Niles Caulder’s band of misfits are back for a second season of misadventures. After a first season finale that was weird even by this show’s standards, we rejoin them in three new episodes: “Fun-Size Patrol,” “Tyme Patrol,” and “Pain Patrol.” How are our reluctant heroes doing?
The first thing that is evident in the three episodes that premiered on DC Universe and HBO Max this week is that there’s no easy answer to that question. Sure, the team came a long way towards understanding themselves, but they’re still deeply traumatized people who have literal decades of baggage to work through.
We get that right away with this batch of episodes. While the rest of the team has been in hiding for years, poor Dorothy Spinner had to spend a good deal of time with ridicule right in her face. The fact that she’s still able to look at the world through innocent eyes is a miracle, and it’s no wonder why Niles wants to shield her so thoroughly.
In the role of Dorothy, Abigail Shapiro is a revelation. Though much of her screen time is devoted to the precocious, wide-eyed optimism of Dorothy’s Oz-bound namesake, Shapiro is given plenty of opportunities to find other levels within the character. From righteous anger to utter sadness to sheer elation, Shapiro comes through in every moment. As with many of the other actors on this series, she also manages to make that performance come through all of the makeup her character requires, which is a feat all on its own.
Dorothy is a fascinating character that could have come across as a little too much like Crazy Jane, but who is handled perfectly in the context of this show. The decision to use Jane as an unlikely audience surrogate in the opening moments of the first episode is a clever choice, as well. We get a reintroduction to our heroes through the eyes of Dorothy, which makes for some fun gags and gives us further insight into how Dorothy sees the world.
Speaking of the team, the returning cast also slip right perfectly back into their roles. April Bowlby is particularly fantastic in these opening episodes, perfectly balancing the portrayal of Rita Farr in different points in time. We get a sense of her inner struggle over the years as she’s evolved as a person, becoming less of a “lost cause” as she’s grown.
The combination of Matthew Zuk’s physicality and Matt Bomer’s voice as Larry Trainor never ceases to astound me, either. The two have formed such a perfect synthesis that it feels like one dead-on performance. In particular, Zuk does a phenomenal job of portraying Larry’s hopelessness during a few crucial scenes.
Yes, these episodes are very much on the dark side. That’s not to say they don’t have plenty of humor to back them up. The image of Robotman walking around with a rat pelt or Doctor Tyme’s particularly nasty fall had me giggling like an idiot. However, this show has always been about how a group of profoundly messed-up people try to move forward with their lives, and this show doesn’t forget about that.
This may be best illustrated in Cyborg’s scenes from the first few episodes. While his character was oftentimes a bit of a stick in the mud in the first season, there was a sweet kind of sincerity to Joivan Wade’s performance that made Cyborg into a strangely lovable buzzkill. That’s still the case with this season, but Wade is also given a bit more to do in terms of fleshing out his character. Here, he’s still shaken by the manipulations of his father and his encounters with Mr. Nobody, so he tries to find peace through new methods.
This leads him into the arms of another new cast member, Karen Obilom as the mysterious Roni Evers. Obilom plays Evers as a bit of a mystery, so it’s no surprise when Vic Stone begins to develop feelings for her. It will be interesting to see how this storyline develops over the course of the season and how Vic’s isolation effects his character development. In the meantime, Wade and Obilom are great to watch on screen together. The two characters challenge one another in new ways, and it’s clear that their rapport was a blast for the two actors to dig into.
So far, the season doesn’t have a clear villain, which surprisingly isn’t a problem. This is especially true because every characters seems oddly defeated in their own way. Cliff Steele is angrier than ever, giving suit actor Riley Shanahan a chance to throw himself into some fun action beats, as well as giving Brendan Fraser some of the most colorfully hilarious (and vulgar) dialogue that the character has had thus far.
The driving conflict of these first few episodes is Niles Caulder’s continuing quest for immortality. To his credit, Timothy Dalton imbues Caulder with some new layers. He seems more vulnerable than ever before, but with brief flashes of deadly malice. It’s hard to watch as he scolds Dorothy towards the end of the season premiere, but it feels like Caulder is constantly warring against his better angels.
I had some concerns going into this season that the production delays resulting from COVID-19 and the reduced episode count compared to last season would lead to some shortcomings in the series’ production quality. However, those concerns have so far turned out to be unwarranted. The special effects are on par with the first season (even better in a few moments). Also, Clint Mansell and Kevin Kiner’s fantastic score continues to perfectly suit the series’ oddball tone.
The creature designs are pretty great in these episodes, as well. Of particular note is the design of Doctor Tyme, who looks like he just stepped right off the comics page and feels almost like something out of The Tick. The Hellraiser-esque elements of the third episode are fantastic as well, particularly in the villainous Red Jack’s makeup and costuming, as well as in the gruesome transformation sequence.
There are a few bits that don’t work quite as well as they should. The third episode in particular raises a few logic questions that aren’t satisfactorily answered. For instance, it’s not properly explained how the team manages to escape the other dimension they’re in. Another odd bit of world-jumping is how the Underground is being run at this point. While the logistics of Jane’s little personality commune have always been a little vague, the method of going to and from the Underground appears to have changed. Then again, Jane also appears to be out of the loop on this one, so that disorientation may be by design.
On the subject of Jane, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great Diane Guerrero continues to be on this show. Jane spends much of these episodes suppressing her other personalities, which allows Guerrero to give one of the most focused looks at Jane and her own struggle. While it’s always a good time to see how Guerrero juggles the many, many sides of Jane, it was fascinating to see Jane herself take center stage.
Overall, this is a great start to this second season. We get a sense of character growth and the stakes have been raised in new ways. These episodes also answer a few lingering questions from the first season, retroactively tightening some of the plot threads from last year. In other words, the best superhero show on television is back, and it may prove to be better than ever. I’ll see you all next week for an episode that is sure to be a wild ride: “Sex Patrol.”