits in with the others with typical Mr. Nobody irony. If we assume that most of Cliff’s actions in this episode where shaped by Admiral Whisker’s influence, it’s a pretty devious tactic by Mr. Nobody, to use the characters’ desire to overcome their weakness against them. Will that tactic ultimately succeed? I mentioned last time that I hoped the team, and the scripts, would move beyond just torturing them all with the dark secrets of their pasts. For all the collateral damage, I hope their “therapy” moves things in that direction.