Larry and the Dead Boy Detective Agency were successful in retrieving the rest of the Doom Patrol from Purgatory, but they haven’t exactly come back unscathed. Something is happening to our heroes, causing them to start breaking down and giving them a hankering for brains. Basically, it’s the worst possible time for a stranger (Michelle Gomez) to show up with amnesia and a ton of sass.
This episode continues on with the morbidly hilarious tone of the season by showing us just what the heck Willoughby Kipling needed with the head of Niles Caulder. This sequence contains some excellent effects work, both on the practical and CGI fronts. The result is something that feels like it’s just next to reality.
For my money, Niles’ severed head never looks fake, but it also exists in a space where it’s never too real to the point where it’d genuinely freak me out. This is one of the magic tricks that Doom Patrol keeps pulling off as a show; it’s so good at balancing the absurd and surreal with genuine drama and pathos. As for Willoughby’s plan, it’s so selfish and macabre, but also oddly sweet — in other words, it makes perfect sense for the character.
Coming back from the dead is no simple feat, and the Doom Patrol all deal with it in different ways. The cast gets to go to some interesting emotional places, particularly when it comes to Cyborg (Joivan Wade). At first, Cyborg’s scenes with his father (guest star Phil Morris) feel like a bit of a retread of the arguments they’ve had in the past.
However, Cyborg’s experience on the other side informs the kind of righteous anger he feels toward his father, opening up new possibilities for the character’s arc. Wade and Morris bring a grounded push-and-pull to this argument. Silas Stone is a fascinating character, because he truly believes that he did the right thing, even if it costs him a relationship with his son.
However, the star of the show this week is arguably Michelle Gomez as Laura De Mille, a.k.a. Madam Rouge. Having just hopped out of a time machine with no memory and a borrowed wardrobe that recalls 1960s Patrick Troughton, Rouge is portrayed as a woman who is constantly thrilled and fascinated by every little detail. Because of this, she’s able to push some serious buttons without even realizing it.
Gomez is able to make a blank slate of a character incredibly compelling, because you can feel that she really wants to be a good person — but she’s terrified of learning that she might not be. A few bits of physical comedy and a captivating dance number in the middle of the episode seal the deal; Laura might just be my new favorite character.
As the episode’s title implies, this installment brings some truly ghoulish imagery to the forefront. A mix of wacky gags helps to keep this one from going too dark, particularly when some outstanding gore effects start popping into the episode. The sound design is positively sickening, with a few bone-crunching moments feeling particularly visceral. But that’s also balanced out by the hilarious wrinkle of having the Doom Patrol still be able to communicate through subtitled grunts and groans.
The physicality of the cast is a real highlight here, as each actor brings a kind of lanky, shambling charm to their new undead bodies. Also, the “50s drive-in movie” take on the Doom Patrol main title is a blast. The slow and disgusting transformations of the characters also acts as an interesting commentary on their personalities. Every single one of them is so wrapped up in their own inner drama that it takes them forever to notice something is amiss with their friends.
Where this episode loses a few points is in its villain reveal. The return of a particular character is somewhat underwhelming, particularly since they kind of get lost in the shuffle of the episode’s big set-piece. But that’s really a small gripe, considering how fun that action sequence is. I didn’t realize I needed to see Larry do his best Leatherface impression until it was happening. There may not be a better example of this show’s perfect balance of tone than the fact that the final scenes of the episode manage to be emotionally affecting, even after seeing the team throw down with a barn full of sentient butts.
Season 3 continues to be both insanely weird and profoundly sweet at the same time, and the send-off of one particular character has me very curious to see where these misfits go from here.
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