NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the third season of, “Doom Patrol” are present in this review

 

 

Among the heavily unpredictable quality of DC’s increasingly massive live-action television multiverse, one particular standout has always been Doom Patrol. Originally made for the since-shuttered television arm of the DC Universe app (now DC Universe Infinite), Doom Patrol has now moved full-time to HBO Max with its latest third season, after its second season was simultaneously hosted on both HBO Max and DC Universe. This mirrors the majority of surviving DC Universe shows, who have also taken up new homes as Max Originals (except for Stargirl, which instead migrated to The CW), and thanks to Doom Patrol already carving out a niche on HBO Max last year, the transition to WarnerMedia’s all-purpose streaming platform is all the more easy for this eccentric dramedy series.

Doom Patrol also appears to have gotten a budget boost after its move to HBO Max, and this is reflected by its third season being its most ambitious to date. This season brings in some major threats from the Doom Patrol’s DC Comics history, including the Sisterhood of Dada, shapeshifting nemesis, Madame Rouge (played in a standout new role by Doctor Who’s Michelle Gomez), and the Brotherhood of Evil, led by major Doom Patrol enemies, The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. There are no shortage of exciting obstacles for the titular team to face in Season 3, and this helps to alleviate Doom Patrol’s previous sophomore season being forced to end early due to COVID-19 complications, something that also resulted in an awkward cliffhanger ending that Season 3 almost immediately pivots away from.

That pivot also carries a big swing with it too, namely that Timothy Dalton’s Niles Caulder/The Chief, leader of the Doom Patrol in this self-contained live-action universe, is killed early in the season premiere. This leaves the team without a leader in Season 3, instead forcing them to both face their grief, and pick up the pieces of their broken, newly-unmoored lives. There’s not much time to think though, after an amnesiac Madame Rouge shows up at Doom Manor, seeking an audience with the late Chief. This is a great story device to start the season with, once again plumbing new dramatic depths for the team, while still leaving room for some kooky fun.

Unfortunately, Doom Patrol’s usually sharp balance between dark comedy and tragic drama nonetheless gets a little wobbly in Season 3. It’s still a mostly good season overall, but Season 3 of Doom Patrol remains noticeably more uneven than the show’s previous two seasons. The fact that some of these shaky elements came in after Doom Patrol was forced to abandon DC Universe, and move full-time to HBO Max, is no doubt a coincidence for the most part, but I can’t help but wonder if the show’s boosted budget and scope might be somewhat to blame. After all, following the move to a new streaming platform for a unique, proudly bizarre superhero series like Doom Patrol, there’s probably a combination of exciting new resources, but also fresh anxiety that the new streamer will quickly abandon the show, if it’s seen to not be a good fit for the new platform’s audience. This creative anxiety might be part of the reason why Doom Patrol’s third season tries to squeeze in way more plot elements than its ten-episode span can realistically handle, while also being capped off by a surprisingly definitive season finale that could have easily doubled as a series finale, had HBO Max suddenly decided to dump the show.

Fortunately, all of that apparent showrunner anxiety appears to have been unfounded, since Doom Patrol has now been renewed for a fourth season, allowing it to remain as a fan-favourite Max Original Series for the time being. That Season 4 renewal only draws more attention to some of the issues in Season 3 however, as the season’s narrative quickly becomes lost within itself, effectively spotlighting some Doom Patrol members, but not all of them. In fact, Larry gets a particularly raw deal this season, having nothing to do but sit in his room and mope about his lost negative spirit, before his aged son, Paul is eventually rediscovered, only for Paul to still want nothing to do with Larry. Larry does attempt to stand out by taking care of a weird space parasite that he suddenly coughs up, after it’s mistaken for a tumour, but the parasite hatching into a new negative spirit is rather predictable, on top of basically bringing Larry’s Season 3 character arc in a big, fat circle.

Vic similarly takes too long to find his footing in Season 3. Vic remains a bit of an odd addition to the live-action Doom Patrol in general, since he’s much more recognizable as a member of the Titans or the Justice League in most DC media, though Vic does manage to provide a decent link to more grounded superhero convention for this series, when he’s written well. With Roni and the Quorum both being largely sidelined in Season 3 though, Vic is similarly left to do little more than mope about the burden of his technology, and his strained relationship with his father, something that’s becoming very tired by the end of Doom Patrol’s third season. Vic eventually getting his technology removed is a potentially intriguing turn for this show’s future, especially when he nonetheless opts to remain with the Doom Patrol, even when de-powered, but Vic facing the necessity of his heroism, along with the reason for his heroic aspirations, takes too long to really get off the ground, and that once again leaves Vic’s character to suffer in contrast to most of his teammates.

Fortunately, the rest of the Doom Patrol generally fare better in Season 3. Dorothy Spinner leaves the team after her father dies, mind you, instead walking off with the Dead Boy Detectives, another former Vertigo graphic novel team that’s now migrated its way into the mainline DC Universe, and one that just so happens to have an offshoot HBO Max series in development, with some of Doom Patrol’s creative team behind it. Even so, Rita, Jane and Cliff face some very interesting character conflicts in the wake of Chief’s death, with Cliff evidently suffering a hand tremor that the late Chief can no longer repair for him, while Jane reckons with Kay wanting to take back control of her body, and Rita tries to embrace yet another new role as a would-be hero, or at least a good-natured citizen.

On that note, Rita is very much the MVP of Doom Patrol’s third season, getting both the most story emphasis, and the most successful plot turns. This is because Rita ends up building a surprising connection with Madame Rouge, going by her civilian name, Laura de Mille for most of this season, something that eventually comes full circle after Rita steals Laura’s time machine, and travels back to 1917. At this point, Rita lives several decades in the past, not only giving her a compelling personal connection to new antagonists, the Sisterhood of Dada, but also allowing Rita to better herself by forging a romantic relationship with Malcolm, a character loosely based on DC Comics’ Agent !. This journey of additional maturity finally allows Rita to fully develop into the leader figure that she was always meant to be. This is on top of Laura’s time machine erasing Rita’s memories in the process, which effectively gives Rita a blank slate with her team in the present day, once she eventually finds her way back to them.

Jane, meanwhile, gets a very clever turn through Kay wanting to seek more independence. The other personalities of the Underground then become nervous about Kay taking back over, since it would likely mean that they, as well as Jane, would cease to exist, resulting in some very interesting tension between Jane and the rest of the Underground. That tension is further exacerbated by the Sisterhood of Dada, who initially appear to give the Underground reliable shelter from Kay’s struggling attempts to take back control of her body. This in turn would seemingly put Jane at odds with the other Doom Patrol members on paper, but surprisingly, Jane instead stepped up, and ended up becoming the surprising moral compass of the Doom Patrol this season. Jane was a loyal ally to her team and the Underground alike, but also quickly made peace with the fact that Kay will inevitably return to her body someday, a hard truth that Chief’s death also made especially apparent.

Finally, Cliff now gets a chance to connect with his estranged daughter, Clara, and her newly born grandson, Rory, and this happens to occur right as he believes he’s dying from Parkinson’s Disease. Despite this fear however, Cliff refuses to see a doctor, instead sinking his attention into every distraction imaginable, from cam models, to online video games, to scam internet medication. Cliff may be a brain in a robot shell, but his arc feels like one of the most starkly human in all of Doom Patrol’s third season, as Cliff faces his mortality in a way that feels a lot more real than, say, Jane does. Cliff’s refusal to face his affliction also inevitably causes friction with Clara and her wife to boot, eventually threatening to once again leave Cliff without a biological family. Cliff still doesn’t get himself checked out by the end of this season, mind you, but he does eventually come around to his decisions affecting other people. This effectively inches Cliff along on his own compelling journey of heightened maturity, thus allowing him to ultimately avoid losing his daughter all over again, in a nicely heartwarming final turn for Cliff’s Season 3 arc.

Unfortunately, the villains and comedy elements of Doom Patrol’s third season proved to be a mixed bag. At least some of the comedy-driven episodes in Season 3 still manage to work well, such as the Doom Patrol being killed and going to the afterlife, and then becoming zombies in the following episode, for example. Beyond that though, Doom Patrol’s third season skews excessively in favour of drama, most of which is framed around the Sisterhood of Dada. The Sisterhood are a group of oppressed, oft-mocked metahumans in the Doom Patrol universe, and they decide to strike back at humanity with the Eternal Flagellation, something meant to invert the subconscious and conscious minds of every sentient person on Earth. This is a clever idea, but it’s over far too quickly, and that’s made worse by the fact that the Doom Patrol don’t need the Eternal Flagellation to be tormented by their subconscious demons. Not only that, but the Sisterhood in general fails to make much of an impression before long, with their headlining quirks mostly being the basis of their entire character.

Similarly, The Brain and Monsieur Mallah are criminally wasted this season, despite the fact that they’re both two of the most long-running and popular enemies of the Doom Patrol in DC Comics lore. This is because The Brain and Monsieur Mallah are more comedic characters, representing the shameful ruins of the Brotherhood of Evil in present-day 2021. They’re meant to be a clear byproduct of The Chief’s heyday under the Bureau of Normalcy, before he began the experiments that would later create the Doom Patrol. Because of this, the increased dramatic focus of Doom Patrol’s third season leaves both of these villains with far too little to do. The Brain in particular eventually suffers a thankless, humiliating defeat in the Season 3 finale to boot, having accomplished nothing of real worth.

Fortunately, Season 3’s open-ended conclusion, which, as I said, feels like it was designed to double as a final episode if necessary, does leave a lot of possibilities for Doom Patrol to embrace in Season 4, especially now that its eponymous team has officially committed to becoming superheroes in earnest. Season 3 burns through way too many fan-favourite DC villains way too quickly, but this could still hopefully lay the foundation for Season 4 of Doom Patrol to become more focused, while still embracing a heightened scope. The fact that HBO Max has now officially committed to supporting Doom Patrol for the immediate future should also hopefully lead to more creative security for the writers, actors and showrunners, who will ideally feel less of an urge to cram in everything that they want to explore with these strange characters all at once, out of fear that the series could be cancelled at any moment.

In fact, maybe a do-over for some of these recent villains might not be a bad idea for next season. The Brain’s got to be good for more than using Cliff’s robot body to hit on retirees, right?

Doom Patrol: Season 3 Review
Doom Patrol's third season loses some of the series' comedic precision and character focus, but it does manage to maintain most of that reliable tragicomic charm.
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Standout character arcs for Rita, Cliff and Jane
  • Chief's death creates a clever obstacle of grief
  • Laura de Mille/Madame Rouge nicely shakes up the team's ensemble
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Larry and Vic frequently get underserved in the season's narrative
  • Strained focus that fails to adequately develop the villains
  • Slightly weaker comedy elements
80%Overall Score
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