Let's Go On Patrol!
Arrowverse 2018/2019 Season: Week 17
Most of the ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming. shows are hiatus this week, and will be until the start of March, so this week is a tad quiet on the CW front. Supergirl turns in one new episode this week, and then she'll join her friends for another vacation before the season picks back up in two weeks time. Sooner or later she'll come back to save the day!
The big news, though, is the premiere of Doom Patrol. While, obviously, the DC Universe shows aren't yet connected to the CW shows, it's probably still only a matter of time. WB is regaining the streaming rights to the CW shows (after Netflix had them for the last two years), and they'll be streaming all the Arrowverse shows on the new WB streaming app. Sooner or later, we have to assume, they will go over to the DC Universe app as well, and at that point why not just crossover the universes? So, until we're told otherwise, we're going to continue covering the DC Universe shows in this column.
Doom Patrol, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot
Spun off from Titans (launched as a back-door pilot in the fourth episode of the series), the "Doom Patrol" started as: Robotman (voiced by Brendon Fraiser, played by the actor in flashbacks), who once was a race car driver and now is a brain in a robotic body; Negative Man (voiced, and played in flashbacks, by Matt Boomer), a test pilot taken over by an alien parasite and, due to burns on most of his body, now wanders around as bandaged up as the Invisible Man; Elasti-Woman, an actress exposed to a gas who then lost control of the shape and form of her body; and their nominal guide and leader, the Chief (originally played by Bruno Bichir, then recast as Timothy Dalton for the main series), the doctor that's been helping these misfits. They originally were joined by Beast Boy, who then went off with the Titans at the end of the episode.
We actually pick up some time before the events of the "Doom Patrol" episode of Titans, relearning about the team from the perspective of Cliff Steel (Brendon Fraiser), the 1980s race car driver who is about to have a very bad day. After having a fight with his wife (who he's cheating on and, in turn, she's cheating on him), Steele gets into an accident on the course that, seemingly, kills him (as we learn, there's more to that story, but we'll hold off on spoilers for now). He wakes up, 15 years later, in the Chief's lab where it's explained that just about all Steele's body was destroyed beyond repair. The only thing that remained intact enough was his brain, so the Chief extracted that and implanted it in a robotic body. As Robotman learns about his new situation, regains his memories, and finds a way to control his new body, he also learns about his new companions.
Larry Trainor was a test pilot back in the 1950s. While on a test flight of a new space plane his ship, high up in the atmosphere (and at the very edge of space) was hit by an alien organism (like a blast of discharged plasma). Larry was knocked out, his plane crashed (in a very pretty fireball), and then Larry emerged, horribly burned but somehow still alive. There's also Rita Farr, a famous actress from the 1940s. During the filming of an African-set drama, Rita fell into a river and was exposed to a strange gas. Soon after, she found that her body was betraying her, slowly turning into a gelatinous mess that she seemingly was unable to control. For both Larry and Rita, help came in the form of the Chief.
Later, after Robotman adjusted to his new life at "Doom Manor" (as the villain of the series, Mr. Nobody, puts it -- note that Mr. Nobody is voiced by the always superb Alan Tudyk), a fourth misfit was added to the collection: Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero). Jane has 64 different personalities living in her head and each of those personalities has its own super power. Some of her personalities are aggressively mean to everyone around her while others, like the primary "Jane" personality, are much nicer, more of team players (even if all of them seem to be rather anti-authority). It's the addition of Jane that gets the plot of the episode really moving as Jane pushes the rest of the misfits out of the mansion and over to the nearby town to have a day of freedom.
Things don't go well, though, when Rita loses control of her body and destroys half the town. This action then allows the villain, Mr. Nobody, to pinpoint the Chief (and the rest of the team), and he comes calling, setting the town on a collision course with it's own little apocalypse. The Doom Patrol will have to band together if they want to save lives.
As this first episode is a pilot it gets a little leeway that episodes from more established shows wouldn't be allowed. There are a lot of crazy characters on this show and they all have to be given a certain amount of time to show their back-stories. The first two acts of this episode are easily taken up just recounting the stories of all the eventual heroes which does throw off the pacing some. Anyone that has already seen the "Doom Patrol" episode of Titans might be annoyed at the forced reintroduction of this episode, but personally I liked it. I know a lot about DC Comics, but not all that much about the Doom Patrol specifically. Honestly, they're a lot like the Guardians of the Galaxy, a C-list band of misfit heroes that no one had every heard of. Giving the audience time to learn all about these heroes is essential.
And, honestly, building the first half of the show around Robotman is a smart play. He's a tragic figure voiced impeccably by Brendon Fraiser; setting him up as our guide into the weird world of Doom Patrol works like a charm. We get introduced slowly to the team through the story of a single person, and his story is both sad and relatable. While Titans played up the weirdness of the Doom Patrol team from an outsider's perspective, Robotman eases us into this world and gets us to immediately think about all the heroes are real people.
That said, the show still has a lot of work ahead of it before we really fully understand, and appreciate, the heroes. Neither Elasti-Girl nor Negative Man are given enough definition in this first episode so that we know what they can do. I appreciate that the focus of the episode is on their story, but leaning why Rita loses control of her abilities, and what she capable of, would be really helpful. Similarly, Negative Man is still a blank for us when it comes to his abilities. We see his alien parasite leave his body once, with the body dropping to the ground like a husk, but we still aren't sure what the alien can do, if it's good or evil, or what. And then there's Crazy Jane who, so far, has only shown three personalities, one of which is, apparently, a Human Torch-like figure. We certainly need to learn a lot more about her before we can appreciate what she's capable of.
What works best on the show, though, is its weird tone. It delights in pointing out the strangeness of the situation all the heroes are in, largely by having the evil narrator poke holes at the very concept of the show. I enjoy the humor behind the series, the fact that it's trying very hard not to take itself too seriously. That said, the show should probably cool it with the narrator eventually as his constant patter could, over time, start to wear very thin.
This first episode does a good job getting us into the world to care about the people. Now we just need an episode or two where we can learn about them as heroes while the overall tone of the show settles down. I really wish DC would have launched this show with a two-part episode instead of a single because a little more time up front could have really gotten us settled on this world.
Supergirl, Season 4, Episode 12: Menagerie
Back after a couple of weeks off, we're dropped right into the middle of the political mess that is alien rights in the United States. Although Agent Liberty was captured and sent to prison at the end of the mid-season, his story isn't over by a long shot. Still wielding great power from within prison, the Agent is able to inspire his followers to continue fighting against the alien "menace". Public opinion is turning towards the Agent's way of thinking, and even the President eventually agrees that Agent Liberty should never have been incarcerated (largely because the polls are against it).
This all comes to a head when a new alien threat lands on earth: a weird snake-creature symbiote that eats the hearts out of humans. Paired with a human, the new being calls itself Menagerie and they start going about the citizens of high-society, killing with abandon. This leads both the DEO (lead by Kara's sister Alex) and the Sons of Liberty to show up at the same fancy soiree to battle against Menagerie. Supergirl (with assistance from Dreamer) is able to best the alien, but it's the Son's of Liberty that strike the fatal blow (and also take the credit for the kill). With the news blasting about the heroism of these anti-alien agents, the President orders Agent Liberty out of prison -- this despite the fact that he kidnapped Supergirl at one point and tried to kill her as, apparently, the Constitution doesn't protect aliens.
Honestly, as an adventure of Supergirl this episode falls kind of flat. The only reason it takes so long for our heroine to best the alien and save the day is because she spends most of the episode in her Kara disguise, trying to hide who she is from Alex (because, remember, Alex had her memory wiped of the fact that Kara is Supergirl). If Kara had been free to act as she liked, Menagerie would have been an act-one villain at best. The episode goes out of its way to force the Sons of Liberty into the "hero" position (which they don't earn) all so the episode can end with Agent Liberty free from prison.
As a political discussion, though, the story fares better. Clearly the show is commenting on our own political climate with a president that clearly cares about naturalized citizens of the country over people coming in from abroad. This is the first episode of this season that really sells the "us vs. them" parallel between the shows universe and the real world. The administration only cares about American citizens and aliens (whether defined as the interstellar kind or, in the real world, immigrants) are seen as less-than-human. By not making that point the focus of the episode, the show is better able to sell this discussion. Normally Supergirl wields a hammer to sell its politics, but this time with went in with a scalpel and it worked much better.
That said, I really hate Agent Liberty as a villain. He has no subtlety, no nuance. While that might be a realistic parallel for the political discourse in the real world it doesn't make for a very compelling villain. I really how the show can somehow make the Agent more watchable since it seems dead-set on using him as the big bad for the rest of the season.
Elsewhere in the 'Verse:
- As noted, everything else in the 'verse was off this week. Next week Supergirl joins them. That means all we'll have is Doom Patrol to cover for a week or two. The plan, then, is to post a review of that new show along with a look at previous big crossovers until such time as the series all resume once more.