Now that Doom Patrol’s first season has come to a close, I’m sure you’ll all join me in saying, “What the heck was that?!?”
I would use a more accurate version of Cliff’s catchphrase, but we never know when there might be children around. From sentient genderqueer streets to killer carnivorous butts, this season had it all, including stuff our imaginations never would have conjured. But through every beard hunter, fundamentalist talking cockroach and orgasm-inducing muscle flex, the show also knocked their human drama out of the park. We got some great characterization from Larry as he struggled with his sexual identity, Cliff as he came to grips with his humanity and plenty of other great moments full of emotional turmoil.
Acceptance and forgiveness took center stage during the season finale, as the group learned that Dr. Niles Caulder had been responsible for their transformations into super-powered outcasts. The team was rightfully ticked, and really, who could blame them? I know I’d be upset if I found out some immortal scientist replaced my body with mechanical parts. However, in the end, the team pushed their feelings of resentment aside and teamed up with the Chief to rescue his still-unseen daughter. It was a great end to the season, but the Chief will need to have a heavy talk with the Doom Patrol if we get a season two. Can the Doom Patrol forgive Niles, and more importantly, should they forgive Niles?
Some people might argue that Niles’ experiments made the Doom Patrol into better people. Where would they have ended up without the Chief? Would their lives have been better? Whether he wants to admit it or not, Larry Trainor was a deeply unhappy man who wasn’t willing to accept his own sexuality. It took him decades to make peace with John Bowers, and even that took a little nudge from the Negative Spirit. Had Niles not come along, Larry would have remained stagnant in a life where he clearly wasn’t happy. Part of Negative Man’s storyline was about acceptance, and I think it would be counteractive for him to hold on to his anger towards Niles after he finally learned how to let go of his emotional shackles.
Rita Farr seemed like she was already on a self-destructive path before production began on Forbidden Congo. She didn’t know how to find self-worth unless it came from the adulation of the moviegoing public. We already know that Rita’s star power was fading, as she was seen struggling to get work during flashbacks. Rita was also eating herself up inside over her guilt at failing her friend Marybeth. If she hadn’t become Elasti-Woman, my bet is that Rita would have been another minor actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood that turned to drugs to fill the void left by the empty theater seats. We all know how those stories end.
Now, make no mistake. I’m not saying that the Chief did Rita a favor—I’m not saying that he acted any way other than self-servingly when it comes to the Doom Patrol. However, the path he put her on did wind up helping her grow as a person. Rita now has a strong sense of self, even if it meant she had to lock herself in a mansion for a few decades to achieve it.
Jane is an easy one. While the Chief is responsible for the injection which gave her personalities their amazing powers, he’s not at fault for the other traumatic events in her life. Jane’s abusive childhood, and the birth of her multiple personalities all happened before she met Niles. In fact, during the episode “Penultimate Patrol,” Jane described the day she got her powers as “the day we got some bite to our bark.” Crazy Jane seems to enjoy her powers—at least, as long as Karen isn’t in the driver’s seat. Of course, the issue with Jane is that she’s not the only one who has to forgive Niles. There are 64 different personalities held within her small frame, and one has to wonder how many of them will forgive the Chief. We all know Hammerhead isn’t a softie.
Out of all the members, I think Cliff has the most reasons to be angry at the Chief. It seemed that the racecar driver was in the process of repairing his marriage before Niles arranged his accident. At least we finally know why that truck was parked in such a weird position during the pilot episode. Speaking of which, this does raise an interesting question: Does this make the Chief responsible for the death of Cliff’s wife? If so, has Cliff let himself come to terms with that bombshell yet? Killing someone’s wife is a pretty big deal, and I’m not so sure that can be forgiven so easily. Sure, Niles expressed some remorse when he spoke to Elinore Stone, but his tears won’t bring Clara’s mother back.
Cliff was on a path to redemption before Niles turned him to Robotman. Unlike Larry, there was still a chance for Cliff to be a good husband and father. Of course, it’s also possible he would’ve gotten drunk and found another nanny to fool around with, but thanks to the Chief we’ll never know. It’s one thing to replace Cliff’s organic parts with mechanical material but robbing him of decades with his daughter and killing his wife—that’s a hard one.
And if any of you out there are inclined to look towards the source material for answers, I’m afraid it won’t help you. In the comics, Cliff was the only one hurt in the accident and there was no wife or daughter. It was easier for him to make peace with the Chief. For his television counterpart? It’s going to be a tough road, and it will probably involve dropping quite a few more f-bombs.
They say life is too short to hold a grudge, but since Niles and Cliff are essentially immortal, we might have to rethink that. Can the Chief make peace with his Doom Patrol? Perhaps he can with some of them, but one thing’s for sure—the relationship between Niles and Cliff is going to be one to watch out for.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com, and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.