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Episodes

Doom Patrol Season 3 Premiere Review: The Gang Is Back And Stranger Than Ever

Brief summary of where the show left off (Spoilers for seasons one and two of Doom Patrol):

The chief was behind all of our Doomies’ supposed accidents, orchestrating them to find a way to outlive his daughter, Dorothy Spinner. This was due to the threat she posed to all humanity, thanks to her powers that allowed her to bring anything she imagined into reality. One of those things she imagined was the Candlemaker, an ancestral entity able to grant anything Dorothy wishes (Of course, in some twisted way) and will be released from the young girl’s mind after she makes three wishes or starts puberty. The last time we saw our favorite team of mentally ill people, the Candlemaker was unleashed and left them in a sort of catatonic state, covered in wax, while Dorothy was set on confronting him.

Our views on the series going into season 3:

Gabrielle: I don’t think there’s gonna be many surprises here. Doom Patrol is my favorite show of all time. I remember when the first promotional material came out, with all five of them taking a photo in the Doom Manor’s hall, and the reception was pretty mixed. A lot of people complained it looked ridiculous and campy. Turns out, they were kinda right all along, except those elements were for the better and just a part of the bigger picture that is Doom Patrol.

I have a strong emotional connection to the show. There are few times where I cried as much as in Frances Patrol when Larry says goodbye to John, or when Cliff has a breakdown in Therapy Patrol, or when Jane faces her father in Jane Patrol. Few other sequences fill me with excitement and happiness as the musical number in Danny Patrol. There’s certainly nothing else that fascinates me quite as much with its weirdness as when Ezekiel, a talking (and now giant) cockroach with a god complex, makes out with Admiral Whiskers, a giant rat looking for revenge after Cliff ran over his mother. It’s all a beautiful rollercoaster.

I think the second season is equally excellent as the first one, being consistent with the marvelous weirdness and the character development we all love. But it didn’t quite hit me on an emotional level as the first one did (Which was to be expected. It’s an extremely high bar, and I still cried a lot). However, I feel like this third season could easily be the best one yet. As always with the show, there’s a lot of potential everywhere, and the place where the characters left off is a really interesting one to explore.

Jordan: I’m with Gabrielle in just loving this show. Doom Patrol has been important to me for a very long time and going into season one, I had sky-high expectations. So it’s all the more amazing that it exceeded them. It’s such a wonderful show that I think perfectly encapsulates what the Doom Patrol is. It pulls stories and concepts from the team’s vast history. There’s obviously a lot of Grant Morrison’s influence, but there are also references to the Silver Age and the Young  Animal stuff. It feels like a show made by people who just really love these characters.

But it’s not just all fan service. There’s so much heart and humanity within it all. It’s got the Doom Patrol’s usual oddities, but it feels fresh and new. It’s more focused on the quiet moments, the conversations of healing between characters. The Doom Patrol is a therapy group, and this show really leans into that. Each character is so fully realized and developed, they feel like real, living, breathing people. Small moments like Jane thanking Cliffe for getting her food in season one speak to the quality of this show. That moment only works because we have spent so long with these characters and care so deeply for them. It’s my favourite live-action adaptation of a comic book, so I was, of course, ecstatic to get into season three.

The Plot:

Jordan: Honestly, I think that Doom Patrol doesn’t even need to be described plotwise. The hook of the first season was rescuing The Chief from Mr. Nobody, but that’s not really why people were watching. The reason I kept coming back was because of the characters. It’s a very character first show. The characters and their conflicts and failings are what drive the show forward. This season I think that is especially true as from the episodes I have watched so far, it feels even more episodic. Which isn’t a bad thing in any way. In fact, I quite like the approach. It’s a lot like the comics, where there is a throughline throughout, but each episode can stand on its own as a singular story. I’m sure this will start to converge into something more focused as the season progresses, but so far, it’s brilliantly focused on character.  

Gabrielle: Describing the plot for Doom Patrol is hard. One second they’re having group therapy, and then they’re in an underground facility with living, human-eating butts on the loose. This season is no exception, which is great! It has to take the previous unresolved plot points on its shoulders while slipping in the plot for this one, and it does a great job at it. It’s the most emotionally charged premiere and amongst some of the most emotional episodes from the show at all. There’s a particular sequence with Jane that I believe will break everyone’s hearts. But it does not forget to also be fun as always, of course. Taking into consideration what this season sets out to do in its first few episodes, how it handles the characters, and all the fun it has while doing it, I think it’s not crazy to say that this is the series at its best. I won’t say yet it is the best season. For that, I will wait until it’s done. But I sure as hell believe it will be.

Characters:

Gabrielle: While I love basically everything about the show, its stronger aspect is the characters, in my opinion. When I made a Larry article a while back, I rewatched the two seasons while taking notes, and it was such a different experience that allowed me to get a deeper glimpse of just how many layers these characters have. It’s honestly insane.

From the get-go, this season doesn’t hold any punches, getting into tough territory and making us feel once again for these people that we love so much. All of them are taken into unexpected paths that feel incredibly daring on the writer’s part. They’re not directions many other shows would decide to take; you have weird, larger-than-life storylines that surprise you as they continue each episode, and at the same time, you’re told that one of them is going through some of the rawest and serious situations possible (Although sometimes mixing it with the weirdness, because Doom Patrol is just that good that it can pull it off).

This season had me realizing that I want these people to be happy. The last thing I want is for Doom Patrol to end. It’s an excellent show that I’m glad exists, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. But it had me thinking, ‘’I just want them to have a happy ending’’. They’re so well written that, for a moment, I would’ve chosen the happiness of these fictional characters over my favorite show of all time if given a choice. If that doesn’t speak for its quality, I don’t know what will.

Jordan: I’m in agreement with Gabrielle here. The characters are at their best this season. It feels like the creators are totally keyed into everyone’s voices. Every character feels fully realized, and their dynamic is well and truly established. But I wanna talk about the other characters of these first 3 episodes. Season 3 adds Michelle Gomez to the cast as Madame Rogue. She’s a perfect addition and slots into Doom Patrol’s unique brand of wackiness perfectly. Her interactions with Rita, in particular, are delightful. There is also an episode featuring the Dead Boy Detectives from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Their inclusion was incredibly fun, and I think people are really gonna love to see them. The villains so far have been great fun as well. The Sisterhood of Dada, Garguax, The Brain, and Monsieur Mallah all feel true to the comics but with fun twists and new angles. Garguax, in particular, was so much fun, a very different take on that character that still feels in line with his history. I really can’t wait for people to watch his episode. It’s totally wacky in typical Doom Patrol fashion, but the character is imbued with a surprising amount of pathos which makes him really engaging. This season seems most interested in exploring its characters as it takes them in new exciting directions. I’m super excited to see where this goes from here. 

Moments Where You Felt ‘’Oh this is the best possible show’’

Jordan: For all the wackiness of the show, all of the bombast and crazy extradimensional villainy, the best moments for me have been the quiet character beats. These early episodes are intimately focused on these characters, where they are, and where they’re heading. This show gets me emotional a fair bit, but usually towards the end of a season. This season, however, I had cried 3 times by the time of the second episode. A scene in the first episode with Jane and another with a dancefloor are particular standouts. I think this is also the funniest season so far. There’s a scene with Cliff and Garguax in particular, which was hilarious in its audacious imagery. This show always feels like the creators had a blast making it, and I think that’s truer in this season than ever.

Gabrielle: There are quite a few moments, actually. There’s a scene in the first episode that felt like a warm hug to the heart and the culmination of a lot of build-up since the start of the show that I feel will make a lot of people tear up. There’s a little musical number too, and we all know how good Doom Patrol is with those (Humanity peaked at Larry’s People Like Us cover). Also, I won’t mention which character I’m talking about, but there’s a decision that I wouldn’t have expected to see them take, and it ends up in a really compelling and layered character that I wish we could see again.

Is It Time To Give It a Chance?

Gabrielle: Well, if it wasn’t obvious already: Yes! It’s always a good time to watch Doom Patrol. So far, the show hasn’t declined in quality. Quite the opposite, really. If you like character-driven shows, with an out-of-time feeling, some of the best LGBTQ+ representation you can find, and bizarre comedy and plots, I’m sure you will love it!

Jordan: I mean, that’s not even a question. Doom Patrol is the best comic book show on TV and one of the best shows on TV right now, regardless of genre. This season particularly feels tight and streamlined with precision in its tone and universality in its characters. It’s 100% accessible and universal. There’s something here that everyone can connect to and see themself in. For those expecting more of the same, I think they will be surprised by the decisions and chances this season makes. Those behind Doom Patrol clearly aren’t content with hitting the same beats and this season really demonstrates that. It’s more of what worked but bolder and better than before.

Categories
Television

Rita Farr and the Grotesque

Grotesque [groh-tesk]: Adjective. Odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.

Rita Farr is grotesque. She remembers when she wasn’t. Her room is filled with memorabilia and posters from her days as a Hollywood Starlet. The four walls of her bedroom envelop the few that enter in a soft, romanticized cloud of 50s and 60s nostalgia. As we, the viewer, learn more about Rita Farr, the actress, and Rita Farr, the Elasti-Girl, the more we see that perhaps the grotesque had been part of her story all along.

Media that criticizes Hollywood isn’t necessarily a new thing (Eyes Wide Shut, 1991. Mulholland Drive, 2001) or disappearing (The Neon Demon, 2016. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019. Brand New Cherry Flavor, 2021) angle for film and television. Hollywood studios have had and continue to have an industry monopoly, and they often operate on very top-down, hierarchical management. As the #MeToo movement has helped uncover, this type of labor organization is often unjust to the many and discriminates against women and minorities in particular. Different elements of said industry pitfalls have made it into the aforementioned films. Although the visual approach and messaging often vary greatly in these types of films, they do generally have one thing in common- violence. Violence often leaves behind grotesque forms- Rita’s accident was horrific, her mother often inflicted emotional abuse upon her, her bosses were opportunistic and would hurt her to benefit themselves. Rita herself inflicted violence on others to maintain her place in the pecking order.

The interesting thing about portraying violence in media about media is the juxtaposition of romanticism. Films and TV make us feel things. We like to feel things. We know they’re scripted and fake, but we don’t particularly care. It’s an escape, reality cannot interfere too greatly, or the fantasy is lost. Rita Farr, the actress, was a Sweetheart, women wanted to be like her, and men wanted to be with her. At least, while she was still booking productions. Hollywood is an industry in which the idea of you is sold for profit. You are discarded when you can no longer reproduce the idea of yourself that the people want. 

Rita’s accident meant her career was over. Her physical affliction meant she could no longer produce Rita Far, the product. The oozing, grotesque lump her body occasionally turned into wasn’t what the people wanted. So, the question is, why did she get this affliction in particular? Body horror is often a visual indication of feeling “monstrous” or a mark of guilt. A way to turn something ugly on the inside outwards so it can be seen and interpreted by an audience. When Rita had her accident, she was already dissatisfied that her career was easing into stagnation. Guilt about the things she had done, and her mother had done for her, to secure the career she had up until then was creeping in. With the assistance of a rotting piece of wood and a loud splash, all these negative and ugly feelings bubbled up to the surface of her skin. 

Rita Farr is a phenomenal actress. She deserved every role and every bit of praise she got. She loved being an actress. However, the industry no longer loved her, and she had forgotten who she was without that relationship. I believe she would have become a different type of ‘monster’ had she continued on the path she was on, and the accident never happened. The ending of her story wouldn’t have been much different from the ending of The Neon Demon or Eyes Wide Shut. A single, sudden act of violence divorced her from her former life and set her on a different path, like cauterizing a wound. She initially viewed the accident as the worst possible thing to happen to her, but once she let Rita the Actress subside, she discovered Elasti-Girl.

Violence will always be a fact of life and will leave behind the grotesque parts of ourselves in its wake. What ultimately matters is how we cope and the environments we surround ourselves with.  Elasti-Girl likes living in Doom Manor, a place that might have scared Rita Farr, The Actress. Doom Manor is special because it’s a place committed to growth without judgment. Every resident unites as a victim of circumstance, but they’re working together to create better circumstances for their future selves and others. What was once a manifestation of Rita’s fears and anxieties became a source of strength and a means to connect with others like her. Although her room remains a bastion of escapism, she finds herself leaving it more and more often to venture out into the world. Parts of her still ooze and hurt, but she’s with others that understand. It’s never too late to reinvent ourselves or leave the places that do not love us to find the ones that do.

Categories
Television

Accepting Our Illnesses With Rita Farr

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. If you’re not in the know: it’s an offshoot of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It’s messy and gross, and I’m not going to get into all the nitty-gritty symptoms right now, but what I will get into is how this illness has affected me and of course, how that relates to Doom Patrol.

As of right now, I’m 20 and haven’t shaken the symptoms at all. I still have constant stomach pain in some form or another and feel sick and nauseous frequently. I’ve had surgery twice, more blood tests and MRI scans than I could count, and have tried a bunch of different diets and medicines. I’ve had infusions for medication every 2 months for a few years now that thankfully put my Crohn’s in remission. However, I still retain the symptoms. It’s been years, and we don’t really know why or how to fix it. So yeah, it can be tough. It’s certainly manageable, and I’ve learned to live with it. There are obviously much worse illnesses, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t suck. But what often makes it tougher is the way this illness is depicted in media, how people like me are represented in art. Look, I’m a straight white dude. I’m as represented as they come, but the real lack of stories and characters going through the same struggles I go through is rare.

Often characters with chronic illnesses like me are cause for mockery. I love the Metal Gear games, but there’s a character in that called Johnny. He’s been in most of the games in some form and always as a punchline. See, Johnny has IBS, very similar to IBD. It means he shares pretty much the exact same symptoms as I do. But he’s not really a character in pain. He’s a joke and a loser. His constant need to find a bathroom, growling stomach, and toiletry issues are comedic. You aren’t meant to sympathize with him. You’re meant to think he’s funny and pathetic. I love Kojima, but every time he uses that character, it feels like he’s just laughing at me and anyone with IBD and IBS.

I can’t exactly blame him. IBS and IBD are often just seen as diseases that just make you poo a lot. But that’s ignoring the very real pain and struggle that comes with it. I wish I could say there are other characters I can turn to and see my struggles in, but I can’t. At least not until Doom Patrol and Rita Farr.

See, I’ve been a Doom Patrol fan since I was a little kid. They’re my favorite superhero team. They helped me embrace my weird side, and they are incredibly important to me. So I was crazy excited for their own TV show. When it finally premiered I LOVED it. Just adored it. As of right now, it’s my favourite live-action adaptation of a comic book. It was everything I wanted out of a Doom Patrol show but surprisingly it had even more than that. Because what I was really blown away by was Rita. Rita was like me.

I never found comic Rita that relatable, what with her being a former glamorous movie star and all. But this Rita was like me. She doesn’t have Crohn’s, or IBD, or any specific chronic illness. But she goes through the same struggles I do. There’s a degree of powerlessness she has, and that made me connect with her in a really powerful way.

If you weren’t aware, Rita Farr is Elasti-Woman. A former movie star who inhales some toxic gas and gains extraordinary powers. Except they aren’t extraordinary in the way you would think. She can stretch and change her body’s shape and form, but not usually at will. Her powers leave her droopy in almost Cronenbergian way. Because of that people consider her monstrous and disgusting. Rita struggles to collect herself every day; she struggles to form the massive blob she is into something manageable, something presentable. Any moment she fears she could lose her composure and become that blob again. That’s obviously not what I go through, but it sometimes feels like it. Every day I have to push through the pain and get it done. Every day I feel like sinking back into myself but force some composure and normalcy.

But it doesn’t stop there. Rita works through it. She works to be better, learning to push through the pain and use her illness for good. She uses it to help people, to be a hero. It’s genuinely inspiring to see a character take the pain they struggle with daily and turn it into a force for good.

Rita may be melted down and reduced to a blubbering mess, but she picks herself back up. In the episode ”Therapy Patrol”, Rita is reduced to that blob once again. As she pulls herself back together, she recites the words over and over “the person who is breathing is me.” That’s what it’s like for me. Sometimes I just have to focus and slow myself to push through the pain. But moments after this is something that makes me emotional every time I watch it. As Rita almost loses faith and begins to get frustrated, she tries again. She forces her way up the stairs into the light. She strives to be the best ball of slime she can be. She perseveres and comes out victorious and all the stronger for it.

What’s also great is how the other members of the Doom Patrol don’t bemoan Rita for her struggles. They accept and love her. Rita’s pain is never a joke. There are no jokes at the expense of someone suffering from an illness here, just a genuine, supportive family. It’s so refreshing to have a character like this, a family like this. She’s not disgusting or laughable. She’s a valued friend and a powerful ally. They love her and support her. They lift her up when she asks for it and leaves her to herself when she needs space. When Larry Trainor (Negative Man) first meets Rita, he is, at first, disturbed by her symptoms, but he later apologizes. He says that Rita shouldn’t have to get used to reactions like that and that this is her home and she should feel comfortable. Rita says she’s a lost cause, but Larry disagrees and supports her. It’s another moment that gets me really emotional every single time I watch it. Rita’s illness doesn’t define her, just like how it doesn’t define me or anyone like me.

It is an excellent representation of chronic illness and points to what superheroes are made for. They’re great allegorical figures. Rita doesn’t have Crohn’s, but what she does have is something universal. Her symptoms are so crazy and wacky yet so focused and pointed that people with many different illnesses can relate. We can identify with their struggles, and they can show us how to overcome them. Rita means a lot to me, and I just want to say thank you to the writers and directors, the crew and VFX artists who help bring her to life. Thanks especially to April Bowlby for portraying a character who makes do with what she can and shows us that we aren’t broken. Rita Farr shows us our pains can be triumphs, and our illness can be our superpower.

“Lost causes aren’t lost if you have someone to fight for them” – Rita Farr.

Categories
Television

The Robotman’s Fatherhood

“We’re only making plans for Nigel/

He has his future in a British steel/

We’re only making plans for Nigel/

Nigel’s whole future is as good as sealed”

-XTC

They tell you a lot of stuff changes when you have a kid.

It’s hacky. Obviously bullshit most of the time, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Your world both shrinks and explodes outward. As Matt Fraction plaintively wrote, it’s as if your heart is now able to run around outside of your body. It’s an irrevocable change. But one that you get to face together. It’s just part of the cycle.

What they DON’T really tell you, though, is how the way you WATCH stuff changes. How you bristle now at the mere hint of violence against a child. How all too real a loss in the narrative can hit you now. How tactile that all is now, even on a screen and in the most overwrought of circumstances. After my son was born, I tried to watch that movie, Patriot’s Day, about the Boston Bombings? And ended up unable to finish it on the day simply because it had about a half a second shot of a toddler with a touch of EFX makeup on, screaming.

Diane Guerrero and Riley Shanahan as Crazy Jane and Cliff Steele in Doom Patrol (S01E01 ”Pilot”) / Source: HBO Max

Now, is that a GOOD movie? Absolutely not (though Kevin Bacon is quite good in it), but you get what I am scratching at here. How it just isn’t “a movie” sometimes when someone of about that same age is building some LEGO in front of you. It just HAPPENS one day, and you are somewhat forced to reorient yourself in terms of what you can and can’t see on-screen now.

This brings me, in a very roundabout way, to Cliff Steele. The Doom Patrol’s Robotman. One of my personal favorite Patrollers and someone who got to “live” through this very arc throughout the still-ongoing run of HBO Max’s Doom Patrol.

Someone who had grand plans for himself and his family. And fucked them up every possible way he could. And it only took him and said family “dying” (in the way that anybody in comics can really “die”) to make him make good. The jury is still out on how successful he’s been, but the change came all the same. That’s what really counts.

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think the show, nor should we think of Cliff as necessarily a “good” father. Though soulfully performed by Brendan Frasier and Riley Shanahan, who physically inhabits the Robotman prosthetic onset, the show, and its writers have no intention of allowing Cliff off the hook. In the opening season, we are provided scant flashes of Cliff’s life pre-The Chief, only to really come to a head during the episode in which Cliff’s brain comes under attack from an errant rat that had made a home in his rusting chassis (don’t ask).

Diane Guerrero and Riley Shanahan as Crazy Jane and Cliff Steele in Doom Patrol (S01E04 ”Cult Patrol”) / Source: HBO Max

From then on, we are shown the real Cliff Steele. A man who constantly put himself before his wife and daughter. All for the sake of some ill attainable glory he “needed” to grasp. Not for the betterment of his family, like he claims, but for a long-abandoned approval he needs from his HIS OWN father.

It all culminates in the gristly accident that seemingly takes his wife and daughter and lands his brain-meat into the Robotman in the first place. An accident the show also goes a step further to be intimately clear is Cliff’s fault, placing him directly center again for his family’s trials and heartaches. The direct opposite of his stated goals.

Fortunately, his daughter survives, and Cliff is allowed a second chance to make something good with her with the help of his surrogate Doom Patrol daughter, Crazy Jane, by way of teleporting personality Flit, and arguably the team’s “mom” Rita Farr.

She’s grown into a saddened but sturdy bar owner, plagued by a giant alligator that occasionally eats her customers (again, it would be better not to ask). Cliff is able now to finally step up in a tactile way for her, albeit with her little knowing that it’s actually her dad that will slay the beast and retrieve the errant family heirloom it had eaten along with a local yokel. It’s a…truly weird sequence, but one true to the show’s zany emotionality and Cliff’s growth during this adaptation.

In the wake of his “loss”, Cliff finally realized what we all had before then. That your responsibility doesn’t just start and stop at being a “provider” and that your personal investment in your children is more than just a nebulous “responsibility”. That you actually have to LIVE like you have something to live for. More often than not, it doesn’t take dying and getting put into a robot suit to get there, but Cliff gets there all the same. And continues to try and live up to that with each passing episode. Taking threads that were started even in the first Titans’ guest appearance of the Doomies and running with them now even into its current season.

Riley Shanahan and Sydney Kowalske as Cliff Steele and Clara Steele in Doom Patrol (S01E01 ”Pilot”) / Source: HBO Max

There have been obstacles along the way, for sure. A stint in the gulag of the Bureau of Normalcy, a heavy falling out with Jane, miniaturization at the hands of Mr. Nobody in the bowels of an interdimensional donkey (again, just…don’t ask. Just watch). But all the while, Cliff had continued to “do the work”, as it were, taking text from the writers and spreading it across a truly striking and heartfelt adaptation of one of DC’s most irascible leading bots. He lost one family once, but he isn’t about to do it again. If he has to fight a million rats gnawing on his brain to do so, he will. Because that’s what “fathers” are supposed to do.

Now, I fully realize that this is a…pretty specific read on Cliff and the TV Doom Patrol. But it’s one that, for me, has added a whole new emotional dimension to one of my favorite shows and comics. By framing Cliff as the former deadbeat dad looking to make good, not only does it humanize one of the most inhuman members of the Doomies, it also allows so much more breadth of performance. On the page AND screen.

In summation, Cliff had all the plans, but his actions kept his and his family’s futures from being sealed. They made their own futures beyond the cage of British steel. We can do it too. We just have to be present for them. It’s part of the cycle for you and your children. As long as you do the work.

Categories
Comics

Doom Patrol: Love Letter to the Brinke

Dear Casey,

I have been thinking a lot about you recently. I met you when both of us were still young. You were still a paramedic back then, and you had no idea who you were, but then again, neither did I. Things didn’t take too long to change; in just a couple of days, you would become a superhero and change your world.

I still remember the day I found out the truth. The day you enter the ambulance and read that comic, that damn comic. Existential crises are never fun, and finding out you are a comic book character created by a sentient world must be a hard pill to swallow, but after some adjusting, you raised to the occasion and did what you always do, the right thing. Because at the end of the day, that is who you are, the girl who always is trying to do good and live a good life, that’s why I started to love you.

But things are never easy. Sometimes your cat escapes, sometimes that cat turns into a man-cat, and some other times your own existence is put into question. Still, you put on a brave face. Don’t get me wrong, you still get angry, sad, and disappointed, but what makes you special is that you never stop trying.

Casey Brinke on Doom Patrol #6 (Written by Gerard Way, illustrated by Nick Derington, and colored by Tamra Bonvillain) / Source: DC’s Young Animal

To be honest, you have taught me a lot more than some other people in my life. You have taught me that friends are the ones who help you write the fiction you want to be. You have taught me that there is more than one way to exist. Thanks to you, I have learned that we are made of the things that happen to us. That, in a cruel and hard world, the thing that defines you is what you choose to do with the bad things. Without you, I would have never known all that the word speed can mean. And how to forget that it was you who taught me that I can get down with whoever wants to get down.

I love you, Casey, you have made me grow so much as a person, and every day I try to be better because of all that I have learned from you. I know we have lost contact in the past few years and that there are tons of your adventures I’m not familiar with yet, but I wanted you to remember how important you are to me and always will be.

Love you always,

Cass

PS: Say hi to Danny for me, and tell Lotion he still owes me like twenty dollars.

Categories
Television

The Negative Spirit and Larry Trainor’s Contrasting Lives

Doom Patrol is an incredibly multifaceted show, and therefore the characters are naturally complex as well. The show carries an overall theme of fragmented identity; this can be seen literally with Jane and the Underground, but also in Cliff’s struggle to adjust to his new robotic life and in the way Vic embraced the Cyborg identity to honor his mother. Every character in this show has been through horrible accidents that caused these separations, but most of them held fragmented lives even before becoming what they are now. So much can be written on each character’s relationship with their new lives — even for the secondary and minor characters — but for now, I want to focus on what I personally find to be the most interesting example of contrasting existences: Larry Trainor.

Larry is a particularly fascinating character because not only does he struggle with his own identity, he’s also the host to a mysterious energy being that he’s incapable of verbally communicating with. While he’s dealing with the aftermath of his own life before the accident, he’s also unintentionally psychologically torturing the Negative Spirit with his own self-hatred that, due to their bond, it is forced to feel, though he doesn’t realize this until they’ve been merged for six decades.

Doom Patrol (Season one, episode 13, ”Flex Patrol”) / Source: HBO Max

The Negative Spirit, at first, seems to harbor resentment towards him for this — which is admittedly understandable if you attempt to view things from its perspective. But it is also, as stated by Niles Caulder himself, extremely sensitive and powerful, and it senses the work Larry needs to do to find self-acceptance. When the show starts, they’ve been merged since 1961, and they had made absolutely no progress toward communication in all of those decades. And while we watch Larry slowly begin to understand the Negative Spirit, we are also watching Larry slowly begin to understand — and accept — himself just as he is.

Let’s rewind a bit. Larry grew up as a gay individual in the 1930s-1940s. At a very young age, he overheard his parents calling him a queer in a derogatory manner. Seemingly after this, he began to force himself into a falsified heterosexual lifestyle, as he states that he met his wife Sheryl in high school and they were “high school sweethearts”. When we see Larry in flashbacks of his accident, it’s 1961, and if we assume he’s 95 in the present day (as Mr. Nobody stated), then he would’ve been around 34-35 at the time of the accident. This means he was with Sheryl for at least fifteen years, and at some point during that time had two children with her. Also at some point during those fifteen years, he met John Bowers, his mechanic, and began an affair with him. He was in love with John but had to keep it a secret in order to maintain the appearance of being heterosexual because the repercussions of being gay in this era were disastrous. It’s heartbreaking; he hid in shame for so many years, refusing to even acknowledge the idea that he was gay during his talks with John.

Doom Patrol (Season one, episode 11, ”Frances Patrol”) / Source: HBO Max

The night before his accident, Larry finds out that John had put in for a discharge and was going to leave. He asked Larry to come with him, and a fight began. This was the culmination of three decades of hiding and ignoring — he was going to have to make a choice. Stay with John, the one he truly loved, and accept himself, or stay with Sheryl and live the rest of his life trying to suppress his real identity. The Negative Spirit saved him in a way that goes beyond simply prolonging his life; it saved him from himself. It saved him from having to choose.

In the first half of season one, Larry was at odds with it. It kept trying to prod him to acknowledge his sexuality by forcing Larry to view videos where Niles talked about John and even connecting his dreams to John’s dreams. Still, however, Larry refused to open up. This being shares everything with Larry — it experiences every memory, thought, and emotion he has. There is nothing he can hide from it, but at first, he was certainly determined to try.

In “Therapy Patrol” the Negative Spirit put Larry in a dream sequence later revealed to be a connected mindscape with a dying John Bowers. In this sequence, he finally admitted his fears out loud to himself, to John, and the Spirit. “You have no idea how hard it was living this way. The lies, the fear, the threat of losing everything if anyone so much as questioned my sexuality.” And John says what everyone — the audience, the Spirit controlling the dream, and perhaps even Larry in his subconscious — is thinking: “You have no idea how long I wanted to hear those words… I wanted you to admit it to yourself.”

After this occurs, Larry is finally able to tell his friends that he’s gay. He even states that he’s sick of torturing himself and finally acknowledges the fact that his relationship with the Spirit was one of cyclical pain and self-loathing. This is the new Larry blossoming — small steps toward acceptance. Steps he would have never taken if the Spirit hadn’t pushed him.

Doom Patrol (Season one, episode 07, ”Therapy Patrol”) / Source: HBO Max

Four episodes later, we find Larry in another dream with John at a secluded motel. They sleep together, and the Spirit inexplicably ends the dream after Larry admits out loud that he was in love with John. He begs it to take him back to the dream, but the Spirit sends him into a different one: a gay bar, where he meets John and asks him if they can leave. He’s still scared, even in a dream, to be seen. Even in a world where it’s just them, Larry is terrified. John tells Larry to take a chance, and when Larry wakes up, he finds that the Spirit had covered his bedroom in sticky notes that formed one word: ERIE. Where he would later find John.

The reunion of John Bowers and Larry Trainor is an incredibly touching one. Larry realizes that while he remained stuck in the past, constantly suffering through memories, John moved on and fell in love with someone else. He sees pictures of them in John’s home; they looked happy together. Peaceful. It’s something Larry could have, too, if he wanted it, and John points this out when he tells Larry to move on from him. And just as John begins to pass away, and the era of Larry’s life filled with repression and discomfort begins to close now that he’s made peace with John, Larry looks down at his chest and tells John that there’s “something inside of him” that he isn’t friends with but that he definitely has a connection to. He walks away from John’s home with his hand over his glowing chest, thanking the Spirit for its help — something he once implied he couldn’t do (“I’m supposed to thank you?” in “Donkey Patrol”). 

After this, his relationship with the Negative Spirit and with himself changes drastically. He tries to sacrifice himself for the Negative Spirit’s freedom, though it chooses Larry over its home and returns to his body. Upon moving out after learning that Niles was the reason for his accident, he spent a lot of time trying to balance the ability to let it fly free with the reality that an extended separation of them would mean his death and excitedly tells Rita that they made it twenty seconds apart before he passed out. He puts his full trust in the Negative Spirit, and in turn, the Negative Spirit dedicates itself to helping him continually heal, even from the one thing he’s still repressing: his family.

Doom Patrol (Season one, episode 11, ”Frances Patrol”) / Source: HBO Max

It shows him his son’s death in the premiere of season two, angering Larry, who says he “left all that long ago”. He goes to the funeral and meets his other son, Paul, who recognizes him by his voice. Later, when he’s alone with Paul, he’s finally, finally able to do something that months ago would have terrified him beyond comprehension: he tells Paul that he’s gay.

This moment is obviously an extremely pivotal point in Larry’s character growth, showing that he has completely made peace with himself and his sexuality. And in a way, this can be seen as another merging — this time of both lives Larry lived. His life of repression and lies merging with his true self and his comfort. His fear transforming into hope. His fragmented identity blurring into one.

Without the Negative Spirit’s presence in his life, he would have never made it to this point. The Negative Spirit is indeed a somewhat indecipherable character since none of the main characters can hear it, and often acts impulsively, but it’s obvious that it cares for Larry and that it wants him to be the best version of himself that he can be, no matter what it takes. It saved Larry in every sense of the word. Hopefully, he will eventually realize this.

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GCPride: Larry Trainor

By Gabrielle Cazeaux 

Larry Trainor was a pilot for the US air force during the 50s. He had a wife, two children, and a reputation that would proceed him for decades. He was the type of person that could appear in a commercial for a real estate company and wouldn’t even need a script. Except, he always had a script of his own making, right under his sleeve. When he went to sleep with his wife, at a bar with his colleagues, or even when he looked in the mirror. And if anyone ever knew that, it would be the end of the world for him. And that’s because Larry Trainor was never that person. As much as he loved his wife and his children, he didn’t love her the same way he loved John Bowers, his mechanic in the Air Force. And even when the two of them were together, hiding in the back of a truck at the side of a railroad, a part of him was somewhere else, never where he really wanted to be. 

But both the life he manufactured and the life he hid were taken away from him. Beyond the stratosphere, where his problems almost couldn’t reach him, he made contact with a being of pure energy that was permanently fused with his body. The airplane stopped working, and Larry fell unconscious. He woke up already on the ground, completely burned, but somewhat alive. He never aged a day thanks to the radiation from the negative spirit that lived inside him, but the world around him kept spinning. His wife knew he didn’t love her and couldn’t be with him anymore, his children grew up and Larry realized that he couldn’t give John the life he wanted, no matter how much he also wanted it. Eventually, he found a new home, and people that went through similar things as him. He was given shelter by Niles Caulder, and he lived in his mansion with Rita, Cliff, and Jane. But he never let himself get close to them enough, in fear of what might happen to them if he did. 

So, what more to life than pain is there? When you’re constantly hurting because of past mistakes and things you had no control over? When you think your mere existence is wrong, and living is so hard that you don’t know what to do anymore?

In the case of Larry, he blamed himself for everything that happened to the people close to him even before the accident. John, his wife and children, always got the short end of the stick when being with him, and since he never got any kind of closure, he remained stuck. The position he was in was obviously understandable, after all, he was a gay man in the 50s who was exposed to homophobia since he was a kid. That’s all real and valid, but the pain of those he hurt was also real, and he could barely live with that baggage. And it was only worse after the accident. He couldn’t go to sleep without being afraid, because he dreamed of his loved ones burning in flames because of him. He couldn’t even be near other persons without the bandages that Niles made for him because of the radiation in his body. He was cut off from the world in every sense of it. 

But slowly, he was able to heal at least some parts of him. He bonded with the rest of the people that lived with him. With Rita, he found another person that understood, at least partially, what he went through after the accident, and consequently, before it. With time, he didn’t feel so abnormal anymore. Contrary to what he believed before, there was a place to exist for the people that didn’t fit. 

That only became more obvious when he met Danny the Street. A sentient, genderqueer, teleporting street, that serves as a refuge for the people that society rejected, and are kept alive by their happiness. At a cabaret on Danny, Larry is asked to sing, but he obviously declines. It would be easy to think he did it just because he tends to be negative and pessimistic, but knowing Larry, when he says that he doesn’t sing, there’s fear in his voice. Fear of exposing himself, fear of getting better because in his own mind, he doesn’t deserve it. But because it was needed to help Danny, he goes up to the stage. The spotlight is on him, blinding him for a second. The song starts, with him a little disoriented still. After a brief intro where he adjusts his brain into what he’s doing, he starts singing, and the music moves loudly to the forefront, slowly wrapping everyone around in the same feeling Larry starts feeling; freedom. He calls Maura Lee Karupt, the lead drag queen, to the stage, and the solo becomes a duet, expanding the happiness and pride even more. As the camera turns and this time we are blinded by the spotlight, Larry is no longer in bandages, or burned, but as he was before the accident. Maybe it’s something Danny can do, maybe it’s just a representation of how Larry sees himself at the moment. Now, that doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that moment. The people start leaving their seats and dancing all around them until the cabaret is full of the most colourful and cheerful crowd you could imagine. Confetti starts falling, and Larry is immersed in his own freedom, and in happiness for the freedom of others, probably for the first time in his life. 

That is, until everything cuts like the world suddenly stopped. And we’re again with Larry saying he doesn’t sing, but instead of going up to the stage, he leaves the cabaret. While this is a painfully sad scene, it shows us that inside of him there is an urgency for breaking free, getting out of the cage he fell in more than 80 years ago. And he keeps trying to get better.

Thanks to the negative spirit and their developing relationship, he discovers his lover, John, is in his last days of life. So he goes to him, and they meet for the first time since Larry’s accident. John can’t even walk by himself now, and he’s under the care of a nurse that’s also the only relevant person in his life. But he’s not sad, he had a good life, and he’s just glad Larry could go. So they reminisce together, and talk about what happened to them. John says that even though it was hard, he moved on from Larry, and is shocked that after so much time he couldn’t. So Larry, after some thinking, tells him about the negative spirit. How for so much time he didn’t understand them, but he thinks he finally does, and it might be a good thing. As he says that, he finally can really clear his mind of everything, and see the sunset with John, the way they wanted to so many years before. Sadly, when he turned his head, John had already passed away while they were talking. So he gives him a hug, and can finally say a proper goodbye to the love of his life.

While most of what happens to Larry during the show wouldn’t be particularly classified as ‘’Happy’’, we do see him make progress, and I think it’s evidenced more than ever during two conversations with Rita. During the first one, not long after they first met in the 60s, they realize that they may not be so alone anymore, and promise to ‘’Be lost causes together’’. But in the present day, after so much tragedy, when he seems to have finally given up on trying, Rita tells him that same as he did back then with her, she believes in him, and that no cause is totally lost if there’s someone willing to fight for them. Larry just delivers a quiet and weak ‘’Thanks’’ that sounds almost out of courtesy and nothing else, so he leaves while Rita enters her room. But in the midst of walking away, he abruptly turns around and approaches his friend rapidly, wrapping her with a hug that without any words said, gets the message across: After all the pain, there is hope.