Since their debut earlier this year on DC Universe, the tragic heroes of Doom Patrol have battled their fair share of shady government bureaus, Nazi scientists, apocalyptic floating eyeballs and beard hunters, but on this DCTV show more than any other, the heroes’ biggest adversaries are themselves. Robotman longs to reconnect with his daughter, but is afraid his earlier actions have created too insurmountable an obstacle for a relationship with her. Elasti-Woman is (literally) weighted down by the guilt brought on by her earlier cruelty in life. Negative Man’s refusal to embrace who he really is has created a reality where he’s (also quite literally) at odds with himself. Cyborg wants to be a leader, independent of his father who has (once again literally—look you get the point, right?) built his life as a hero from the ground up, but worries that’s leading him down a path of destruction. As for Crazy Jane? Well, you can build a whole episode around Jane’s internal struggles.
And they did.
“Jane Patrol,” which debuted on DC Universe on April 12th, is a surreal trip through the deeply distraught mind of the Doom Patrol’s most unpredictable member. It gives us our clearest understanding of what exactly happened to Jane—or to be more accurate, Kay Challis—to bring on her disorder. And it’s easily one of the best, most powerful episodes of Doom Patrol so far.
It’s true that Jane’s personalities are colorful. This is a comic book show, after all, and Jane’s essentially 64 different superheroes in one body. Superheroes tend to be colorful. But all of this is couched in a real, honestly conveyed portrayal of a young woman who’s been damaged to the point of mental dysfunction. Jane is hurt and broken, and yet, as much as she is capable, she still attempts to be a positive force in this world. Honestly, I find that inspiring.
Yet, Jane had been in a downward spiral since her visit to Niles’ mysterious school, something that was escalated sharply by Cliff’s completely misguided attempt at group therapy (but cut the guy a break, he had a rat inside his head). This culminated in the emergence of Jane’s most desperate personality, Karen, before the willful romantic’s attempted escape into manipulated wedded bliss proved too much for the other personalities. They subdued Karen, leaving Jane’s mind with no one at the helm.
Usually when a TV show or comic book has a storyline set inside a character’s head, I roll my eyes and wonder if I could get away with skipping it. Their purpose, and “Jane Patrol” is no different, is typically to give us a symbolic shorthand into a character’s emotional struggle. It’s the rosebud sled stretched out to sixty minutes, and usually take the form of a series of random scenes connected thematically, but not narratively.
I’ll be honest. I kind of hate them.
But “Jane Patrol” takes an entirely different approach. Yes, most of the episode takes place inside Jane’s head. But there’s no randomness to it. Rather, the episode finds Cliff Steele, now stripped of his robot body and back in his human skin, journeying through the strange world of Jane’s subconscious on a quest to find her and bring her back. That subconscious takes the form of the “Underground,” a space where all of Jane’s unique personalities are represented with distinct physical forms.
This itself is pretty amazing. Jane’s personalities are quite a diverse crew, and it’s clear we’ve only scratched the surface of them. There are personalities who are resourceful, personalities who are wistful and personalities who are downright terrifying. They don’t all get along with each other, and it’s clear that they don’t always have Jane’s best interests at heart.
That might make sense when you consider that Jane is the primary personality, but she’s not the original one. As I alluded to earlier and as fans of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol comics know, Jane was originally Kay Challis, a girl born in the 1950s who developed dissociative identity disorder after a traumatic experience during her childhood. All of the personalities found within the underground exist to protect Kay, not Jane. The problem is that memories of that traumatic event have started to unexpectedly come to the surface, and it’s proven to be too much for Jane. Which creates a unique dilemma: What happens when the personality tasked with protecting a damaged person becomes too damaged herself?
For Jane, apparently what happens is a perilous journey through the Underground to the Well, a memory deep within where Kay has buried her trauma. There are answers to be found there, but the problem is that the last personality to go seeking them never returned. So, with Jane on what amounts to a suicide mission, it falls on Cliff, with an assist from the affable personality known as Penny Farthing, to stop her.
Cliff’s relationship with Jane, which began with a few surprisingly poignant scenes in Doom Patrol’s pilot, has seemed to have unraveled lately. Cliff may feel responsible for this, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. In one particularly affecting scene, Penny Farthing reveals that a shared memory that Cliff sees as good is actually a bad one for Jane because it was the first time he gave her hope. Jane and Kay’s other personalities have pushed Cliff away because they don’t want to get to where they trust and care about him. After all, the people Jane comes to care about all seem to violate that trust in the worst way possible.
Dr. Caulder disappeared and the doctors who were supposed to help Jane were cruel and abusive. But the absolute worst violation, the one at the root of everything, has to do with her father. Whether you’ve seen the episode or not, it’s probably not too hard to figure out what happened there. In real life, the fate of Kay’s father remains unrevealed, but in her head, he lives on at the Well as a frightening figure assembled out of the puzzle pieces she played with as a child.
As Jane goes to confront him, keeping young Kay’s personality safe in the process, Cliff is barred from getting to her by one of Kay’s most frightening personalities. Black Annis, who looks like the Wicked Witch of the West crossed with Freddy Krueger, protects the Well. No man can pass…but Cliff is no longer a man. Reverting back to his robot skin, he’s let through in time to stop her from sacrificing herself to the memory of her father.
What follows after that is one of the most powerful moments I’ve seen on TV this year. As Cliff arrives at the scene and is attacked and torn apart by Kay’s father, Jane finally snaps out of her trance-like state. Emotionally screaming at her father to stop, she defiantly shouts that she is not afraid of him—all of the anger, rage and pain that Kay has kept deeply buried finally starts coming out.
It’s a cathartic moment for Jane, and in an interesting way, for Cliff as well. Jane’s father was a monster who damaged his daughter irreparably. Trust and love do NOT come easy for her, and likely never will, especially when directed towards someone seen as a father figure like Cliff. Yet, the very thing that Jane used to hurt Cliff two episodes ago—saying he’d never be a father because he isn’t even a man—is the one thing that she may actually need. Jane has been hurt by the men in her life, but Cliff isn’t a man. At least, not in the traditional sense. Cliff’s damaged too. He’s abnormal. People look at him with fear and mistrust, the same way they do Jane. And when Jane was threatened by something intent on harming her, Cliff was willing to sacrifice himself without a second thought to save her.
That’s what a father does. That’s what someone who cares deeply about you does. And Jane, despite her insistence that she doesn’t need anyone to take care of her, sometimes kind of does. (Spoiler alert—we all do.) Cliff may be a weird, nowhere-near-perfect father and Jane may be an unpredictable, sometimes violent daughter, but the truth is that in finding each other, they’ve found the family they both so desperately need. It may not be enough to heal Jane, but when things get really dark, it can at least be a light for her to follow.
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