S01E07 — After a violent outburst from Cliff, the team engages in some self-led group therapy – leading to some growth within the group as they are knit closer together.
I don’t know if, within television jargon, there is a word for what amounts to a break episode. What I mean is…an episode where there’s a break from the ongoing storyline/overarching plot that serves to maybe work as a character piece as opposed to furthering the plot.
Whenever TITANS did one of these, it would clumsily try to shoehorn the plot into the episode (see: the episode, Hawk and Dove, with the Raven cameo). However, DOOM PATROL seems to have done a few of these in the first seven episodes (and maybe, looking ahead, we’ll see the same next week), but because there’s an insulated feel to the universe of DP (in spite of the many mentions to the Justice League, et al), they feel a little more earned.
If not earned, they feel integral, and I think that goes back to the episodic nature of monthly comics. It used to be that monthly comics weren’t made for the eventual trade paperback collection. Writers would write issues with baseball games in the backyard (ok, that was Chris Claremont only, but still…) and also have annuals planned out that never really fit into the main story, but they felt like they were still filling out the world for you.
Going back to Claremont and his run on Uncanny X-Men, I distinctly remember an issue where the team was walking in NYC, and it was snowing, and there were vignettes with Stevie Hunter, Amanda Sefton was going out with Kurt…it all felt important to the overall story of the X-Men, and that was the important thing; this is a story in the life of the X-men, not in the series, The Uncanny X-Men.
Going back to DOOM PATROL, they get it. They’re doing the same thing because, when taken overall, this isn’t just the first season of the show; this is just a part of the overall story of the Doom Patrol.
Diving into this episode, the first half (or maybe 3/4ths) of Therapy Patrol is all character pieces. Each of the character’s vignettes takes place in to distinct times; childhood and the present (the idea being that in some way, their individual childhoods messed them up and that has a bearing on their current states of being). The team believes that their misfortunes and screw-ups are the result of Mister Nobody getting into their heads and that’s part of it. Let’s take them one at a time:
Our first vignette is a bit of a doozy because we find out that [SPOILER ALERT] Rita Farr isn’t actually Rita’s name! It’s a stage name! [/SPOILER ALERT] Why this is so so so important to Rita’s character is that, throughout the series so far, we’ve seen Rita acting like who she believes she is. Remember, Cyborg called her “a star” back in Episode 2.
So Rita, since then, has acted like a star, or, to be more to the point, like the star she still believes Rita Farr is. As a result, she is falling apart a little more, physically, and becoming the blob-like creature at inopportune moments; in this episode, she falls through a heating vent and ends up in the furnace. Rita comes short of saying what Nobody is taunting her with, but once she comes clean, she finds herself complete again.
First we see Larry as a kid, his parents arguing over what they’re going to do about Larry playing doctor with another boy. The potential harm it will do to their reputations. Meanwhile, Larry stands outside the front door, listening to the whole thing.
In the present, Larry decides he’s going to sleep in, but the Negative Man isn’t going to make it easy on him. Every time Larry lays down, he’s forced to relive a moment with his old love, John. Larry is too busy noticing the mistakes in the memory, like glitches in the Matrix and as the Negative Entity forces him to relive it, Larry (a man in bandages, remember) becomes more unraveled until he has his breakthrough when he tells the Entity that to understand him, he has to understand all of the secrets, but more importantly, all of the context behind the secrets and lies.
It’s here that we see that John, in these memories, IS the Entity which makes an interesting storytelling choice. Larry has hated himself for who he loved and what he’s done to them, but now, in accepting who he is and what he’s done, he may grow to love, or at least accept, the Negative Man.
As a kid, Vic dislocates his shoulder after falling out of a tree, and this gets to him because he was told by Silas to not climb the tree at all. Vic fears what his father’s reaction will be. His mom was his shield, his buffer and we find out, later during the group session, that he still holds tremendous amount of guilt from her death (he actually comes out and says, “I killed my mom.”).
Before we get there, we see that his attempt to be the leader is ignored and Grid (his OS) lets him know that he has a notification from a Tinder-like app that was kept from him…as a result of Silas’ tampering. We get a funny montage of him using the app and swiping left, until he matches with a med student. Grid finds her on the bus via a closed circuit camera, and when he sends her a pic of himself, he sees, in real time, her rejection. Kinda heartbreaking.
As a baby in Arkansas, Jane is crying in her crib, looking up at her father smoking a cigarette (asshole). She’s crying, begging to be picked up, but he walks out (bigger asshole). In the present, Jane jumps between her base personality of Jane and Hammerhead, and the two just don’t see eye to eye.
Hammerhead destroys all of Caulder’s interview tapes, which drives Jane to tears. Watching her switch back and forth between personalities is somewhat hard to watch because the emotions on display are so far on opposite ends of each other. Hammerhead isn’t angry; she’s raging with primal hate.
Jane isn’t sad; she’s inconsolable. When the team has their group session, she refuses to share until she’s confronted by Cliff. Pushed to far, she tells him, “You’ll never be a father because you’re not even a man.”
Throughout the entire episode, as we go through each vignette, there’s a constant; Cliff is losing his mind.
He’s acting weird, trying to eat toast and smashing up things. We flashback to his childhood to discover that his father was extremely abusive toward his mother (verbally and emotionally for sure and possibly physically).
Back in the present, Cliff is staring at the picture of his daughter, Clara, and her “father,” his former best friend, Bump. Cliff loses it, and I mean, LOSES IT, steals the Doom Van, and speeds toward an unknown destination. He busts into Bump’s house and confronts him about stealing Clara.
Bump defends himself by saying that she had no one else, but he calls her a brat and blames her for his life going downhill.
Cliff punches Bump in the face, and Bump pulls a shotgun on him and we realize that this isn’t real; something is definitely wrong with Cliff as he sees Vic as Bump and Jane as Clara. Cliff is broken, mentally, and he’s the one that suggests that they all talk out their issues.
The group session goes well at first, but then breaks down once Hammerhead gets in. Cliff loses it again, and he has to be German suplexed by Vic and then…he shuts down.
And a little rat crawls out of his mouth.
This show, man. I love how it takes a lot of heavy things in each of these characters’ lives, but knows how and when to not take itself seriously. Admiral Whiskers was just a baby rat six episodes ago (ie, Episode 1) when the team went out for their first joyride in the Doom Van (remember that?). As the team is getting ready to leave, Whiskers’ mom is trying to encourage him to cross the road when suddenly SPLAT! She gets run over.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
At the suggestion of Mister Nobody, Admiral Whiskers plots his revenge. After all the time that has passed in real time (on the show, not six weeks), Whiskers makes his move and enters into Cliff via the hole in his arm (from Vic’s arm cannon exploding). Now, maybe Cliff’s breakdown was as a result of the rat chewing on his wires or whatever, but I’m pretty sure the rat was just a conduit for Mister Nobody because, when you think about it, a rat inside of you is pretty innocuous, if you were a robot man.
That’s why I think Mister Nobody has more of a hand in Cliff’s breakdown; because in and of itself, Admiral Whiskers would be funny and a way to kind of poke fun at Cliff.
But the closing moments of the show make it seem like this was far more sinister than a rat crawling into a robot.
Will you watch next week’s episode?
DANNY THE STREET!
EXTRA POINTS & NITPICKS:
- NOTE TO SELF: If you’re going to have a catchphrase, you have to say it at least 31 times (although that is above the threshold).
NEXT WEEK: S1:E8 – DANNY 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