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Doom Patrol 1.3 Review – ‘Puppet Patrol’

March 1, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Doom Patrol -- EP 103C-- "Puppet Patrol"
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Doom Patrol 1.3 Review – ‘Puppet Patrol’  

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who have not seen Friday’s episode of Doom Patrol.]

You have to give it up for Doom Patrol. Even if you’re not a fan of what Jeremy Carver and Greg Berlanti are doing here, you have to show some respect for the fact that their show is exactly what it wants to be. That is evident in just about every frame of this series. Sure, sometimes it riffs off established comic book film or television tropes. I think it’s fair to say there’s more than a touch of Deadpool’s brand of irreverence here, and its deeply-flawed yet oddball protagonists have a strong Watchmen motif to it. But truly, this is a show that knows where it’s going. It’s less that the show sometimes falls in those other projects’ lines, and more that it considers its own road more important than what it is or isn’t hewing close to.

“Puppet Patrol” is a perfect example of that. As the quest to find the Chief begins, our unlikely heroes find themselves in an episode that is equal parts bizarre hilarity and punches right in the old feels. That’s probably not surprising; it’s not quite on the level of reality-warping donkey flatulence, after all. But knowing where the line is allows episode writers Tamara Becher-Wilkinson and Tom Farrell craft a story that feels in keeping with the first two episodes, while making some choice improvements.

Doom Patrol Larry

Thus far, Doom Patrol has leaned pretty hard into daring its viewers not to like the characters. It’s been able to do that because the actors and the material make them sympathetically flawed, as opposed to just flawed. Cliff’s a snarky ass and Rita’s fairly cold, but the context allows us to appreciate them. “Puppet Patrol” trusts that we’ve had enough investment in those two for now and turns its attention to Larry.

Larry’s been a likeable enough guy so far, but he’s also a bit of a blank slate. We know what happened to make Larry what he is, but we don’t know much about him beyond that. This episode changes that, diving back into Larry’s life pre-accident to see who he was before he was Negative Man. The flashback is an overused plot device in superhero television; gods know I’ve seen more than enough Arrow flashbacks to last several lifetimes at this point. But that’s because those became gratuitous at some point, just a plot trick to give the current arc context with exponentially decreasing returns. Here, they feel significant because we need to know more about who Larry was.

Larry gets a pretty by-the-book closeted man story, all in all. He’s a man living a double life, but who’s also not comfortable in either of them. “By the book” doesn’t mean bad here, to be clear. The reason it feels so familiar is because it’s pretty honest. And it does its job well, too. Like the others, Larry is made more interesting by his shades of grey. His wife Sheryl and his boyfriend John both have the same complaints in that he’s never truly there. It’s a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor for a guy who currently isn’t ready for honesty with his other to be in the same situation in his past, but that doesn’t change how effective the story is.

Doom Patrol Jane

Larry’s story is also boosted by his comparison to Jane, a character who sees new life in this episode. In my review of the pilot, I was pretty rough on Jane. And I don’t have any qualms about that considering how the episode presented her. It was a stereotypical “CRAZY” characterization.

“Puppet Patrol” doesn’t really go back on that, but it uses that set-up to move onto another story, about how she deals with her alters. Whereas Larry is doing the typical thing of someone fighting his alter, Jane has a different tack. When Larry asks how she keeps her “people in line,” Jane’s response is eye opening: “They’re not ‘my’ people. I don’t control them. I respect them and their right to exist.’” That’s not a level of agency we often see alters have in superhero television, and it’s refreshing.

It also adds a new level of depth to who Jane is. Sure, she wildly swings from one personality to another, but that’s sort of the point. Setting aside the “neuroatypicality by way of childhood trauma” trope, Jane suddenly seems to be far less of a character who just there for wackiness and so the writers can pull powers out of a hat. She’s gone from a character I was giving serious side-eye to in episode one to one I’m very interested to see where she goes from here.

Doom Patrol Team

Of course, it’s not all about character depth here. We have a Chief to save, after all. The hunt for Niles sets the group on the road to Paraguay, and since Cyborg learns that his dad is being a controlling jerk (as Silas tends to be), that means a bus ride and break down. Normally I’d call Jane’s deus ex teleportationa a bit too convenient to come along at just the right time, but again, it’s logical for her character and it fits the somewhat tropey nature of the show.

That brings us to the gloriousness of Fuchtopia. This is where “Puppet Patrol” gets its title and kicks into high gear. The whole thing is absurd, a sort of mad scientist theme park complete with a puppet show and costumed German staff. It shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Because of course in the world of DC, Nazis would turn their services into a Disney-esque resort/client experimentation service. It rolls from one fun moment to another before it gets dead serious. Not only does it bring in Larry, Cliff and Jane’s traumas for a little mind-game action; it also shows us a bit of Niles’ mysterious past with Mr. Nobody.

Ultimately, the team does their job. Jane and Cliff trash the place, albeit at the cost of more emotional trauma for Cliff at the carnage that he wrought. And they have more information that they might be able to go off. It’s pretty great that this show is managing to bring the weird while also moving the plot at a brisk pace; it’s too easy to get bogged down in one and forget the other. But as the team returns from Paraguay, they are — partially in spite of themselves — a little bit more understanding of others in their group. And more importantly, a bit more understanding from our perspective, too.

Doom Patrol Puppet

Some Final Thoughts:

• Apologies for missing out last week. Wizard World Portland was last weekend and because of it I didn’t have time to get to the review.

• On that note, I didn’t get to talk much about Cyborg this week (or obviously last week), so I’m going to give credit to Jovian Wade thus far. His Cyborg is very different than Ray Fisher or other Cyborgs, and yet he feels very true to the character.

• I really can’t say enough good things about the body doubles for Cliff and Larry, particularly Mathew Zuk as Larry. He is able to make really subtle movements with the character that sell what Larry is feeling as much if not more than Matt Bomer’s voice work does.

• I really hope we see more of Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man following his debut this week. Alec Mapa was a comic highlight this week and I really want to see exactly how far they’ll take this guy.

• Hamibal Lector is the best hamster name ever. I hope Shelby found him.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
"Puppet Patrol" shores up the rough points of Doom Patrol's first two episodes and keeps the plot trucking along in a satisfying hour. There's a lot still left to go, but so far, this is another DC Universe series that is hitting the right notes thus far.

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Doom Patrol, Jeremy Thomas