After the cliffhanger ending of the previous episode, Doom Patrol’s Episode 8 had some high expectations to meet. While the episode accomplishes too much to truly do justice in unpacking it, Subconscious Patrol is a masterpiece. Without being overdramatic, I can say that this is one of the best episodes of television I have seen in a long time, if not ever. There is no doubt that this episode will go down as one of the most well-written, well-performed, and electrifying installments of Doom Patrol. Perhaps the best part of the episode’s success is that it does not exist in a vacuum, but was undoubtedly gradually earned over the three years of Doom Patrol.
The series is truly at its best in Subconscious Patrol in a lot of ways, including the writing and concepts it plays with in the episode. The overarching idea is interesting on its face, but the actual execution takes it far enough to be ridiculous in the best way possible. Forcing the characters to confront their subconscious selves is one thing, but to have those “subs” first hang out together in a pillow fort while the main characters prison break one another out of old memories is another. The pièce de résistance is the ultimate combination of mains and subs huddled in the same pillow fort watching each other attempt to sort through their emotional turmoil. It is maybe the first time this season since the first three episodes that it feels like the Doom Patrol was a family, or in something together.
The plot shines, and the convoluted—yet written well enough to easily follow—workings of the Eternal Flagellation are intriguing and exciting. But the character work is absolutely divine. Doom Patrol is known for how well it handles character development and phenomenal acting performances, but Episode 8 was on another level. It is frustrating, though, to try and generally summarize the episode when the details and complexities of it have been delicately built up for years and this is simply the payoff. In reviews of early episodes in Season 3, I criticized how some of the characters’ stories felt stagnant and repetitive at times, but it’s pretty clear to see now how all of it intentionally paved the way for what truly feels like a climax three years in the making. The writers and actors earned this moment, and it is beautiful.
Our new and Sisterhood-of-Dada-version of Rita explains the Eternal Flagellation. Essentially, every person in the world has swapped places with a version of their subconscious selves—generally from a traumatic or guilt-inducing memory. The point, apparently, is that no one will be able to hide who they truly are, which means that no one can be evil. While that doesn’t sound like the ultimate threat of the season, Rita assures them all that “it’s art.” It’s also a revelation that the Sisterhood of Dada is maybe yet another red herring for a villain. But honestly, it looks like maybe the Dada arc was genuinely working in the shadows throughout the season to bring our characters to this breaking point. The lack of a strong adversary in Season 3 certainly is not the detriment it could have been up to this point.
The Doom Patrol—apart from Rita—swap places with subconscious versions of themselves. Larry finds himself in a memory from the moments before his wedding where he ultimately gives in to the homophobic hatred surrounding him (here, his mother’s) rather than calling off the wedding. Vic actually swaps places with a toy called “General Tony” from a memory where a racist toy store worker threatened to call the cops on him because he dropped several toys simply looking for a black superhero—there were none, and General Tony the soldier is what he left with. Jane is somehow in the subconscious of Kay’s subconscious where Jane and the other personas are Sesame Street-style puppets playing into Kay’s fantasy. Cliff finds himself in a memory of his own birthday party involving booze, bros, and a stripper—but the kicker is that he intentionally left his young daughter in the car to enjoy all of it.
The characters’ subs all meet in Doom Manor and General Tony builds an elaborate pillow fort for them to convene. The way these subs interact could fill an entire other series alone, and already Matt Bomer and Brendan Fraser are absolutely phenomenal. They both benefit from getting to play very altered versions of the main characters we know—Bomer is pre-accident Larry and Fraser is pre-accident Cliff. Seeing either of the two as normal-looking humans is enough to be jarring, but allowing the actors to portray incredibly distinct versions of their normal character not within some kind of flashback is fascinating. While the subs discuss themselves, the main characters find a way to unite and break out of their subconscious realm and take a flying car (which looks like Cliff’s memory birthday cake) through a rainbow tunnel to Doom Manor to meet the subs on conscious ground.
When everyone comes together, the magic of the episode really happens. There is so much context to these characters and the conversations they have that it is astounding that the episode did it justice. This review cannot, but to be clear: this episode alone makes the 31 previous episodes of Doom Patrol worth watching even if you didn’t think they were before (but they are anyway).
Larry was the only character who achieved some sort of resolution with his subconscious self. His sub confronts him that he is afraid that he doesn’t know how to love or is not worthy of it. Again, Bomer takes everything about Larry to the next level in this conversation. But the kicker is his final plea to main Larry to change his life, reminding him that he is stuck in an infinite loop of that memory: “Make it worth what I’m going through.” Larry’s sub then disappears. Larry is the first character to have that conversation with his sub, so it sets the stage for the other characters to get their resolutions as well.
Except they don’t. Vic comes to terms with the fact that General Tony represents that he was expected to be a soldier and lost his childhood as a result. There’s an understanding that he can’t get it back, but General Tony tells him that he can make his own choices now. Vic screams, “I didn’t want a soldier!” as General Tony disappears.
Cliff’s conversation is brutal and disheartening. Fraser is masterful here, and it’s hard not to believe he was actually talking back and forth with himself in real-time. Cliff’s “breakthrough” is that he admits that amongst his need to feel special, fatherhood makes him feel nothing. He recognizes that he’s doing the same dumb things now despite his second chance with Clara. With a lot of shouts of “Fuck you!” back and forth, the sub disappears. Cliff is left more agitated and emptier than ever, and it is a dramatic contrast to Larry’s conclusion.
If Cliff needed competition for “worst subconscious conversation ever,” Jane gives him a run for his money. Main Jane is still a puppet at this point, which is hilarious, but sub Kay tells her that everything Jane does brings Kay more pain. Kay says that it’s time for her to grow up and be without Jane. This conversation is the most heartbreaking—Kay disappears after she says, “I wish you would die.” Diane Guerrero doesn’t let you forget that she’s been acting the hell out of Jane since day one, and Jane absolutely loses her mind. It’s as if this is the moment she finally realized that Kay getting better means her existence is useless. It’s particularly interesting because Jane always knew this to be the case, but here it seems as though she finally let go of the illusion that they can all grow together.
If the pure brokenness at this point was not enough, the episode has more punches left. After the Eternal Flagellation ends, our characters wake back up to the real world. Clara tells Cliff his presence as a grandfather isn’t working out, Kay has cleared the Underground of all other personas, and Vic wakes up from surgery with prosthetic skin and no tech. What we do have is Larry—sweet Larry—who goes back for the parasite he previously abandoned in the woods.
We also happen to learn why Laura DeMille actually time-traveled to 2021 anyway—after being fired from the Bureau of Normalcy because of Niles Caulder, the Brotherhood of Evil recruits her to travel in time, steal his technology, and bring it back so that the Brotherhood can invent it before Niles does. The Brotherhood finally gives her the name, “Madame Rouge.” Rita and Laura confront each other once again, and their duality and rapidly complex relationship is still one of the most interesting pieces of the Dada plot remaining.
By the end of Subconscious Patrol, we are on very uncertain ground. At the very least, we know that Vic is no longer “Cyborg.” There’s also the possibility of it Jane being destroyed by Kay at any moment. Cliff is a broken (robot) man, but Larry is finding a way forward. The Dada storyline might be fading out as quickly as the fog rolled in, but the way it was able to bring the character development to a head in this episode was incredible and compelling beyond expectations. It’s pretty unclear how the season will wrap up its last two episodes after this, but Subconscious Patrol is one to remember.