The premiere of Season 3 of Doom Patrol picks up right after the cliffhanger that was the pandemic-induced Season 2 finale. While all still seems lost for the briefest moment, Dorothy quickly regains control of the Candlemaker by putting it in a sort of timeout “as long as it takes for us to be friends again.” It’s a quirky, maybe sweet, way to look at the relationship between the apocalypse and a hundred-year-old “little girl,” but the episode makes quick work of that entire arc. It feels too easy after all this time, but the series was probably just ready to move on. With Niles apparently dead, the characters and the viewers are also supposed to move on, but the next couple of episodes promise that he will continue to linger around for a bit.
If Episode 1 does anything, it really goes character by character to remind us of where exactly they were literally and mentally the last time we saw them and sturdily place them on a new track. There’s definitely a lot going on, but arguably it’s a reflection of all the stuff going through the characters’ heads in light of their complex and contradictory feelings about the Chief’s death. Cliff is still resentful that his metal body is pretty terrible, but now his human brain seems to be letting him down, possibly with Parkinson’s. The Negative Spirit is taking Larry to space (for a very brief moment). Vic is dealing with the aftermath of his relationship with Roni, making it worse for himself by letting her get away with another crime. But Jane and Rita really do the most work.
Jane’s story picks up in the Well right where we left her last season. She rescues Harry the stuffed lamb and her and the other personalities band together to take on “Miranda,” aka the manifestation of Kay’s psychological trauma, to make it to the surface the very moment “Miranda” steps off the real-world table to hang herself (themselves?). It’s an intense, but short, moment—it definitely sets the stage for Jane to change in some way having been affected by all of that journey built by Season 2. Her relationship with Kay is clearly different, and she seems much more tuned in to Kay than she ever was before. These first few episodes make it clear that Kay is starting to grow and is even trying to take care of Jane, rather than the other way around. The series’ ability to keep Jane’s narrative so high quality and long-running is insane. The very literal depiction of trauma manifesting in someone is pretty stunning. Even though they make Jane/Kay’s mind so supernatural, it honestly might be the most real and grounded part of the series if you cut back on taking it literally.
Rita’s moments are less dramatic but certainly the most integral to the burgeoning plot. The episode makes an effort to tell us that the characters have a very messy grieving period to mush through with Niles’ death, but Rita represents this the most. As she tells Larry, “our relationship to the Chief was complex, I wouldn’t expect our reaction to his death to be anything but.” Coupled with her breakdown at community theatre rehearsal, she truly portrays this aspect the best by far. She discovers that Niles left her a key to a “secret”, which turns out to be an alarm for some sort of danger. Rita outright ignores the call to heroism, and her journey there is put in focus and set up for future episodes. Her general identity crisis that follows literally leaves her as a puddle that has to be carried around in a sack.
The alarm turns out to be a woman who does not reveal anything about herself arriving in some time travel/underground drill machine. While it’s only practical to assume that she will be a significant villain called Madame Rouge, here she’s incredibly goofy, but her demeanor is just serious enough that she keeps some facets of threatening. The fact that she shape-shifts sets up countless potential snags for our heroes and may curiously tie into Rita’s own abilities.
Episode 2 sees the group take an uncomfortable vacation to a ghost town of a resort. The Brotherhood of Evil, along with the Brain and Monsieur Mallah, is briefly introduced, and we mostly get acquainted with Garguax, who was hired by the Brotherhood to assassinate a target that looks like Rita. After decades of no luck, he gives up and lives in peace at the same resort. When he and our main characters come face to face, the awkward banquet hall scene is both hilarious and meaningful concerning how the group talks to Garguax as well as how they talk amongst and about themselves. Vic is dead set on taking on obvious supervillains, while the rest of the group is adamant that they are not a super team.
While Episode 2 was great in a very laid-back and comforting way, it also ended with them all being killed by Garguax’s still-eager henchman. Episode 3 is an absolute delight with the group navigating the afterlife. While Cliff, Vic, and Jane/Kay all visit family members, Rita is somehow still conscious and instead visits her ongoing self-identity problem once more: “He [Niles] literally handed me my destiny and I went on vacation.” The main players in the episode, though, are the Dead Boy Detectives who agree to help Dorothy and Larry bring back the rest of the team before they are truly, fully dead. Charles and Edwin, played by Sebastian Croft and Ty Tennant respectively, are delightful. After watching Episode 3, it is not all that surprising that ‘Dead Boy Detectives’ got an HBO Max pilot order. Add them to Larry’s mental breakdown and you’ve got a solid concoction.
Overall, one of the biggest concerns is how separate the heroes’ plot lines seem to have gotten last season Episodes 1 through 3 fluctuate on that. Doom Patrol generally does best when the characters are all very scrubbed together on shared absurd terrain. Episode 1 still felt too separated, but Episodes 2 and 3 represent the series’ skill at creating isolated adventures within kooky and fun newly-built worlds. It’s reminiscent of earlier Season 1 Doom Patrol where the group is placed in random situations with each other non-stop while the details of the story are driven by their own actions and personalities in contrast to the wild components happening around them. The first three episodes of the series are certainly promising for a fulfilling third season. Seeing where Madame Rouge and the Brotherhood of Evil take the villainous element from here will be integral, but the opening of Season 3 suggests that our team still has the knack for its classic, dark, absurd, and hysterical exploits.