Titans – Season 1 Episode 4
I think I see a pattern emerging. Titans’ first episode established more or less what the principal story was going to be, and to varying degrees introduced its main players. Then “Hawk and Dove” brought the narrative to a grinding halt, instead acting as a somewhat pointless and completely unasked for backdoor pilot for its eponymous duo. Origins started to bring things back on track plot-wise, and now “Doom Patrol” has done the same thing as the flamboyant bird-persons, introducing its titular characters at the expense of advancing the narrative. At least now we know exactly what we can expect from the likes of forthcoming episodes entitled “Jason Todd” and “Donna Troy”.
The episode’s principal achievement was finally giving us a proper introduction to Gar Logan, the lesser-spotted Beast Boy, after his so far being a disappointingly minor presence. He was evidently following everyone else from the skating rink and to the nunnery, although exactly how nobody noticed a green-haired boy on their trail goes unremarked upon. He follows Rachel into the woods in his tiger form after her escape, believing he can help her, where they stop a pair of drunken hunters from finishing off a shot deer. Rachel then unwittingly and accidentally heals it, a new ability that will likely come back later.
We’ll quickly gloss over the convenient coincidence of the nunnery being within walking distance of a supposedly abandoned mansion hideout and instead launch into a look at the “conventionally challenged” group of superpowered misfits. Like the Titans, they aren’t a proper team yet (the name Doom Patrol is at no point even alluded to), but are instead a group of freaks and outcasts who circumstance has thrown together and are trying to make the best of it. Those we meet are Cliff Steele (Jake Michaels, voiced by Brendan Fraser), a racing driver whose body was incinerated in a car crash and his brain transplanted into a robot body; Rita Farr (April Bowlby), a Hollywood starlet whose bodily cells were rendered unstable after exposure to a toxic gas, leaving her shape that of a gelatinous mound she can temporarily hold in human form; and Larry Trainor (Dwain Murphy, voiced by Matt Bomer), an air force pilot exposed to negative energy, giving him translucent skin that shows off his innards.
As for Gar himself, it’s revealed he contracted a rare disease in while in the Congo for some unspecified reason, and when Caulder saved him it resulted in his shapeshifting ability. Although in the comics he can turn into any creature, here it’s suggested he only turns into a tiger for “psychological” reasons, although for practical reasons it’ll be to save on the effects budget by not requiring CGI models for multiple animals. He’s also a little different from the others in his desire for a life outside the walls of the mansion, and also that he actually has the potential for society to allow him one.
While the likes of X-Men addressed people’s insidious prejudices, Doom Patrol (whose original publication actually predated Marvel’s mutants by a few months) tackles a fear of the Other in a more direct way. It’s one thing to deal with ostracisation when the people involved are really, really, ridiculously good-looking, but a seven-foot brass automaton or a guy wrapped in bandages like the Invisible Man are going to attract a lot of negative attention purely for no other reason than their appearance, and while Rita is glamorous enough to get by when she’s able to hold her appearance together, any brief slip risks revealing her natural form. Cliff’s statement to Gar that “you want to keep a low profile, you wear a hat” is played as joke about his green hair, but also makes a point about how much easier it is for him to pass as completely human.
The group are presented as an unconventional and particularly bizarre family, in particular when we are introduced to the patriarch Niles Caulder (Bruno Bichir), the doctor responsible for saving each of the group after conventional science had given up on them, and granting them something resembling a life. He’s someone who believes that what he does is for the best, but such an intent may not necessarily lead to the most benevolent of behaviour. He reasons that people who have overcome the worst hardships possess the greatest strength of character, and given the somewhat less than benign attitude he shows on more than one occasion, it’ll be interesting to see if the show uses the version of the character that revealed he was actually responsible for each the accidents that ruined the lives of the others, with the intent of creating such a band of distinctive individuals.
Rachel continues to be Titans’ most compelling character; the empathy and compassion she displays towards other people’s suffering is remarkable, overcoming an almost relentless barrage of trauma that would leave most people, never mind a young girl, without the mental headspace to even consider anybody else. It also contrasts perfectly against her malevolent side that constantly tries to break free, as does her ability to ease the pain others are enduring, specifically in this case a young woman (Hina Abdullah) who Caulder attempts to save after she was drenched in liquid nitrogen. Incidentally, it’s unclear who this girl actually is, since Caulder states her to be named Shyleen Lao (aka Fever), but online credits list her as Arani Desai (aka Celsius). Both women possess powers based on the manipulation of temperature, and while Fever was a minor and unpopular character given an unceremonious send off, Celsius eventually became Caulder’s wife and later founded her own Doom Patrol. Guess we’ll have to wait for the main series to see what they do with her.
Meanwhile, Dick and Kory spend some time sidelined in searching for Rachel after her escape from the nunnery, since all this character introduction requires them to spend an episode off somewhere else, pointlessly bickering in the way that usually leads to characters eventually hooking up. They’re aided in Dick remembering he’s actually a police officer and finding out some relevant information to track down the hunters who saw Rachel. The vague additional characterisation is all over the place; notably when Dick beats up one of the hunters for information about where Rachel is, Kory declares “I didn’t know you had it in you,” blithely disregarding the fact that she’s known him for all of half a day.
There’s been a correlation between the moments when Rachel feels at her most isolated and betrayed and the times when Dark Rachel comes out. The portal she begins to open at the episode’s climax will most likely be on a smaller scale to the series climax when something particularly bad will happen to make her feel truly alone, and that moment of weakness will be what allows Trigon through. Dick’s appearance to give her someone she feels she can rely on and trust was all it took to calm her, so how such a situation will come to pass remains to be seen.
There wasn’t any time to follow up on the last episode’s revelations of what Rachel is supposed to become, but now that Titans‘s central quartet is finally together, perhaps the narrative will become a little more streamlined. Hopefully.
Another filler episode for a show already painfully absent of forward momentum, Doom Patrol is nevertheless an entertaining side story that sets up what has the potential to be a compelling standalone series, and manages to instil a sense of fun and the bizarre that’s been largely lacking so far.
- Interesting new characters
- Gar finally having presence in the show
- Rachel’s continuing character development
- An increased sense of scope of what this world holds
- More unnecessary filler material
- Dick and Kory have little to do
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