Mon. Jul 6th, 2020

TV Review: In season 2, ‘Doom Patrol’ gets bolder, weirder, and sadder

It would be an understatement to say that the first season of Doom Patrol, DC Universe’s superhero show created by Jeremy Carver based on a comic book of the same name, was weird and bizarre from start to finish. Not only did it focus on a group of superpowered misfits who doesn’t look like real superheroes, but it also featured some of the strangest moments and characters ever seen on TV, such as a bounty hunter who can track down other people by consuming their facial hair and a villain who’s constantly breaking the fourth wall. Season two, which was released on HBO Max last Thursday, still retains that same level of absurdity. But while doing so, it doesn’t sacrifice the heart and the humanity of the characters that make the show such a compelling character study in the first place.

Picking up right where the first season finale left off, Doom Patrol once again sees our ragtag group of broken people trying to find companionship in a world that doesn’t always accept them for who they truly are. Cliff (Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan) is still angry at Niles Caulder, a mad scientist who’s been protecting these heroes for a very long time, after knowing that this father figure is the reason why he ends up being Robotman in the first place. Both Rita (April Bowlby) and Victor (Joivan Wade) are still struggling to control their bodies. Jane (Diane Guerrero) is also facing her own problem: her other 63 personalities back at the underground want her to leave the Doom Manor immediately. And to make things even more complicated, Niles’ daughter, Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro), an ape-looking girl who can’t control her dangerous and mysterious power, has now joined the group.

The biggest conflict, however, arrives when Niles decides to give the necklace that allows him to be immortal to Willoughby Kipling (Mark Sheppard) in favor of bringing the Doom Patrol back to their actual size. Now, it’s up to Cliff and his friends to help Niles find a way to be immortal again, or at least to live a little longer until he knows how to protect Dorothy from the world, and the world from her. But of course, in a classic Doom Patrol style, things are not as straightforward as they seem to be. In fact, in the first three episodes that are available for critics, the whole Niles and Dorothy’s mission get sidelined most of the time in trade of a more bizarre moment —and that’s for the better of it.

In episode two, there’s a battle that takes place in a disco arena between these heroes and a character who can manipulate time named Dr. Tyme. Then in the third episode, the show pays homage to the body horror subgenre of Hellraiser when Niles and Rita try to save Larry (Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk) from the hand of a terrifying villain named Red Jack who can turn someone into a butterfly within minutes.

Though this villain of the week formula sounds pretty basic, Doom Patrol has never aimed for the “good guys vs. bad guy’’ and “saving the world” tropes that we’ve seen countless times before in other superhero shows. If anything, throughout these first few episodes, season two remains weird and ridiculous, sacrificing the plot and heroic moments of the characters to focus more on the show’s inventive, not to mention peculiar, storytelling. The over-the-top violent and raunchy humor also remain brilliant, with strong comedic performances from all the ensemble, especially Fraser and Guerrero, driving each episode from start to finish effortlessly. But still, it’s the quieter, character-driven moments where Doom Patrol marvels the most.

Just like the first season, everyone in Doom Patrol season two is still facing serious personal challenges ranging from trauma and grief to guilt and insecurity. But where season one saw these misfits struggling to acknowledge their issues, this time around, the show focuses more on the next step of their healing process. Victor, who’s still reeling from his father’s betrayal, attends a trauma group therapy, where he challenges himself to open up about the wound that’s been eating him from the inside for quite some time. It’s also through Victor’s subplot that we’re introduced to a new character, Roni Evers (Karen Obilom), who possibly will help Victor how to be more human than he’s ever been before.

The theme of parenthood is still deftly explored too this season, mostly through Cliff who wants to prove Niles that he can be a better father than him. In the third episode “Pain Patrol,” Cliff tries to reconnect with his daughter, though it only results in him getting hurt even more. Meanwhile, Larry, who just received an information that his son Gary, has just passed away is, once again, challenged by the negative spirit inside of him, to make peace with his own tragic past. The scene where he attends the funeral will without a doubt shatter heart to pieces, especially given how excellent Bomer’s voice performance is throughout the scene.

Jane’s issue is more internal as she’s trying to confront her childhood trauma while dealing with all the debacles that are happening inside of her head. But that doesn’t make her story less affecting than the other characters. In fact, it’s through Jane’s struggle that season three gets most of its poignant moments, with Guerrero’s versatile performance making the show all the more moving. But so far, it’s Rita’s storyline that becomes the best part of season two. Not only does she act as the glue of the group, but she also challenges herself to master her power while trying to own up to her past mistakes and facing the guilt and insecurity that have been crippling her for far too long.

For all the fun and weirdness that’s happening throughout the show, this exploration of trauma is what, in the end, makes Doom Patrol so emotionally resonant. It understands how pain and healing process work without resorting fully to melodrama. After all, it’s a story about broken people as much as it is about a group of superheroes. How the rest of the season will unfold remains to be seen, but judging from the first three episodes, it looks like Doom Patrol will continue to embrace its whimsicality and beautiful messiness in a truly exceptional way like no other superhero shows/movies have done before.

Doom Patrol‘s first three episodes are available on HBO Max with new episodes every Thursday.

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