When Doom Patrol premiered back in February 2019, it had everything a comic book show could possibly have going for it: an impressive cast, an equally impressive creative pedigree behind it, some critical acclaim, and the simple fact that it wasn’t the “Fuck Batman” streaming DCTV show. The only knock against it, really, was that it was streaming on DC Universe; because even then, it was clear that DC Universe would be one more doomed (no pun intended) streaming service. Now, for its second season, Doom Patrol is getting a second chance at becoming a bigger deal of a DCTV show, as it simultaneously streams on both DC Universe and WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, HBO Max. It’s still a weird little show, so it still has that to contend with when it comes to possible new viewers, but it will at least have the quite-deserved potential to reach a wider audience. Because even with people’s issues with getting HBO Max, at least there’s more of a knowledge of what it is than DC Universe.
And what Doom Patrol is, is a series that, like fellow DCTV series Legends of Tomorrow, goes to the “why the fuck not?” school of storytelling. That’s a major reason why it’s easily considered one of the most fun comic book shows on the air right now, but unlike Legends of Tomorrow — a show that leans full-tilt into the comedy, while also understanding the need for pathos and catharsis — Doom Patrol leans into the drama while still acknowledging that it exists in a quite bizarre and off-kilter comic book world. Because ultimately, Doom Patrol is all about repression and trauma as well as how to cope with that. It just happens to also star a foul-mouthed robot man. Season two of Doom Patrol now focuses on all of that (especially the foul-mouthed robot man) through the lens of Chief’s great betrayal and the aftermath. Only, due to the way season one ended — with the team, minus Larry and plus Dorothy, miniaturized — there are currently more pressing matters at hand than the team’s feelings.
Or so it would seem. For a show that’s already not especially showy, “Fun Size Patrol” is really not a showy episode of Doom Patrol. Though it is quite impressive in its literal scope, due to the tiny-town, fun-size component. Because watching Doom Patrol comes with an acceptance of the wacky world in which it exists, the series is able to return with a character-driven episode that just so happens to feature the cast shrunk down to Lego figure size.
The attention to detail with Tiny Town and the sight gags that come from it all are necessary moments of levity in an episode that begins with a carnival massacre and gets right back into the swing of all of these characters’ collective and individual trauma. Director Christopher Manley is able to provide some sweetness in bits like the tiny pancakes for breakfast and the seemingly large popcorn during movie night, while at the same time hitting the comedic timing just right for bits like the slow elevator ride down to find Dorothy and the seemingly massive moment of the car being thrown from Tiny Town … leading right into a typical thud of a toy car being thrown in normal-size world.
While the team is back to normal size by the end of it all, in a way, this episode as a whole provides the new status quo for this season. For starters, there’s the lack of Mr. Nobody, other than the version stuck in the painting with the Beard Hunter. (And due to Alan Tudyk’s admittedly busy schedule, it seems like it will stay that way.) While plenty of season one of Doom Patrol lacked Nobody, his absence does somewhat stick out here because this is exactly the type of Doom Patrol episode that he would hate: all character-building with little action set pieces (truly, no pun intended) to speak of. He’d also probably have loads to say about the official introduction of Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro) as a character — possibly as Doom Patrol’s “Cousin Oliver” — which is the biggest downside to the lack of Nobody/Tudyk here.
However, the lack of Nobody does allow the show to focus on the road ahead. For Vic, that means finally dealing with his PTSD. For Rita, that means deciding to willingly join the fray and learn to use her powers for potential superherodom. For Jane, it’s a matter of avoidance (of her depression, her personalities) in the form of an addiction to the power-dampening serum; although there appears to be a ticking clock on that, considering the “Time for a Change” message she keeps getting. For Larry, it’s confronting the other parts of the past that he left behind. For Niles, it’s an attempt to balance being a good father to his daughter with being a good father to his makeshift family of misfits (if it’s even possible to do so again).
For Cliff, the road ahead even includes a literal road in Tiny Town, which also brings back his own painful memories of his past life. But when it comes to his metaphorical road ahead, unlike the rest of the team, his individual path isn’t as clear so far. Cliff leads the charge in “Fun Size Patrol” in terms of his righteous anger with Niles, but that’s something the whole team has, even though it may not be the focus here. But for Cliff, it is the focus, as he spends his time in Tiny Town alternating between piling on the “asshole scientist with the God complex” and killing rats. In the midst of all this, there is a flashback to an interaction in 1984 between Cliff and his disappointing father (Michael Harney), who at least leaves behind the lesson that all Cliff has is his “self-respect.” And that seems to be what is partially fueling this anger.
While Jane harbors no illusion that she’s forgiven Niles for his betrayal — letting him know he’s not her friend, he’s “just a scientist who did fucked up things to a broken girl” — actually it’s Cliff who spends the episode making perfectly clear just how much rage he has to give. And not just for Niles but for rats (again, season one really did a number on these characters) and even for an innocent girl like Dorothy, which again goes back to Niles. True joy has a name, and it’s Brendan Fraser screaming expletives; if nothing else, that is the one thing “Fun Size Patrol” really proves. Meanwhile, Rita — who should have seniority when it comes to being angry with Niles — actually tries to help Niles solve this fun-size problem, suggesting magic is the answer, instead of science. Which segues into the return of Willoughby (Mark Sheppard), who ends up getting the Mr. Nobody/Beard Hunter painting and … Niles’s necklace.
As for Larry, “Fun Size Patrol” uses his focus and determination to take care of the team while they’re stuck in tiny mode as a way to connect back to his imperfect past. While the first season of Doom Patrol focused a lot on Larry coming to terms with his closeted homosexuality and resulting self-loathing — as well as how that affected his ability as a husband — it didn’t really focus on his status as a father. But “Fun Size Patrol” extends his previous attempt to look like the perfect husband to his role as a father. Larry’s intense patience and perfectionism when it comes to something like making mini-pancakes or tiny furniture for the team becomes far less charming when it’s applied, via a flashback to 1961, to how he treated his son Gary over an imperfect model plane. As this flashback shows, Larry’s past issues weren’t only wrapped up in his sexuality, and his current issues aren’t over just because he found some closure in season one. That it takes the tragedy of Gary killing himself, obsessed with knowing whether Larry was ever proud of him and his brother, for Larry to have to confront this part is just one more tragic beat in the tragic life of Larry Trainor.
And then there is Dorothy Spinner, the all-powerful, “forever 11” daughter of Niles, who can bring her (quite protective) imaginary friends to life. With the introduction of Dorothy, Doom Patrol continues its pattern of having actors do highly suspect British accents, which has honestly become another part of the series’s charm. It also puts a child character into a decidedly not-a-child’s-show in a way that works to a point — specifically the juxtaposition of her earnestness and sweetness with these characters who curse like sailors and their violent, grotesque, “mature” world. But like with so many child characters, there is a worry of the character becoming too cutesy or too precocious. And bless her heart, as she is the only one enjoying their time in Tiny Town.
What helps offset that is how characters like Cliff and Jane get frustrated with her presence and become immature themselves when talking about her — that pettiness helps reframe the character before she becomes too much. It also helps muddy the moral and ethical waters of everything Niles did — to the team, for Dorothy — as his in-person attempts to be a good father make it hard to judge him in the moment.
It does feel strange to call Niles a good father, considering how he left his daughter in Danny for all those years and proved to fail as a surrogate father for the team. But Timothy Dalton’s performance truly lures viewers into a sense of security that makes us feel for him and his actions, even if the team doesn’t feel the same way about it; because in their case, it only makes them more frustrated with what he did. Now that Niles is out of the clutches of Mr. Nobody, it creates a new dynamic for the show and team. This is no longer a story about looking for Chief. They found Chief, and now they can’t even consider him their Chief anymore.
Doom Patrol Patrol
• “Fun Size Patrol” begins in 1927 London, England, in a place that makes sense for a series about “freaks” to begin: a carnival.
• In case you forgot that showrunner Jeremy Carver came from Supernatural, watching Niles slice his palm to summon Willoughby probably jogged your memory. Will Niles spend the next few weeks nursing the dumb hand wound he caused himself? We shall see.
• Cliff is of the belief that “nobody deserves to be a brick,” but Jane suggests that “maybe Danny wants to be a brick.”
• Larry created tiny furniture, but he clearly didn’t think to give them doll clothing.
• Forgetting for a moment what kind of show Doom Patrol is, it does seem at first like maybe Cliff decided to feed the rats as a way to make amends for the way things all went down with Admiral Whiskers last season. Of course, it then makes perfect sense that he’s been getting petty revenge instead. It does then ultimately work when he decides to actually feed the rats, though, after seeing the birth up close.
• Dorothy tries to relate to Jane by saying that her friends are just like Jane’s “friends” in her head. It’s true, only Dorothy embraces her friends, while Jane is now completely suppressing her personalities with the serum.
• Dorothy’s friends — Darling-Come-Home, Herschel, and what appears to be her mother’s wendigo — only come out when she’s sad or scared or happy. It’s hard to tell if the scary one who wants her to “MAKE WISH” and causes carnival massacres is considered a “friend,” but based on the comics, that one appears to be The Candlemaker.
• While Niles strikes the deal with Willoughby to get the team big again, it’s worth noting that Willoughby actually says he can’t do the magic necessary but Eismann might be able to. Horst Eismann is a character from the Doom Patrol comics, a billionaire who collects bizarre artifacts from around the world.