When last we saw the Doom Patrol, DC Comics’ misfit heroes were as good as dead. Facing off against the demonic Candlemaker, race car driver-turned-robot Cliff (Brendan Fraser), blob starlet Rita (April Bowlby), radioactive alien spirit-possessed mummy Larry (Matt Bomer) and booyah-declaring machine boy Cyborg (Joivan Wade) were fatally covered in wax at a county fair. Seemingly defeated, their only hope against the fiery goliath was Dorothy (Abigail Monterey), the animal-faced daughter of Doom Patrol founder Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), who shared a special connection with the towering adversary. Meanwhile, multiple personality-afflicted Jane (Diane Guerrero) was fighting her own battle in the Underground, the mental space where she and the other identities inside young Kay (Skye Roberts) reside, since she’d discovered that Miranda (Samantha Marie Ware)—the personality that had lately become the “primary”—was in fact an evil manifestation of her abusive father, whose monstrous conduct fractured Kay’s psyche in the first place.
It was a lot for a cliffhanger, to put it mildly.
Doom Patrol’s second season finale was also perfectly in character for Jeremy Carver’s superhero venture, which debuted in 2019 on the DC Universe streaming service and now makes its sole and permanent home on HBO Max. A change in venue has done nothing to diminish the idiosyncratic craziness of the series, whose third season (premiering September 23) picks up right where it left off, with Dorothy going toe-to-toe with the Candlemaker. It’s no great shock to discover that the core members of the Doom Patrol survive this encounter, but it is somewhat surprising—spoiler alert—to find Niles perishing from his wounds. The glue that initially held these madcap proceedings together, Niles’ demise leaves a gaping hole in the squad’s dynamics. Nonetheless, the motley crew he assembled doesn’t quite know how to feel about his departure, given that they loved him for his kindness and protection, and hated him for turning them into his freakish do-gooder experiments in the first place.
Things are still traumatically twisted in Doom Patrol, whose protagonists remain a fundamentally dysfunctional bunch. Whether it’s Cliff’s malfunctioning hand and clingy bond with his daughter Clara (Bethany Anne Lind) and newborn grandson, Larry’s fraught relationship with his in-the-closet past and the Negative Spirit that dwells in his chest cavity, Jane’s friction with her childhood abuse and the many diverse voices vying for control of Kay, or Cyborg’s guilt over his mother’s death and suspicions about why his S.T.A.R. Labs scientist father Silas (Phil Morris) turned him into a half-man, half-machine creation, the series continues to be rooted in issues of regret, forgiveness, insecurity, responsibility, anger and alienation. Everyone here is caught between obsessing over an ugly past and forging a fresh future, with the concept of reconstitution—physically and emotionally—at the center of their individual and collective struggles.
Which is to say, there’s weighty stuff on Doom Patrol’s mind. And, even though it treats its outcasts with an empathy and consideration that’s rare for this type of loopy material, it’s simultaneously a wantonly juvenile and outrageous affair, one that constantly strives to come up with novel ways to have its audience exclaim, “WTF?” That’s most true in this season’s fourth episode, in which the Doom Patrol turn into hungry zombies and engage in bloody combat with a horde of were-butts—which, for those not in the know, are giant rear ends that walk around on arms and boast enormous, fanged mouths. Additionally participating in this skirmish is an occult detective named Willoughby Kipling (Mark Sheppard) who wields a flaming sword and is presently chatting with the ghost of Niles through his decapitated head, which would be strange if not for the fact that Willoughby often converses with mystical beings—like the glowing female horse-head oracle Baphomet (Chantelle Barry).
For those who’ve never tuned in to Doom Patrol, this must all sound like gibberish, and to be fair, that’s sometimes how it plays; Jeremy Carver’s out-there effort delights in speeding off in wacko directions in each installment. Early episodes in this season send the Doom Patrol to a mountain resort (where they inadvertently cross paths with an old Brotherhood of Evil baddie who’s been waiting decades to assassinate Rita), the processing area for the afterlife (where they’re saved by Neil Gaiman’s Dead Boy Detectives), and the forest stronghold of the Sisterhood of Dada (who, true to form, are keen on surrealistic head games). This scattershot storytelling approach can occasionally lead to dead ends, but mostly, it’s the key to the show’s success, with each chapter brimming with manic high-on-paint-thinner energy.
Doom Patrol wouldn’t work, however, without its stellar cast, led by Brendan Fraser as the voice of Cliff, a constantly cursing old-school automaton grappling with the loss of his mortal frame, the death of his wife, and other assorted existential crises. Even though Fraser doesn’t embody Cliff on-screen (those duties are capably handled by Riley Shanahan), his vocal performance—equal parts vulgar, morose and bitterly sarcastic—epitomizes the series’ tone. Matt Bomer’s similarly disembodied turn as the bandaged Larry, meanwhile, provides the show with its heart; his character, a gay former Air Force pilot wracked by self-loathing, is the foundation for the show’s multifaceted portrait of identity and self-definition, which extends to glamorous Rita and her corporeally unstable disorder, Jane’s fragmented-consciousness condition, and a sentient street named Danny (who’s now an ambulance, somehow) that’s a safe haven for LGBTQ+ and out-of-the-ordinary folks sought by the evil Bureau of Normalcy.
One has to simply go with Doom Patrol’s bizarre flow, whose latest batch of episodes revolve around the appearance of a mysterious amnesiac named Laura De Mille (Michelle Gomez) who travels in a time machine marked by giant drills, and who desperately wants to find Niles. Though hardcore DC fans will quickly deduce Laura’s true nature (and purpose), there’s ultimately no way to stay completely ahead of Carver’s series, which zigs and zags with the sort of reckless rollercoaster abandon that—were it not so entertaining—might make one queasy. Then again, that would also be fitting, what with the Doom Patrol’s newest adventure featuring, for good gross-out measure, more than one instance of colorful vomit.