The strangest superhero story on television honors its characters as it shows them the door.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Doom Patrol Season 4 Part 2 dives headfirst into what has consistently been a series favorite topic since the beginning: death. While much of Patrol has pondered what it would be like to live agelessly—essentially without fear of any possible death except the violent and unusual—but still struggle with every other aspect of being human. The members screwed up, had mental issues and physical ailments, struggled with vanity and loneliness, and frequently gave in to any number of self-loathing varietals. They would never age, but they wore their pain the same as the rest of us.
Oh, and they fought monstrous candelabras, zombie butts, alien hunters, Dadaist supervillains, and clock-faced disco obsessives. However, all that fun—and it was almost unfailingly fun—was dressing up a show with death on its mind. And in Doom Patrol Season 4 Part 2, the grim reaper of chicken finally comes home to roost.
Stripped of their “longevity,” the Patrol-ers begin aging, some for the first time in eight decades. Years of trauma, disappointment, and sacrifice send most of them scurrying to their corners. Robotman (Riley Shanahan in body, Brendan Fraser in voice) is too filled with self-loathing for two potentially catastrophic lapses in judgment. Jane (Diane Guerrero) can no longer separate the real world from the world of her alters and refuses to let anyone help, especially Space Case (Madeline Zima). Larry (Matthew Zuk in body, Matt Bomer voice) and Cyborg’s (Joivan Wade) usual patterns of depression and ambivalence, respectively, grow until they crowd out nearly everything and everyone else. That leaves only the frequently pickled Rita (April Bowlby), her frenemy Laura (Michelle Gomez), and Dorothy (Abi Monterey) to save the day.
[Season 4’s] bittersweet end that treats its heroes with dignity was the only right call to make.
The world of Doom Patrol Season 4 Part 2 shrinks considerably compared to the team’s previous adventures. While never the most expensive looking of series, the budget seems even lower this time around. Even the season’s big bad Immortus/Isabel Feathers (Charity Cervantes), in some ways quietly the big bad of the entire series, feels smaller, quieter, and less frightening than the villains the Patrol tussled with previously. It all makes a sneaky sense, though. More than ever, the team’s battles are internal. The series is winding down, yes, but so, seemingly, are their lives. As their horizons shrink, so too does the show. All the literal and metaphorical walls are closing in.
Immortus may not be wildly flamboyant, but her villainy encompasses so much of the team’s personal fears and hopes. She promises her acolytes endless perfection and can erase any mistake with little more than a nod. However, she’s also a real person who has lost control of her body and life to an interdimensional power-hungry force. Squint a little, and she’d fit into the Doom Patrol perfectly.
With Doom Patrol Season 4 Part 2, as usual for this show, the message isn’t just nakedly laid out on-screen. With perhaps the most straightforward set of episodes, there’s still plenty to distract and delight. Fraser’s profane voicework continues to guarantee laughs. Zima’s unsinkable optimism brings brightness to the series’ darkest moments. And yes, though this critic is loathe to admit it, the show still makes zombie butts work.
To end Doom Patrol on too sincere, too optimistic, or too bleak a note would betray the series-long balancing act the creators have pulled off. Audiences might have hoped for a nihilism-pilled dark joke or a rose-colored sendoff to close things out. However, even they’ll have to admit its bittersweet end that treats its heroes with dignity was the only right call to make.
Doom Patrol Season 4 Part 2 heads out down that long and lonely road beginning on October 12 on MAX.