After an all-out rager like last week’s “Sex Patrol,” Doom Patrol goes with what feels kind of like a hangover episode in “Finger Patrol.” Things are at more of a simmer throughout this one, which focuses heavily on its emotional beats with seemingly nothing bigger than a severed finger on the docket. Even the story between Baby Doll and Dorothy is one that, while clearly doomed from the start, seems as if it’ll be on the back burner until possibly the next episode, just to allow the show to breathe for a bit.
But instead, everything boils over by the end of the episode, and the aforementioned severed finger quickly becomes a small beat compared with the rest of it. After all, Cliff accidentally detaching a car thief’s finger because of his still-malfunctioning robot arm is all in good fun — and, based on Robotman 2.0 schematics, preparation — compared with Larry ending up in a Department of Defense shoot-out because his son and Dorothy sicced the Candlemaker on Baby Doll in the Underground. Even the Larry thing is relatively small potatoes against that horrific sight.
Chris Dingess and Shoshana Sachi’s script for “Finger Patrol” really does lull the audience into a false sense of security before letting all hell break loose. Glen Winter, returning to direct the series for the first time since the pilot, also contributes, presenting everything with a sense of stillness. We have Cliff daydreaming a ’70s-style procedural for himself and Vic, Vic reconciling with Roni, and Larry reconnecting with the family he lost. Even the Baby Doll–Dorothy plot — which sends up red flags even before Hammerhead reminds Jane that kids fight — sees those two characters hitting it off immediately, instead of beginning from a place of jealousy. Actually, the fact that Baby Doll–Dorothy doesn’t hinge on jealousy between Niles’s adopted daughter (in a sense) and his biological daughter is the shock of the story; though there’s plenty to focus on with just the story of two innocent children who also happen to have immense power but lack the emotional maturity to fully handle it. That in particular is why Niles has been so worried about Dorothy. And because he thinks the girls have reconciled by the end of the episode, he unfortunately overlooks the fact that his worries were completely justified.
The amount of commitment Diane Guerrero has to put into all of Jane’s personalities is honestly both impressive and scary, and an episode like “Finger Patrol” is a reminder of that. Baby Doll is a character who wouldn’t work or would come off as simply annoying if not for Guerrero’s commitment. (Jane also makes a good point to Hammerhead about Baby Doll: While all that Baby Doll is “good for” is running around and playing, if that weren’t a necessity for Kay, then Baby Doll wouldn’t exist at all.) Yet Doom Patrol makes it work, to the point where we can empathize with the pain Baby Doll must feel about Niles’s betrayal as well as her inability to stop playing — because, thanks to an already self-blaming Jane, she had been able to do that for so long — which leads her down the path where she and Dorothy are at odds.
For every action in this plot, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Kids can be cruel, and that’s what Baby Doll is when she’s upset that Dorothy decides not to play with her. But throw in an emotionally unstable Dorothy, who still refuses to believe her father could be considered “evil” — despite his admitting as much to Dorothy without going into details — and that’s what leads to the end of the episode: Dorothy getting revenge on Baby Doll for being a “liar,” Baby Doll trapping Dorothy in a furnace, Dorothy’s wendigo coming out to help, Flaming Katy helping Baby Doll by killing the wendigo (which, earlier in the episode, Dorothy explained was her very first friend), and Dorothy making a wish sending the Candlemaker to take out Flaming Katy and Baby Doll. And with that, what started as a simple plot about two kids running around an old mansion becomes a huge shift for the series.
Larry’s continued attempt to grow and properly settle the past, meanwhile, ends with a firefight and the potential death of his grandson. If things seemed to be resolved too easily for Larry in the way his son Paul accepted him, “Finger Patrol” puts the situation more into perspective. Larry isn’t getting a happy ending for finally confronting his past; he’s getting what’s coming to him from someone who hasn’t forgiven him for the effect his disappearance had on the rest of the family. On the plus side, Larry’s sexuality doesn’t end up being the barrier keeping him from reconciling with Paul. Instead, it’s that Larry’s absence made Cheryl susceptible to going down a conspiracy wormhole and taking Gary with her. While they ended up being right about Larry, that doesn’t change the mental toll it took on them, especially as this whole reconciliation was kicked off by Gary killing himself.
As mentioned in the recap for “Tyme Patrol,” the casting of John Getz as Paul suggests that Larry isn’t going to be walking into a happy reunion, but Doom Patrol manages to subvert that expectation. “Finger Patrol” then subverts that subversion by ultimately revealing that Paul has secretly been plotting against his father and harboring so much resentment that he couldn’t find another way than to report Larry to the Department of Defense. That resentment leads Paul to blame Larry for his son getting shot, despite (1) Paul calling in the military to capture Larry, even though his son and young grandson are both present, and (2) see No. 1. This episode is such a big step for Larry; as Rita even tells him, he’s on the path to catharsis. But then it’s all lost by the end, even though it looks so cool when Negative Spirit is destroying the DoD agents and then flying Larry and Rita back home.
By the way, Doom Patrol really acknowledges that many shadowy organizations are at play at any given moment. Even “legit” organizations like the DoD are ultimately gateways to things like the Bureau of Normalcy. And now there’s Quorum, which Vic’s girl Roni apparently has a past with. Yes, Roni is back to being Vic’s girl. Or woman, as the show has acknowledged before that Roni was in Afghanistan in 2004 but doesn’t acknowledge the age difference between the two. (Though the gap shows, as every other Vic-Roni scene becomes a discussion about systemic issues that only reveal how naïve and young Vic is.) That isn’t actually the biggest issue with the Vic-Roni plot, though. Rather, it’s the combination of how serious it has gotten so quickly and how vague it is in general. There’s being secretive, a characteristic the show gives to Roni, and there’s being aggressively vague, which is what the writing is actually doing.
Leading up to this, however, Vic’s scenes with Cliff work. They show how into Roni he is, and they sell the audience on wanting them to work it out. The issue is just in how they work things out, because those scenes lack even an element of Doom Patrol–style wackiness. The Vic-Cliff scenes in “Finger Patrol” don’t just work because they pave the way for Cliff’s Steele & Stone team-up idea (and the pitch-perfect Starsky & Hutch–style clip/opening credits for said idea) but because Vic and Cliff are kind of two sides of the same coin. Actually, Vic is a regular coin, and Cliff is one of those smushed coins. Both are “robot men,” but Vic has more human features and tech than Cliff does. As Dr. Stone says, what he did to Vic was “surgery,” while what Niles did to Cliff was “manslaughter at best.”
Speaking of Niles, part of what has made the Niles situation much less cut-and-dried this season is the amount of remorse he has had and his increasing sense of accountability (even here in his interactions with Jane and Baby Doll). He’s not always perfect, but he’s certainly trying. However, in his scene with Cliff in this episode, as they talk about the Robotman 2.0 schematics and discuss the possibility of Cliff regaining his sense of touch (Cliff admits to Vic that he can’t even remember the feeling), Timothy Dalton plays Niles with a level of disingenuousness that he otherwise doesn’t give to the character. With Cliff being the most upset with Niles, one would assume Niles would be the most remorseful toward Cliff. Instead, it reads like a scene where he’s just working Cliff to get him off his case. And that’s a bold choice for Doom Patrol (and Dalton) to make, if it’s true.
Is it as bold as sex ghosts still hanging around the manor? Even bolder, perhaps.
Doom Patrol Patrol
• Openly drunk Rita going on about her problems to Larry’s grandson and very confused great-grandson is a great bit in this episode. Rita still can’t get the memory of her mother (from “Sex Patrol”) out of her mind, but she’s attempting to get over it here in her own way. Community theater, here she comes.
• While it may not seem like it, Cliff, Larry, and Rita all get big hero moments in this episode: Cliff stops the car thieves, Larry gets the cool Negative Spirit fight, and Rita saves Larry’s great-grandson from getting shot. Of course, Cliff does sever that one dude’s finger, Larry’s Negative Spirit fight is self-defense against people his own son called in on him, and Rita doesn’t save Larry’s grandson … but still.
• Cliff: “Those two are just cuter than shit.”
Vic: “Man, you missed out on a killer tea party.”
Cliff’s reaction to not being at the tea party should be everyone’s reaction to Doom Patrol not showing the tea party.
• This week in “I’m Cyborg”: Vic actually doesn’t say “I’m Cyborg” in this episode, but he does say “Booyah!” during the Steele & Stone bit. It counts. This Cliff line also counts: “There’s been this unspoken bet between all of us about whether or not you have a schlong.”
• It’s probably nothing, but the videotape in which Niles confesses everything he did to Cliff is missing.