Following the defeat of Mr Nobody, the Doom Patrol now find themselves mini-sized and stranded on Cliff’s toy race car track. Here they begin to deal with their feelings of betrayal with The Chief while confronting their own personal baggage. And as each member faces the challenge of growing beyond their own past traumatic experiences, they must come together to embrace and protect the newest member of the family, Dorothy Spinner (recurring guest star Abigail Shapiro), Caulder’s daughter, whose powers remain a mysterious but real threat to bringing on the end of the world. Part support group, part Super Hero team, the Doom Patrol is a band of superpowered freaks who fight for a world that wants nothing to do with them.
Warning: This review contains medium spoilers, with some reveals from the prior season and broad elements of each episode discussed.
Launching 13 months after the first season, and following the “will they? won’t they?” drama of the show being forced to wrap a week earlier than planned due to Covid-19, The World’s Strangest Heroes are back on TV! Buoyed by the critical and commercial success of the first 15 episodes, the show is now available on HBO Max and the DC Universe platforms. It’s also got a bigger advertising budget than before and has gone from “that thing you missed, but really should watch” to “that thing you are missing and need to see now!”.
So, other than the fancy new show bills, what else has changed with the Doom Patrol? And how does it sit with this Junior Patrologist? Well, firstly it’s been kicked off with three episodes in one weekend, so it’s quite easy to assess how the season is as there are only nine episodes in total to get through. Great for a review, but IMO maybe not so great for a fan. Yes: we get three episodes in one hit! But we also get a seven-week run rather than the last season’s four months of anticipation and speculation, which is kind of a downer.
Thankfully the episodes themselves are as amazing as always and, other than a three-minute reintroduction-exposition for the new viewers which is also a brilliant introduction to Dorothy for everyone, they get stuck straight in with the adventure and trauma! Robotman is utterly pissed at The Chief for the death of his wife, Crazy Jane is utterly pissed at life for being terrible to her, Negative Man is upset that his 80-year-old kid died, Elasti-Girl is trying to have a meaningful existence, and Cyborg has PTSD from killing his dad. Oh yeah, and half the team is an inch-high at the start of the season. Yay, wacky superheroics!
Needless to say, the acting is still amazing and the writing uses fanatical realism at its best. The situations are absurd, the reactions are completely understandable, and the humour bounces between gallows and schoolyard. If I had to pick one performance out, it would be Abigail Shapiro as Dorothy Spinner; partly for getting that much emotion out from behind full-face prosthetics that you forget they’re there half the time, and partly because she brings a blend of childlike simplicity and world-weary heaviness to her role. She isn’t stealing the show, she’s just brought to the forefront as both naive new addition to the team and this seasons’ Big Bad (her imaginary friends are real, she grew up on a sentient street, and she’s a child who was abandoned by her dad in the 1920s; yeah, that’s not a good combo…)
It’s also pretty grand to have The Chief be a more regular part of the series, both because Timothy Dalton does an amazing job as the character, and also because the longer he’s on screen, the more chance of Robotman battering him. The only downside to this is that the first three episodes have been a series of amazing character moments of people dealing with trauma, mixed with wacky adventure brought about by them having to clean up crap The Chief did in his extensive career being a totally myopic and egotistical arsehole. Admittedly that was kind of the previous seasons’ plot arch, but the stories felt like they had more space to breath and were often spread out over two weeks.
The adventures themselves are pretty good though and are filled with great ideas and wonderful characters. There is also a distinct upping-of-the-horror element, mostly handled via the ideas rather than an increase in gore or visual unpleasantness. There are some scenes that hit hard and are violent in nature, but on second viewing it’s surprising how much of that was filled in by your mind. Some things are just upsetting to think about, so the show gives you time to do that.
Thematically, this season has kicked off with a focus on parent-child relations and families, which is a nice move on from the first ones focus on origins and acceptance. ‘Fun Size Patrol’ does a wonderful job of having the miniaturised team cope with their new position in life, as well as introducing Dorothy and her friends. Visually it’s probably the most accomplished of the three, as the team are camping out on a Scalextric track, but it also has some of the more direct horror as we see Cliff fighting rats (to him the size of horses) to whittle away the time. There are also character moments like Larry cooking tiny breakfast for everyone (and making miniature joints for Jane) and then the team using Danny The Brick as a wall to lean on. Finally, there is the Chief making one of the few actual sacrifices of his life for the benefit of the team, which unsurprisingly doesn’t make everyone magically like him.
‘Tyme Patrol’ is the more sombre of the three episodes, as Larry attends his son’s funeral and Vic goes to PTSD group therapy. Then again, Jane and Rita get taken to the eternal roller-disco why Doctor Tyme lives so it’s not without its fun moments or grooves. It then leads onto ‘Pain Patrol’, where we meet a pain-god that once called himself Jack The Ripper and Cliff fails spectacularly at connecting with his estranged daughter. Physical pain, emotional pain, relationship pain: it’s all covered. There is even the pain of Jane being given an ultimatum by her other personalities because she found a way to stop the pain, which is heart-breaking in its own multi-faceted way.
All three contain more backstory on The Chief and on Dorothy, who appears to be a regular ticking time bomb, and the continued worries of what will happen to Danny The Brick. We also have the dissolution of the relationship between Cliff and Jane, which was one of the main story arcs of season one, and Rita trying to take a more positive and engaged role in the group, a full turn-around from before. Despite some sense that it’s been held back by the production issues, this all points towards another excellent series.
Doom Patrol is airing weekly on dcuniverse.com and HBOmax.com