Doom Patrol: Subconscious Patrol

I don’t get it either, dude, but it says we’re both in this scene. Check the call sheet, it’s right there…

The Doom Patrol is a very erratic and sometimes uneven show. It’s absolutely on the surreal end of the superhero spectrum, and they find themselves in some really odd situations. Occasionally, the episodes feel like they’re trying too hard to be weird for the sake of being weird, but sometimes they pull off a really good one. “Subconscious Patrol” was one of the later, with some major developments for a few characters, events that should affect the team from this point going forward, and some really good writing and character exploration. I was, as you might imagine, impressed by this one.

Last episode ended with some strange, bird-like creatures popping into existence, a fog consuming large swathes of the country, and the Patrol disappearing. Now we learn where they went, and what’s going on with the Sisterhood’s plan. You could argue the overall plot for the season doesn’t really advance with this episode, but there’s some good character development and a few things I didn’t think we’d ever see.

The concept is everyone has been sent into their subconscious, while their subconscious selves assume their place in the real world. How, exactly, this is supposed to save the world as the Sisterhood of Dada claims I’m not sure, but I’d also argue that for most of the characters, it’s more revisiting some of the worst moments in their lives than it is their subconscious. Cyborg leads off the explorations, with him revisiting a pivotal scene from his childhood. Silas, his father, lays a lot of responsibility on the ten-year old.

Jane is possibly the oddest in the crew of misfits, so it comes as no surprise that her trip is the weirdest one. Jane and her alters have all become puppets, and they’re acting out some version of a kids’ show. Jane’s usual foul mouth hasn’t changed, and it evokes the musical Avenue Q (which, if you haven’t seen it, you should). Kay, as an adult, disappears, and the other alters are left alone with Kay’s Harry the Lamb, also as a puppet. Robotman finds himself at the headquarters of his racing company from his early days, and he comes face to face with his human, pre-accident, self. That self is played by Brendan Fraser, who has been voicing Robotman throughout the series. Seeing the two of them together is jarring, and Cliff isn’t at all impressed with his Robotman self. They have some peculiar banter before Cliff disappears, and Robotman, shrugging, goes inside to the party we can hear dimly.

Just like it was odd to see Cliff and Robotman together, we get a similar situation with Larry Trainor and Negative Man (do we still call him that without the Negative Spirit? And is that ever coming back?). Larry’s deep shame scene is his wedding day, which makes sense given what we’ve learned of the character. The team is replaced in the real world by avatars of themselves, including the grown up Kay, Larry and Cliff’s human/past selves, and a toy from Cyborg’s past that has a lot of memories and meaning attached to it. As this group tries to figure out what they’re supposed to do, Rita comes in and offers a lot of exposition and explanation. Rita’s goals seem a bit unclear, and Larry, her oldest friend, points this out. Nothing is working out how anyone really expected it to.

Far earlier, in 1949 to be specific, we see a part of the Brotherhood of Evil, in the persons of Monsieur Mallah and the Brain. They have a meeting with Laura, and we finally learn why she was in the time machine and what her focusing on Niles Caulder was all about. We still don’t see why she hates Niles so much, and, sadly, the Chief himself doesn’t appear. I guess Timothy Dalton really has left the show. Rita, pulling an action movie classic, overhears the plan. Negative Man relives a hellish confrontation from his history, and, while he now has the strength to say things he should have said back then, it doesn’t alter this scene from his past. The weird puppet show doesn’t get any saner, as the puppets move from panicking about Jane’s disappearance to savage violence, which is really disconcerting in this case. Young Victor Stone is cleaning up his room while Cyborg, in a new and different situation, tries to reach and reassure his younger self.

Out in the real world, the subconsciouses of the team (it’s not the right term, but I’m going to use it for convenience’s sake, as they do in the episode) listen to Rita’s plan and are utterly unimpressed. Adult Kay is amusingly snarky (I guess she learned something from Jane) and Cliff is blunt and honest, shattering some of Rita’s hopes. Finally, they get themselves together and leave Doom Manor, venturing out into the fog to try and put things to rights. Considering this grouping is weaker on every level than the actual team, Rita would have been wise to manage her expectations. Back in 1949, Rita and Laura have a confrontation, and we see the former friends have definitely crossed over into becoming enemies, although it’s talking instead of the usual hero vs. villain fight.

The team marches on into the fog, until they see the first really weird thing. It’s not overtly threatening or even dangerous, but it’s enough to send these decidedly not-heroes fleeing back the way they came, leaving an annoyed and disgusted Rita to push ahead alone. Cliff does get in a particularly good line as they retreat. Robotman goes along with his odd trip down memory lane, expecting something horrible, but being pleasantly surprised by what seems like a really good time. He’s really not equipped to resist, or even question, temptation, so he goes along with it.

At Doom Manor, the subconsciouses ready some defenses that will be utterly useless but are perfectly in keeping with what’s going on. Cliff once again shows he has some questionable morals, and Kay experiences a milestone she doesn’t like at all. Larry and Vic’s stand-ins have a conversation and abandon self-reflection in favor of snacks, because it’s that kind of show. We keep returning to 1949, and now Rita infiltrates the Bureau of Normalcy with a mission in mind. Oddly, Larry seems to be narrating this attempt, and it leaves me with more questions than it answers. It does, however, clear up a few minor odd things from some past episodes.

As the subconsciouses huddle behind their defenses, Larry takes a stab at actually being heroic, at least on one front. Cliff is completely opposed to this, and the group argues amongst themselves. Robotman finally learns why he’s been sent to this particular memory, and is horror-struck as denial blooms and he refuses to deal with it. Oddly, he finds a way out of this trap that seems to run exactly opposite to what Rita explained about how it’s supposed to work. Utilizing this exit, Robotman finds Negative Man, and they argue about hell and Freaky Friday before moving on. Negative Man getting out makes a little more sense than Robotman’s exit did, at least as far as I understand the setup.

The subconsciousnesses continue to argue, showing themselves to largely be spectacularly selfish. Their sniping takes a more serious tone when Cliff gets serious and begins actually sharing some of his deep dark secrets. It’s very informative about his character, and gives us some insight about why he’s the way he is. It’s a great performance by Fraser. Robotman and Negative Man find Cyborg and leave something for the young Victor before they make their escape. The puppets arguing amongst themselves gets interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the team, who find Jane among the felt population of this version of the Underground. Robotman can’t help mocking Jane as they rescue her, and the puppets keep going with some ominous-sounding plotting. Reunited, the team end up traversing a really surreal landscape in a vehicle from an earlier part of the episode. Finally, they arrive at Doom Manor where the two groups unite.

The groups confront each other (or themselves, depending on how you want to look at it) and have a lot of very involved discussions. Larry, unsurprisingly, is the most mature in his discussions, and comes to some resolutions that will hopefully make his life a bit easier going forward. Cliff, inspired by Larry’s talk, gets brutally honest with Robotman, airing some dirty laundry about their past. Cliff really wasn’t a good man, although this scene and the earlier one manage to at least explain why Cliff made some of the decisions he did. It doesn’t make him a good person, but easier to understand. Vic and his special avatar move off to have their own discussion, and Victor makes some painful admissions about his childhood. Kay’s talk with Jane is painful and almost hard to watch, and makes me wonder what’s going to happen going forward with them. Robotman urges the “Vegas rule” for what happened during all this, and then everyone returns to their proper places.

The episode ends with assorted wrap up scenes as the Patrollers reappear where they were before all this weirdness started. Robotman has a short, hard discussion with Clara, but at least accepts it without freaking out or arguing, which shows that he might actually be changed by what he just went through. Jane encounters Kay in the Underground and finds out that things are now very, very different. Negative Man returns to the woods and undoes something he was trying to do before all this. Victor comes back to his procedure, and has clearly gone through some changes. Silas is there, but it’s not clear what his reaction to this is. And out in the woods, two long-lost former friends encounter each other. I suppose we’ll see what comes of that next time.

What I Liked: There was some really good acting and writing in this episode. Brendan Fraser as Cliff, Matt Bomer as Larry, and Diane Guerrero as Jane were particularly impressive. I still can’t claim I like Cliff, but some of his choices make a bit more sense to me. I was particularly amused, and found it really fitting, how Vic ended up manifesting in his past scene.

What I Didn’t: Rita really expected the lesser versions of the team to help her? She should have known better. She’s known these people a long time. I’m not clear how the Sisterhood’s big plan was supposed to made the world a better place. It sounded like it would lead to chaos and destruction, to me.

I thought this was a real stand-out episode, possibly the best of the series. I’ll give this a high 4 out of 5. If the events of this one have the effects it looks like they might, I may retroactively raise the rating.

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