It’s here! Season 3 of Doom Patrol is upon us, and if you’re familiar with my past coverage on this series, you’ll note that I’m of the firm belief that it’s the best superhero show on television. Even with the pandemic-necessitated truncation of its ending, Season 2 continued to build off the themes of the debut set of episodes. It continued to present a superhero show full of colorful concepts but still based on a quality level of writing that doesn’t make you embarrassed to be watching this stuff (the majority of the genre, if I’m being generous).
So this new season comes highly anticipated in its full-fledged shift over to HBO Max, and it literally picks back up where Season 2 left off. Honestly, if you felt like the conclusion was abrupt last year, you’ll be happy to note that you get all the closure you need in the first episode. I’d highly recommend you revisit last season’s finale, just to refamiliarize a bit. But after that, it’s a brave new world for a team that finds itself in transition, and here are my 5 key takeaways:
Subplots are better tied into the main arc
While Doom Patrol has always had compelling season-long journeys for its respective teammates, on occasion they have somewhat stalled the momentum of the show. I’m specifically thinking about anything to do with Rita and her community theater trials and tribulations, or Victor’s…well…just about everything to do with Victor in the first season. But thus far, (almost) each of the respective subplots of the show’s ragtag team of misfits seems better incorporated into the overall season’s storyline.
No more does the show just pause whenever Victor and Roni have a romantic tryst or when Cliff is trying to reconnect with his daughter while we wait for the next big move to arrive a scene or two later. And that’s not to say there isn’t advancement in character growth, either. It’s just that it’s better calibrated to the themes of the season. After the attack by the Candlemaker, how do they crawl out from the wreckage? And every character has a different response to that in the wake of something very big arriving.
Rita finally takes center-stage
While every character’s emotional travails find their time in the spotlight, this season is unique in that we finally find Rita standing head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of importance to the overall narrative. Because of the actions of a new arrival to the household, Rita suddenly becomes the most important member of the team…in a way, she practically takes a leadership position and certainly serves as the new head of the household itself in Niles’ absence.
On top of that, there are some very intriguing elements of potential time travel that also thrust Rita even further into the spotlight. Again, if there’s a character of the season, it is 100 percent Rita, and it’s about time given April Bowlby has been a stand-out among an entire cast of stand-outs (additionally, on the subject of performances, I want to give special recognition to Joivan Wade, who over the last three seasons has grown immensely as a performer and this season really brings to bear how he’s made Cyborg his own outside of the shadow of his big-screen counterpart).
The villains and guest appearances are the best they’ve ever been
Of the five episodes, I was able to view, Jeremy Carver and his team have once again outdone themselves in terms of adapting some of the Doom Patrol’s wildest concepts and antagonists in each successive episode, including appearances from your favorite Brotherhood of Evil characters and an entire episode dedicated to Garguax. But the two biggest areas of interest in this first half of the season have to be the respective introductions of the Dead Boy Detectives and The Sisterhood of the Dada.
For the former, it’s basically a backdoor pilot (I know, I know, I hear you groaning back there). But it totally works, and it’s so exciting to see this creative team play a little deeper in the Vertigo canon. And in the latter’s case, their introduction is the strongest episode of the season, and they create maybe the most credible and interesting threat the Doom Patrol has faced in terms of pure super-villainry.
I’m also a big fan of how the production team was able to approach the challenge of adapting these Grant Morrison/Richard Case creations on-screen. Those costume designs wouldn’t be terribly practical for recurring performers. Instead, they offer up a new spin on the general ideas of each member of the group, while letting the direction and actors handle the rest. It works wonderfully. I love where this is going.
Exit Niles, Enter Madame Rouge
The other big addition is probably the most notable of them all, in Michelle Gomez’s Laura De Mille. While she plays a part in all five of the episodes that make up the season’s first stretch, Laura firmly entrenches herself in the household a few episodes in. And it’s a take that somewhat subverts expectations of the standard antagonist that you’d expect a character whose nomme de guerre is Madame Rouge to be. Is she a villain? Is she misunderstood? Is she capable of change? Laura’s arc adds further complexity to what is an already impressively crafted season, and Gomez slots into the cast wonderfully, adding an additional veteran presence that was sorely needed with the lessened presence of Timothy Dalton due to the circumstances of last year’s cliffhanger.
Some concerns do creep up
To be clear, it’s not all sunshine and roses this season, as two of the show’s usual stand-outs get somewhat hampered by questionable storytelling choices. Larry, our favorite Negative Man, finds himself on a somewhat isolated storyline that is the closest the show gets to storytelling inertia in these new episodes. This may very well work out in an exceptionally engaging way by the season’s back half, though, so I reserve the right to walk these comments back. For Cliff, he’s beset with a real-life medical condition, and it’s hard to not feel like the show’s writers might be navigating into waters that might be too tricky even for them. But maybe not! It’s only 5 episodes after all and I have full faith in everyone involved!
With Doom Patrol Season 3, television’s best superhero show just keeps getting better, just when you thought it wasn’t possible. I can’t wait for you to be able to take this journey too.
Doom Patrol Season 3 premieres September 23, 2021, on HBO Max.