Lots of people missed last year’s debut of Doom Patrol, a delightfully bonkers show about a “found family” of superhero misfits, because it aired exclusively on the DC Universe streaming service. Fortunately, S2 also aired on HBO Max, expanding the series’ potential audience. Apart from one sub-par episode, this second season expanded on the strengths of the first, with plenty of crazy hijinks, humor, pathos, surprising twists, and WTF moments. Alas, the season finale is bound to frustrate fans, since it ends on a major cliffhanger and leaves multiple dangling narrative threads.
(Spoilers for S1; some S2 spoilers below the gallery.)
As we reported previously, Timothy Dalton plays Niles Caulder, aka The Chief, a medical doctor who saved the lives of the various Doom Patrol members and lets them stay in his mansion. His Manor of Misfits includes Jane, aka Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), whose childhood trauma resulted in 64 distinct personalities, each with its own powers. Rita (April Bowlby), aka Elasti-Woman, is a former actress with stretchy, elastic properties she can’t really control, thanks to being exposed to a toxic gas that altered her cellular structure. Larry Trainor, aka Negative Man, is a US Air Force pilot who has a “negative energy entity” inside him and must be swathed in bandages to keep radioactivity from seeping out of his body. (Matt Bomer plays Trainor without the bandages, while Matthew Zuk takes on the bandaged role.)
Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, is a former NASCAR driver whose brain was transplanted into a robot body after a horrific crash. (Brendan Fraser plays the human Cliff, and Riley Shanahan plays the robot version.) Finally, there is Vic, aka Cyborg (Joivan Wade), whose father gave him cybernetic enhancements to save his life after an accident. Together, they make up the titular Doom Patrol.
In S1, the team faced arch-villain Eric Morden, aka Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk), who can travel through dimensions and alter reality, frequently breaking the fourth wall—as the only character who’s aware he is on a TV show—to narrate the action, thereby manipulating events to his liking. Mr. Nobody kidnaps Caulder and holds him captive in a dimension called the “White Space,” and the Doom Patrol spends most of the first season trying to rescue him, wrestling with their personal demons along the way.
In the end, the Doom Patrol defeats Mr. Nobody, but they also discover that The Chief is the one responsible for all the tragedies that gave them each their powers. Let’s just say the team is dealing with some intense feelings of betrayal right now. Caulder had his reasons: he has a super-powered daughter, Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro), who is deeply troubled, and his actions were a means of trying to extend his own life as much as possible so he could continue to protect her. Oh, and the entire team, except for Larry, is now the size of a cockroach.
Family of misfits
The writers have a bit of fun with the miniaturized theme in S2’s first episode, but fortunately they don’t let them linger too long in that state. Willoughby Kipling (Mark Sheppard), the occult detective and chaos magician we met in S1, is summoned to save the day. But his help comes at a cost: Caulder must give him the talisman that grants him immortality, which is how everyone learns that the Chief is 139 years old.
Now the clock is ticking to find another way to extend Caulder’s life so he can continue to protect Dorothy, his daughter with Slava (Pisay Pao), an immortal primitive woman. Dorothy inherited Slava’s ability to bring imaginary friends to life, which isn’t so bad when it’s a friendly giant beast named Manny or Herschel the giant spider. But there is another, more insidious creature lurking inside Dorothy’s imagination: The Candlemaker, apparently linked to a tribal curse. He emerges whenever Dorothy makes a wish, and widespread slaughter is usually the result.
Along the way, the Doom Patrol encounter the disco-loving Dr. Jonathon Thyme (voiced by Dan Martin, played by Brandon Perea), who is in possession of an alien element that controls time. They take on Red Jack (Roger Floyd), who draws energy from the pain of others. They get captured by White Space creatures known as Scants, and the Doom Patrol meet the Pioneers of the Uncharted, Caulder’s old research team—ageless astronauts led by Valentina “Moscow” Vostok (Mariana Klaveno), who also has a Negative Spirit inside her and thus bonds with Larry.
The power of imagination to explore childhood trauma was a prevailing theme this season, most obviously in the case of Dorothy. But every member of the Doom Patrol is badly damaged in some way, and not just because of what Caulder did to them as he was seeking the secret to prolonging his own life. Over the course of the season, we see Larry try to reconnect with his surviving son, and Cliff attempts to make amends to his daughter, Clara (Bethany Anne Lind). Vic falls in love with Roni (Karen Obilom), a veteran whose cybernetic enhancements were removed and left her scarred, as he confronts his own PTSD.
As for Jane, we learn a great deal more about her various personalities and how they have manifested over the years, as well as the psychological space they all share, known as the Underground. Every personality has its own station, although Jane is the primary personality—until the Underground starts to question whether she is still focused on the primary mission (“protect the girl,” i.e. Kay, the core personality who retreated after years of abuse by her sadistic father). The entire cast of Doom Patrol give strong performances, but Guerrero still stands out, switching between different personalities with ease and making us feel for each one of them.
Alas, Rita’s psychological breakthrough—in which she confronts the trauma her domineering stage mother inflicted upon her—is the focus of what is easily the weakest episode of the season (“Sex Patrol”). After Dorothy accidentally breaks Danny the Brick (formerly Danny the Street), superhero Flex Mentallo (Devan Chandler), whom we met in S1, shows up with the former “Dannyzens” to throw a party in hopes of lifting Danny’s spirits and healing him. Flex can alter reality by flexing his muscles, and there was an amusing moment last season where he inadvertently flexed the wrong muscle and gave the entire Doom Patrol simultaneous intense orgasms (except for Cliff because he’s all robot now, although he tried to fake one in solidarity).
It was a great throwaway moment, one of many (like recurring S1 mentions of Animal Vegetable Mineral Man) that really adds to the overall sense of madcap fun. But during Danny’s party, Rita seeks to control her power by asking Flex to repeat the orgasmic feat, which in turn draws the attention of a sex demon: The Shadowy Mr. Evans, who could eventually kill all children. It’s just not funny—it’s even a little gross—and Flex as a character deserves better than being reduced to a sniggering, puerile in-joke. It also strains credibility that this would be the key to Rita resolving her past childhood trauma and gaining better control over her blobbiness.
In the finale, Dorothy gets her first period, marking her transition into womanhood, and the Candlemaker’s powers begin to manifest in the real world. But just as the action builds to a crescendo, the episode just… ends. Frankly, it was maddening. A good finale wraps up the main story line and sets up a cliffhanger for the next season. This one just cut off abruptly. There were only nine episodes this season, compared to 15 in S1, so it’s possible the pandemic cut production short. But I certainly hope airing the series on HBO Max as well as DC Universe brought in sufficient new viewers that we get a third season because I’m dying to know what happens next.