The Show Embraces this Team As “World’s Strangest Heroes”
This article contains plot points for the first eight episodes of the DC Universe show Doom Patrol
“More TV superheroes, just what the world needs.” Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) sneers during the first few minutes of the DC Universe’s Doom Patrol pilot. While the line serves to introduce both Nobody and the tone of the show, viewers who are looking for superhero television in the vein of either the Marvel Netflix shows or the CW DC shows will be extremely disappointed in this wonderfully off-kilter show about a team of people traumatized by the horrible accidents that gave them their superhuman abilities.
The first season of R-rated Doom Patrol is about half-way over. While there have been moments of heroics, it is not a superhero show. It is a comic book show, which means it is extremely weird and visually creative. While I enjoy Doom Patrol, it is not for everyone.
Doom Patrol Deals with the Weird Things
The pilot begins with the introduction of Cliff Steele (Robotman played by Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan) who was so badly injured in a car accident that Niles Caulder (Chief played by Timothy Dalton) transfers Steele’s brain into a robotic body. In Caulder’s mansion, Cliff meets the other housemates: Crazy Jane (played by Diane Guerrero), Rita Farr (Elasti-Woman played by April Bowlby), and Larry Trainer (Negative Man played by Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk). When Mr. Nobody kidnaps Caulder, Cyborg (played by Joivan Wade) arrives and convinces them to help him find Chief.
In their efforts, over the course of the first eight episodes, the misfit team deal with (in no particular order): a vengeful rat, a universe accessed by a portal inside a donkey, the Cult of the Unwritten Book, the Decreator, a supernatural pug, a Nazi puppeteer, a previous version of the Doom Patrol, and a sentient, gender-queer street on the run from the Department of Defense’ Bureau of Normalcy.
None of these are even the main villain of the series, Mr. Nobody. Although, several of these challenges are his doing, including egging on the rat, creating the pocket universe inside the donkey, and being the reason the earlier version of the Doom Patrol is in their current situation. While Mr. Nobody’s powers have not been clearly explained, he appears to control reality, create small pocket universes, and drive others insane. He also acts as the fourth-wall breaking narrator, and in this role is snide and amusing, which makes him easy to like, despite his many questionable actions.
Mr. Nobody’s role in the events of episodes 4 and 5 also blur his influence over events. This two-episode arch includes Willoughby Kiplin (played by Mark Sheppard who is under-utilized). Here, they need to stop the Cult of the Unwritten Book from finding and reading the Book which would activate the lost city of Nùrnheim. If the Cult is successful, Decreator will end the world. To avoid too many spoilers, I will simply say the solution to this crisis gives a better understanding of Crazy Jane’s abilities and how to build a cult.
This show is getting better as the episode’s progress. The pilot is fine, but serves only to set-up the characters. The second episode introduces Cyborg to the series and the show begins to find its balance in episode three, in which the characters break into teams, which seems to work better for this group. The more times Cliff responds to a situation by asking “what the f**k?” the more likely I was to enjoy the episode.
The Doom Patrol Members Have Strange Powers
In the pilot, we get an idea of how each member got powers.
Cyborg, who is probably the most familiar to the more casual DC comic fan, is Vic Stone, a former star football player who becomes part machine after an accident kills his mother. Vic’s father, seeing his son on the brink of death gives Vic artificial limbs and implants. Vic has a lot of guilt about the accident but he also is concerned about maintaining his humanity in light of his cybernetics.
Crazy Jane has 64 personalities, each of whom has a unique power, from superhuman strength to mind control and probably everything in-between. Viewers have only met a few of the personalities and understand not even Jane knows exactly everyone who is in there. There is also a suggestion that Jane is actually one of the 64, but tends to be the personality in charge.
Rita Farr was a former actress who, after falling into a river with toxic liquid, can grow, shrink, and stretch. Although known in the comic books as Elasti-Woman, we have not heard that name on the show. Readers should think of her more as the Blob than the Pixar character with a similar name, although she has used her stretching ability to help. Based on the hints we are getting over several episodes; she has always wanted to be a film star which has inspired some poor personal choices.
Larry Trainer is a former pilot who crashed into an energy field and now shares his body with a negatively-charged energy being. This character is known as “Negative Man” in the comics but viewers to the show have not heard this name yet. He, like Rita and Jane, is dealing with the choices and conflicts of his past. Unlike either of those two, his body was scarred by radioactivity and so he looks a bit like the Invisible Man.
Cliff Steele was a NASCAR driver before his accident. He is also dealing with the consequences of his past, especially how he treated members of his family.
None of these characters are particularly good people, nor were they particularly bad, at least as far as we know through eight episodes. Farr, Trainer and Steele are selfish in several of the flashbacks and both Trainer and Steele cheat on their wives (although Trainer’s story is far more complicated than Steele’s affair with his daughter’s nanny). Stone’s conflicts mostly center around his relationship with his father and his desire to prove himself. Many of Jane’s personalities can be violent; one nearly murders a man, but the viewer has very little idea of what has happened to her to create all those personalities and how they all have powers.
Come for the Weird, Stay for the Visuals
Doom Patrol is lovely to look at. Too much more detail would spoil too much, but this show plays with color, lighting and perspective which on more than one occasion makes it look like it was taken from a comic book.
The episodes surrounding Nùrnheim were beautiful and did some creative things with character size. The work of the Decreator and the battle between it and the Recreator were both really interesting to watch.
Each character’s flashbacks have a different look and feel to them. Steele’s were sunny and bright with a very 1980s look. Rita Farr, as the 1950s movie star, has a vintage Hollywood feel, and is even filmed in black-and-white during some parts.
The pocket dimension and the Nazi puppeteer factory are full of strange and fascinating details, the later having a bit of cyberpunk. Danny, the sentient street, changes as both Danny and the residents (called Dannizens) respond to levels of danger.
The Chief’s lab is a mess of materials and tapes and feels like work was being done in there. Jane paints and each of her paintings are hints into both what she is feeling and what is going on around her.
The Beginner’s Guide to the Doom Patrol
The strangeness has been with the Doom Patrol since the beginning. The group first appeared in June 1963 and have appeared regularly since then. As is the way with superhero teams, there have been many iterations over the years. Robotman, who appears on the show, is the only Doom Patrol consistent. They were dubbed early in their run as the “World’s Strangest Heroes” by an editor and that epithet has stayed true throughout their comic book history. This show seems to be pulling most from Grant Morrison’s work on the comic book, which was known for its parodies and extremely unusual villains. It is way too soon to know how much of Morrison’s plots will make their way to the television show, but it will make for some interesting twists.
If you have tried the comic books and thought they were too strange for you, this show is not for you. If you read the phrase “a universe accessed by a portal inside a donkey” and wondered what the typo was, this show is not for you. Also, if you are sensitive to swearing, you should stay away. It is an R-rated show and the main reason for that is the language. The “f bombs” drop fast and often.
There are some questions I have about time. I am not entirely clear as to what year we are living in. Cyborg, Jane and Cliff seem to come from the present while Larry and Rita seem trapped in the 1950s. The show does not really explain this and maybe I am not supposed to care. There are viewers who would very much care about this and again, this show is not for you.
If you like some absurd with your escapism and you prefer your comic book stories to be fun and witty without too many morality lessons, I highly recommend this show.
Doom Patrol is now streaming on DC Universe with new episodes released on Friday.
Beth Keithly is a graduate from The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and works on grant development at a North Texas university. She is a fan of most science fiction and fantasy, especially Star Wars, Star Trek, Supernatural, DC comics and the Arrowverse, and the Marvel movieverse. When she is not teaching her children about her fandoms and the importance of a quality pen, she is reading, running or discussing fictional universes and their impacts on reality with her husband. She is @beth_keithly on Twitter.