Doom Patrol has a long history (over 50 years) as a comic book. I haven’t read every incarnation of the comic published during that time. I just started reading the 2009 Keith Giffen run and am noticing its influence on Doom Patrol TV. Perhaps in future seasons of the show we’ll see more references to what other writers such as Giffen, Rachel Pollack, and Gerald Way have done with these characters and concepts. In 15 episodes the show has at least touched on all the major arcs of the Grant Morrison storylines.
For the finale of this season, the show is in the place where it does its best, where it can build on ideas from the comic and use them to tell its own story. It also has to present the aftermath of a rare occurrence in the comic book genre: the completely success of the main bad-guy’s master plan. Mr. Nobody has achieved everything he wanted. The team, such as it ever was a team, is scattered and Niles Caulder has been humiliated and left bereft of he cares about (almost, as we shall see).
Of all the characters, Larry seems to be the best off, working things out in his relationship with the Negative Spirit. They’ve ended up bonded much as in the original comic, with a clock counting down how long he can survive once the Spirit leaves his body. A 60 second time limit being a major story element that limited the otherwise extremely powerful Negative-Man. That the Spirit remains with Larry voluntarily, rather than being trapped within him, shows how far they have come. What the show could do with the next stage of their development, becoming the alchemical “Rebis” of the Morrison/Case comics would be interesting to see. The other writers who followed Grant Morrison did not continue with the Rebis version of the character, reverting to the status quo, sometimes with the Spirit portrayed as a separate, sentient being, sometime with it back to being an extension of Larry’s will.
Rita is “getting by,” though she appears to be falling back into a new “role” — that of beloved high school teacher — that is mostly her own creation. Few writers in the comics seem to know quite what to do with Rita as a character (once she was brought back to life) and she varies widely from writer to writer. John Bryne tries to establish a romance between her and Cliff; Gerald Way makes her a messianic, meta-textual device. Jane has fallen into a drug-induced stupor, with Cliff guarding over, but not interfering. So it’s not so great for them.
The character who is really not doing well is Mr. Nobody, who is fallen into a depression caused by post-success boredom and negative reviews of the show. In the fourth-wall broken White Space he still commands, critics and fans seem to think Mr. Nobody’s “ending” for the series was just another cable show that started strong but sputtered out trying to wrap things up. The appearance of the cockroach prophet Ezekiel and the revenge driven Admiral Whiskers inspires the formation of a new villain team-up and the “Brotherhood of Dangerous Animals” will now go for yet another final strike against the Chief for yet another final revenge.
The Chief has one more vulnerable to attack: a daughter who is hidden on Danny the Street. A lot of questions are now answered, particularly what the Beard Hunter encountered when tracking down Caulder’s hair trail. The Escher-like staircase was a location in Danny and the “Chief” Doll was likely a toy or rather an “Imaginary Friend” of his daughter. For this child is the until now unseen character from the comic, Dorothy. I speculated on her connection with what we were shown back in “Hair Patrol” but I never thought that they’d make the very logical choice to have Dorothy being Caulder and Oyewah’s daughter — if that is what she is. We only have The Chief’s word for that. Curiously the episode only makes passing reference to Dorothy’s power: the ability to make her imagination real. She seems to have easily overcome even Mr. Nobody with it and will likely be a big part of next season. That would allow the show to continue making the reality the characters struggle to live in a very mutable and unpredictable one, the way Mr. Nobody has until now. Dorothy was introduced in the comic before Grant Morrison started writing his issues and she remained an important character through Rachel Pollack’s tenure on the book.
More backstory is filled in as we are shown missing pieces of how The Chief set up the accidents that made these characters who they are. That both the Chief and Joshua Clay once worked for the Ant Farm isn’t a big surprise. That it is was all part of an “Immortus Project” is another revelation that suddenly makes a lot of sense out of other things we’ve glimpse in the past. In the original comics, The Chief’s origin involved him being tricked by super-villain “General Immortus” to work on a process to extend life so that’s been cleverly repurposed here. The whole “why haven’t these characters ever aged” question that I’ve been grumbling about since my first post does end up meaning something. The traumas that made all these characters metahumans is the reason they don’t age and the reason The Chief made them experimental subjects. Like General Immortus in the comics, Caulder gained some bit of life extension, likely from Oyewah, but it wasn’t enough and he was driven to find a way to truly live for ever. In the Morrison/Case comics, The Chief turned out to be more of traditional mad scientist, ultimately working to cause a global catastrophe that would trigger a metahuman metamorphosis in the small percentage of humanity that would survive. Interestingly, the idea of “everybody becomes a superhero” is a recurring theme in Grant Morrison’s comics, but usually not that darkly.
The Brotherhood of Dangerous Animal’s final, again, scheme and the team’s battle against them is all the show’s creation, other than Danny being trapped in painting, which is an homage to the “Painting that Ate Paris” from the comic book Doom Patrol’s first encounter with Mr. Nobody. I wonder if that was an idea that the show’s creators thought was cool and had to find a way to work in somewhere. With giant roaches and giant rats it would have been fun to see Rita exhibit what is normally her primary super-power: to grow into a giant herself. The computer graphics that would have required may have just been beyond the show’s budget at this point. That the final cataclysm reduces everyone to microsize is the kind of thing that happens to them in the comic’s original run, though it’s not a specific reference. Danny being left as “Danny the Brick” occurs in the Keith Giffen issues of the comic and is the beginning of a whole series of transformations for Danny.
Even more than in “Cyborg Patrol” the team can now, in their own way, function as superheroes doing superhero things. That suggests the TV show will need some new directions to explore in its next season. It’s hard to see this becoming just “more TV superheroes” as Mr. Nobody scornfully said. Much of the personal issues that kept the characters hiding themselves in The Chief’s mansion have been, if not fully resolved, at least out in the open. Where does the show go with them, without just piling on new angst and issues? There is a lot more inspiration to draw from in the comics, the issues of gender identity and sexuality in Rachel Pollack’s stories, or the reality-breaking meta-textual explorations of Gerald Way’s current run on the book. The history of Doom Patrol as a comic is filled with different creators trying different things, failing often, but occasionally failing in interesting ways. I’m optimistic enough to expect at least that from this show as well.