I’m not going to deny that when it comes to DC Universe’s second live-action show I’ve been a bit hypercritical, and I’m not walking back any of the statements I’ve made throughout this season. There have been a number of episodes that have shown glimmers of excellence but tend to be immediately followed by episodes that either retract any character or story progress made. On a whole, this first season has been incredibly uneven and a tad bit frustrating to watch. How do you follow a superbly character driven episode like “Jane Patrol” by something like “Hair Patrol”an episode that thinks it’s giving us character development but is just recycling the same old same old? The standard bar is alllll over the place with this show so it should come as no surprise that this week’s episode, “Frances Patrol”, follows the formula that has been set throughout the season. Follow a subpar episode with an excellent episode.
Yet, something felt a bit different when it came to “Frances Patrol”. Almost as if things were finally starting to click. Yes, I’ve been suckered by these excellent episodes in the past, but “Frances Patrol” feels different. Not only is there a tremendous amount of character growth across the board, but not for you Rita, the show has no idea what to do with you. But also manages to forward the plot, something, based off the last ten episodes, that doesn’t feel urgently important to Doom Patrol. With television shows having shorter episode orders there has to be a balance between the progression of the overall narrative and the character development. Shorter seasons do not lend themselves to filler episodes, but Doom Patrol either hasn’t received the memo on that or doesn’t care. Until now I suppose. “Frances Patrol” is a well-balanced blend of significant character development and plot advancement and the results are frustrating. Not frustrating because it’s poorly executed but frustrating in the way that leaves you wondering why this type of formula hasn’t been followed in previous episodes.
Larry Trainor has kind of been the shining point of failed character development. This is a character that lends himself to deep, complex, introspective exploration, yet Doom Patrol has only teased progression only to seemingly walk it back immediately afterward. “Danny Patrol” should have been a coming out party for Larry Trainor, no pun intended. This was the episode that seemed molded for his personality. A man struggling with his sexual identity, trying to understand this power within him, and by all means lost not only within society but with himself. Danny the Street represented self-awareness and promoted being comfortable being who you are, and after awhile Larry opened up and helped protect the street from the agents of normalcy. Hell, he even sang in a celebration party, but when it was all over Larry went back to brooding. Staying in his room alone and not learning anything from this new exposure. A massive missed opportunity.
Here though, we finally get a Larry coming into his own. A Larry who is opening up not only to himself but to the power that lives inside him. All season long when the power leaves his body, Larry is thrust into some sort of dream world where he gets to live out the life he wishes he had. A life where he can be with his secret partner and just be happy. It’s a bittersweet and the closest we’ve seen Larry to being vulnerable. It seems that these dreams are more than just mental escapes while this energy force is being heroic. These are messages or possibly a door into another world that allows Larry to get a second chance. And Larry finally gets the message.
After two different but intimate visions of being with his lover, Larry understands that something powerful is happening here. A calling if you will. John speaks directly to Larry demanding that he open up. If he can’t open up in these dream worlds then what possible hope does he have for the rest of his life. He’s supposed to be safe here and yet refuses to let go of his shame and worries of being caught. Once Larry understands that something greater is happening here, he travels to see his former lover to bring closure not only to himself but to the man he lost. The scene is beautifully crafted and gives us a Larry we haven’t seen before but hopefully will continue to see in these remaining four episodes. Larry is now unburdened from his guilt and his inability to share his emotions. With this closure, there is hope that he can become a character that can move forward. That can be a contributing member of this team while growing and trying to understand his power better.
Larry isn’t the only one who sees growth here though. All season long Cliff has dealt with his failure as a father even going so far to superimpose that guilt with Jane. With the passing of his daughter’s adopted father, Cliff has a real chance to reconnect with her, and he chooses to be there for her despite not understanding how. After his daughter gives a speech about what made her adopted father so wonderful, Cliff can’t face speaking to her. He has this notion that in order to live up to the man that replaced him that he needs to do something extraordinary. Something like retrieving his daughter’s valued gold watch that rests in the belly of the gator that ate her adopted father. This is still Doom Patrol, after all, things are weird. Cliff spends the majority of the episode wrestling with his need to win his daughter back. To be a shoulder to cry on. To explain that he’s been gone for so long because he thought she was dead and he’s now a brain inside a robot. And when given the opportunity to speak with her, Cliff chooses to be a silent hero, understanding that his daughter is already going through so much. He leaves the watch for her without saying a word in his most unselfish act thus far. A watch, that once belonged to him, that represents his daughter’s bond with both her fathers now belongs to her again. It’s some real growth from Cliff as he takes one step closer to understanding that becoming a father again out of spite isn’t the way to do things. Becoming a father again because you care though… well, that’s a step in the right direction.
On the flipside of this Jane needs to find the Chief, and not because she feels the group needs him back. No, Jane wants to confront him about why he’d want to put her in the Home for Failed Superheroes. In order to do this, she enlists Cyborg who doesn’t have Rita to push around this episode and is learning that he is internally turning into a computer. The two have a really good heart to heart on the bus waiting for a clue to the whereabouts of Chief. Cyborg actually comes across as vulnerable and real for a change, while Jane lets her guard down. It’s a powerful moment between the strongest character on the show and one that thinks he’s the strongest character on the show. It’s all for nothing though, as the clue is a setup from the normalcy people and Cyborg gets captured furthering the potential of him destroying the entire team.
“Frances Patrol” is a strong outing that takes its time to piece together what makes Doom Patrol shine when it’s firing on all cylinders. I want to be optimistic for these last four episodes and believe that Doom Patrol can continue to grow these characters while advancing this narrative. We’ve been told all season long that they care about finding the Chief, but now is the time to show us what they’re actually going to do about. Having one of their own go missing might be the fire they need to come together.
What did you think of this week’s episode of Doom Patrol? Were you happy with the strong character progression? Do you think the series can keep this momentum up as we head towards the finale? Sound off in the comments. As always, if you’d like to talk more Doom Patrol with yours truly then you can find me on Twitter @iamgeek32. I’ll see you all here next week with a new review but in the meantime, stay weird my friends!