Doom Patrol, Episode Fourteen: “Penultimate Patrol”

Now that most of our characters have achieved some growth in dealing with their long suppressed personal traumas – and, consequently, are in better harmony with their metahuman powers — things are in place to wrap up the main plot arc of the whole series. I have also come to some conclusions about what this show does and not do well.

  • They’ve done a good job of depicting these characters and showing both their internal conflicts and their evolving relationships with each other. Doom Patrol, for all the weirdness and genre elements, is a character driven series – the very thing Mr. Nobody was mocking it for being last episode. The hospital scene between Rita and Vic is a good example. In revisiting earlier discussions over the need to take action and make choices, not just to help achieve a goal, but also to resolve personal doubts, the two have switches places. Rita advices Vic now, and we see that his earlier lectures came from a youthful, naive ideal of what heroism is, while Rita has some hard earned, more mature experience.
  • Generally the show has done well, and occasionally brilliantly, at referencing and lightly connecting up with the greater DC Universe, and of taking elements from the long history of Doom Patrol comics and repurposing them for this show’s unique storylines. The Beard Hunter, for example, was an excellent riff on a one-joke parody in the comic, and the show’s Mr. Nobody is a very clever and effective new interpretation of that character.
  • What hasn’t worked as well is when the show takes some of the Grant Morrison deep strangeness and uses it for largely superficial weirdness for weird’s sake. In my last post I went into detail about how the show doesn’t really make Flex Mentallo work. They’ve done a better job with Danny the Street. Fortunately the deeper lore about what Danny is doesn’t play a big part of the current plotline or in the comics events they have been drawing on.

The show is at its best when telling its own stories, transforming elements from the comics into those stories, rather than trying to adapt what goes on in the Morrison/Case run of the comic. I could wrap up these essays with that, but, like the show itself, we are only in the penultimate chapter and there is more to come.

Mr. Morden

The flashback to Mr. Morden being fired by the Brotherhood of Evil is another example of my second point above. The idea that Morden already thought of himself as a “nobody” comes from the Morrison/Case comic, but the show puts its own spin on things. The giant robot design is also right from the original run of the comic. In “Hair Patrol” it seemed as if finding out Caulder’s past with Oyewah was perhaps his main goal in kidnapping The Chief. Now it appears that Mr. Nobody just wanted to find out everyone The Chief cared about in order use them in his revenge. (As a science nerd I couldn’t help but shake my head at Mr. Nobody insulting Oyewah as a “Cro-Magnon” since calling a person a Cro-Magnon is just calling them… a person).

The plot in the episode continued to be a little clunky as far as getting everyone to where they need to be. One can suppose that Danny had to bring everyone together as cautiously as they could, given their fear of Mr. Nobody and their knowledge about the Chief’s past. Having the Beard Hunter become a “Danizen” was a nice touch, though it raised a lot of questions about what did exactly happen when he tried to follow The Chief’s hair trail. Flex’s big scene, which everyone talks about so much, was… cute, I guess. To me it worked better as a single panel reference in comic than the prolonged sequence it was given here.

Flexing

The revelation that Mr. Nobody’s domain was the “white space” between the panels of a comic was an entertaining surprise, though it would have made more “sense” if this story were a comic – it’s a TV show after all, as Mr. Nobody often reminds us. It the days of actual film, characters could have climbed out of sprocket holes, but with everything being digital streaming these days, I’m not sure how you represent characters extracting themselves from their native media. That, once in the White Space, other characters can take control of the narration is an interesting logical extrapolation, but given how events unfold, you have to wonder if Rita really did gain this power, or if it was still part of Nobody’ plans.

Similarly, when Mr. Nobody offered everyone a new chance to relive their lives without the mistakes they made, did he really want them to accept that offer? Could he have wanted to make them feel stronger, just so that his real vengeance would be the sweeter? In any case they do end up accepting the truths of their damaged lives and we get the triumphant hero vs boss villain fight the superhero comic genre inevitably leads to…

Except of course this what Mr. Nobody wanted, the bait to snare them in his trap of endless failure and death as a torture for The Chief. The use of the “Hot Diggy” song makes it pretty clear that this is the same trap he used on the “Golden Age” Doom Patrol that left them broken and confined to Joshua Clay’s asylum.

Back in my post about “Hair Patrol” I gave away the big, climatic spoiler from the Morrison/Case comics: that The Chief caused the accidents that transformed the team into the damaged metahumans they are. I was a little surprised that the show, in the end, did take the route as well, but they make it work, even with this version of The Chief, who is much more caring and nurturing than his comic book model. Exploring how the team will deal with this revelation will be interesting to see. In Morrison/Case, Cliff was very upset about the betrayal, and would have attacked The Chief if it wasn’t for a failsafe installed in the Robot-Man body. For the others though, Larry, now fully integrated with the Negative Spirit (and a third person, Eleanor Poole), was quite content with their existence and perhaps had even known about the secret for some while. Crazy Jane was not part of Calder’s experiments. And Rita… well Rita was still very dead in the comic at this time.

So while in the comic everyone, with perhaps the exception of Cliff, could have moved on without The Chief, this incarnation of the team are all very dependent on him. Even as they’ve grown as people, the goal of finding him has been a unifying mission. It has seemed to me that his kept them too dependent and that their biggest personal improvements have come since that The Chief hasn’t been there. Caulder has grown dependent on them as well. He, like the team, doesn’t have much else in his life. So he was vulnerable to what was really Mr. Nobody’s final stroke: cutting him off emotionally from the team by forcing him to reveal his betrayal.

In comics, The Chief Paine for his deeds with his head, as his own mad scientist schemes led to his decapitation. Or rather, he paid with his body, since his living, severed head remained a character during the Rachel Pollack run of the comic. Caulder as the secret cause of the character’s traumatic origins has been written out and back in again at different times by different creators. What consequences the TV Chief will face is likely the subject of the next, ultimate, episode.

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