The strangest superheroes battle the undead, aliens, time travelers, and more on their way to figuring themselves out.
Writing about Doom Patrol Season 3 is a surprisingly tricky task. After all, how many times can one stress that its budget aesthetics are a distinct part of its charm? How many times can you praise its willful strangeness, its willingness to embrace the bizarre without ignoring the need for characterization? How many times can a critic declare, “yes, still very good.”?
It’s difficult to put a number on, certainly. But Season 3 demands we do it at least once more. It’s just that good.
A large part of what makes Doom Patrol hard to write about is what makes Season 3 worth watching. While our favorite mismatched would-be immortals must tangle with new enemies and new threats, much of what makes them—and the show—so compelling is continuing to dig into the already established tensions and trauma they carry with them. The new challenges are exciting but drilling deeper into what each member has contended with since Season 1 provides fascinating and compelling material.
Take, for instance, our favorite fully metal fella Robotman (Riley Shanahan in body, Brendan Fraser in voice). As he articulates, he’s spent most of his existence in pursuit of death, be it via career or out of desperate depression. Now, a flaw in his immortality materializes just as he’s rediscovered his desire to live. The bliss of oblivion he once laughed at, then doggedly chased, may be arriving at precisely the wrong moment.
Or there’s Jane (Diane Guerrero). She starts the season by beating back a threat to her existence, sanity, and consciousness by unifying her alters to an extent she never has before. However, in their unity, they begin to assert themselves further, opposing choices they see as reckless or ill-advised. The resistance only grows stronger when Jane finally sees Kay as strong enough to “go up” further complicating her relationship with her other-selves.
No single episode of television has ever wrought as much humor and pathos out of the phrase, “Eat me!”
So it goes on down the line. Each member makes progress only to find their problems and challenges taking on new dimensions instead of disappearing. As in our own lives, to every action there is an equal reaction. For the Doom Patrol, even success carries with it the potential for more pain.
If Doom Patrol was only misery and pain, though, it wouldn’t be so watchable. It might be worthy of respect, but it would fail to be so much damn fun. Instead, show creator Jeremy Carver, aided by Shoshana Sachi—a credited writer on every episode—and a deep bench writer’s room, has found the proper fuel mixture. The show consistently delivers stories of profound trauma wrapped in style, gleeful nihilism, and the meanest, funniest, secretly sweetest “family” on television.
The chemistry between Jane, Robotman, Rita Farr (April Bowlby), Cyborg (Joivan Wade), and Negative Man (Matthew Zuk in body, Matthew Bomer when speaking or unwrapped) has grown to the point that it feels deceptively casual in the way longstanding, hard-earned relationships commonly do. The scenarios are so well constructed somehow, even the dumbest of ideas work on the screen. An episode where the Patrol are zombies, fight were-butts (yes, you read that right), and reveal a conspiracy about how the world has suppressed the cure for zombie-ism? Sounds like a garbage nightmare. And yet… No single episode of television has ever wrought as much humor and pathos out of the phrase, “Eat me!”
The show also has a gift for imbuing its supporting players with surprising humanity. Garguax (Stephen Murphy), a sort of alien assassin, has been living and waiting for the moment to kill Rita for years. The time has taken its toll, though. Or rather, it has allowed him to be reborn. By the time the Doom Patrol end up in his sights, Garguax has changed. There is a heaviness to him, but there is also a kind of gentle acceptance. He wasted his life waiting to kill someone, but he also discovered so much about people, about himself, that he seems incapable of resenting his circumstances. He rejects his decades-old instructions, but he never seems to regret his life. Doom Patrol doesn’t need to invest that kind of energy into his one-episode turn, but they do. And it gives the viewers something that approaches wonderful.
So, yes, it is hard to write again about the great show that is Doom Patrol. It’s a necessary joy, too, though. Sometimes we can only grasp something approaching wonderful by digging in deeper.
Doom Patrol is journeying through time and personal discover on HBO Max.
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