The Beard Hunter strikes Doom Manor as the Chief takes us down memory lane!
It’s been clear from the start that the Chief has many secrets that have been kept from even his closest companions. As Rita says in this episode, “Talking streets, comic books…I always though the weirdest thing in Chief’s life was us.” Well, this week finally gave viewers more of Chief’s backstory, filling us in on a dark period of his life that he’s kept hidden from everyone, including Mr. Nobody.
While “Hair Patrol” doesn’t give us all of the answers, it does clue us in on how Niles Caulder’s quest for immortality began (so glad his age is finally being addressed) and how he learned to be a little more vicious in his methods. Along the way, we also get some fascinating insight into the origins of the Bureau of Normalcy.
We also get our first wacky villain in a while in the form of Ernest Franklin, a.k.a. Beard Hunter, who has seen some bizarre changes in his first on-screen appearance. Unlike his comic book counterpart, who is essentially a villainous parody of the Punisher who only hunts people with beards, this Beard Hunter has the disgusting ability to assimilate the memories and “essence” of anyone whose facial hair he consumes. He demonstrates this ability in the episode’s most stomach-turning moment. No joke, this series has shown us dismembered bodies and exploding donkeys, but this is the first time I’ve had to look away from the screen. Consider yourselves warned, faithful viewers.
Guest actor Tommy Snider (who recently made a brief but memorable appearance as one of the Alcatraz-obsessed bros on Hulu’s Shrill) brings a kind of manic man-child energy to Beard Hunter. Rather than trying to legitimize the absurdity of the character (how could you?) he instead leans into it, relishing the idea of being a self-made super villain. He’s annoying and bullying, but there’s a palpable sense of pride to his actions, as Ernest has completely embraced his whole “deal.” To the Beard Hunter, his own powers are just as legitimate as Superman’s, which is kind of great; this ridiculous villain is more self-assured than any member of the Doom Patrol. This attitude makes all of his scenes a joy to watch, even when he’s being totally obnoxious.
However, the MVP of this episode is unquestionably Timothy Dalton, who finally gets a spotlight in the series and is tasked with selling some of the strangest scenes of the actor’s long career. I never thought I’d be reviewing a series where Timothy Dalton played a scientist romancing a neanderthal woman, but here we are. To his credit, Dalton never gives the material anything less than the utmost gravity and earnestness. He’s truly incredible in this episode.
Niles begins the episode as a wide-eyed explorer and shows a kind of honesty and vulnerability we haven’t quite seen from the Chief. By the time the episode ends, we begin to see what would make a man like Niles Caulder devote his life to gathering the misfits of the world. Through it all, Dalton maintains a sly gleam in his eyes. It’s a heck of a performance, but it’s still very subtle, which helps to balance out some of the episode’s more out-there aspects.
The locations used in these flashbacks are especially beautiful. This episode has a grand sense of scale that really makes these scenes stand out against the much more insular settings of previous installments. It feels like we’re finally starting to see the rest of the world through the Chief’s eyes, as he finds beauty in the strangest of places.
On the downside of the episode, there were a few things that didn’t quite land for me. The showdown with the Beard Hunter isn’t satisfying in the slightest, mostly because the bulk of the sequence is taken up by Vic arguing with his operating system, Grid. This is eventually resolved with a line or two of dialogue, which makes the whole sequence feel like it was needlessly stretched out. It certainly helps to illustrate more of Vic’s arc of possibly not being able to trust his own body, but this point is hampered by the lazy resolution.
In a similar fashion, the final moments of the episode are pretty baffling. The show has certainly thrown curveballs like this at the audience before (like the donkey’s first appearance at the end of the pilot episode), but this one just felt especially out of left field and didn’t feel like a satisfying payoff for the characters involved. Maybe this isn’t the last we’ve seen of them, but it did feel a little tossed off.
This was still a fun episode that gave us at least a little bit of much-needed clarity in regards to the Chief, as well as some fun hints at future storylines and more characters from the comics. Hopefully all of these juicy tidbits are more than just a tease, because the last act of this episode ended up feeling a little unfocused with all of the unexplained weirdness. As fun as the building mysteries have been, it’s about time we get some answers.
With that in mind, feel free sound off with some of your Doom Patrol theories in the comments and join me next week for “Frances Patrol!”
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