Season 3’s penultimate episode of Doom Patrol is all about dysfunctional relationships. In fact, it is nearly impossible to point to any element of this episode that isn’t quite clearly a representation of a rocky and toxic relationship. It’s a theme that pervades Doom Patrol as a whole, but it was certainly wrung out in all of its glory in the previous episode. Evil Patrol makes it quite clear that the bulk of this season did the messy work of getting our characters to a significantly different place than they have ever been before in the series. As a result, this episode feels like Doom Patrol is now at a spot where the audience is no longer forced to try and figure out and parse through what is going on, but rather just getting to enjoy it uninhibited. And this episode—which could also be fairly named “Plot Patrol”—does what the series does best: be extraordinarily fun.
This season of Doom Patrol seemed to be setting up Rita as a major player at the very start of it, and it’s become more than obvious that Rita is really who is driving the show now. Even though the clearest conflict is Rita against Laura, Laura only becomes an arguably villainous figure in the present day because Rita pushes her into survival mode. Without Rita plotting to destroy Laura, the latter never would have returned to the Brotherhood of Evil or hatched any nefarious plot. Rita’s obsession with revenge is the only true adversarial threat of the story at this point—it’s pretty safe to say for certain that Season 3 does indeed lack a strong villain, but it isn’t suffering for it.
Rita’s loss of Malcolm turns her into a staunch vengeful personality with the confidence and motivation that comes along with it. It allows her to be an extremely different Rita than ever before. She makes it clear to Laura that she won’t let her ruin anything else and that she won’t stop fighting until she’s ended her life. She doesn’t hesitate to start gathering a team to help her, but she quickly realizes that almost all of her potential “assets”—Vic, Jane, and Larry—are no longer assets. It doesn’t really deter her, and she’s more than willing to go the extra mile in keeping everyone around to help. That’s how desperate she is to get revenge on Laura, and that’s how clear it is that she has little concern for the friends she used to have much more compassion for.
Her loss of herself seems most apparent when she becomes extremely paranoid that Cliff’s daughter Clara is actually Laura in disguise. It comes off as more of a blow to Cliff’s sense of worth, but it turns out that Laura did, in fact, infiltrate Doom Manor, but as Clara’s baby. The result is one of the funniest moments the series has put together—Laura shapeshifts into some kind of elf-sized, disturbingly proportioned creature that looks like it could have come straight out of a Shrek film. She essentially bounces around while the new and mostly depowered team swat at her with objects. The intentionally rough visual effects, including the awkward tempo of it all, fits with the series’ aesthetic perfectly, and it’s just a near-perfect moment. In the end, Laura teleports away with Cliff.
The fight comes after Laura rejoins the Brotherhood of Evil. The group—which is just the Brain and Monsieur Mallah—is a standout in Season 3 despite being minimally involved and having little screen time. Laura finds the two living in a retirement community in Florida, done with the life of the Brotherhood. Laura convinces the Brain to work with her to both keep herself from being killed but also to supposedly destroy Niles Caulder’s legacy. While they ultimately betray her, it’s not until after the Brain puts himself in Cliff’s body—he is living his best life. While the Brotherhood stand out particularly for the humor they bring, it’s ironic how they just truly aren’t villains here. Both Rita and Laura essentially use the Brotherhood as an excuse to target the other, and the threatening-sounding organization is just sort of the connector. The Brain and Mallah were perfectly content with their retirement before these two women came along.
Apart from the main Rita-Laura situation, the other characters have strong moments both alone and together. Vic probably has the rawest and compelling moment with his conversation with his father after Vic has his tech removed. Joivan Wade really delivers, and the scene grows from comforting nostalgia to completely chilling. It’s also the best Vic/Cyborg mental and emotional moment the series has given us. Vic’s arc was always very interesting—and this moment doesn’t make it more or less so—but it always felt like it was missing some intensity. Vic’s pushback against his dad’s attempts to convince him that turning him into Cyborg was the right thing to do, and claiming that he is ready to be able to actually define himself undoubtedly provides that intensity. It also feels like a watershed moment in the character’s development that was a long time coming. While we arguably “lost” the character of Cyborg, the fact that Vic otherwise remains himself is pretty cool. He’s such a strong personality with a good heart. When the team asks him why he came back to Doom Manor now that he is “normal”, he simply says, “I live here.” He has no interest in not being some kind of hero or doing the right thing—losing the tech highlights that Vic, not Cyborg, was always the hero.
Larry’s parasite baby is a delight. We get sweet and funny dad moments, but we also learn that the little larva can sense and react to everyone’s emotions leading to Larry being zapped by it every few minutes. Jane and Kay are still on rocky and fragile ground, especially now that the rest of the personas have left the Underground. Kay tries to take the reins but flees when she gets scared, and it becomes clear that the Underground will destroy itself if it remains empty. Cliff gets convinced that Clara coming to help him is too good to be true because he doesn’t deserve another second chance.
The overall theme of “dysfunctional relationships” is at its height at the end of the episode when the team takes the bus to go save Cliff. Everyone is resentful that Vic seems to actually have figured things out about himself after the eternal flagellation. Larry confronts Rita about how the mission really has nothing to do with Cliff for her, and she admits she chose not to save them all from dying to not risk erasing the life she built with Malcolm. Larry’s parasite makes it clear that everyone is emotionally toxic. It’s entertaining and laugh-worthy, and it seems true to the “team” we have known in Doom Patrol.
Because this episode seems to have started from somewhat new ground in terms of the overall plot—notably, getting the Brotherhood of Evil involved as a major piece—it was not predictable and it makes it hard to predict where the finale is headed. This isn’t anxiety-inducing, as the series in general and the second half of Season 3, in particular, has been very successful at making stories come out of nowhere and still be great. While we can say goodbye to the idea of a “big bad”, the Rita-Laura situation can probably be seen as a villain in and of itself, with Rita in particular actually giving off the “evil” vibes. Evil Patrol sets up an entertaining finale at least, and probably an exciting one as well. While only time will tell, Doom Patrol has done the work this season to make it something special.