The opening two episodes of Doom Patrol, “Doom Patrol” and “Butt Patrol”, show that the series is still the best comic book adaptation on television. Amidst the DC Entertainment turmoil, Doom Patrol is a strangely shining beacon of hope despite being wildly underrated and skewing away from the comfortable tone and subjects adopted by most other projects. Season 4 proves that there is simply something overwhelmingly unique about the HBO Max show.
After finally ending last season as the “Doom Patrol”, we briefly see the superhero team in some classic action. The time machine introduced in Season 3 could be a key player going forward—it is used to facilitate the hero antics, but it is clear after Episode 1 that it can have a much larger role. Time travel played a large role previously, and Episodes 1 and 2 leave it questionable whether Season 4 will expand or retract it. Considering the team is trying to prevent a future apocalypse, a lingering question about a person they collided with in the time stream, and a General Immortus prophecy tease, there is a strong chance Doom Patrol will be playing with time as much as it ever has.
Just as time never stops, there is a never-ending theme of doom in the series. Aside from, obviously, the title, the group is relentlessly in a state of “doomed.” Not only does this season appear to revolve around the Doom Patrol stopping an apocalypse they themselves caused, but the main characters have also already met their future dead and ghostly selves and have started to dig their own graves in the aftermath. The show is a lively spectator sport where the viewer is constantly rooting for the loser. But as much as we might think we want a win in Doom Patrol, does that feel natural?
It all naturally leads to a consideration of how Season 4 could fall short, and the answer is stagnation. The three preceding seasons all felt like they were building to a larger moment where the group of misfits become the titular Doom Patrol. They did, but we certainly do not spend much time in that mode. Instead, the group generally falls back into its dysfunctional family routine. This is the irreplaceable heart of the show, but one wonders if this season will show more movement—with the conclusion of Season 3, the forming of the Doom Patrol, and the slow buildup to an expected “superhero team show”, settling back into old territory might not be enough.
That being said, Doom Patrol is generally the antithesis of commonality or familiarity. The current story is certainly intriguing—and ties in previous hits from last season—but only time will tell if the show can for a fourth time bring fans to a place wildly outside of any comfort zone. Still, some of the foundations laid are stronger than others.
Jane’s story is perhaps the trickiest one to predict here. Historically, her inner workings have been an extraordinarily strong subplot throughout all seasons, but it seemed to come to a strong peak last season. Episode 2 suggests that this aspect could be winding down, but the lingering solo subplot of Jane unraveling the depths of hers and Kay’s psyches—regardless of its quality—is starting to feel tired.
In any event, the cast remains yards above their peers. Diane Guerrero seems impossible to beat, pulling off multiple characters effortlessly. April Bowlby and Michelle Gomez are once again humble pillars of the show, both on their own and as a duo. While Rita in particular has become the closest character there is to a lead, her and Madame Rouge’s dynamic feels both grounded in traditional storytelling technique and entirely refreshing. Jovian Wade’s Victor is in quite an interesting place as a character—Cyborg without any of the cyborg. So far, it seems like Season 4 is in no hurry to “correct” that aspect and Wade shows promise of a very strong and nuanced performance over the season. The Brendan Fraser-voiced Cliff has some of the most emotional scenes of the first two episodes, and he and fellow faceless Larry (voiced by Matt Bomer) always find their way to being some of the most emotive characters in the series.
In sum, the first two episodes of Doom Patrol’s Season 4 capitalize on all of the series’ wonderful elements that have propelled it in the past. So far, there is a seemingly extra-cohesive plot, which may help glue the season together better than some of those in the past that felt slipperier than perhaps ideal. Of course, the first episodes raise many questions about the plot, but the biggest question may be how far the series is willing to stretch its core concept of a misfit bunch of powered-up rejects toward what its title can represent.