Many shows will bill themselves as strange, but Jeremy Carter’s Doom Patrol is the rare series that lays an honest claim to bizarreness. Season 3 makes no break from that legacy. As Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), Rita Farr (April Bowlby), Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer), Robotman aka Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser), Vic Stone/Cyborg (Joivan Wade), and Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Monterey) wrap up conflicts—enter the Candlemaker—and engage with variety of other off-the-wall side quests, you could say that business continues as usual for the dadaist DC property.
But Doom Patrol never identified as your garden-variety superhero show. And nothing feels typical or expected when it comes to this series.
While comics historically have leaned on archetypal characters to get by, Doom Patrol still fills out the roster of typical heroes—the cyborg, the strongman, the military-accident-gone-wrong—but instead probes how much it must suck to be involuntarily appointed to super-status. If anything, Doom Patrol continues to gnaw on the raw deal of involuntary greatness, of powers given to people without their consent. The real meal of the show traces each character’s internal storm of self acceptance as a societal outcast with extra unusual accessories. There are questions of accountability, resentment, denialism, and fairness for everyone in relation to nearly everyone else. Sounds too serious? No worries, Doom Patrol will explore a serious facet of trauma and traumatic identity and immediate undercut it with bathos—the stupidest and silliest fart and sex jokes find homes here.
Without revealing spoilers, the Season 3 premiere covers a lot of ground, resolving conflict brewing from seasons past. At the conclusion of one chapter, this squad of heroes can’t run from their group and personal identity crises. Their hands are forced. Too often, these crises even fuel their externalized battles in the Underworld or real life, leaking into all facets of life. This is still a team of heroes that asterisks each aspect of description. Are they a team? Are they even heroes at all? It’s never looked less glamorous to be extraordinary.
With Doom Patrol’s unyielding weirdness, ranging from plot, characters, shooting, and direction, submerging yourself in this universe oscillates from just uncomfortable to fever dream quality. But by the same token, Doom Patrol’s peculiarity gives it wings for honesty. Stripped of a Marvel-esque industrial brand high gloss, this show is unapologetically strange, but most likely hews closest to how superpowered life would manifest itself in real life. The abnormalities lay fertile ground for authenticity, waiving the obligations for normative social expectations. Discomfort abounds, but isn’t that where growth flourishes?
This is not a seven episode season for anyone who craves convention. At times, the plot sequencing can feel chaotic, lurching. But tonally, Doom Patrol opens up boxes that offer opportunities rarely taken. This is a gift. Having hopped on the trauma exploration train long before its current fever pitch on TV, Doom Patrol gives you the ugliness of characters struggling. It’s a struggle that’s not made neat for others’ comfort. They may not even succeed. “What is love if not grief preserving?” may slide on more stylistically beautiful shows like Wandvision, but for Doom Patrol the endgame is just survival. If the rawness doesn’t give you TV food poisoning, that sounds about right. This isn’t for everyone, but I wouldn’t call it uncooked. Dinner’s served for any weirdo at this table.
Doom Patrol Season 3 premieres Thursday, September 23rd on HBO Max.
Katherine Smith is Virginia-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste Magazine. For her musings on popular culture, politics, and beyond, find her on Twitter @k_marie_smith
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