The first outing of Doom Patrol was that rare season of television that felt like no idea in the writers room was strange enough to get turned down, and boy do I mean that as a compliment. If anything, the biggest worry going into season 2 is whether the show could capture that feeling of wild abandon with such razor-sharp energy a second time. After all, how can you keep heading upward when you started out with an interdimensional farting goat, introduced a sentient street who comes out as genderqueer, pivoted into a swarm of bloodthirsty butts, then ended with a Kaiju-sized rat and cockroach vigorously swapping spit. (It all made sense in the moment.) Fear not: Doom Patrol remains as effortlessly odd-ball in its sophomore season, but also improves itself by leaning even harder into the tragedy of it all at the same time. “We all make mistakes. The important thing to remember is they don’t define who we are,” Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) tells his daughter Dorothy (Abigail Shapiro) in episode 3, too-optimistic words of advice in a show filled with outcasts who define themselves by the very things that make them outcasts in the first place.
Everyone is still pissed at Niles, and rightfully so. The revelation that the mad doctor was the cause behind every team member’s deformity has shattered the trust in Doom Manor. But a Faustian bargain deprives Caulder of the talisman keeping him immortal, and the rest of the crew rallies to find a way to save him. Not for his sake, but for the sake of his tortured, powerful daughter, Dorothy. Or, as Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser) eloquently puts it: “I am not babysitting my nemesis’ kid.”
Meanwhile, each of our main characters has a personal issue raging inside them, with the ensemble cast remaining as across-the-board incredible as ever. Cliff is still a robot powered mostly by unchecked rage, exacerbated by the fact his daughter still has no idea he’s alive. There’s a mutiny happening inside the Underground of Jane (Diane Guererro), as each of her 64 personalities makes a case to become “the primary”. Both Cyborg (Joivan Wade) and Rita Farr (April Bowlby) feel like they’re battling their own bodies, while Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) struggles to make peace with an abandoned family who aged past him.
If Doom Patrol season 2 has a major flaw, it’s that there isn’t much of a main story to focus on (at least in the three episodes I’ve seen). The season is vaguely tied together by the drive to save Niles, plus an ominous, still-mysterious entity inside of Dorothy that’s definitely going to cause a ruckus down the line. Anyone who comes to Doom Patrol looking for TV’s answer to Guardians of the Galaxy, a zippy team adventure with a Big Bad to battle, will be disappointed. Instead, Doom Patrol dives deep into the heads of DC’s most fucked-up characters. The result is a character study that still manages to make time for stuff like a disco party between the fabric of time thrown by a maniac named…The Terrible Dr. Tyme. (Rita: “And he stuck with that spelling?”)
That’s the beauty of Doom Patrol, an ability to transition from pure ridiculousness to relatable heartbreak so quickly you don’t even notice until you’re tearing up. It’s a show that’s particularly obsessed with the idea of parenthood, how you can feel like a monster while also knowing you’d die for your kid. The central conflict at the heart of Doom Patrol season 2 is the push-pull between Niles and Cliff. To protect his own daughter, Niles robbed Cliff of a relationship with his own. Dalton brings an almost unfair level of gravitas to this endlessly silly show and Fraser continues to impress with his voice work, both funny and fearsome and peppered with enough “fucks” to power a whole season of Deadwood. But that character of Cliff Steele is still physically carried by Riley Shanahan, the man inside the metal suit. There’s such a Frankenstein-ish sadness to Shanahan’s performance, all jerky robotic movements that feel like a depressed soul fighting to feel something again.
The premiere features some wonderful optical-illusion set design as the team, still shrunk down to mouse size from the season 1 finale, tries to find a way off of a model playset. But the early parts of season 2 moves quickly into a monster of the week-esque formula. The time-hopping showdown with Dr. Tyme in episode 2—a deliriously funny chapter written by April Fitzsimmons and Neil Reynolds—is followed up by a delightfully gory Hellraiser homage featuring an impish pain demon named The Red Jack. By now, you can trust Doom Patrol to just throw these standalone bits of WTF-ery at you because they’re always punctuated by quieter character moments, like Cyborg finding a physical connection with wounded war veteran Roni (Karen Obilom).
It’ll be interesting to see what form Doom Patrol season 2 eventually takes, if it takes one at all. Through a swarm of mass orgasms, cannibal butts, and, uh, a main character who literally struggles to maintain a solid form, Doom Patrol has earned the benefit of the doubt. For now, it’s just nice to know that the World’s Strangest Heroes aren’t giving up their title anytime soon.
Doom Patrol Season 2 debuts on both HBO Max and DC Universe on Thursday, June 25.