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‘Doom Patrol’ Season 3 premiere review: To Heaven and back again

Death is not the end for DC’s strangest heroes.

Although Doom Patrol‘s second season was full of standout moments and killer episodes, it was unfortunately cut short by the onset of COVID-19. Now here we are (still in a pandemic), but finally able to see how the saga of Dorothy and the Candlemaker comes to a head. It’s been a long wait, but if the first three episodes of Season 3 are any indication, then the show hasn’t missed a step.

Beware of spoilers ahead.

The season premiere, “Possibilities Patrol,” picks up from the ending of Season 2 and quickly resolves things between the big bad Candlemaker and the little girl who dreamed him up — perhaps a bit too quickly. However, as with all of the best Doom Patrol stories, the real resolution comes not from a climactic battle, but from a frank and emotional discussion.

There’s a lot of table-clearing done in the first few minutes of this episode, and to see Dorothy come out the other side of it a bit older and wiser is a greatly rewarding moment for the fans. Abi Monterey handles her scenes in this episode with a quiet resolve that shows the audience just how far the character has come from the scared kid that’s always kept in the dark.

Of course, the real event that kicks off the characters’ journeys this season is the death of Niles Caulder. Though it seemed at one time that he’d live forever, the Chief has shuffled off this mortal coil, naturally leaving a number of human wrecks in his wake. Everyone has to deal with what this new hole in their lives means. For Cliff, it means that his failing body may not be fixable.

For Rita, it means trying to figure out what kind of hero she really wants to be. For Larry, it means embarking on yet another quest to find inner peace for both himself and the mysterious Spirit that lives inside of him. And for Jane, it means putting herself (all of herself) back together again, this time without the questionable “aid” of the Chief’s therapy sessions.

doom patrol 3.1.2

Jane continues to be a fascinating character, as we see her finally confronting the illness inside her, which has manifested as the villainous Miranda. The hows and whys of the Underground have always been a bit nebulous – and that certainly doesn’t change here – but as a loyal viewer of the show, her moment of triumph towards the end of the episode was worth the few head-scratching moments that popped up.

Everyone gets some supremely satisfying character moments in this premiere. Rita’s meltdown during rehearsals for Our Town!, the play about Rita’s “attack” on Cloverton, reveals all of the baggage she’s still carrying from the Chief. It also occurs in the most Rita Farr-esque way possible: launching into a monologue when she’s supposed to only speak a single line. Larry’s ascent to the stars is sadly beautiful, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Meanwhile, Cliff literally gets to tell off a dead man for ruining his life.

In his few short scenes, Timothy Dalton reminds viewers once again why he’s the perfect choice for the profoundly flawed Niles Caulder. There’s a vulnerability to these moments that make one almost sympathize with him and see how he came around to justifying his horrific actions. In many ways, Niles continues to be the villain of the show, even after he’s gone. He destroys everything he touches, and yet the characters profoundly miss him when he’s gone. I think audiences will feel the same way.

Following a cringe-filled and hilarious glimpse at opening night for Our Town! — which feels of a piece with Red, White, and Blaine from Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman — we get the introduction of Madame Rouge, played by the incomparable Michelle Gomez. Though her appearance is brief, the scene is as entertaining as it is bewildering, with the character vacillating between crude humor and casual murder.

“Vacay Patrol” cranks up the silliness a bit by starting things off in 1949, treating viewers to a meeting between comics-accurate versions of The Brain, Monsieur Mallah, and Garguax the Decimator (played by Stephen Murphy with a kind of congenial menace). Along with his paige Samuelson (a scene-stealing Billy Boyd), Garguax has been tasked with waiting in the quiet resort town of Codsville for the arrival of Rita Farr. Unfortunately, he’s some 70 years too early, so viewers get to see what becomes of a world conquerer when he’s forced into a quiet and repetitive life. Hardcore fans of the comics may recognize the name of the town as a clever bit of foreshadowing for how this episode plays out.

'Doom Patrol' Season 3 premiere review: To Heaven and back again

Before that wild conclusion, however, the characters get plenty of quiet reflection. In many ways, this episode feels like the wake following Niles’ funeral. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are without the Chief around, and none of them manage to get too far. Even so, their fight towards starting over is still gripping to watch. After all, these are the world’s strangest heroes — it makes sense that they’d grieve strangely, too.

Rita has literally melted down, spending much of the episode in a bag. This provides April Bowlby with an opportunity to deploy some hilarious voice acting and the prop department with the perfect excuse to create some hilarious gags, with a highlight being a silly straw leading into an old bag.

The vacation setting also leads to some great exchanges about superhero etiquette. Are you supposed to fight someone who’s on vacation? Are you even a super-team when you’re self-appointed leader is dead? Is it literal or a metaphor when someone is called an “eater of worlds?” This is the kind of debate that only the Doom Patrol would have.

“Dead Patrol” finds the team navigating purgatory with the help of the Dead Boy Detective Agency. Guest stars Ty Tennant and Sebastian Croft bring Neil Gaiman’s Edwin Payne and Charles Rowland to life with decidedly modern and sarcastic flair. They’re joined by Madalyn Horcher as their best friend and psychic conduit, Crystal Palace.

Portions of this episode take on a distinctive “backdoor pilot” feel, with more than a few moments feeling like teases of a larger story that is just waiting to be told. That being said, I would gladly watch a full series of their adventures, so I hope that HBO Max pilot gets picked up. The references to the source material (and the wider Vertigo universe) were much appreciated, as was the obvious chemistry that these performers already have together.

The main focus of the episode is following the fallen members of the Doom Patrol as they come to terms with their pasts and resolve to settle their unfinished business back on earth. These scenes really cut to the core of the characters, giving the main cast some great material to work with, and it will be interesting to see what they learn and how they change after this.

Of course, it’s not all heady speeches and reckoning with inner demons. This episode also provided me with some huge laughs. The callbacks to last season’s “Sex Patrol” are very fun, as is Larry’s disproportionate reaction to finding the bodies of his friends on his doorstep. Negative Man actor Matthew Zuk gets to do some really fantastic physical work in these scenes, showing a version of Larry that is even more untethered than usual. There’s also a gross-out gag at the end of the episode that gave me one of my biggest laughs of the series.

Lastly, one of the things that really stuck out to me about this episode is the show’s depiction of the afterlife. Each character seems to be in their own personal “Happy Place,” as the spirit of Cliff’s dad puts it. They have no idea what’s going on down on Earth, even with the people whom they were closest to, and it seems like they’re totally at peace with that fact.

It seems like an isolating way to spend eternity, but all of them have seen so much pain in the world of the living that it almost seems like their reward is that they don’t have to be worry about the ones they’ve left behind. They don’t have to see the world from where they are. If that’s not the Doom Patrol version of Heaven, then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, my own little version of Heaven is seeing my favorite misfits back on television. Season 3 of Doom Patrol is streaming now on HBO Max.

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