Doom Patrol Pilot Review
DC Universe‘s Doom Patrol: Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot is the beginning of a humorous superhero TV series that doesn’t take itself too seriously (nor should it). Emulating Titans‘ stark, unforgiving tone would have been a mistake when one considers the colorful characters involved in this series and the world in which they exists.
The opening title sequence for Doom Patrol is one of the most macabre TV title sequences that the viewer may have ever seen. It is not as gripping as The Walking Dead‘s earlier title sequences but it is far more unsettling and gross. The viewer feels sorry for the people depicted in it but that is the title sequence’s hidden genius. The title sequence makes the viewer wants to see: a.) what events created the imaginary in the title sequence and b.) the backstories to those individual tales of woe, despair, and loss.
Clifford “Cliff” Steele / Robotman (Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan)’s storyline is the most heart-felt in Pilot of all the character intros. Cliff’s demonstrated lust for the opposite sex is authentic, as is his self-hatred, and his love for his child. Cliff Steele may be Brendan Fraser’s best acting role in years and that includes his turn as affirmation-seeking Nathan Fowler on Condor.
Cliff’s coitus sessions during Pilot are entertaining and overtly sexual, serving their debauched purpose, while moving forward the narrative in a specific area – Cliff’s dissatisfaction with his marriage.
When Cliff loses his family through his wife leaving him, Cliff realizes what is at stake, the value of what he has, and what is slipping through his fingers like sand. The reunification phone call is what the viewer wants to see and hear happen, amplifying the effect of what happens next. The car crash and its result are wrenching, not only for Cliff and what he’s lost but for what he continues to lose after the accident.
Cliff literally has nothing left after the accident but his memories and his brain (for the moment, which the episode clearly alludes to).
Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiani, the writers of the episode and Robotman’s creation scenes, are obvious fans of Paul Verhoeven‘s Robocop. That film’s key camera perspective i.e. through the cyborg’s eyes, the choppy sequence of different scenes during Alex Murphy / Robocop’s resurrection, are what are utilized when Cliff Steele is brought back to life as Robotman. During Robotman’s creation sequence, the viewer is shown many things. One event in particular that happens is that the viewer sees how desensitized Rita Farr / Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby) is to other people’s suffering. Showing Cliff his new robotic face is traumatic. Rita says she does it for a positive reason, equivalent to ripping a bandage off fast, but there is something else at work. Rita is cold or has the ability to slip into cold-blooded behavior at will. Her suffering, because of her condition, has numbed and changed her in subtle ways.
Through her backstory flashback, the viewer sees that the physical ailment of someone else is something old Rita can’t be bothered with and doesn’t want to see. Present-day Rita doesn’t turn away anymore. She looks at the ailment, at the person afflicted, with a steady gaze. For better or worse, she is one of the afflicted now, one of the worst when she loses body cohesion, a situation that has given her a new, harsher, more accepting perspective on life and all forms of humanity.
Though she has this new outlook and has undergone personal growth, Rita is desperate to be normal again, evidenced by the dinner scene in Pilot. It may be more correct to say that Rita is desperate to feel normal again (suppressed until she is back among unaltered humans) and to be seen as normal by others e.g. just a regular human being, one of the girls. For the briefest of moments, Rita gets that along with an unexpected gift that strikes at her once large ego – a film fan that loves her old films.
When everything falls apart, literally, for Rita during Pilot, she wants one thing and one thing only – to go to the one place that has become a sanctuary, The Chief’s mansion. She doesn’t want film fans, nor celebrity. Those things are gone for her. She wants an environment where she is not seen as a freak. The little outing in Pilot proves to everyone involved how important The Chief’s mansion is to them as well as the other Doom Patrolers.
This is true of Larry Trainor / Negative Man (Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk) and what he experiences at a bar in town during Pilot (how does he plan to drink that beer? Through a straw?). Unlike Rita, who breezes into a dinner and is seen as an everyday customer, Trainor is seen as anything but normal by the onlookers and bar staff by being wrapped from head to toe in bandages. Trainor resembles: a would-be thief hiding his identity, a mummy, a burn victim, and a Halloweener, all wrapped (no pun intend) in one. By the bar patrons’ reactions to him, the viewer understands Trainor’s hesitation on the school bus, why he didn’t want to get out of that safe place. Trainor used to be a test pilot for the Unites States which means that at his core, he is brave, and willing to face adversity to achieve a per-determined goal. That goal, in this case, is to feel normal again, like his old self, for one brief moment. Unfortunately for Trainor, that mission is a failure the moment it begins. Humanities’ fear of the unknown is the last kingdom yet to be conquered.
Kay Challis / Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), of all the Doom Patrol members, is the most interesting. Not one iota of her backstory is divulged in the episode, yet she is captivating from the moment she shows up in Pilot. Jane’s multiple personalities allow her to reinvent herself every time she is on-screen, leaving the viewer waiting for certain personalities to emerge.
Unlike Split, each of Jane’s personalities doesn’t have their own unique cadence, besides Hammerhead’s aggression, propensity to swear, and ability to make her pugnacious personality felt. That particular personality electrifies every scene that she inhabits, focusing the viewer and most characters on Hammerhead. What hopefully happens in the future is that other strong personalities, like Hammerhead, like Patricia and Hedwig in Split, show up through Crazy Jane in Doom Patrol.
In Orphan Black, though the actress was the same, the characters that she portrayed on-screen were very different. I hope something like that can be achieved with Jane, that the viewer is able to see that new person on-screen when that personality is present.
Though on-screen the least, Pilot‘s narrator, Eric Morden / Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk), is an ameliorative element in the narrative. He is informative and hilarious during certain segments of the episode. Instead of being a regular, impartial narrator, Mr. Nobody interjects his personality into his annunciations, observations, and storytelling. This is done, in part, because he is an actual character in the narrative, not a mere observer, thus his perspective on events is skewed and myopic. This doesn’t deter him, however, from floating above Pilot‘s multiple storylines, dishing quips and cryptic tidbits, about things present and yet to come in Doom Patrol.
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