Doom Patrol still makes the impossible work

Doom Patrol Season 4 (HBOMax)

The weirdest superhero programming available continues to place character above cataclysm.


At the risk of sounding a bit hyperbolic, there’s been something kind of magical about Doom Patrol. That trend continues into the fourth season’s first six episodes, this writer is delighted to note.

How else does one explain how it gets away with creating big bad villains that are both butts and zombies? These are the creatures we learn will essentially end the world in a few years’ time. They couldn’t be more of a ridiculous concept. Yet somehow, Doom Patrol Season 4 makes it work. When one considers this particular critic’s distaste for both zombies and scatological humor—yes, I’m zero fun—that these beasties didn’t lead directly to the most scathing reviews is a miracle indeed.

Doom Patrol Season 4 (HBOMax)
Has Brendan Fraser got the butt? Hell yeah! (Dan McFadden/HBOMax)

 Perhaps it is because the series so clearly takes almost nothing seriously except for its characters. In other superhero entertainment, derailing the coming apocalypse would be the point. It gets mentioned plenty in Doom Patrol Season 4, but no one seems especially exercised about it. It isn’t that they’re not taking it seriously, per se. It’s just that they’ve got other stuff to worry about, too.

It’s that “other stuff” where the show really excels. Show creator Jeremy Carver—still at the helm—and director Christopher Manley mix the serious, the silly, and the profane to give the proper weight to each character’s unique inner turmoil. Yes, it is undeniably foolish when the foul-mouthed Robotman (Riley Shanahan in body, Brendan Fraser in voice) wraps one of his hands in an oven mitt. However, his reasoning is touching and, more to the point, when and why he takes it off is a strong character moment for him and a teammate, as well as genuinely emotional. The show makes the offbeat, the ridiculous, and the strange work time and again.

Show creator Jeremy Carver—still at the helm—and director Christopher Manley mix the serious, the silly, and the profane to give the proper weight to each character’s unique inner turmoil.

Take Jane’s (Diane Guerrero) discovery of self-pleasure, for another example. First, the series takes the moment to deliver one of the more sex-positive messages on any show this year, one that feels so sweet and matter-of-fact that sex educators everywhere must be tempted to give it a standing O…vation. However, it also explores how more complex pleasure can be for someone with dissociative identity disorder. Who gets to decide what is right for the body? What does it mean for an adult personality to receive the pleasure they’re entitled to as a human being when they’re also protecting a child alter? It’s the kind of thing that could easily fly off the handle into ludicrousness, but the writing and Guerrero’s performance keep it grounded.

Only Doom Patrol could make a story about changing the future so focused on history. Seeing the end of the world has motivated each character to redress the grievances of their past. And time and again, each finds the same conclusion. You can’t change what’s already been done. Whether it is Cyborg’s (Joivan Wade) abandonment of his childhood best friends or Rita Farr’s (April Bowlby) wrestling with her history of failure, each hero learns the hard lesson that the only hope for change lies in going forward. Even—especially—when that means accepting you screwed up your past.

Doom Patrol Season 4 (HBOMax)
Diane Guerrero, Matt Bomer, and Rita Farr show off the latest fashions. (Dan McFadden/HBOMax)

All the show’s empathy for its characters doesn’t stop it from having a good time. While there’s nothing in Doom Patrol Season 4 yet as delightful as Season 3’s glorious dance number, the show still has plenty of bounce in its step. The season opener’s gloriously dumb villain, Codpiece, makes a dumb penis joke work way too well, way longer than it has any right to, for instance.

But this is a sadder, more serious set of stories this time. The season’s best episode so far, episode 4, “Casey Patrol,” is a melancholy riff on finding a place where you feel safe, lost parents, and the scarcity of real-life happy endings. Its specifics hit all the harder given the current political climate, but anyone who’s felt left out and/or threatened because of their personal differences will see themselves in the story. Guest star Madeline Zima is as good as she’s ever been.

Like all of us, Doom Patrol is leaving 2022 a little wearier than it started. But the character’s sadness, the show’s increasing darkness, makes the hope at its center somehow pop all the more. There is so much tragedy on these characters’ shoulders. They can be cynical, narcissistic, and mean-spirited. But time and again, the show’s dominant emotions are those of hard-won friendship, compassion, and a stubborn refusal to embrace nihilism. Not a bad trick for a series that’s about to end the world with a horde of undead asses.

Doom Patrol Season 4 starts kicking butt December 8 on HBOMax.

Doom Patrol Season 4 Trailer:

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Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens is a freelance writer and therapist from the Nutmeg State, hailing from the home of the World’s Smallest Natural Waterfall. In addition to The Spool, you can read his stuff in CC Magazine, Marvel.com, ComicsVerse, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. And yes, he is listing all this to try and impress you.

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