Doom Patrol Season 2 is back with even more weird and wacky Baddies, insane circumstances, and complex characters on the most underappreciated show on TV.
At its heart, Doom Patrol is the real-world answer to what happens when regular people with the usual insecurities and character flaws all of a sudden find themselves with superpowers. It’s not pretty, seldom ideal, and often a disaster. Superpowers only change the person’s physical abilities, not their emotional ones. Unless, of course, there is a Mr. Empathy waiting in the wings somewhere that annoyingly glides in to provide exposition on the deeper meaning of everything that is happening. In a show like Doom Patrol, anything is possible. I wouldn’t be shocked to see something like that later in Doom Patrol Season 2.
Our crew still has major Daddy(both being and having) issues. They are rage-filled narcissists with more regret than restraint, and I’m not just talking about Cliff. The world’s least predictable heroes all have shattered souls. They are swimming in a bottomless sea of betrayal and hurt, and can’t reconcile how the world sees them with who they are or want to be. No amount of metahumaness can make up for a lifetime of self-loathing.
When last we saw them, they were reeling from the news that their mentor and friend created the circumstances that led to each of their current situations. They defeated Mr. Nobody, the fantastically cartoonish Alan Tudyk, and saved Niles, but it came at a price. The team is now fun-sized versions of themselves, along with Niles’ potentially dangerous daughter Dorothy.
In the first three episodes made available for review, Doom Patrol Season 2 said, “hold my beer” to Season 1. It doesn’t seem possible with all that happened last season that the writers would be able to capture that perfect balance of grief, comedy, absurdity, and humanity. Not only does Season 2 maintain that equilibrium, but it raises the bar. Each of our characters has faced what seemed like the worst outcome last season. Their friend, savior, and leader Niles Caulder AKA Chief(Timothy Dalton) made them the monsters they are. As the team is forced to pick up the pieces of their trust and lives, they are forced to work together to help Niles. If not for him, for the sake of his equally tortured young daughter.
Her potential for utter world devastation will be the meat of the second season. As if the group didn’t have enough tragedy to deal with, they are babysitting what might be their worst enemy. Dorothy has plenty of issues of her own and just as much juice. Early hints at how dangerous she is are all it takes to know this won’t end well. Mingled in between disco parties and snarky pain demons named The Red Jack, there are contemplative, tender moments that quietly bring you back to what matters most. These people and all their collective junk are beautiful and disgusting in equal measures because they are relatable. People are gross. Sometimes we do the right thing, but just as often we fuck it up, royally. Doom Patrol Season 2 allows us to look our own dark souls in the eye and laugh and cry.
The main throughline for Doom Patrol Season 2 is the fight to help Niles reluctantly and prevent Dorothy from becoming whatever it is she’s becoming. Doom Patrol isn’t so much concerned with traditional storytelling. The typical wash-rinse-repeat cycle of most comic book adaptations is foregone in favor of dissection of these character’s motivations and very messy heads.
What makes Fraser’s Cliff tick? How can this monster of a man built of steampunk strangeness and raging regret love his daughter as much as he does? The concept of parental love, in particular with Larry, Niles, and Cliff, continues to be an important one. All three men do terrible things, and two of them look like literal nightmares, but they would lay down their lives to save their children. In Niles’ case, he sacrificed Cliff’s relationship with his child to save his own. That conflict will undoubtedly continue well into the season.
Set and costume design continue to be incredible. Technicolor worlds fully fleshed out help tell the story in a way that feels organic and natural, even when they are outlandish. Rita’s eye for fashion, albeit out of date fashion, fits right into places that often have too bright colors and too animated creatures. Cliff’s signature metal T-shirts are an extension of his impotent rage, and Larry’s dapper appearance even under all those bandages allow the actors to dig deep into their psyches’. Bringing the DC Comic to life couldn’t have been easy.
The core five heroes maintain their ensemble brilliance with Rita Farr(April Bowlby) still battling her own body and Cyborg(Joivan Wade) continuing to struggle with his more mechanical parts and a whopping dose of fatherly disapproval. Larry Trainer(Matt Bomer) is haunted by the family who grew up and on without him and Cliff Steele(Brenden Fraser) continues to lead more with his anger and his fists than his head. That only gets worse the longer he goes without meeting his daughter. Finally, Jane(Diane Guererro) is facing a major coup in the Underground. There is a war brewing between each of her 64 personalities, and all of them are vying to be Prime.
Guererro’s Jane slides between personas like a schizophrenic ping pong ball capturing the nuance in all 64. She shifts gears from one personality with whiplash speed. Bowlby continues to fight against herself as her insecurity overwhelms her control. Her shame is palpable. Wade(Cyborg) is the most stereotypically heroic of the group, but he has his own body issues. He gets an emotional storyline with a wounded warrior that allows Wade the opportunity to match his brawn with brain.
The real standouts are Matt Bomer, Brenden Fraser, and Riley Shanahan. Bomer’s Larry Trainer in voice, and as himself without the bandages is heartbreaking. He is the living embodiment of repression. There is more pain in store for him in Doom Patrol Season 2, but just as much healing. Brendan Fraser’s Cliff Steele in voice and physical actor Riley Shanahan work in tandem to bring the fearsome robot form and feeling.
They are both equally impressive embuing the giant metal creature with humanity. Cliff is both the group’s comic relief with his fuck-laced speech and most sympathetic hero. Seriously, Cliff must have the sensibilities of a fourteen-year-old boy. As irritating as they can be, there is a certain boyish charm that can’t be denied. There is something so sad about this robot who desperately wants a mulligan. Shanahan’s movements bring as much sadness as Fraser’s voice talent. His lurching physicality, practically shouts his desire to be a real person again. Every creak of his metal joints is a reminder of what he has lost. Rarely on TV, do you see such raw frailty. Doom Patrol doesn’t just show it; it prides itself on it.
As large as the action sequences are, Doom Patrol is a character study. What would happen if fucked up people(and aren’t we all) got superpowers instead of unbelievably altruistic saviors or appropriately angsty teen mutants? If would be comical and sad, just like our team. Oddly, when Doom Patrol fails to save the day, it is all the more poignant. Like the original Rocky, when Balboa doesn’t beat Apollo Creed, the moral victory is even sweeter. There is beauty in the struggle, and our crew of messed up heroes struggles mightily.
In this world, the villains are as over-the-top as the heroes. They use giant butts, farting interdimensional donkeys, and armies of lederhosen-wearing living Hummel dolls to protect them. It’s glorious and weird, and strangely believable. Transcendent isn’t something I often say about superheroes stories. They aren’t designed to be very deep. Good Guys beat Bad Guys; end of story. Doom Patrol beats to its own drum and gives us characters that are just as screwed up as we are. Who hasn’t had dreams about giant rat orgies and being non-corporeal? Such is the brilliance of Doom Patrol, the best superhero story on TV or film right now.
Doom Patrol Season 2 premiers on DC Universe and HBO Max on June 25th, 2020.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.