Thoughts on “Doom Patrol”

A friend of mine recommended “Doom Patrol” to me, which is what prompted me to try it when I found it on my streaming service. However, this is the same friend who recommended “Star Trek: Discovery” to me, and we all know how that turned out. So after suffering through “Enterprise” and “Discovery”, I was really, really hoping that the show would, at least, be good. Just good. Or, at least, not bad. And while I didn’t really mind the first season of Discovery and so there’s still room for Doom Patrol to greatly disappoint me, I did like the show. And I think that Doom Patrol has a better chance to not horribly disappoint me in the second season because it doesn’t have the crippling flaws that Discovery had, even in its first season.

What I really liked about the show was that, at the start, it was a fairly unique entry, at least for superhero TV shows: it was a show that takes a group of utter loser superheroes and puts them into an exceptionally wacky story narrated by Mr. Morden … or, Mr. Nobody, who also keeps throwing very strange things at them like the ability to enter another world through a donkey. While they all had deep-seated mental problems that we knew they’d have to address at some point, for the most part the show, early on, was more fun than dark and so was mostly ridiculous and light-hearted. That was refreshing.

However, I think the show made a mistake in tying their dysfunctions so tightly into the main plot. That meant that about half-way through the show started focusing more on the main plot, leaving the goofy villain’s narration out, and then ramping up the angst the heroes felt over their traumas as it built towards resolving them. This pretty much killed the fun in the show and made it much more similar to the darker superhero shows that are more common these days. When Mr. Morden — I have to call him that because of the Babylon 5 link — comments in the final episode that the show was finally turning into the superhero show that everyone wanted, I mused that that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted the goofy superhero show back. And while the climax has an utterly ridiculous scene in it, I found that I couldn’t laugh at it because it was more comic relief than representative of the show as a whole. The show was no longer a goofy superhero show but was more of a standard dramatic show with some goofy moments, which to me squandered its potential.

I like the characters, though, although there are some flaws in how they are handled. My favourite is probably Rita, but her characterization is a bit inconsistent. Yes, she’s self-centered and self-interested, but she is often shown to be as empathetic if not more so than everyone else in the group, and yet depending on the episode — and maybe the writer — then seems to abandon all of that to act in a self-absorbed manner that isn’t consistent with what she’d done before, with no real set-up. Because of this, when she does act to help others it seems to be less of a surprise than the show seems to expect it to be for us.

This also hurts Jane’s character, who is a character that I’m not fond of. For me, Jane comes off too much as the character that we’re all supposed to think is cool and edgy and so like, when she’s abrasive at precisely the wrong times and with no real reason, especially when she gets angry at Cliff for trying to help her (even refusing to speak to him after he goes into her mind to help her out of a catatonic state because he found out stuff about her). The character is set up to be someone who needed to learn to trust people because her history made that impossible, but that was never really developed properly around her being cool with the multiple personalities. And her more abrasive personality with its emphasis on her being on her own and doing her own thing was pretty similar to Rita’s, except Rita was more sympathetic than Jane was. So Jane was annoying, at least to the group, in the same way that Rita was but didn’t balance that with being more sympathetic most of the time, and so mostly annoyed me … especially since she was on-screen and annoying people more often than most of the other characters.

The worst character, though, is Cyborg, which seems to be a misstep from the beginning. In the comics Doom Patrol, that spot was taken up by Changeling/Beast Boy, who was an actual, full-on orphan who adopted them or at least needed them to be a family for him (the Teen Titans cartoon definitely made it so that he felt that Steve and Rita were like parents to him). None of that exists for Cyborg, as he has a father whom he clashes with but who clearly does care for him. Second, Cyborg is roughly established as a hero, and thus we wonder why he’s willing to hang out with these losers at all. Third, he uses that status to be made leader but the actor cannot pull off the leadership role here, which might be intentional but is still a bit grating. Fourth, Cyborg doesn’t really look like Cyborg, as Cyborg in all media is large and imposing but here he looks like Pete from Smallville, and not imposing at all. He has no interesting link to the characters, no interesting link to the plot, no interesting character arc, and no interesting link to the source material. He seems to be there only to get Cyborg — who is a character that DC has started pushing over the past few years, appearing in games and the like — into the show and maybe to keep a link to the Titans. The character, then, is totally wasted in this show.

The best overall performance has to be Timothy Dalton’s, as he does a great job as the secretive mentor trying to help them but having secrets in his past. However, the secrets aren’t particularly interesting and are a bit confusing, although I did kinda like the revelation of his daughter, even if the story building to that wasn’t that great.

I suppose I might have to comment on whether the show is Social-Justice Oriented or not. If not for one character, I probably wouldn’t have to do this. Sure, Mr. Negative is gay and that’s likely only there to check that box off, but while that is focused on in the show it’s generally done so in a way that works for the plot and character, as when the character was young the stigma caused a number of bad decisions and the like. But the character that requires this is Danny the Street, a gender-queer street that’s protecting a number of outcast people, with the focus, again, being on those who are gender-queer. The issue here is two-fold. First, the idea of a gender-queer street is utterly ridiculous and never explained. What would it mean for a street, even a sentient one, to have a gender, let alone be gender-queer. Second, the main point of the story is about outcasts and not about people who are gender-queer in any way, and so there was no need to make the street gender-queer nor to focus so strongly on that. So it smacks of trying to get that popular interest group represented.

However, keeping that in mind, they actually did use that well and for something that advances the plot and characters, so it doesn’t feel intrusive and is actually interesting. It gives Mr. Negative a place to feel more comfortable with his issues and develop his character a bit in a way specific to his past and attributes, which is good. However, the focus on gender-queer does leave Cyborg a bit out in the cold, as there’s no reason to think that he has those issues and so it comes across a bit odd when the street asks him to join the party. It would have worked better, I think, if the street wasn’t gender-queer, but simply liked “diversity” and wanted to protect those that aren’t considered normal from the forces, literally, of normalcy. Then there could be a temptation for Cyborg to join the party that he could have rejected on the basis that for them their abnormalities were them, but he doesn’t feel like his cybernetic parts are part of him, but instead just something he has to put on, like a cast or even clothes. This would drive home the message they were trying to get across while still making it clear that not everyone is going to have some kind of abnormality that they need to maintain or identify with.

Ultimately, the season was good. I might rewatch it at some point and am likely to watch the second season once it’s finished. The show was better before it got darker, but was still all right even after that.

2 Responses to “Thoughts on “Doom Patrol””

  1. Thoughts on “Doom Patrol” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] stop for some Social Justice preaching.  The worst was probably “Danny the Street”.  In my discussion of the first season, I noted that making the street gender-queer was a bit of a mistake, as it tied that storyline too […]

  2. Thoughts on “Doom Patrol” (Season 3) | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] which I arrived at through a rewatch of the previous two seasons.  Sad to say, while I liked the first season and wasn’t as fond of the second season, after watching the third season I can confidently […]

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