Doom Patrol’s third season was its first through HBO Max, introducing the series to a larger audience while resolving some of the personal conflicts that have plagued our heroes since episode one. Setting the stage for the team to step up and become real superheroes, this season marked a turning point.
After the gloomy cliffhanger of season two, season three made short work of the dangling plot threads and unanswered questions left over while taking a step into the future of the series. To begin with, the shift to a new network brought with it a greater focus on SFX. From a gigantic version of Robotman to a more visually complex Negative Spirit and endless opportunities for Rita Farr’s stretching powers to shine, the show made great use of its funds. Having pulled off some incredible work simply by working within its limits and avoiding overreaching during the first two seasons, this showed what the creative team could do with their horizons slightly expanded.
Likewise, as our characters bonded in their own unique way, the aesthetics of the series reached new heights. Scenes in which various characters dance to “Forever Young” in an abandoned buffet hall, become zombies, travel to the afterlife, interact with super-powered performance art, and even briefly become literal puppets gave creators a chance to think outside of dreary Doom Manor when it comes to staging.
The core cast continued to deal with ongoing personal issues, but more than any season so far, three gave its cast a clear pathway to healing. Rita’s forgiveness, once her defining characteristic, is pushed to the absolute limit when she allows the villainous Madame Rouge to join the team as part of her apparent quest for redemption.
Likewise, Negative Man’s Spirit vacates his body and departs, leaving him sick with radiation poisoning but open to fostering a relationship with the apparently sentient larva that he coughs up. Cyborg has most of his cybernetics removed when he cuts ties with his father, leaving him without superpowers. Robotman is forced to face his past as a bad parent, which is shown to be even worse than we previously realized. Jane prioritizes Kay, the “child within,” but the rest of her personalities revolt.
Yet, a major part of Doom Patrol‘s wheelhouse has always been to show how a character’s greatest tragedy can likewise be their greatest strength. Rita’s pain brought a new level of dimensionality to her character as she stepped more into a leadership role than ever before. Negative Man lost his powers temporarily, but found a new wholeness by learning to open up to love.
Meanwhile, Cyborg left his relationship with his father in ruins, but matured significantly and reached out to his teammates with compassion. Robotman went on a bender, but it became a wake-up call that he needed to mend his relationship with his daughter. Jane’s inner world was in conflict, but we saw her finally begin to let down her defenses and reach out for help from her friends.
With the Chief and Dorothy mostly out of commission, new characters stepped in to fill the void. One of Doom Patrol’s greatest comic book foes made her debut as Madame Rouge joined the cast, portrayed by the incredible Melissa Gomez. A time traveler suffering from memory loss who is confronted with the crimes of her past, Rouge goes from hero to villain and back again with cantankerous charm. The Dead Boy Detectives made an unforgettable first appearance ahead of their own pending ongoing as they helped the Doom Patrol return from the land of the dead.
The morally ambiguous Sisterhood of Dada is an update to a team led by the season one villain Mister Nobody in the comics, with the TV show focusing instead on cultivating them as their own disjointed concept rather than a more organized team. The comics didn’t get very far in fleshing these characters out, leaving the door wide open for exciting updates. The Fog is a lot of fun, granting the show a fresh and intriguing queer subplot as Jane seems increasingly drawn to this mysterious performance artist.
Sisterhood members Frenzy, Sleepwalk, and The Quiz made for wildly entertaining moments in the season, with Frenzy’s cyclone powers combining with the Fog’s abilities in order to bring their self-reflective “Eternal Flagellation” to life. Sleepwalk is Rita’s first delightfully odd friend among the Sisterhood, while The Quiz is enigmatic and amusingly irritated by people and situations that she finds to be boring. Rita’s short-lived love interest Malcolm is the least interesting of the crew, but he gets a pass for being genuinely good for her.
This season was defined in many ways by personal conflict and loss, with each of the main cast losing something vital to their understanding of themselves. Yet, this led them all to new heights, and set up a series ostensibly about a dysfunctional group of superpowered misfits to finally embrace their heroic potential. Doom Patrol isn’t the Justice League, but that is what's great about them. Delving into the weirdest parts of the DC Universe is what makes the series unique, but enduring the characters’ worst failures alongside them is a major part of why fans continue to root for this team of underdogs.
Sara is a horror writer, a critic, a reporter, a filmmaker, and an artist that has written for many publications and platforms. She is the co-host of the Bitches On Comics podcast as well as the co-founder and editor of the Decoded Pride anthology which focuses on works of queer speculative fiction.