Grief and trauma have become staples of superhero entertainment, with stories from both the DC and Marvel universes digging into the ways that pain and loss influence not only the human experience, but also the superhuman experience as well. It would be wrong to say that HBO Max's Doom Patrol started this trend but it certainly is no exaggeration to say that the series may do it the best. Over the series' first three seasons, Doom Patrol has dug into the complexity of grief, trauma, and identity that both plagues and powers its misfit troupe of unlikely heroes and, in the process, saw those characters grow and heal in ways that feel real, despite a narrative setting that somehow manages to get weirder and more outlandish at every turn. Now, the show's fourth season not only continues in that vein, but somehow tells an even better story, taking on deeper existential questions while also getting weirder and more entertaining than ever.
One of the big developments of Season 3 was that we saw the Doom Patrol come together as an actual team after a season of dealing with the death of Niles Caulder, their own adventure in the afterlife, and a testicle monster, among other challenges. It's this new team atmosphere where Season 4 picks things up, but right away it's clear that this is not a whole or happy team. Rita has gone too much into her role, everyone is still adjusting to their new status quo of sorts — Vic no longer having his cybernetics, primary issues for Kay/Jane, Larry having Keeg, Cliff and his battered body — not to mention the addition of Rouge to the team. If the season were to deal with just this new normal and little else beyond a monster-of-the-week situation, Season 4 would be quality television. But Season 4 doesn't linger there, and in short order, this new normal is rattled with a revelation about the future that threatens, well, the world, but also threatens to destabilize everything with the team as well.
It is this destabilization that not only allows the series to continue telling truly bonkers stories over its first six episodes and, thus, set up for another massive world-ending threat in a way that feels genuine while still sticking to the series' tried and true formula, but also allows the series to continue the healing journey of its characters. What Season 4 of Doom Patrol does best — perhaps even better than its previous three seasons — is show the heroes using their hard-earned emotional tools. Season 4 tests the heroes, both in terms of how they see themselves and how they interact with the world now that they know themselves better. The grief here is a little bit less center stage as perhaps it was in the past, but now it's more about looking outward instead of inward.
This season also has some incredible performances. Particularly, Michelle Gomez's Rouge has a fresh dimension to the character in Season 4, while April Bowlby's Rita Farr is perhaps the most authentic version of who this woman is yet. Even the new additions to the series seem to be a notch above this season, with Madeline Zima's Casey Brinke/Space Case being so perfectly what you'd expect and at the same time nothing like you'd expect that there is simply no getting around how good the performance is.
There's also the matter of the show's uncanny ability to go weirder than ever and still feel grounded in real threats. As the trailer for the season revealed, the were-butts are back in Season 4, but there's also a good amount of time travel, both of which feel like they have real stakes and, in the case of the were-butts, are very well-examined and explored in creative new ways that keep something this outlandish fresh — no small feat. The only real hiccup is Immortus. While the iconic Doom Patrol villain is a major aspect of the season and the primary threat, it does feel like the series is a little slow to set that up, even by the show's usual standards.
For the past three seasons, Doom Patrol has been one of the most inventive, introspective, foul-mouthed, and hilarious shows on television and Season 4 is every bit in line with that. By managing to somehow raise the bar in terms of both interesting stories and just flat-out weird entertainment all while organically continuing its heroes' human journey, Doom Patrol Season 4 remains both a mirror to the world and a balm for its hurts, offering up a messy, beautiful, and surreal celebration of humanity.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Doom Patrol Season 4 Part 1 premieres on HBO Max on December 8th.0comments