Happiness and Heartbreak for The Doom Patrol in an Episode with Dramatic Ramifications
What has set this latest season of Doom Patrol apart so far is how it functions more as a character drama than your standard superhero fare. Instead of providing a formulaic hero vs villain story, Doom Patrol Season 2 has turned its focus to the characters behind the team treating them as fundamentally flawed human beings. The Doom Patrol are who they are because of one man: Niles Caulder.
Caulder’s mistakes have been a focal point of previous episodes with the introduction of his daughter, Dorothy Spinner. The Chief did what he did to protect his daughter and the world from her, a powerful being with a malevolent force inside. Dorothy’s introduction was the catalyst to further explore the consequences of the Chief’s actions which affected not only the Doom Patrol but also Dorothy herself. Locked up by the Chief for most of her life, Dorothy has been deprived of a real-life, unable to become anything more than a child. Dorothy has had to deal with the fact that maybe her father is holding her back. The other Doom Patrol members have also had to deal with their own problems (those not caused by the Chief): For example, Cliff has had to deal with being a terrible father and being rejected by his daughter. This season of Doom Patrol has spent a long time dwelling on the past but now is the time to look to the future in this episode.
In order to move on from past mistakes, this episode of Doom Patrol asks who each member wants to be. Storylines inevitably reach their climax, with dramatic ramifications where Dorothy is involved. In their pursuits, some characters find happiness, others not so much…
Steele and Stone: The Dynamic Duo
Cliff Steele has dealt with tragedy after tragedy. First he was turned into Robotman and next he had to deal with being a terrible parent and rejection by his daughter. While last episode saw the character toss aside his feelings under the influence of drugs, this episode instead focuses on how to move forward. Niles has been thinking about modifying Cliff’s robot exterior to make him more human and actually sense things. The only problem is that it could take years and the Chief may not have that many left. For Cliff, there are no easy options - Silas Stone, Cyborg’s father, refuses to help him so Caulder is his only hope. Doom Patrol does not provide easy solutions. The show knows better and treats its world like the real one where things do not come on a silver platter but patience and hope are required.
When Cliff drives with Cyborg to Roni’s apartment, he dreams of teaming up with Cyborg in a 70s buddy cop adventure humorously acted out by Fraser and Wade. However, being a superhero is not so easy as Cliff later finds out when he takes on some car thieves and hilariously messes it up resulting in bloodshed. Being who Cliff wants to be must be earned like in real life. The way back for Cliff may be a long one but he needs to trust that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Cyborg, on the other hand, has more luck. Previously having stood Roni up, Victor learns to put all that aside not judging Roni based on her past but on her present actions. With Cliff’s help, Victor takes a leap of faith in the relationship as he gets back together with Roni, proving the message of the episode: Regardless of our past, we can be better.
Larry’s Family Reunion
The last few episodes saw Larry deal with his failures as a father and finally reunite with his son, Paul, after his other son’s death. Larry now, along with Rita, reunites with the rest of the family as he helps Paul and his son pack up items from Larry’s wife’s house. Any awkwardness between Larry and the rest of his family is to be expected so this storyline seems to be a success story. Larry has at last been brave enough to reveal himself to Paul and he has come to terms with his mistakes. The storyline involving Rita and her mother from last episode has been carried over; Rita has set out to prove herself as an actress without her mother’s help. Instead of dwelling on past mistakes and doing nothing, Rita and Larry have taken it upon themselves to act and move forward with their lives.
However, there is a problem. Paul betrays Larry by calling up the Bureau of Normalcy in what is a rather cheap twist. Paul does have every reason to be upset with Larry due to his absence as a father and moreover Gary’s suicide yet the problem here is that Paul’s perspective on the matter has not been established. The twist comes out of nowhere and Paul’s actions are extreme. For most of his screentime, Paul was happy about Larry’s reappearance and was very welcoming but then to establish him as a secret villain after all feels out of place. It actually undermines the character and his legitimate reasons for being upset with Larry by painting Paul as a secret villain who was hiding his intentions all along. This is no build-up for the twist, and it feels rushed. The characters are not treated as real themselves but are merely used (e.g. Paul’s son is harmed in the ensuing chaos) to further Larry’s arc having him leave his family. All this seems to be about moving on once again but Larry can still be a better person by not completely dismissing his family.
Dorothy’s Arc Reaches a Breaking Point
Dorothy’s storyline in this episode seems to be the one that will have the longest-lasting ramifications. The Candlemaker has been steadily established throughout the season as the dark force inside Dorothy. We got a brief glimpse at the villainous character during the circus flashback scene but ever since then, Dorothy has managed to keep him at bay in accordance with her father’s wishes. However, recent episodes have tested Dorothy as she struggles with who she wants to be: a grown-up or a child. Now Dorothy faces the greatest test of all in this episode in a make or break moment with the reintroduction of Baby Doll.
This episode really is a showcase for Diane Guerrero’s acting skills. Going from the moody Hammerhead to Jane to Baby Doll, Guerrero has an amazing range. This episode sees her predominantly playing Baby Doll as the character tries to have fun with Dorothy. Baby Doll is childish and always energetic. In Caulder’s view, she is a perfect child companion for Dorothy. Despite this, things go awry as Baby Doll has perhaps a bit too much fun. Children argue and fight but none of these arguments even come close in terms of violence and ramifications to the one between Dorothy and Baby Doll. The introduction of Baby Doll into the mix is thus a neat way to provide an opening for the Candlemaker. The characters may be “children” but make no mistake, what happens is tragic. Dorothy reaches a breaking point and makes a fatal decision. At last, we get a good look at the Candlemaker in all his glory. The show’s visual effects here are impressive and even more so the handling of the Candlemaker’s introduction in the Underground. This is an incredible scene with many of Jane’s personalities, as the Candlemaker enters the Underground to kill Baby Doll. Finally, Dorothy has chosen and let the Candlemaker out. It is great how the tension has constantly gone up and up throughout the episodes and now Dorothy’s storyline has reached its climax.
Overall, “Finger Patrol” is yet another great episode of Doom Patrol focused on the characters rather than the heroics. The stakes in this episode (both emotional and physical) are perhaps the highest of the season so far. While last week’s episode largely ignored character arcs and traded real emotions for partying and crudeness, this week’s episode moves the plot forward in dramatic ways as it turns its focus away from these characters’ pasts and towards who they want to be. There are valuable lessons here most importantly trying to be better no matter the hurdles in your way. There is a good balance of levity and sadness in this episode. While it may be easy for some to move forward, it is not so for others who need to put the effort in and have faith. A standout character in this episode is Cliff who is trying to be better. However, he now needs to move beyond an idealised view of being a superhero as wonderfully exemplified by the 70s buddy cop team-up scene in his imagination. The past should not define these characters but it is their decisions now that define who they are. There is a lack of narrative focus due to so many diverging storylines but each character is interesting enough to take up screen time. Some decisions that these characters make are for the better such as Cyborg’s leap of faith in his relationship. Other decisions are for the worse such as Dorothy’s decision to unleash the Candlemaker. Dorothy’s decision makes this episode stand out from all the rest. The show has not pointlessly delayed but instead future episodes will hopefully make the most of this shift in the status quo. Unleashing the Candlemaker will have devastating, long-lasting consequences which will surely hurt the Doom Patrol in many ways.
- Another character-focused episode
- Balance of levity and sadness
- 70s buddy team up
- Diane Guerrero’s amazing acting
- The Candlemaker finally gets his way
- A lack of narrative focus due to diverging storylines
- Paul Trainor twist feels unwarranted and rushed