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Doom Patrol is the most bonkers superhero show that's also about generational trauma
When it comes to superhero movies and TV shows, it seems like we're finally moving away from the seriousness of superhero movies like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Nowadays movies and shows based on comic books are finally embracing the spectacular and crazy aspects of their origins, including the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and The LEGO Batman Movie, and TV series such as Legends of Tomorrow, Legion, and Watchmen.
But no superhero show gets as bonkers as Doom Patrol, a show in which a giant cockroach can make out with a giant rat, and the Ghostbusters only hunt sex ghosts. Despite all this, though, the heroes' biggest challenge is in facing their deep-seated traumas.
Doom Patrol is mostly based on Grant Morrison's 1980s run of a '60s-created comic book of the same title, which followed a ragtag group of marginalized outcasts and accident victims with great powers and, yes, a lot of personal issues. There's Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), a girl with 64 different personalities, each with their own power. Rita Farr (April Bowlby) is a former Hollywood starlet who now battles with a blob-like body she struggles to keep in one piece. Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) was once a test pilot meant to go to space, but who was hit with a cloud of cosmic radiation and must now cover his entire body with bandages, and keep a sentient being of energy inside of him at bay. And there's Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), a former NASCAR driver who got in a car accident, lost his body, and whose consciousness now resides in a clanking, red-eyed robot.
It didn't take long for Doom Patrol to become the weirdest thing in superhero TV. The show introduced one out-of-left-field, fantastic character after the next, including a sentient, nonbinary street named Danny and a vengeful rat named Admiral Whiskers. Most recently in Season 2, we were introduced to the Sex Men, a secret team of ghostbusters who travel around the world and fix sites contaminated by supernatural sexual energy, and also fight sex demons who could destroy the world.
But more so than the quirky characters and the superpowered shenanigans, Doom Patrol's biggest strength comes from its exploration of generational trauma and the difficulties in trying to overcome it. The show may have plenty of comedic and absurd moments — Do I have to remind you of the time Flex Mentallo (Devan Chandler Long) accidentally gave everyone standing on Danny the Street an orgasm? — but it is always in the service of the characters' emotional journey.
The first season dealt largely with a quest to find the team's missing sort-of father figure, Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), aka the Chief, as the team members started tackling their pasts. Larry's arc was about coming to terms with the negative energy being residing inside of him, as well as accepting his sexuality (which resulted in two highlights of the show: Larry singing Kelly Clarkson's "People Like Us" at karaoke inside the sentient Danny the Street, as well as Larry's emotional reunion with his former love, John Bowers). Meanwhile, Cliff had to work out his anger issues and face how they resulted in him being involved in the car crash that robbed him of his body and led his daughter to believe him to be dead. As for Rita, she ended Season 1 by starting to accept her new body and the fact that her career died decades ago.
As most reviews of the second season noted, the new episodes don't really advance the characters' stories that much. It feels as if the show was a bit repetitive, or at least backing up some of the progress made by the characters — but the thing is, that's the point of the show. Doom Patrol's main thesis last season was that its main characters were never going to be able to fully erase their trauma, especially not in just a couple of episodes. The best they can hope for is learning to cope with it, and try to work backward to see how their trauma didn't start with the accidents that turned them into the titular Doom Patrol, but way earlier with their previous lives.
Indeed, this season is putting a heavy focus on how trauma extends from parents to children, which is best exemplified by the addition of Niles Caulder's daughter, Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro), an incredibly powerful little girl who has lived most of her life alone and hidden from the world as her father looked for ways of becoming immortal to keep her safe.
By living with Dorothy, the other members of the Doom Patrol are discovering that their messed-up lives didn't just begin with their accidents, but way earlier. Larry may have finally made peace with the Negative Spirit inside him, but he's now realizing that hiding his sexuality and his true self from the world didn't just hurt him, but deeply hurt his children and scarred them for life. Larry has made a lot of progress, and he is even starting to look at what a "normal" future could mean for him, but he first has to come to terms with how his actions and trauma also impacted those around him.
This theme extends to Cliff, who is still trying to make sense of the life he missed because of his accident, which was in fact planned by Niles. After he tried and failed to connect with his daughter last season, he once again makes a rash decision and pays her a visit early on in Season 2, which, of course, backfires. If Season 1 saw Cliff angry and figuring out how to accept his new robotic body, this season is all about Cliff realizing his troubles started way before he accidentally killed his wife, back when he became a crappy dad to the daughter he left behind. Even Rita is starting to discover her problems didn't begin with her Hollywood career, but at home with her mother.
Doom Patrol may have world-ending stakes most of the time, and its villains may be incredibly powerful and terrifying, but the team's real issues are as mundane as they come. It doesn't matter that Larry mustering the courage to attend his son's funeral doesn't involve a fight with a multidimensional being — it feels just as important because it is a result of his own screwups.
Likewise, Doom Patrol makes it clear that people heal in different ways at different times. Sure, Larry seems to have made a lot of progress, but by comparison, Jane is just now starting to try and make peace with her other personalities. Alongside all the weird shenanigans and the bizarre characters, the show's greatest strength is that it understands that sometimes the greatest challenge is simply finding the will to get out of bed in the morning.