Can we just have a full episode of “Steele and Stone,” please?
Then again, perhaps the silliness of Cliff’s (Brendan Fraser) fantasy served its purpose: a belly-laugh in the middle of one of Doom Patrol‘s heaviest episodes yet. Last year, the fourth-wall breaking did the job of comedic tension release pretty well. But with that motif pretty well spent, it’s up to the characters’ dreams and fantasies to create an antidote to their deep emotional pain. And boy, did we need a salve this week.
The episode mainly circled around Larry (Matt Bomer) visiting again with his surviving child. Everything about his story is tough because there are no easy answers. As he says in the episode, he could have told his wife he was gay and given her an out — but from his son’s recollections of her life after Larry’s apparent death, it’s clear she genuinely loved him even if she surmised he couldn’t exactly return those feelings. Then there’s the era in which they lived. He couldn’t really be out without losing everything. Sure, he lost everything anyway, but the scars would be different. And, maybe, they wouldn’t have led to Larry’s son calling the Bureau of Normalcy on him. Nevertheless, his son would still resent him because Larry is no hero here. His fear ate up so many of his opportunities to make good that it’s hardly a wonder his son would shout “you’re a curse on this family!”
But we have to wonder if this is the end of this part of the story. Unlike his reconciliation with his boyfriend last season, there can be no accord with his family; particularly after Larry’s grandson took a few rounds to the stomach. Perhaps Larry’s story will switch to the family he actually has. One thing we’ve been impressed by all season are the glimpses of Larry and Rita’s (April Bowlby) friendship. Sure, it was there last year — particularly when we learned they moved in together at the beginning of the season finale — but there’s something more alive, casual, and intimate about it now. Last season, we would’ve needed a whole scene of Rita convincing herself to go with Larry. Now, it’s clear she’ll be there to support him. Then consider the scene on the porch in which she reminds him that it’s good he traveled to see his son and, as it turned out, two more generations of his progeny. Sure, it went bad, but in that moment, it was the right thing thing to do.
Conversely, Larry’s decision to bring Rita along was exactly what she needed: to get out of her head for a bit. Sure, Rita’s never really out of her head (as seen in her awkward interactions with Larry’s grandson and great grandson), but it was the break she needed from the ugly memory of her mother and the pain of bombing that audition.
And didgeridoo aside, she did bomb that audition.
Nevertheless, we’d love to see Larry help Rita a little more directly with her current emotional scar. Granted, he’s not really equipped to do that, but maybe just being there will be more curative than anything else.
Meanwhile, Cliff helped Vic (Joivan Wade) uncover the right words to get back in Roni’s (Karen Obilom) good graces. It’s a sweet little moment, but there’s plenty of uncomfortable tension in their post-coital discussion. All of her talk about the bad things she will do and even the business about her files being a warning leaves us to wonder if this is all an op so the Quorum can get a hold of the Stone tech in Vic’s body. Back in the comics, they gave Major Force a home, so we know they have to be bad. It just remains to be seen if they are employing Roni’s more subtle abilities to get a hold of Cyborg.
Oh, also, Cliff’s blundering while waiting for Vic was another great moment of comedy.
But it all serves as prologue for a potent cliffhanger. There is not a moment in the episode where the interactions between Babydoll (Diane Guerrero) and Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro) seem healthy. We’re not really sure what Caulder’s (Timothy Dalton) angle was here, but desperation seems likely as the Candlemaker invading the Underground was the only possible outcome. Then again, it’s possible Caulder wanted Dorothy to remove some of Jane’s more irksome personas. Who can ever tell with him?
What we can say is that Guerrero and Shapiro continue to deliver great performances in two of the toughest roles on the show. While Larry’s story may be the most resonant, getting Jane and Dorothy to contain dramatic weight is nothing short of a magic trick.
Doom Patrol streams Thursdays on DC Universe and HBO Max.