One almost gets the feeling we haven’t seen all of Doom Patrol‘s second season.
Nonetheless, the road the show took this year has been a satisfying one. Ever defying the conventions of a Greg Berlanti-produced superhero show, Doom Patrol went further into the interiors of the character and offered them an cruel diagnosis: they cannot fix their pasts. In a lot of superhero tales, fighting crime is meant to atone for or avenge some episode in the lives of the character which contributed most to their psyches — watching their parents be murdered in an alley, neglecting an uncle to show off, etc. For Cliff (Brendan Fraser), Rita (April Bowlby), Larry (Matt Bomer), Jane (Diane Guerrero) and Vic (Joivan Wade), the moments of their pasts contributing to their current mental unrest may not be as operatic as Batman or Spider-Man, but they mean everything to who they’ve become and what they’re fighting to be. And though as a series, Doom Patrol often puts their traumas in the context of comic book craziness, their pains are mundane and, ultimately, all too real.
This time around, though, we see it in the form of imaginary friends who, bizarrely, speak directly to these on-going pains. Cliff, for example, is stuck in a cycle of generational neglect. He didn’t know how to be a father because his own father was not there for him (echoing her daughter’s fear from last week that she will not be there for her child). For Rita, it’s the terrible knowledge of what her mother did to get her first big job — an emotional scar inflicted on too young a person. And, curiously, Vic’s pain stems from the whole notion of being a superhero; that goal never gave him the emotional bandwidth to deal with something like a break-up, or, indeed, attacking his father last season. That issue is also unresolved.
It is interesting, then, to note how all of these story threads, woven throughout the season, came to a head not as catharsis, but as fodder for the Candlemaker to undo the Doom Patrol. In terms of production, it is a ballsy way to end the year and suggests the show knows its coming back or held episodes in reserve. The first season was 15 episodes and this year, only 9. Do six remain on a server somewhere to create a “Season 3” or has HBO Max already decided to invest in a long-term Doom Patrol future?
The questions are as tantalizing as any presented in the finale.
The big one within the series, of course, is what destiny Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro) faces with the Candlemaker and why does her mother seem so sure she can defeat him? Maybe Niles (Timothy Dalton) and Kipling (Mark Sheppard) have it all wrong. Or, maybe, the Candlemaker will turn out to be as impotent as most of the “villains” the Doom Patrol face. And considering the show is more about interior struggles than exterior fisticuffs, maybe the Candlemaker is something Dororthy can only confront by growing up.
Then again, growing up was definitely Miranda’s problem. It clear she, more than any of the other personas, wanted to find a secure, heteronormative life. She was a young woman in the 1960s, after all, and that was a goal fed to her by society. But her chosen man found a way to ruin it and, as it turns out, allowed Jane to become primary. It also seemingly created a pathway for whatever is pretending to be Miranda to slip into the Underground. It’s possible the phony Miranda is the Candlemaker, but it is also possible this entity will be Season 3’s recurring threat. We hope it is the latter as it continues the show’s overall theme of interior struggles with a new dimension.
And for all of the struggles, there’s something to be said for the team to actual form under Larry’s leadership, as suggested in this finale. He may be the best suited to lead the group in a traditional superteam sense. Unfortunately, it’s still the sort of thing that can only last for the length of group shot, then get undermined for comedy. But looking to the future, Larry is also the closest to processing his pain and learning to move on. If becoming a superhero is some sort of metaphor for mental health, he’s the one standing for a cape-fitting.
Which may be why he didn’t have an imaginary friend in the first place and why the Candlemaker had to wax him directly.
The fact Doom Patrol even gives us the room to consider such topics is one of the reasons we love the show and why we devoted so much digital ink to it each week of the second season. It creates so many emotional and philosophical moments while also remembering to make us laugh with a potty-mouth Jesus or Rita’s grotesque paper doll imaginary friend. It makes us want to party with Danny, where ever they are, but also want to celebrate the way Jane has grown over the last two years. And, perhaps more importantly, it makes us want to see all of the characters get better. Because if their pains are so familiar and mundane, than maybe we can overcome ours as well.
Doom Patrol may return in the future.