After a slightly strained start, Doom Patrol, the second of DC Universe’s original series, quickly established itself not only as the best of the DC Universe crop, but arguably one of the best comic book-based series, period. The first season of Doom Patrol played as a perfect meld of the Arnold Drake/Bruno Premiani original concept and the ground-breaking Grant Morrison/Richard Case run in the late 80’s and early 90’s. For the longest time, I had been aghast at how practically none of Morrison’s prodigious work had been adapted into live action. But for Jeremy Carver and his team to create what turned out to be the perfect tribute to his era of the title… well, to say it’s a dream come true would be understating things. And clearly the telephone people agreed. Doom Patrol was the only DC Universe show to make the jump to their shiny new HBO Max service, giving this family of outcasts a whole new audience to work their magic on.
And just in time too, because in less than 7 days, the second season of Doom Patrol will be upon us. And lucky you, The Beat had the opportunity to take in the first three episodes already (which are all dropping at the same time this coming week, with subsequent individual episodes to follow on a weekly basis). Before I get into some key takeaways, let me just assure you that Doom Patrol is still as good as ever. In some ways it significantly improves a few of the short comings of the last season, taking a step beyond its own source material, honing a key element of the Morrison-Case run, and turning it into something altogether more fascinating and tragic.
To be fair, it’s not all “party time on Danny the Street” here, as there’s at least one new subplot that threatens to slow things to a halt. But even that holds its own nugget of promise by the third episode. Forgive my vagaries here, as I think it’s best to experience this new season of Doom Patrol yourself without my spoiling everything. Bottom line is exactly what’s on the tin, if you liked the first season, you will love this new one. But for those who want a little more detail, let me provide just a few more thoughts on the matter:
- Bone Up – More than anything, I can’t stress enough how important it is that you at least watch last season’s finale before you kick off this new season. I know this to be true because I have not watched the first season since it initially went up on DC Universe, and both I and my partner were completely flummoxed as to what was going on. And unlike its CW brethren, or even something like Titans, the show makes zero effort to hold your hand. So, with the next few days you have, take the time to watch that finale again and you won’t spend the first hour feeling like you’re racing to catch up to the show.
- Mope Fest – This one makes it sound more negative than it really is, but the focus of this second season thus far is centered on the individual traumas of the teammates. Everyone is generally pretty sad about something: Cliff is upset about the daughter that he never got to raise, Larry is in mourning the recent loss of his son (who he also never got to see grow up), Rita is struggling to find her place on the team and coming to greater grips with her abilities, and Jane is struggling to maintain control over her multitude of personalities and doing so with chemical enhancement. Each of these stories vacillate some quality-wise, with Cliff’s particularly angling itself on the season’s main conflict, while Jane’s possibly threatens to veer into the often-sticky area of addiction that’s stopped many genre series cold. Still, it’s impressive how well Carver and the rest of the writing staff have been able to give everyone something to do that effectively furthers their characters, even if its mired in the miserable off the bat.
- Cyborg 2.0 – You’ll note I didn’t mention what’s going on with Vic, and that’s because he deserved his own bullet-point altogether. Last season, Cyborg never really found his place among the traditional teammates, feeling more like a studio-mandated add-on given his proximity to the Justice League film. This season, finally free of the seemingly never-ending emotional struggle with his father, the character is given a bit of a new lease on life. He decides to leave the team and begins attending a support group, where he meets a wounded Iraq War veteran and sparks off a brand new relationship with her. Putting Vic in this new, and frankly vulnerable, frame of reference, gives the character a whole new lease of life that I don’t think has really been touched in many of his adapted portrayals up to this point, including timely references to the value of law enforcement and his role in enforcing justice.
- Hashtag Team Dorothy – But the best element of the new season comes in its newest addition, with this show’s version of Dorothy Spinner being an absolute delight throughout the initial three episodes. Obviously, for anyone who watched the closing moments of the first season, the revelation of Dorothy as Niles Caulders’ daughter is an invention of the series, but it adds a fun new complexity to the relationships between everyone, particularly the hostility between Cliff and Niles. But more than that, Dorothy’s abilities, which are great visual fun, are giving way to the big bad of the season, The Candlemaker, as well (but don’t fret, just in these three episodes alone, two classic Doom Patrol villains take center-stage).
- Evolving the moral scope of the comic – Getting back to the Cliff-Niles antagonism that rides shotgun throughout this early portion of the season, one of the most admirable elements is how Carver and co. take the comic’s revelation of Niles being behind the accidents that eventually gave way to the Doom Patrol and asks the question “and then what?” Rather than giving Niles a villainous turn, his character is inflected in a complex moral morass that doesn’t justify his actions, but at least gives way to a rationale that’s broaching empathy…not that anyone else on the team sees it that way. But all the same, he’s instantly a more compelling character for it. For the longest time, I resisted the idea that this show was improving on the source, but now I think that premise is becoming basically impossible to argue against.
Doom Patrol Season 2: it’s everything you loved about Season 1 but honed into a finely tuned machine. All it needs now is a little Flex Mentallo. I mean, they can’t overwhelm us with too much awesome right off the bat after all. That would just be criminal.
Doom Patrol’s second season will hit HBO Max and DC Universe on June 25th