If DC Universe and HBO Max’s Doom Patrol were a comic book—not that comic book, but rather a comic based on the live-action series—one might safely assume that the consequences of season one’s gloriously demented finale would be dealt with off-panel, in the narrative void. Even though the show has prided itself by leaning heavily into tropes that defined comics as a medium, the second season opens by immediately making clear that it has every intention of picking up right where things left off.
For all the work Rita (April Bowlby), Vic (Joivan Wade), Cliff (Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan), Jane (Diane Guerrero), Larry (Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk, and Niles (Timothy Dalton) have done to heal and grow from their respective traumas—while saving the world multiple times—they’re all still a bunch of messed-up weirdos who can barely function without one another. Doom Patrol season two is intent on digging deep into the mess that the team’s created for themselves.
As always, the team’s problems are as existential as they are mundane and the result of multiple villains messing with them in a variety of twisted ways. But this time around, each member of the Doom Patrol understands that as world-ending as their personal problems may seem to them, they’ve all got a responsibility to look out for someone else’s well-being if they truly do want to avert yet another apocalypse.
DC Universe dropped the first three episodes at once last week and opened with most of the Doom Patrol still shrunken down after their last battle. “Fun Size Patrol” sets a solid tone for the second season as it briskly reintroduces you to the core players with a voiceover from newcomer Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro)—Niles Caulder’s daughter. Her existence presents something of a moral dilemma for the Doom Patrol, as they all recognize that she, like them, was ultimately harmed by Niles’ twisted sense of fighting for the greater good, but also that the young girl does pose a significant threat to the world because of what she can do.
Niles created each member of the Doom Patrol with the express intent of imbuing them with immortality he could then utilize in order to keep Dorothy and her ability to bring imaginary beings into life in check. In a way, learning this fact gives everyone an unexpected sort of purpose that’s difficult to accept. Though no one’s especially keen on becoming Dorothy’s keeper, the Doom Patrol all end up finding some small way of connecting with the girl despite their ambivalence about her father, and the nascent bonds the heroes all form with the young metahuman are one of the first ways that Doom Patrol really conveys that everyone has been growing. At the same time, however, not a single Doom Patroller can be said to have made enough emotional progress to be considered properly on the mend.
While Cliff spirals and takes out his rage by murdering the mansion’s population of rats (which are now quite a big larger compared to him), Larry struggles to understand why the Negative Spirit insists on showing him gut-wrenching visions that make him relive moments when he hurt people he loved. Jane and Victor both do their best to hide from reality by knocking themselves out, in his case by falling into a deep, nightmare-filled sleep, and in hers by dosing herself with drugs strong enough to dissociate from the world and her mental Underground where dozens of her psychic alternate personalities grow increasingly fed up with her addictions.
In a surprising change of pace, it’s actually Rita who seems the most ready and capable of stepping up to the plate and fulfilling her destiny to become a famed superhero, even though the idea’s still just beginning to take root in her mind. The group as a whole isn’t exactly close to tapping into their potential both as individuals and as a team, but Doom Patrol repeatedly emphasizes that they’re all closer than they were the day before.
This season of Doom Patrol assumes that you’ve seen the bulk of the first and it works better if you have, because the story very quickly establishes that while the gang still goes toe to toe with monsters, the real focus here is on how everyone’s still stumbling their way through deep-seated traumas that haunt them. Niles himself is wracked with guilt because he genuinely knows that he’s the source of all the Doom Patrol’s problems and if it weren’t for him, they might all have had a chance at living relatively normal lives. Timothy Dalton’s performance as Caulder shifts between being heartbreaking in moments when the scientist is lamenting his lifetime of setbacks and losses, and then outright campy in moments where the show veers back into absurd territory—which it thankfully still does quite often.
The cast inhabits their roles with a kind of familiarity that comes with having spent so much time realizing them, and the end result is more than a handful of scenes that make you genuinely feel for the team members and all they’ve gone through. Where the first season took its time before really delving into the darker, more horrific elements of the Doom Patrol comics, season two gets around to it quite quickly by introducing classic villains like Red Jack and two of Dorothy’s grotesque creations known as Darling and the Candlemaker. It also keeps up the aforementioned absurdity with the inclusion of Doctor Tyme (The OA’s Brandon Perea) and his disco-era wonderland.
Intentionally disturbing as Doom Patrol’s second season tends to be, it manages to never feel at all overpowering or like it wants to wallow in the same draining malaise that its characters are fighting so hard to get out of. Just when it feels like Doom Patrol might be ready to wander into the no man’s land of unnecessary grim-darkness, it pulls itself back from the brink with a gag to remind you how humor is really the only way one can pull through periods of profound emotional crisis. Not by trying to plow through it in hopes of never having to deal with angst, or pain, or loneliness, but by offering a reminder that those dark feelings aren’t all there is to life.
Doom Patrol will continue to air weekly on DC Universe and HBO Max, with its fourth episode set to stream tomorrow.
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