S01E03 — The Doom Patrol set out for Paraguay where they discover the Nazi doctor who created Mr. Nobody and the connection between The Chief and the two villains.
Folks, I’m not sure that this is the best episode we’re going to watch, as nothing really happens and everyone is right back where they started at the end. BUT…and this is important…I think the the major achievement of this show is that it makes a lot of the impossible possible. Or, maybe not possible, but visually achievable in a manner that exists separate from the source material, but equal.
While watching Episode 3, the thought that kept going through my mind was, “Ok, I can see how an ANIMAL MAN show would work. Or THE INVISIBLES. Or even SANDMAN.” I recall that when THE FLASH show had Gorilla Grodd and King Shark appear, a lot of reviewers and fans were optimistic about the Berlanti-run shows because he accepts the source material and has found practical ways to make them work. King Shark appeared for all of 5 minutes as a stinger at the end of an episode and Grodd’s first appearance was mostly in shadows.
Then, based on the successes of the first and second seasons, WB/CW opened up the wallets and said, “Have at it.” Now, there are moments in DOOM PATROL when the SFX look hokey, and it happens in this episode a few times (see the epilogue with Steve, who I’ll explain in a minute). It’s clear that we’re not watching a big budget summer blockbuster movie on a scale of, say, INFINITY WAR, but within the confines of television or television streaming services, they pay off well. What a lot of filmmakers (even some veterans like Spielberg) get wrong is that SFX are a part of the storytelling, not just set dressing.
We’re all aware that these are just people standing in front of a green screen, pretending that something 12 feet tall is throwing flame balls at a machine, something that will be added later in post, but when the SFX feels real…feels like another actor…then you have something special. Add to that the layers of the individual protagonists, and their own personal character arcs, and you can make a believer out of most skeptics.
I saw somewhere that Terry Gilliam is now coming out against superhero movies, and that’s a shame because, I personally think, he’s reacting to something other than the filmmaking and the acting; he’s reacting to the four-color origin of the source material that wants to believe it’s Cervantes or Shakespeare. Gilliam was an animator, so this is somewhat disheartening, but I’ve been a comic book reader since I was about five or six; people have looked down on comics forever.
That’s a shame because, although this episode doesn’t really go anywhere, it is a helluva achievement in storytelling via SFX.
So, as you saw above, the title of this week’s episode is “Puppet Patrol,” and nowhere is that theme more prevalent than in the treatment of Larry and Jane. Larry, as we’ve seen, wants to be free of Negative Man (which, I know is his name, but I’m going to use it to describe the entity) and Negative Man doesn’t take too kindly to this. It’s never really stated how symbiotic their relationship is (does Negative Man need Larry? Vice versa?), but Larry is adamant about taking control of his body. At one point, early on, he asks Jane how she controls the personalities inside of her, and she says that she doesn’t; she respects them.
Larry doesn’t seem to get it, and when an opportunity arises for him to be free of the Negative Man and become “better” he jumps at it.
While trying to find the Chief, the team does some digging. Cliff finds his daughter’s phone number (his daughter was presumed dead, but that was just a lie) and Rita finds a pic from 1938 Paraguay with that farting donkey.
The team decides…wait, no…Cyborg decides that the team should go there to do some digging (nice mention of the Brotherhood of Evil here). His assumption of leadership rubs Cliff wrong, until you find out that he uses his father’s STAR Labs resources in his fight on crime. When Silas cuts him off, they have to take the Doom Bus (that’s what I’m calling it). After breaking down, Jane’s teleporter personality, Flit, teleports Cliff and Larry to Paraguay.
Here, we meet Steve at the bus stop. Steve looks like a tourist, but he’s here for a special procedure; “the Morden.” While Steve can’t afford the Mr. Nobody treatment, he opts instead for magnetic feet. Steve, apparently, is all of us.
The bus arrives, and the trio (and Steve) hop aboard and come to Fuchtopia, the compound of Sturmbannführer Heinrich von Fuch (aka, the Nazi scientist responsible for Morden’s transformation). Steve and the DP3 sit through a puppet show which is worth watching for Steve’s crisis of faith when he finds out that von Fuch was (is?) a Nazi.
Eventually, all hell breaks out, and we have a bloody fight between von Fuch’s staff and Jane and Cliff.
Back to the puppet theme. Inherent in puppetry is the idea that someone has to pull the strings to make the marionette move and act. Von Fuch is the puppet master of Fuchtopia, natch. Larry is trying to be the puppet master of the Negative Man and NM is just not having it. Vic is trying to cut the strings that his father has over him. Chief is kind of a puppet master over all of the team, but especially Cliff. When they leave the island on Vic’s charter jet, Cliff pulls out his daughter’s phone number, looks at his bloody body, and crumbles it up.
In the end, they haven’t found Chief (but they do recover a puppet version of him) and Steve gets his superpowers…the dumbest superpowers ever, and it’s incredible.
I take it back; Steve is the one who changes from his first appearance to last. He better come back as a supervillain.
Will you watch next week’s episode?
Of course! Have I not made that clear? Have I mentioned that I don’t click, “Skip Recap?” Or, “Skip Recap?”
EXTRA POINTS & NITPICKS:
- This episode was directed by Rachel Talalay, who also directed TANK GIRL (as well as some other superhero-themed television episodes).
- Movie in the hotel room? NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Great foreshadowing of what comes in Fuchtopia.
- Music is on point again this week.
- I think I spotted a typo on the road trip map: Louisiana was spelled, “Louisianna.” Maybe that’s how it’s spelled in the DCU?
- One of the things I enjoy in the show is how the actors play their parts in tune with the eras in which they are from. You see this mostly with Larry (Matt “I should have been Superman” Bomer) and Rita (April Bowlby) as they are both from the 50’s and 60’s. I don’t know, it’s just a neat thing to me.
NEXT WEEK: S1:E4 – CULT PATROL
Vito Delsante is a comic book writer, graphic novelist, editor, letterer, and the co-creator/writer of STRAY with Sean Izaakse, and THE PURPLE HEART with Dean Haspiel and artist, Ricardo Venâncio. He’s written for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, AdHouse Books, and Simon & Schuster, among others, and his stories have been reprinted in other countries. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife, Michelle, his daughter, Sadie, his son, James, and his pitbull, Kirby. You can find him online at incogvito.com and you can follow him on Twitter @incogvito